The Euros

1. I am an agnostic when it comes to international football. Basically I was happy when Brazil won the World Cup’94 (the earliest tournament I could remember watching — and it was a dull one) and World Cup’02, Germany in Euro’96, France in World Cup’98 and Euro’00, Italy in World Cup’06, and Spain in Euro’08 and World Cup’10. The only winning team that I don’t like is Greece in Euro’04. So I don’t really have strong feelings for a particular team, but I do still hate Greece. It’s not that I don’t like underdogs. It’s also not because I don’t like defensive teams. I respect the classical Italian way. I just don’t like the way Greece won the tournament.

1a. Having said that, if there is a team that I always find easy to root for, it is the Dutch. The problem with the Dutch is they haven’t won anything since 24 years ago. I really don’t know why I tend to like those who rarely win. I must be some kind of football masochist.

2. The curious case of Phil Jones. First, he was penciled as the substitute of Glen Johnson. Then, Barry was injured and Jagielka was selected as his replacement. It was not a one-to-one replacement, as Jagielka was a central defender and not a holding midfielder. But that’s because the real replacement of Barry is Jones. Next, Cahill was injured and then Martin Kelly was selected as his replacement. Again, it was not a one-to-one replacement. Martin Kelly now became the deputy of Johnson, and Jones became the fourth choice of the central backs. So, Phil Jones: England’s 2nd choice of RB (after Johnson), 5th choice of CM (after Gerrard, Parker, Barry, and Lampard), and 5th choice of CB (after Terry, Cahill, Lescott, and Jagielka). No wonder Wenger also wanted him, before he decided to move to Man Utd instead. Versatility (which can cut both ways, good and bad).

(If you want to argue about Ferdinand, you should compare him not with Kelly but with Jagielka.)

3. England is going to play the way Chelsea won the UCL. You have a fantastic goalkeeper in Joe Hart. Hodgson is renowned for his system and tactical discipline. Carroll is supposed to be the “Drogba” who will hold the ball and lay it to Young/Rooney. Whenever England plays, it is going to be a low-scoring game.

3a. King Kenny’s “buying British” policy is reaping its dividends now. Liverpool has the most number of players in the England squad. But, I feel pity for those 6 Liverpool players. They would undergo a very rigid system under Roy, but when they are back, they would learn the free-flowing football under Rodgers. Hope that they wouldn’t develop bipolar disorder, given that Roy would still manage the national team for another year or two. Or is it the way Roy trolling Liverpool to take revenge against his former club? Conspiracy.

3b. Roy said that Sven is basically copying his system. So, expect another quarter-final reaching performance from England. It also fits with his mid-table manager profile.

4. In a tournament, fluke and luck do play a part. That’s why you found surprises like South Korea in 2002 or Turkey in 2006. However, in a long tournament like the World Cup, eventually those factors even out and the winners are usually the strongest sides. That’s why you don’t find underdogs winning the World Cup yet. Not so with the Euros. Nineteen World Cups have been won by eight countries (an average of 2.38 cups/winner), while thirteen European Championships have been won by nine countries (an average of 1.44 cups/winner). Only twelve countries have ever reached the World Cup finals (an average of 3.17 final appearances/finalist). The same number of countries have reached the Euro finals (an average of 2.17 final appearances/finalist). Hence Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004. Not that they didn’t deserve it. Eventually you need to acknowledge that every championship side did deserve the title. But, paradoxically, it could explain why there are more surprises in the Euros. It is simply because of the shorter tournament length if compared to the World Cup.

European countries and their final appearances in major cups (World Cup and Euro)

4a. From the list above, basically Germany is the King, Italy is the Queen, France and Spain are the Jacks, and Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, and the Soviet Union/Russia are the Unluckies — while the rest are minions.

4b. Of all the talks about Germans’ steel mentality, actually they lost more than they won in the finals. Nevertheless, thirteen final appearances in the last 56 years (i.e., 29 competitions) means that they went into the final every 2.23 competitions. (If you discounted ’54, the rate is even better: 12 final appearances in the last 44 years/23 competitions, which is equal to 1 final appearance every 1.92 competitions.) And that’s simply amazing.

4c. Three out of four France’ final appearances came in the Zidane era. Legend.

4d. Based on the list, I guess England is the most over-hyped and over-rated national team ever.

5. Bayer Leverkusen 2002: Runners-up in the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal, and the Champions League. Plus, Germany became the runner-up of World Cup 2002. Fast forward to ten years later, it is Bayern München’s turn with the exact results as Leverkusen in 2002. Neverkusen 2.0? Ballack should prepare some talks to motivate those eight München’s players.

6. Fill in the blank. Xavi & Iniesta: Euro’08, UCL’09, World Cup’10, UCL’11, ______.

6a. In 2008, when the Barça duo didn’t win the UCL, it needs to be pointed out that Barça was in the semifinal that year and the remaining semifinalists were English clubs — and England didn’t even qualify for Euro’08. In 2010, when the duo again didn’t win the UCL but win the World Cup, they did face the Netherlands in the final (with Sneijder became the key player for both the Netherlands and also Inter Milan who won the UCL that year). This year, again no UCL for the duo. The winner is Chelsea, but Terry didn’t even play in the final while Lampard and Cahill was injured. The runner-up is Bayern München and the remaining semifinalists are the Spanish clubs, so based on this historical precedence, the outlook does look good for Spain and Germany.

6b. You can take this pattern a little bit further to the Pirlo-Gattuso axis from (relatively less impressive but still good nonetheless) 2003-07 years: UCL’03, Serie A’04, UCL’05 finalist, World Cup’06, and UCL’07. They do have different style with Xavi-Iniesta axis, as Gattuso works like a mad protector to Pirlo who is dishing long passes like a boss while Xavi and Iniesta will torture their opponents to no end with their endless passes, but the point is you must have a working identity/soul/core for your system.

(In 2011, Milan basically needed to choose between Pirlo’s and Ibra’s, and sadly they chose the latter. Milan’s loss is only Juve’s gain — for free! Sigh.)

7. Again: Match-fixing investigation in Italy. Does it mean that Italy will win another championship? Seriously, though, I don’t find the allegation surprising. It is part of their culture. To put it simply, Silvio Berlusconi owns Milan.

8. If the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain) perform well in Euro’12, will they help the Eurozone by a little bit? Nah, probably not.

9. After the Euros, comes the Olympics. And I am still in NTU. London huan ying ni!

10. Sometimes I don’t know whether I’m writing seriously or not. I guess the rule of thumb is this. If any of the points above offends you, then take it as a tongue-in-cheek. Ha!

PS: A list including the South American countries, and I only included the Copa Américas from 1975 onwards.

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