For Poland

May 25, 2012

“Erm, they voted for Michel Platini! It’s widely reported that the tournament hosting rights were handed to Poland and Ukraine as a ‘thank you’ from Platini, for the Eastern European national football associations voting for him in the UEFA Presidential Elections. As the co-hosts, Poland haven’t had to qualify for the tournament; and therefore have not played a competitive game since their World Cup Qualifying loss to Slovakia back in October 2009!” In Bed With Maradona

For Ukraine
“Ukraine have managed to sneak their way into the competition via the backdoor, due to the fact that they automatically gained a place upon UEFA accepting their bid to jointly host the tournament. Being the host nation of a major international tournament allows for the enjoyment of vociferous local support as well as the comfort of taking to the pitch in familiar surroundings and climes. Such advantages are well documented and for Ukraine this situation could well play into their hands.” In Bed With Maradona

For Russia
“The Russian journey to (relatively) nearby Poland and Ukraine should, by all rights, have been a relatively comfortable one. Only the Republic of Ireland looked like posing them any real threat in a fairly lightweight group, and so domestic expectations were high, especially given the national side’s impressive outing at the last European Championships. However, when a routine victory over Andorra in the opening match was followed by a defeat to Slovakia on home soil, the alarm bells began to ring. A controlled 3-2 win in Ireland and a gritty 1-0 over FYR Macedonia may have steadied the ship, but when the side travelled to Armenia and emerged only with an insipid goalless draw to show for their efforts, the media sharpened their knives for Dick Advocaat and his men – the manager was clueless, star player Andrei Arshavin was past it, and the team didn’t care.” In Bed With Maradona

For Italy
“Beginning with straight-forward wins over Estonia and Faroe Islands as well as a hard-fought draw with Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, Italy’s relatively simple path to Poland and Ukraine was all but sealed when Serbian Ultra’s caused their game in Genoa to be called off. Eventually awarded as a 3-0 win to the home side, it saw Cesare Prandelli’s men take a virtually unassailable lead at the top of the standings which they would never relinquish. Dropping just four points and scoring twenty goals while conceding just twice, it was one of the most dominant qualification campaigns the Azzurri have ever enjoyed. While the quality of the opposition can be called into question – as Republic of Ireland’s dismantling of second placed Estonia in the playoffs clearly attests – Italy should rightly be a team to fear once the tournament proper gets underway.” In Bed With Maradona

For Ireland
“It wouldn’t really be a Republic of Ireland qualifying campaign without a trip to the playoffs. Thankfully there was no repeat of the heartache suffered against France in the qualifiers for the last World Cup as Estonia were easily dealt with 5-1 over the two legs. Ireland finished second in a tricky group which also featured Russia, Armenia, Slovakia, Macedonia, and Andorra. They lost only once, at home to the Russians, but conceded just seven goals as Giovanni Trapattoni defensive mindedness came out on top as it has done many times in the past.” In Bed With Maradona

Chelsea F.C.: Can’t Buy Me Love

May 25, 2012

“If you take the long view with Chelsea — the view that starts on the day Roman Abramovich first wrote his name on the club in 2003 — the amazing thing isn’t that they won the Champions League but that they won it the way they did — as underdogs, riding on luck and drama. Consider…” Grantland – Run of Play

Juan Román Riquelme and Boca have the final word – just for a change

May 25, 2012

“Juan Román Riquelme never changes. He is the eternal question at the heart of Argentinian football, the solemn-faced representative of a romanticised former age constantly rebuking the present for not being quite as graceful, quite as thoughtful, as he is.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson