Posts Tagged With: Netherlands

Some Short Thoughts on the Euro 2012 Group Stage

Wot No Posts???

Wow. So the entire group stage has gone by without a single post!!! Sorry about that.

It’s no doubt due to the fact that I’ve been glued to the nearest television set since 8th June and today is the first day without a single match although I suspect that I’ve also been avoiding posting anything too trivial to immediately follow my post on Panorama’s Stadiums of Hate.

Euro 2012 has however been a bit good. The format of 15 of the best teams in the world (and Ireland) makes for a brilliant and unique tournament on paper that it has certainly not disappointed (good job UEFA has decided to change it to 24 teams for France 2016 eh?).

The Greatest Strike Partnership Ever?

Unable to replicate the heroics of their last major tournament in 2002, the Irish equalled the worst Euro record of all time with 3 losses and a goal difference of -8 (equal with Bulgaria in 2004 and Denmark in 2000 as well as Yugoslavia in 1984 in the 8 team format, so not bad company actually!). As they were in a group with Spain, the top-ranked team in the world, fellow top-10 team Croatia and the 2006 World Cup winners Italy this is not of course surprising (they played Saudi Arabia in 2002) although conceding within the first five minutes of the first four halves of football you play doesn’t help either! Hopefully the fans won’t turn on Trap though, he has after all worked wonders to get them there after the disappointment of losing the World Cup 2010 qualification play-off to Thierry Henry’s ‘hand of god’ moment.

The second ‘worst’ team at this year’s Euros? World Cup runners-up the Netherlands, a team ranked fourth in the world that boasts the talents of Van Persie, Sniejder, Robben et al. Unbelievably they also crashed out like a British Eurovision entry by registering ‘nul points’.

The Oranje were of course victims of the Group of Death that featured four of the top ten ranked teams in the world. Russia meanwhile, everybody’s ‘dark horses‘ after one half of good football, also failed to make it out of the group, only their group was more like the Group of Life! It was a situation that as it unfolded had commentators and tweeters alike getting themselves all worked up that a team captained by Andrei Arshavin seemed to ‘lack a sense urgency’ without even a hint of irony.

It’s not our problem we didn’t meet your expectations. It’s your problem.

–  Arshavin to fans (and commentators… and pundits… and half of twitter…)

Howd’ya like them apples?

The final matches of each group provided a head-to-heads before goal-difference/3 team mini league-tastic mathematical scramble with everything to play for (unless you’re Ireland… or Sweden). Personally I feel most sorry for Croatia and to a lesser extent Denmark, whilst Sweden could equally have made it through too had they not succumbed to a sensational Shevchenko swan-song in their opening fixture.

England won their group comfortably in the end despite not thrilling and the fact that anything could have happened in the Sweden game. What about the Ukraine’s goal that wasn’t given I hear you cry? Well, whilst we clearly still need goal line technology, IT WAS OFFSIDE! Glad we cleared that up.

Final Group Stage Standings


Game of the Group Stage

My favourite game of the Group Stage was Spain 1-1 Italy, pitting del Bosque’s strikerless stars against Prandelli’s 3-5-2. It was a fascinating clash of tactical styles with Italy negating the Spanish system for long periods whilst also finding the gaps in it despite having far less possession. It was only when Torres came on in the 74th minute that the Italian back three, which contained a midfielder in De Rossi as the ball-player, came unstuck but luckily for the Italians Fernando wouldn’t find his shooting boots until the next game (against the lucky Irish). As a ‘false’ centre-back De Rossi did an excellent job against the false 9s and despite having to hang on desperately later in the game it was the Italian system that worked better over the match as a whole. If Prandelli adopted the 3-5-2 because knew that del Bosque would start without a recognised striker then it was genius, if it was primarily due to the absence of key centre-back Barzagli whilst he recovered from injury then it was perhaps less so, but it worked.


Right, now that the evening without any football has been filled with some football, bring on the Knockout Stage!!!

Let’s hope we all have at least one more opportunity to sing Three Lions at the top of our voices before the end!

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Champions League Final Build-Up (2/3): The Robben Final?

In 2010 Dutch winger Arjen Robben suffered the heartbreak of losing what most would consider to be the two most prestigious finals in world football: the Champions League Final and the World Cup Final. Two years on and he has a third opportunity to claim the type of winner’s medal that most players can only dream of.

Oranje & Tangerine

Almost sixty year earlier with England only having bothered entering the World Cup for the first time in 1950 and with the Champions League’s forerunner, the European Cup, not beginning until 1955/56, the winner’s medal that England winger Stanley Matthews dreamt of was an FA Cup winner’s medal. Like Robben he too suffered heartbreak in the final twice, in 1948 and 1951, before he had a third shot at glory.

At 38 years old much was made of the 1953 FA Cup Final being Matthews last chance and in his autobiography (that I happen to be reading at the moment…) says that he knew it was his “final of finals” despite firmly believing that he could keep playing for several years as no doubt Robben does at only 28. (As it turned out Matthews, almost unbelievably, played for a further 12 years but he would never reach the FA Cup Final again.)

It was third time lucky for Matthews however as despite being 1-3 down with only half an hour to go his Blackpool side fought back to win 4-3 with the final goals coming in the 89th and 92nd minutes! (Man City eat your heart out!) The injury time winner was set up by Matthews himself who tore Bolton apart in the final thirty minutes of what is still known as the Matthews Final…


Interestingly though, Matthews says that the final should forever be known as the Mortensen Final insisting that it was his hat-trick scoring team mate Stanley ‘Morty’ Mortensen who was the real star of the show. According to Matthews, when he cut the ball back for the winning goal he was aiming for where, thanks to his near-telepathic relationship with Mortensen, he thought his team mate would be and was mortified to see that he had actually taken up a position at the far post.

Mortensen though, far from not being on the same wavelength, had decided that he was being too tightly marked to be sure of scoring and so vacated the area he knew the ball would come to, taking the markers with him, and called for Bill Perry to run into the space who duly converted. (Mortensen also scored a rocket of free-kick earlier in the match, undoubtedly he and Matthews were both in inspired form that day and the highlights are well worth a watch.)

Stan M & Stan M

So are Robben’s dreams of making it third time lucky himself largely dependent on the performance of and his relationship with Bayern’s enigmatic forward Mario Gomez? Robben may hope not as despite his impressive scoring record very few football fans would back Gomez to be either as clinical, brave or unselfish as Stan Mortensen was in 1953! Luckily for the Dutchman though he may not have to rely on Gomez at all as his style of play is very different to the one Matthews had developed:

“I was beginning to be tightly marked by full-backs, so I made a conscious effort to drop deeper to collect the ball… My goals had come from coming inside as wingers were apt to do at the time. Having given this much thought, I decided (in 1937/38) I would be better employed taking the ball to the dead-ball line and cutting it back for our oncoming forwards who couldn’t be offside if they received a backward pass or centre from me… I wasn’t scoring goals anywhere like I had been but this ploy created far more opportunities for our forwards.”

-Sir Stanley Matthews

Robben’s primary strengths lie not in what we would now consider ‘traditional’ wing-play, the style that Matthews helped pioneer, but in doing precisely what Matthews removed from his game: attempting to cut inside to deadly effect. Robben is more than happy to do it all himself if he has to as well as being capable of producing moments of pure magic such as his volley that did for the last English opponents he faced in the knock-out stages of the Champions League back in 2010… (The video below is great because it also shows the Bayern move before the goal, with Robben cutting in and attempting to shoot.)

Having already overcome one former club Real Madrid, knocking out Casillas, Ramos and Alonso who had beaten him in the World Cup Final and Mourinho (a former manager of his) who had beaten him in the Champions League Final, the script seems written for Robben, like Matthews, to finally have his cup final moment.

Robben & Čech in 2006 – only one will lift the cup this Saturday

In his way of course stands another former club of his: Chelsea. With a depleted defensive line and midfield due to suspension as well as players coming back in who may not yet be fully fit (similar can be said of Bayern of course), Chelsea may be hard pressed to contain Robben but if they are to win they will need to do more than tightly mark him as players started to do to Matthews. Formations and tactics have changed in many ways over the last sixty odd years and to deal with Robben they will need to take a leaf from Borussia Dortmund’s book and cover well, trying never to allow him a situation where he only has one man to beat whilst not leaving gaps elsewhere in the defense (no mean feat of course!) or else hope and pray that come Saturday night it doesn’t quite happen for the Dutchman leaving him perhaps to wonder, however briefly, whether a different approach to his game may have led to more overall chances for his team. Of course now I have written that he will probably win it with a cross from the byline!

Matthews picks up his hard earned medal in Coronation year – will Robben receive his in Jubilee year?

Finally, it would be criminal not to mention that Blackpool themselves have a rather important match this Saturday as well. Best of luck to them in the Championship play-off Final! “Suuuper, super Kev… Suuuper, super Kev… Suuuper, super Kev! Super Kevin Phillips!!!

Related Posts:

Champions League Final 2012 Build-Up (1/3): The Stats

Champions League Final Build-Up (3/3): Planning for Penalties


Categories: Champions League Final 2012, News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You just couldn’t write it: PSV vs Ajax 2006/07

It is 18th March 2007 (five years ago this Sunday) and as half time approaches Edgar Davids catches a volley so sweetly that it nearly knocks out Heurelho Gomes after rebounding off of the post. From the resulting corner Wesley Sneijder is able to cut inside from the wing and blast it past a probably still dazed Gomes to make it 0-2 to the away side in the derby.

Final score that day? PSV 1-5 Ajax!

It was drama topped spectacularly by the title race itself however between these two giants of Dutch football and Louis van Gaal’s AZ.

This was an Ajax squad featuring Stekelenburg, Stam, Vermaelen, Grygera, Heitinga, Emanuelson, Davids, Gabri, Sneijder, Babel and Huntelaar and even some fledgling performances from Gregory van der Wiel.

Ronald Koeman’s PSV meanwhile included the likes of Gomes, Alex, Reiziger, Salcido, Cocu, Afellay, Méndez, Farfán, Koné and Kluivert.

With one match to go, unbelievably, AZ, Ajax and PSV were all on 72 points. AZ had a Goal Difference of +53, Ajax +47 and PSV +46… (if you don’t know what happened you may want to watch the video below without reading any further down):

The final day would see AZ blow it by losing to relegation threatened Excelsior, Ajax poetically win 0-2 against Willem II meaning that PSV would have to have won their match against Vitesse Arnhem by 4 clear goals to have clinched the title. The score in that game? You guessed it: 5-1.

Phillip Cocu had scored the goal that won PSV the league whilst Edgar Davids would score the penalty that would win Ajax the Dutch Cup (against AZ). It was a fitting end for a generation of Dutch stars with Stam, Reiziger and Cocu retiring at the end of the season and Kluivert and Davids following suit shortly afterwards (if you ignore the Crystal Palace cameo) having amassed 393 caps between them for the Netherlands.

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