The Question: How is interpretation of the playmaker role changing?

April 4, 2013

“Perhaps no position is undergoing such evolution so rapidly as the playmaker – or, as it is probably more accurate to call him in his present guise, the creative midfielder. This week, the Champions League quarter-finals seemed almost to showcase the changing interpretations of the position – albeit in the most modern case in unfortunately truncated form.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

France 0-1 Spain: both sides use one wide player for ball retention and the other for direct attacks

March 31, 2013

“Spain recorded a narrow victory, and go one point clear of France at the top of Group I. Didier Deschamps used Patrice Evra rather than Gael Clichy at left-back, and the late withdrawal of Mamadou Sakho saw Laurent Koscielny start at centre-back. But the key change was higher up – from the side that defeated Georgia 3-1, Olivier Giroud was dropped, with Yohan Cabaye coming into the centre of midfield, turning a 4-4-2 into a 4-5-1 / 4-3-3.” Zonal Marking

Valdés steps up in Casillas’ absence, backstops Spain past France

March 28, 2013

” The camera kept focusing on Iker Casillas, but his replacement took center stage. High in the stands at Saint-Denis, Spain’s captain sat watching his countrymen play France, a broken finger having denied him the chance to make his 144th appearance; down on the pitch, Víctor Valdés was the man chosen in goal instead. Like Casillas, he was about to prove decisive. For some he was about to prove a discovery — at the age of 31. Spain traveled to Paris knowing that if it did not win it risked not making it to Brazil in 2014; the world champions, unable to defend their crown.” SI

The Blood of the Impure

March 24, 2013

“The French national anthem, La Marseillaise, is, if you think about it, a pretty nasty song. It dreams, in one of its more memorable verses, that the ‘blood of the impure’ will ‘irrigate our fields.’ It’s a rousing anthem, to be sure, and I myself can frequently be heard humming it to myself in advance of a match being played by Les Bleus, or as I ride my bike or do the dishes. I’ve found that it’s sometimes hard to find a French person (at least if you hang out, as I do, with too many intellectuals), who can actually sing it without irony. And yet, over the past 26 years, the question of whether a particular subset of French men – those who play on the national football team – sing the Marseillaise under certain conditions has been a rather unhealthy obsession in France (we’ve blogged about it before, when Kinshasa-born flanker Yannick Nyanga sobbed uncontrollably during the anthem ahead of a rugby match vs Australia last year).” Soccer Politics (Video)

Valbuena has earned his chance with France

March 24, 2013

“France doesn’t share Argentina, Brazil or even Italy’s relentless obsession with the number 10, but having boasted the most celebrated creative midfielder of recent times, Zinedine Zidane, the number has since taken on extra importance. Since Zidane’s theatrical retirement in 2006, France’s No. 10s have hardly fit the mould. Sidney Govou, the speedy winger who never fulfilled his vast potential, wore it at Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 while striker Karim Benzema inherited it for last summer’s European Championships. In all three tournaments, France disappointed: two group stage exits and a quarterfinal elimination. Perhaps they need a proper No. 10. And that’s where Mathieu Valbuena comes in.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Reunions, stars clashing lead Champions League quarterfinal draw

March 17, 2013

“The Champions League quarterfinal draw took place Friday morning in Nyon, Switzerland, with the competition harder than ever to call. If Bayern Munich was the dominant side after its round of 16 first-leg win at Arsenal, the performances of Barcelona and Real Madrid in their second legs reminded everyone of the talent of the La Liga sides. Here is the rundown of the draw for the last eight …” SI

Manuel Pellegrini and Fatih Terim back where they belong

March 15, 2013

Fatih Terim
“By common consent, five of the eight remaining sides in the Champions League have a good chance of lifting the European Cup at Wembley in May. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Juventus — current league champions, imminent league champions or, in Juve’s case, both. The dark horse? Paris St Germain have performed well in Europe under Champions League specialist Carlo Ancelotti, and following their recruitment of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi, their presence is no great surprise.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Lyon 0-0 Marseille: A bad reflection of Ligue 1, and a bad result for Ligue 1

March 13, 2013

“PSG were the real winners, as 2nd versus 3rd played out a boring goalless draw. Remi Garde was without Anthony Reveillere, so Mohamadou Dabo played at right-back, with Samuel Umtiti on the left. Clement Grenier dropped to the bench, with the more defensive-minded Gueida Fofana starting instead. Elie Baup was without Morgan Amalfitano, so used the pacey Modou Sougou in his place. Otherwise, his side was as expected. This was desperately poor – two negative sides apparently content to play out a goalless draw, in a match featuring just three shots on target.” Zonal Marking

PSG 2-0 Marseille: PSG attack at speed, but fortunate to keep a clean sheet

February 26, 2013

“A closer game than the scoreline suggests. With injury problems in defence, Carlo Ancelotti named Sylvain Armand as his left-sided centre-back. David Beckham was on the bench. Élie Baup named an unchanged side from the XI that triumphed over Valenciennes last week. PSG’s four outright attackers combined effectively at times, but Marseille will feel they had enough chances to get something from the game.” Zonal Marking

How is wrestling at corners interpreted in different European leagues?

February 13, 2013

“… If you are English and ask anybody in Russia about wrestling at corners, the discussion inevitably turns to a World Cup qualifier in Ljubljana in 2001. With the score at 1-1, Slovenia won a last-minute corner. The referee, Graham Poll, twice prevented it being taken to warn Russian defenders about shirt holding. When the corner finally came in, Viacheslav Daev tussled with Zeljko Milinovic and Poll, his patience gone, gave a penalty. While shirt-pulling and wrestling certainly goes on in the Russian league, the hangover from that decision means that it is seen as very much a British obsession. Jonathan Wilson” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Bundesliga Rewind – West Germany vs. France – 1982 World Cup

February 5, 2013

“The German national team kicks off their calendar year with a friendly against France this Wednesday. To get you in the mood we’ll wind back the years and take a look at a match widely considered to be one of the greatest in World Cup history and certainly one that still sticks in the memories of many France and Germany fans, their epic encounter in the 1982 semi-finals in Spain.” Bundesliga Fanatic

David Beckham needs to beware the motives of Qatar moneymen behind his move to Paris St-Germain

February 1, 2013

“Good old Paris, always the city of romance. David Beckham and Paris St-Germain fell into each others’ arms, smitten with a short-term passion from the Englishman’s perspective and an amorous long-term game-plan devised by the club’s Qatari owners.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Defining Relations

January 30, 2013

“Due to the forthcoming footballing encounter between France and Germany on February 6, which is part of the festivities surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Elysee treaty ratified by France and Germany in 1963, this post will look at how relations between countries can be defined and shaped by treaties and agreements and if this is necessary at all.” Do not mention the war

PSG, Lyon, Marseille lead Ligue 1 fight

January 11, 2013

Lucas Moura
“Last season in Ligue Un, Paris Saint-Germain began as clear favourites. Spending half the money in the world will have that effect. But as it turned out, the well-drilled, tight-knit club in Montpellier proved superior; their small squad’s morale had an alchemic effect on players such as John Utaka, while at the same time Olivier Giroud and Younes Belhanda were revelatory. Montpellier deserved their title but without them — and without Giroud — the standard in Ligue Un meant that this season, few predicted anything other than a PSG victory. Given they had signed Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it was safe to assume that their quality, regardless of form, would carry them to the title if the remainder of the league remained as poor.” ESPN

Is FIFA Facing a Player Revolt Against Racism?

January 5, 2013

Kevin-Prince Boateng
“FIFA, you have a problem. The player walk-off led by AC Milan’s Ghana midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng last week to protest racist abuse during a friendly match against a lower-tier Italian club could mark the beginning of a player revolt against the ineffective anti-racism efforts by soccer‘s international administrators. Until now, players have been required, under threat of cards and suspensions, to take no action in response to racist abuse from the crowd, but instead to leave it the issue to the referee and match officials.” Keeping Score

Attitude, Heroes and Silencing the Loud Minority – 2013: The Year To End Homophobia In Football
“… There are no openly gay professional footballers in the English game at present, and there has not been one for a very long time. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that gay footballers have no ‘heroes’ to inspire them – it just means they have to look a bit closer. We are midway through the 2012/2013 football season and the fight to eradicate homophobia from the game has recently taken a few steps forward. Manchester United goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard wrote on his Betfair blog that he feels football fans are ‘stuck in a time of intolerance’ when it comes to the game’s supposedly ultimate taboo, and must work to align themselves with the more liberal and tolerant world around them. Coming from such a high-profile player, this simple statement is in itself a notable development – it’s not that Lindegaard’s fellow players disagree, it’s that they don’t say anything at all.” In Bed With Maradona

French hero Thuram working to battle racism in soccer and society
“Five years ago, to illustrate the development of mankind, scientists at the Musée de L’Homme in Paris chose three human skulls: the fossil of a generic Cro-Magnon; the cranium of philosopher René Descartes; and a facsimile of the strikingly active and wide-ranging brain of Lilian Thuram, the Guadeloupe-born defender and longtime captain of the French national soccer team.” SI

World Soccer People of the Year: Herve Renard

December 26, 2012

“The man behind the most poignant football story of the year was once sacked by Cambridge United and spent several years getting up at three o’clock in the morning to take the rubbish out of buildings. Flamboyant Frenchman Herve Renard, the unlikely leader of the unlikeliest winners, had been a senior coach for only four years when he led a little-known Zambia squad of mainly home-based players to their first African Nations Cup title.” World Soccer

Lyon find their roar again

October 30, 2012

“When Bafetimbi Gomis scored the only goal of the game against Brest recently, the French international striker raced behind the goal and plucked the head of Lyon’s club mascot – predictably, a lion – to add a little local flavour to his habitual prowling panther celebration. ‘I wanted to do something that would appeal to the fans,’ said Gomis.” ESPN

Spain’s streak ends, Belgium stays hot in Euro World Cup qualifying

October 18, 2012

“It was an incredible night of drama in the European World Cup qualifiers as Spain and Germany both conceded dramatic last-minute equalizers to end winning streaks. Meanwhile Belgium continued its positive run of form, while question marks remain over the future of Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni. Here is a wrap of Tuesday’s European World Cup qualifiers…” SI

Spain 1-1 France: Deschamps’ formation switch results in late France dominance

October 18, 2012

“Spain failed to win for the first time in 25 qualification matches. Vicente del Bosque continued with Sergio Busquets at the back and Xabi Alonso as the sole holding player. David Silva started on the left, but went off injured after 13 minutes, replaced by Santi Cazorla. Didier Deschamps started with a single striker, Karim Benzema, flanked by Jeremy Menez and Franck Ribery. Patrice Evra came back in for Gael Clichy, and Maxime Gonalons played as the holding midfielder. Spain dominated before the break, but France were excellent for the final half hour following a clever change in formation from Deschamps, and the away side created enough goalscoring chances to feel they merited a point.” Zonal Marking

Russia, England under scrutiny as World Cup qualifying resumes

October 12, 2012

Xabi Alonso, Franck Ribery, quarterfinal match
“1. Capello faces crunch match against Portugal. It’s far too early to call it a crisis, but for all the money that Russian football has lavished on players and coaches this summer, there has been precious little return — yet. The country’s two Champions League representatives, Zenit St. Petersburg and Spartak Moscow, are both pointless after two group games (despite Zenit spending €80 million on Hulk and Axel Witsel and Spartak playing Celtic at home), and now attention turns to the national team, World Cup hosts in 2018.” SI

Paris Is Rising: Among Les Thugs

October 10, 2012

“Yesterday when I, along with about 100 other Paris Saint-Germain fans, landed in Marseille, the welcome wagon arrived in the form of police officers dressed in riot gear ready to escort us to PSG’s clash with Marseille at the Stade Velodrome. Tensions between the teams run high, and when I asked the man next to me why he hates Marseille so much he said, ‘I don’t know. I have it in my blood.’ There were close to 100 members of the Gendarmerie with assault rifles bracketing us on both sides as we walked to the bus. There were three paddy wagons, at least eight officers on motorcycles, and a helicopter hovering above. Streets were blocked off throughout the city to make for a swift transport to the stadium.” Grantland

Porto 1-0 PSG: Porto dominate with more width

October 5, 2012

“PSG remained narrow while Porto played with plenty of width – and the home side’s two wingers were the key attacking players. Vitor Pereira chose his expected line-up in the usual 4-3-3 system. Carlo Ancelotti left out Javier Pastore, preferring Jeremy Menez and Nene. At the back he brought in Mamadou Sakho. Porto played superior football throughout the match, and although PSG had a few chances on the break, Pereira’s side were fully deserving of the three points.” Zonal Marking

Carlo Ancelotti should sharpen his tactics
“For a double European Cup winner, a title winner in two major leagues, and one of the most celebrated coaches of his era, it’s surprisingly difficult to work out whether Carlo Ancelotti has any tactical nous. Wednesday night was a great example. Ancelotti’s Paris Saint-Germain club traveled to Porto and produced a poor performance completely lacking in creativity, width or ambition. PSG lost 1-0 after a late James Rodriguez goal, but the score line could have been 3-0 or 4-0 and not flattered the Portuguese champions, who had 20 shots to PSG’s eight, six on target to PSG’s two. It was a 1-0 thrashing.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Everton reverses trend with superb start to Premier League season

September 29, 2012

“Everton goes into this weekend in third place in the Premier League (ahead of West Bromwich Albion on goal difference!) and playing some of the nicest soccer around. Does David Moyes not know it is still only September? It’s been five years since his side had 10 points from the opening five games, with Everton renowned for split seasons that start badly and end well since at least 2005-06, when the Toffees lost the first three European fixtures and the domestic ties that followed them. It took an injury-time winner from Tim Cahill against Sunderland (and against the run of play) on New Year’s Eve to turn a tide that threatened to carry the club to the second tier.” SI

Messi saves Barça; reigning champ Chelsea off to stuttering start

September 20, 2012

“Another astonishing night of Champions League action rounded off Matchday One in dramatic style. Lionel Messi lit up the night as only the world’s best player can, while elsewhere there were jitters for holders Chelsea, penalty drama at Old Trafford, shocks in France and Portugal and more new stars bursting onto the scene.” SI

Football Weekly Extra: Close but no cigars for Chelsea and City in the Champions League
“In today’s Football Weekly Extraaaaaah, AC Jimbo has Rob Smyth, Paul MacInnes and Jonathan Wilson in the pod to marvel at some truly liquid football. Ronaldo’s last-gasp winner against City – woof! Oscar’s screamer against Juventus – double woof! PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic becoming the first player to score for six teams in the competition – legend woof!” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson – James Richardson

Esposto: Then and Now—Paris Saint-Germain

September 18, 2012

“A look back 20 years shows that the parallels exist between Paris St-Germain’s 1991 takeover by Canal Plus and their current owners Qatar Sports Investment – the lavish spending, the top talent, the expectation of immediate success, but will things end differently this time around? As the club begins their Champions League campaign on Tuesday, this is the story of Les Parisiens – from then to now.” The Score

UEFA World Cup qualifying: Spain wins opener; England ties Ukraine

September 12, 2012

“World Cup champion Spain defeated Georgia 1-0 on an 86th-minute goal by Roberto Soldado on Tuesday, the first step by the Spaniards on their road to the 2014 World Cup. This was the 23rd consecutive victory in qualifying matches for Spain, which has three points in Group I and is tied with Georgia. Spain is attempting to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive major title after repeating as European champion this summer.” SI

Adrien Rabiot: The Future Of Paris St. Germain

September 6, 2012

“A few minutes before Ezequiel Lavezzi was introduced to the French press on July 2nd last month, heralded as yet another high-profile name to join the ranks of rapidly-improving PSG, another player came to sign a professional contract with the Parisian club. There weren’t any journalists present aside of those representing the club’s official website and local newspaper Le Parisien. And yet this name might well come to embody what is left of Paris Saint Germain’s identity a few years down the line.” In Bed With Maradona

No excuses as rich Paris St-Germain continue poor start to season

August 23, 2012

“With billionaire owners and big-spending clubs, ridicule is never far away. Even those who don’t hate them for their wealth and the way they’ve skewed the competition can hardly help but smirk when things go against them and the little man fights back. Paris St-Germain have never been a popular club but they are in danger of becoming a ridiculous club, at least in the short term. Having needed a last-minute Zlatan Ibrahimovic equaliser to take a point from Lorient on the opening weekend of the season, they were held to a goalless draw by Ajaccio on Sunday.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

PSG is primed to dominate Ligue 1

August 10, 2012

“When France’s Ligue 1 kicks off this weekend, it will likely attract more attention than any Championnat since the early 1990s, when Marseille ruled the roost and Monaco was led by a lanky, bespectacled young manager named Arsene Wenger. Now you have Paris St. Germain, whose net spend in the past 15 months is around a quarter of a billion (with a ‘B’) dollars. And if recent reports linking PSG to Lucas Moura are to be believed, it could go even higher. In terms of financial muscle, it’s on a par with anyone in Europe right now.” ESPN (Video)

Stade de Reims: France’s first continental superpower

August 6, 2012

“Before Tiki Taka and Total Football, there was ‘Champagne Football’. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Stade de Reims dazzled France and the rest of Europe with their exhilarating brand of effective attacking football which, as described by the great Just Fontaine, was ‘based on one-twos and a constant search for space’. Beauty went hand in hand with efficacy as, in just over a decade, the club won six leagues titles, two French cups, one Latin Cup and made two European Cup finals. And even if their successes have been scarce since (a third division championship being their sole achievement since the sixties), that great Stade de Reims side will always remain in football legend.” World Soccer

Joe Cole at Lille – success or failure? What next for Liverpool’s Londoner?

July 26, 2012

“He arrived in France on deadline day, greeted by fanfare and trumpets and great expectations. By the end he left almost under the radar, the attention of most Lillois occupied more by the departure of golden child Eden Hazard. Joe Cole’s season long stay in the North of France was in many respects a curious one. But can it be deemed successful, and what is the next step for the man once hailed as the future of English football?” Just Football

Spending spree buys PSG top talent, and maybe a Ligue 1 title

July 22, 2012

“Just before Sweden played France at Euro 2012 last month, as the players were waiting in the tunnel, Swedish captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic walked slowly along the line of French players, staring at each of them eye-to-eye. When he reached Adil Rami, the center back charged with marking him, he stopped. ‘You,’ he said, ‘today, you are my target.’ Sweden went on to win the game 2-0, with Ibrahimovic opening the scoring with a volley that was one of the best goals of the tournament.” SI

Paris Saint-Germain – Dream Into Action

July 18, 2012

“So, barring any problems with a medical, Zlatan Ibrahimovic will today sign for Paris-Saint Germain. Many in the football world have been shocked by PSG’s audacious €65 million swoop for the Milan duo of Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, but it really should come as no surprise given the club’s massive transfer outlay ever since it was purchased by Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) last summer.” Swiss Ramble

The Hijab on the Pitch

July 10, 2012

“On Friday, the French Football Federation announced that it would ban the wearing of hijab during all organized competitions held in France. The Federation declared that in doing so it was fulfilling its ‘duty to respect the constitutional and legislative principles of secularism that prevails in our country and features in its statutes.’ The decision came one day after the International Football Association Board — the body within FIFA that governs the laws of the game — unanimously declared that it would, for a ‘trial period’ allow players to wear the hijab during international competitions. France, then, is seeking to carve out an exception to an international ruling, one that links its football regulations to a broad set of laws that ban veils in public schools and public administration, as well as banning the burqa in all public spaces.” Soccer Politics

The Best Football Shirts of Euro 2012

July 7, 2012

“Spain reigned supreme on the pitch, but which nation stole the sartorial show? Euro 2012 was a tame tourney for football kits when compared to some of the shock shirts of years past, but still had its fair share of gems which we will see again soon when World Cup 2014 qualifying begins this fall. And remember, all these shirts and more, including new Premier League releases for 2012-13, are available through” EPL Talk

Devaluing the Euros

July 5, 2012

“After just over three weeks of football, the world’s second biggest football tournament has played out in front of our eyes in Poland and Ukraine. Sixteen of Europe’s best teams have competed in thirty nine games to determine who would win the Henri Delaunay and join the likes of France, Holland, Denmark, West Germany, Greece and Spain in being crowned the champions of European Football. A few weeks before the tournament the bookies suggested that you should look no further than 2008 champions Spain for the winner of the tournament and when Iker Casillas elbowed Platini out of the way to lift the trophy they proved that class and form were both well judged.” The Ball is Round

Internal strife forces Blanc, Van Marwijk to pay ultimate price

July 5, 2012

“The end of a major tournament often brings a rash of coaching changes. Euro 2012 has been no different. Some, like Franciszek Smuda (Poland), Dick Advocaat (Russia) and Slaven Bilic (Croatia) already were at the end of their contracts — but Laurent Blanc and Bert van Marwijk, who coached France and Holland, respectively, were two surprise coaching casualties following Euro 2012.” SI

ZM’s team of Euro 2012

July 5, 2012

Iker Casillas, Spain
“Iker Casillas, Spain. This wasn’t a tournament of particularly fine individual goalkeeping displays, but the best two goalkeepers of the tournament – and of the century – met as captains in the final. Until the, there was nothing to separate Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon, but after Casillas made a fine save from Di Natale and prompted Spain’s second goal with a good ball out to Alba, he must get the nod. …” Zonal Marking

The Reducer: Euro 2012 Final Retro Diary

July 2, 2012

“When it was over, when Fernando Torres was wearing a look on his face that said, ‘Holy shit! I won the Golden Boot!?’ I didn’t want them to leave. I didn’t want it to be over. It had been a month, but it felt like it was just beginning. Some countries wait generations to win a major football tournament. Spain, for instance, waited 44 years. Then the right generation came along. On Sunday, Spain defeated a valiant, gassed Italy, 4-0, in Kiev, to win Euro 2012. They have now won two consecutive European championships and are the World Cup holders. They are the first team to ever successfully defend their European Championship. Spain’s victory on Sunday marked the third time they won the Euros. The only other country to pull off that feat is West Germany. In terms of accomplishments, this Spanish side can only be compared to the Brazil team, led by a young Pele, that won the World Cup in 1958 and 1962, or the early ’70s West Germany team that won the Euros in 1972, the World Cup in ’74, and placed as runners-up to Czechoslovakia in Euro ’76.” Grantland (Video)

Spain sheds ‘boring’ charges in Euro 2012 final, with Italy’s help
“Everything in football is relative. How one team plays is necessarily conditioned by how the opponent plays. When Spain was accused of being boring, the response was always that it was very hard for it not to be when opponents packed men behind the ball. Italy didn’t, and Spain showed just how unboring it could be, its 4-0 win the largest margin of victory in a European Championship or World Cup final. Spain’s game plan, essentially, was a game of chicken — and it never blinked first. When opponents sat deep against it — and in the past two tournaments only Chile and Italy have not — Spain held the ball.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Euro 2012: Perfect Spain justify Vicente del Bosque’s beliefs
“Playing without a defined striker remains a relatively novel concept but Vicente del Bosque was actually returning to Plan A. After unsuccessful attempts to incorporate a proper No9 into his side Del Bosque reverted to his initial system of six midfielders and Spain became the first side to win the European Championship by using the same XI in their opening game and the final.” Guardian – Michael Cox

Friedrich Nietschze Reflects Upon the European Championships
“We are honored at Futfanatico to welcome Friedrich Nietschze as a visiting scholar, classical philologist, philosopher, and soccer analyst. The German intellectual heavyweight took a break from his grueling publish or perish schedule to answer pressing questions on the European Championships, the gay science, post-nihilist studies, and the final between Italy and Spain. His answers will probably confuse (but may amuse) you.” futfanatico

Spain earns the big prize, but here are my Euro 2012 tourney awards
“Spain ended two debates once and for all with its master-class performance in a sensational 4-0 Euro 2012 final victory against Italy: No, it is not boring to play with six midfielders and no clear center-forward; and yes, it deserves to be called one of the greatest teams of all time after becoming the first side to win three major international tournaments in succession.” SI

The European Cup and the New Europe

June 26, 2012

“During international football competitions like the European Cup, eleven players briefly become their country, for a time, on the pitch. A nation is a difficult thing to grasp: unpalpable, mythic, flighty. Historians might labor away to define the precise contours of a country’s culture and institutions, and even sometimes attempt to delineate it’s soul, while political leaders try mightily (and persistently fail) to stand as representatives of it’s ideals. But in a way there is nothing quite so tactile, so real, as the way a team represents a nation: during their time on the pitch, they have in their hands a small sliver of the country’s destiny. And in those miraculous and memorable moments when individual trajectories intersect with a national sporting victory, sometimes biographies and histories seem briefly to meld. At such moments, the players who inhabit the crossroads of sporting and national history –Maradona in 1986, Zidane in 1998 — become icons, even saints.” Soccer Politics

Gavin Hamilton Euro 2012 diary: June 26, Kiev

June 26, 2012

“England are out and the inquest begins. Though the initial angst over penalties was inevitable, the long-term discussion needs to go deeper. The question should not be why do England keep losing on penalties, but why do England keep ending up in so many penalty shoot-outs. The simple fact is that England were not good enough to beat Italy over 120 minutes. Indeed, they were a very poor second. For Italy, you can substitute Portugal in 2004, Argentina in 1998 and Germany in 1996.” World Soccer

Spain 2-0 France: Blanc’s double right-back plan fails and Alonso deservedly scores both goals

June 24, 2012

“Laurent Blanc named an extremely reactive team – but France neither stifled Spain’s threat down the left, nor played their own game effectively. Vicente del Bosque had hinted he would make changes from the team that beat Croatia, though it was still a surprise to see Cesc Fabregas return to the side in a false nine role, meaning Spain played the XI that started against Italy in the opening game – an experiment that didn’t go well.” Zonal Marking

Three thoughts on Spain-France
“1. Laurent Blanc’s tactical gamble backfired — As a coach who spent a year playing for Barcelona — he would often talk tactics with Jose Mourinho, then on the coaching staff, as well as teammates Pep Guardiola and Luis Figo — Laurent Blanc has made no secret of his admiration for Spain’s style of play. He talked of wanting France to play like the reigning champion, and was happy to pick technical players — like Samir Nasri, Marvin Martin, Jeremy Menez and Mathieu Valbuena — over physical ones; he wanted his defenders to start attacks and his forwards to play a fast-passing game.” SI

Spain still the team to beat
“Legendary French icon Zinedine Zidane turned 40 on Saturday. He celebrated with an appearance on French radio in which he made a birthday wish that France would play with ambition. ‘We’ve got the players, we’ve got the manager,’ he declared. ‘What we need is some folie [madness].’ Not all birthday wishes come true. What Zidane received was a lineup that L’Equipe described as ‘ultra-defensive.’ Manager Laurent Blanc used five midfielders, one of whom, Mathieu Debuchy, is a right back. Samir Nasri, rumored to be at the center of the team’s Gallic midweek bickering, was relegated to the bench.” ESPN (Video)

Euro 2012: Xabi Alonso strikes at double for Spain to knock out France
“One hundred caps, two goals and victory against France for the first time in Spain’s history. There was also revenge for the last time they were knocked out of a major tournament, six long years ago. Xabi Alonso was on the losing side that night in Hanover. Everything has changed since them; Spain have gone from habitual failures to perpetual winners. And, ultimately, they were comfortable winners here, France were simply unable to truly trouble them. Alonso controlled much of this game. He decided it too.” Guardian

Euro 2012 Quarterfinals Preview

June 22, 2012

“…Greece vs. Germany. How They Got Here: Greece, despite all their history (the last couple of tournaments, not the battle of Sparta and Athens), have been pretty entertaining throughout Euro 2012. Or at least they’ve been involved in entertaining matches. They are an example of what happens if you just keep playing (Russia might want to write this down). After drawing with Poland and losing to the Czech Republic, they looked down. But in their third and final match, a goal from 35-year-old captain Giorgos Karagounis put them up on Russia, and saw the Greeks through to the quarters.” Grantland (Video)

Germany, Spain still favorites as Euro 2012 quarterfinals begin

June 20, 2012

“A new tournament starts in Euro 2012 on Thursday with the first of four quarterfinals, a showdown between Portugal and the Czech Republic here at the National Stadium. After a breathless run of 24 games in 12 days, Wednesday was the tournament’s first off-day, which gives us a chance to do a new set of power rankings and preview each quarterfinal.” SI

France has reason to worry

June 20, 2012

“In a hurry, the optimism surrounding France at the European Championships has faded. Set to win Group D and avoid a confrontation with defending European and world champion Spain, France lost 2-0 to already-eliminated Sweden in Kiev on a steamy Tuesday night to set up that unwanted pairing in the quarterfinals. England, as group winner (yes, you’re seeing right), gets Italy instead. After France won at a major tournament for the first time in six years on Friday, out went Les Bleus’ 23-match unbeaten streak with a stunning Zlatan Ibrahimovic volley in the 54th minute.” ESPN (Video)

France 2-0 Ukraine: Ribery v Husiev battle decides the game

June 16, 2012

“After a long rain delay, France took the initiative and went onto win the game comfortably. Laurent Blanc made two changes. One was a straight swap, with Patrice Evra dropping out and Gael Clichy starting at left-back. Higher up, the introduction of Jeremy Menez at the expense of Florent Malouda meant Samir Nasri moved into a permanent central position, and France switched to a 4-2-3-1. Oleg Blokhin had said before the tournament that he didn’t have a set first choice XI, and would switch from game to game, but after Ukraine’s famous 2-1 victory over Sweden on Monday, he stuck with the same side.” Zonal Marking

France comes alive in second half, beats co-host Ukraine in Group D
“France won a match at a major tournament for the first time since Zinedine Zidane’s head-butt, beating Ukraine 2-0 Friday in a storm-delayed match at the European Championship. Jeremy Menez and Yohan Cabaye scored early in the second half for the French, who last won a major match in the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup. In the final of that tournament, Zidane was given a red card for his head-butt in the last match of his career.” SI

Three thoughts: France’s tactics work in 2-0 victory over Ukraine
“Three thoughts from France’s 2-0 victory over co-host Ukraine from Donetsk, Ukraine. 1. The tactical and personnel changes of Laurent Blanc worked perfectly. France’s 4-3-2-1 against England, with Samir Nasri and Franck Ribéry on either side of Karim Benzema, was switched to a 4-2-3-1 against Ukraine. In the latter formation, Nasri was side of Ribéry and Jérémy Ménez, who came in for Chelsea’s Florent Malouda.” SI

France’s talent too much for Ukraine
“The Ukrainian national anthem, “Ukraine has not yet Perished,” rang out raucously in the driving rain ahead of the team’s game against France, yet the co-hosts could not summon a performance to match the title. In this contest, French quality snuffed out the opponents’ passion. France coach Laurent Blanc tweaked his lineup ahead of the game, dropping veterans Patrice Evra and Florent Malouda in favor of Gael Clichy and Jeremy Menez, hoping to find sharper movement in the attacking third. Blanc knew his team had mustered 15 shots on goal against England yet created few clear-cut chances. His changes would prove to be vindicated.” ESPN (Video)

The Reducer: Orange Crushed

June 16, 2012

“Game of the Week: Germany 2, Holland 1. When the final whistle blew on this Group of B (B is for Death) match, one image in particular kept running through my head. There was Arjen Robben and his crinkled, baby Benjamin Button face, dickishly taking the long way around to the Dutch bench after being substituted for in the 83rd minute. He didn’t try to hype up his teammates, he didn’t shake hands with his sub, Dirk Kuyt, or give a quick man-shake to his manager. Nope, instead he tore off his jersey, parading past the famously passionate, good-traveling Holland fans, looking like a kid who’d just been Tasered while sucking on a lime.” Grantland

Euro 2012 Analysis – Day 1, Groups A, B, C, D

June 15, 2012

“This is the first piece in our Euro 2012 Analysis series, during which we’ll analyze all the matches based on our FootballrRating score. The app is currently in public beta. Register now to gain access to our match, player, and team analysis.” chimu solutions

France 1-1 England: France dominate possession but creativity stifled by England sitting deep

June 12, 2012

“A match with little invention, played at a very slow pace. Laurent Blanc chose his expected side in a 4-3-3, with Florent Malouda shuttling forward from the midfield. Roy Hodgson’s side contained one surprise name – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who started on the left. James Milner started on the other flank, and Danny Welbeck got the nod over Andy Carroll upfront. As expected, France dominated possession (65%) and had 21 shots compared to England’s 5, but many were from long-range, as Blanc’s side struggled to create clear-cut chances.” Zonal Marking

Three thoughts: England’s set play success forces draw with France
“1. England thrives with English goals. In the Balkans and perhaps elsewhere, a goal scored with a powerful header is known as an English goal. If that header comes from a set play, that makes it even more English (British, really, but in the Balkans comprehension of the distinction is blurry). So far in this tournament, that stereotype has proven to be true. Only two goals have been scored with one touch from a set play, and, appropriately, both were scored by players on English clubs: Sean St Ledger of Leicester City for Ireland and Joleon Lescott of Manchester City for England.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

France 1 England 1: match report
“Good point, average creativity. England were under sustained pressure towards the end of their opening Group D game but they held on and will take deserved satisfaction from this result, if not necessarily the display. It’s a good start though. The French were more technical, more assertive through the likes of Franck Ribery and their terrific right-back, Mathieu Debuchy, comfortably the man of the match. Uefa awarded the honour to Samir Nasri, who had brilliantly equalised Joleon Lescott’s header, but Debuchy really impressed most.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Euro 2012: Samir Nasri’s goal for France echoes England’s old failings
“New coach, but familiar pattern. England have scored before conceding at every international tournament they have competed at since 1990. Yet so often they lose that lead with a goal struck from a similar position. For years England’s weak zone has been the space between defence and midfield and it has constantly been their downfall in opening games. In 2000 the game-changer was Portugal’s Rui Costa, who got all three assists as England squandered a two-goal lead to lose 3-2. In 2004 Zinedine Zidane scored a superb free-kick after a clumsy Emile Heskey foul in that position. Two years ago Clint Dempsey turned past Frank Lampard’s poor challenge before his weak shot squirmed between Robert Green’s legs.” Guardian – Michael Cox

Not a bad start for England, France
“Not a win for England, but not a bad start. A team devoid of four regulars, including Wayne Rooney, showed grit, organization and calm to earn a 1-1 draw with tournament dark horse France, which extended its unbeaten streak to 22 games. Les Bleus won’t be disappointed, either. Neither team wanted to lose.” ESPN (Video)

England, France draw in Group D
“England held on for a 1-1 draw with France on Monday at the European Championship, giving the Group D favorites one point each. Joleon Lescott put England in the lead with a header in the 30th minute, and Samir Nasri leveled for France shortly before halftime with a strike into the bottom corner of the net. France still has not won a match at a major tournament since the 2006 World Cup. The national team, however, is unbeaten in its last 22 matches.” SI

Gavin Hamilton Euro 2012 diary, Gdansk, June 10

June 11, 2012

“It was always a little premature to hail Denmark’s victory over Holland’s as proof of a new defensive mood enveloping the European game. First Chelsea win the Champions League, then Denmark provide the tournament’s first shock by keeping a clean sheet against much-fancied Holland.” World Soccer


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 158 other followers