Friday, April 27, 2012

EM 2004--Round Two

EM 2004

Welcome back members of one of the globe’s most exclusive clubs,

Editor’s retroactive notes:
Fumbling toward the word “syndicate”

Such a touching response. Put a bow on a piece by placing your soul on the table and suddenly you’ve been transubstantiated from a lowly bookie with beady eyes to a contemporary salon pontificator capable of inspiring the world. J Amen, brothers. A pleasure to hear from you all, even those too feeble-willed to sprinkle the collection plate with a bet or two. Before I allow the priest metaphor to carry me away on the blessed ass, I’ll illustrate how humble and bruised my own ass is:

My Stats:

Spread: 4-4
Straight up: 5-1-2

Some startling results have given me a black eye. No worries. I’ll soldier on through. The developments of this exciting tournament only hit me because they love me. I refuse to run away! Far from sprinting away from the surprises that abruptly cracked my mandible, I plan to wipe off the blood and openly embrace them. Round one warrants a Rambling Section:

--Following the unholy mess that was the Portuguese opener, I’m overcome by the urge to concoct some sort of betting mantra. No easy task. Thus far the best I’ve been able to devise: “Don’t bet on Catholic Countries when they face Eastern Orthodox countries occupying the same latitude.” File that away.

--With respect to the Croatian uniforms, if you would kindly return my dead grandmother’s tablecloth, it would be both respectful and mature of you.

--Otto Rehhagel is truly a man who knows where his towel is. Anyone else catch the Greeks taunting a Portuguese crowd in a Portuguese stadium with chants “Otto über Alles”? We almost had another European war on our hands.

--Washing the bitter taste of the Germany vs. Netherlands match out of my grill began with the observation that one could interpret player names as dishes in an exotic three-course meal. Start off with some Lahm with a side of van Bronckhorst. Trade up for a plate of Frings and Schweinsteiger. Wash it all down with some van der Meyde and expel a van der Vaart. I’m hungry. L

--Someone needs to explain to me how Barthez saves that penalty, or how Beckham managed to choke that badly. How the sheep-shagging fuck does Warwick Davis best Val Kilmer?  

--I’ll be the one to say it: Zidane looks like a strung-out version of Big Bird.
--German trainer Rudi Voeller will be faced with some tough decisions in the coming days. Among them, when he plans to find a toupee that actually matches his moustache.

--On the topic of facial hair, why is Kevin Kuranyi doing his utmost to resemble a gangbanging prison rapist named Julio?

--Looks as if the Swedes still know how to rape and pillage. Thought those barbarian hordes retired into a quiet life of designing angular furniture schemes? Think again. The Vikings live!

--Only Adam Sandler’s “Opera Man” can adequately describe the lethargic play of every Italian outfielder. “Shhh….el dozo. Shhh….el dozo.”

--Let’s get our shit together, Czechs! If you can’t handle the Latvians, how in the hell do you expect to get that American backpacker off your couch? Show some more resolve!

--Watching the Spanish and listening to Miles Davis’s “Sketches of Spain” correspond in that one finds oneself waiting for a crescendo that never comes.

--Some fine additions to the “fascism on the force” arrow included anecdotes of seat-belt tickets, teenagers breaking city curfew, and half-a-dozen run ins with the impotent yet assertive Campus Police. “Do you want me to call the real cop, son? If you don’t tone down your expletives a notch I might start to consider deliberating on it!”

--A thrilling French victory sent their manic coach over the edge. Someone get this cat some Juju beads and an Enya tape. As usual, nothing the French do threatens to make remote sense.

Editor’s retroactive notes:
Meh. I’d like to claim that this bit was funny at the time, but truthfully it still blew and I spent an entire afternoon intensely disliking myself for it. This being something of a frequent occurrence, perhaps I could use some Juju Beads and an Enya tape.

It may be too early to make any grand predictions, but we can still rank all sixteen teams based on their debuts while fitting in a superfluous ethnic slur or two.

1) Sweden   

The Swedish Steamroller is out of the gate and off to their best start ever. Can’t wait to see if they can replicate their high-scoring hijinks against a non-beer league team.

2) France    

The defending champs carry all the momentum along with a certain je ne sais quoi. They’re poised to make another run for title, sulking all the way.

3) Greece   

Are they for real?  The Greeks are nothing if not persistent salesmen. String together some more victories and you might even wear me down. “No, my friend, my friend, my friend, my friend. Dis very good team. You some very much like this team, my friend. Good team for you. Nice fit for you, my friend. You buy team. I give you good deal my friend. My cousin is on team and you like deal I you give. Very, very good team. Team fit you and deal fit us” What choice do I have?

4) Spain   

No points for style, but they got the job done. With a win worth three points and style worth the jeans you wore on a night out on Bourbon Street, La Roja are off to a respectable start.

5) Czech Republic  

They secured three points they could not afford to lose. Czech P.M. Vladimir Spira reportedly wants to call a press conference during which he downs a German lager next week and Schröder is prepared to do the same should the Krauts prevail. I don’t consider this evolving European tradition to be blasphemous at all. What’s truly sacrilege is when U.S. mayors wager a crate of Oranges against a box of cookies. You sully the fine name of gambling! 

6) Netherlands    

I’ll admit it: The goofy Germans were the fitter team on the pitch that day. Still a good result for both sides

7) Deutschland  

So much more work to do, but I liked what I saw.

8) Portugal    

It a’int over by a long shot. Though their confidence must be in tatters, they’ve got the gifts

9) England  

A nasty knock delivered by the French. They got knocked down, but they’ll get up again. Take a deep Limey breath and focus on thrashing the rest of the pretender’s in the group. The worst is behind you.

10) Russia   

They hung with the Spaniards and might yet still be hanging around come quarterfinals. We remain in the dark, much like the plethora of fans bringing Soviet Union flags to the games. Er….guys…there’s something you need to know.

11) Denmark  

An outside chance remains. They looked the superior side against the Italians.

12) Italy    

Big trouble in Dago-land. If they can’t fend off the surging Swedes, it’s practically over.

13) Croatia  

Not good enough, my Adriatic Amateurs. The Anglo-Franco competitors won’t be so forgiving. Book your flights now.

14) Latvia  

Bet you guys are tired after that defiantly spunky performance. Might as well take the next two games off. Don’t forget to visit the Port of Lisbon before you head back home. In fact, just forfeit the next two matches and spend the next week touring beaches.

15) Switzerland  

Ach, Hans. Louie and Faro are gorgeous this time of year. You might even have time to squeeze in a trip to Gibraltar. There’s really no point in showing up to play.

16) Bulgaria   

Can we do just a bit better than a 0-5 drubbing? I suggest you guys put in an appearance for no other reason than to improve on that, which you can’t really help. After you’re done with Friday’s match, put in an appearance at some low country vineyards.



Greece vs. Spain


Can lightning strike twice? The land of Zeus says fuck yeah. Thunderbolt their asses. Looks like we all swallowed a boulder when we wrote this team off. This bookie, however, remains reluctant to drink the kool-aid. The Press maintains that both sides are fit and will likely trot out the same starting eleven. Greek strikers Vryzas and Charisteas were non-factors in the opening match and should be comfortably neutralized by in form full backs Carlos Puyol and Albeda. Raul Bravo also had a stellar debut. Of course, the only Raul on the Spanish team that is so commanding that he doesn’t even need his last name printed on his Jersey is Real Madrid striker Raul (Gonzalez). He and Morientes make for an especially intimidating pair up front. It’s unclear if the Greeks can find an answer to this duo.

The Hellenes are woefully outclassed in the midfield, where Basinas and Giannakopoulos lacked any fluid ability to open up some space. Spain often plays a 5-2-3, keeping only Vicente and Baraja in the midfield, with Albeda the X-factor that can creep up. This trio should be able to own the entire portion of the pitch. Spanish trainer eternally known as “That guy they hastily promoted after Camacho resigned” has options of the bench too. The “Two Xavis” can step up to reclaim the midfield should there be any unforeseen problems.

