Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I Disagree

I've heard over the past few days, voices out in the blogosphere claiming an interesting connection between three of the four teams ousted in last weekend's Euro 2008 quarterfinals, and the NFL's Indianapolis Colts. They say that Holland, Croatia and Portugal all won their group stages by winning their first two games and then sitting most of their normal starters in the third and final group stage game. As a result, the theory goes, they were rusty and that is why they lost in the next round, a la the Colts several times in the NFL playoffs.

Clearly these people weren't really watching the games at all. I'll take them game by game to explain.

First, Portugal. This is the only possible game to fit into the aforementioned model. Germany had to play hard all three games to qualify for the quarterfinals while Portugal rested in its third game to cruise in. But there is also another completely plausible explanation for the result and that is that the German side was simply better. As noted many times during the telecast, the German players were much taller and thus had a huge advantage on set pieces. It turns out Germany scored two of its three goals on set pieces. They also played harder than the finesse Portugal side.

Second, Croatia. Croatia was not too rusty to defeat Turkey. In fact, the teams played so evenly throughout the entire game that it was 0-0 through 118 minutes of regular and overtimes. Then Croatia scored first, a seemingly miraculous goal to lead with only a minute left in overtime. It can be somewhat legitimately argued that they were then hosed by the referee for giving Turkey enough time to complete an unbelievable and historic goal themselves in the 122nd minute to force penalties. While Croatia did then lose the penalties, doing so hardly qualifies as being rusty. One can hardly expect to be forced to such a stage and even the two missed shots (not the Rustu save at the end) were so amazingly close to going in that giving 6 inches in the other direction to each shot would have produced a Croatian victory and the previous paragraph would have no reason to exist.

Third, Holland. Holland ran into a buzzsaw in Russia. They could have played every starter for the full ninety minutes in every previous game or they could have rested players such as they did, my contention is that it would not have mattered. Guus Hiddink has his side playing at a level rarely seen from Russia and certainly the best in twenty years. Yet still the Dutch managed to tie the game just moments before full time and forced overtime. Granted, they crashed hard at the hands of the Russians in those extra periods, but the score at the end of ninety minutes was 1-1. Even though they were outplayed, one cannot say that the Dutch were completely out of the game, considering they had an equal shot once the overtimes commenced. Had that game reach a shoot out as the Croatia or Spain games did, perhaps Holland would have in fact advanced.

Finally, Spain. Spain was the other group stage winner, but they advanced via a shoot out victory over Italy. Would these enlightened commenters being throwing Spain in the same group if the result of the penalty shoot out had been reversed? Spain also coasted through its final group stage game and struggled mightily with Italy's strong defense. Ultimately though, Spain advanced, despite resting in its final group stage game.

These comments must be fueled by people trying to explain European soccer in Americanized terms. That just doesn't work most of the time because it just isn't the same thing.

No comments: