Greece 1 Spain 2
This was a pretty dour affair. Greece hadn’t displayed much quality in their previous games, so there was little hope now that there was nothing to play for. One might have expected some sort of show from the Spanish reserves, but no one really looked like pushing for a place in the team. The team selection set aside, this has to go down as a second straight laboured performance against limited but defensively dogged opposition. A late goal in each game has hidden the reality of disjointed performances and limited creativity. Up next is Italy and on this form Spain could be in trouble.
This looks set to be a very close contest, although perhaps the absence of Cannavaro will prove costly against Villa and Torres. The midfield battle will not involve Gattuso or Pirlo, both suspended, influential players creatively, the latter crucially so, whilst the former might have been able to shackle Xavi and Silva. However, Italy will never get rolled over by slick passing, too canny and defensively sound, nor have Spain really displayed much to suggest they would after the first game. Most significant might be how Spain’s as yet untested rearguard holds up against a confident and buoyant Italy, energised from beating France, boasting Toni in attack. This should be a fun one to watch.
Back to this evenings game though. A poor affair with few players offering a great deal of quality, I won’t bother detailing the action, it was muddled and sporadic and I might fall asleep trying. Instead let us consider Cesc’s performance. I did try and keep an eye out for Albiol, but Greece offered little, certainly not enough to judge a centre-back on. He is quite tall, seems dogged, and knocked the ball around the back-line elegantly, although nothing under pressure.
Cesc never really got into the game, not in the transcendent manner that he dominates for Arsenal. This apparently, although I base this solely on the Spanish press debates, is not a new event, and there has been much talk over here of why that is. Firstly, in this game, he was played too far forward, operating as a link man, or support striker. Cesc doesn’t have the physique to play with his back to goal, what a waste of talents even if he did, nor can he get the ball and beat 3 men.
Cesc is at his best coming deep to collect the ball, dictating tempo, and creating the play, none of this he could do so far forward. Secondly the style of the team did not suit Cesc, Arsenal play short, controlled, and – at its best – incisive passing. This allows Cesc to get many touches on the ball, control the pace of the game and manipulate the play in the direction he chooses. Here every player was looking to get the ball, beat a man or knock it long.
This was just a very poor imitation of the first team granted, but having multiple playmakers can detract from the influence of a single man. Most importantly the Spanish management have refused to give Cesc the opportunity to play in the playmaker role so far this tournament.
Van with a Vengeance!
Netherlands 2-0 Romania
Watching the European games is indeed an excellent after-dinner entertainment. The matches are telecast live at 8.45pm in Europe, but due to time difference, in Asia its 2.45am in the morning!! Thus, to all Asian supporters, they would have to surmount the challenge of keeping awake and the effects of lack of sleep during the Euro 2008 period that spans for a month. Guess that brings back the memories of watching live matches during lunch time, when Japan and South Korea co-host the 2002 World Cup. I have to confess that I find it extremely difficult to keep myself awake while watching the European games, except for Netherlands. Great thanks to Van Basten, they are now displaying the free-flowing beautiful football like Arsenal, and that manages to keep me awake throughout the entire match. And Van Persie’s stellar performance is making me sit up to witness his fairytale comeback.
On Wednesday, Van Persie gave the perfect response to announce his complete recovery by producing the Man of the match performance against Romania. He has earned his right to start the match through his influencing hard work as a substitute in the previous 2 matches. He is finally fulfilling the potential that Van Basten sees in him, that eventually prompts him to make an exception to include him in his squad despite not being fully fit.
That goal in the final minutes of the 2-0 victory over Romania display the poacher instinct that he had once lost in his injury-plagued season.
Talking of Netherlands surviving from the Group of Death, Van Persie is indeed the true survivor after finally recovering from a list of injuries that kept him out of the playing squad for most of the Arsenal season. His current form is so irresistible that he even won the praise from King Fabregas. Van Persie would relish re-capturing his early season form that sees him scoring 7 goals in 11 matches during Arsenal early season.
“To be the best, you have to beat the best”; Netherlands has see off the challenge of 2 World Cup finalists in Italy and France, no wonder our Van Persie is so optimistic in their European quest. Unlike Arsenal, Van Persie hopes to finish the job that his Arsenal teammates had failed, that is “to win with beautiful football”.
According to The Guardian, Van Persie is so determined to show the world that Arsenal and Netherlands alike, could win their brand of free-flowing and attractive football. The European Cup would be the perfect antidote to ease his plague of disappointment in Arsenal’s title quest.
Netherlands certainly has the right ingredients in their squ ad to claim the European crown – a winning mentality, great teamwork, youth, hunger and of course, the free flowing “Total Football”. And yes, 3 more victories could see Netherlands re-claim the European Crown since 1988. But to do that, Netherlands would have to get past the Spanish team led by another Arsenal gem who is non other than our King Fabregas but on the premises that Spain manage to see off the challenge of Italy and Fabregas gets to play.
So Beware, Van Persie is back and back with a Vengeance.