Otto occupies a special place in my heart, having coached my hometown FC Kaiserslautern from promotion to the Bundesliga Title in 1998. He’s still no magician and has a depleted bench to work with. Athetico’s Demis Nikolaidas is still unfit for a full match and the rest of the bench are nothing but a bunch of grizzled has-beens. I’ve a patented bookie hunch that we’ll be talking about this team deep into the tournament. For now the laws of football gravity dictate they must come crashing back down to earth.

THE LINE: Spain +1 goal

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Spain 1, Greece 1. How could I have ever doubted “Rehhakles”? He ended up benching Basinas and yanking Giannakopoulos at halftime. The unexpected adjustments led the Hellenes to engineer some scintillating forward runs and La Roja spent much of the final 45 on their heels. Moriente’s goal was a clinical finish, but the Greek equalizer was a sight to behold. The Bundesliga’s very own Vassilos Tsiartas was the midfield presence I failed to account for and he sent a sailing assist 50 meters directly to the toe of Werder Bremen’s Angelos Charisteas. To his credit, “guy who was hastily promoted after Camacho resigned” pulled out all the stops to finish the Greeks off, including subbing in Joaquin at halftime and later bravely pouring attackers Valeron and Torres onto the pitch. The kill shot simply eluded them. The legend of “King Otto” began to gather steam. 

Portugal vs. Russia


The road to restoration starts right here. Beat back these inferior gnats and take back your honor! Europe is looking to hire Portuguese P.M. Durai Barrosso as European Commissioner. We shall withdraw our nomination if you fail to defend the continent’s dignity! Battle for the West, Navigators. Fight for consumerism!

Hardly an original pep talk, every last national daily newspaper has some choice words for Scolari: Win big or cart your arse back to the southern hemisphere. Scolari remains poker-faced, tight-lipped about the massive lineup overhaul he’s surely contemplating. Some are so brash as to suggest the entire defensive backfield will be culled. No word on whether Rui Costa, Simao, or Figo will retain their starting spaces. We bookmakers are forced to admit that the only thing we know for certain is the reality that we know nothing.

Whatever combination Scolari chooses, his task pales in comparison to the one facing “Hey” Georgi Yartsev. He’ll have to do without his dirtiest trench warrior Roman Sharonov, suspended after double yellows attained last match. He’s also booted Alexander Mostovoi off the team. His chief striker Dimitri Bulykin runs like Clinton and Marat Izmailov seems to be more spaced out than some of the players in Rodney Dangerfield’s “Ladybugs”. The Russians limp into a contest against a drunken brute severely pissed off that he tripped over a nail and fell flat on his face in front of his girlfriend. For the first time in recorded history, Russians are poised to lose an intoxicated adversary. 

THE LINE: Portugal +2 goals

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Portugal 2, Russia 0. Before analyzing this stomping, I’ll take a moment to apologize to anyone outraged that European (and for that matter Women’s) tournaments tend to contain more technical scrutiny at the expensive of a morbidly lewd sense of humor. There are two central reasons for this. First, a smaller tournament affords me more space to get slightly wonkish with the whole spiel, even if my reasoning exhibits gaping holes. Second, the audience for a more circumscribed collection of countries differs markedly from the global audience which perilously flirts with losing interest during a World Cup Tournament. It did not take long for me to realize that I was speaking to a different group of bettors when covering the Euros. This cohort appreciates some finely focused material. The World Cup more closely resembles a huge multivariate global rave for big money. It behooves me much to keep my cognitive exposition to myself in favor of the most universally understood sexually charged topics. I broach the subject only as a polite foreshadowing intimation to more tepid fans. Plenty more insider football talk to come. Plenty of dick jokes too if you’d care to stick around.

Scolari dropped only Rui Costa, giving Deco his big break. Within the first seven minutes Deco linked up with Maniche for a crisp opening tally. Three starting defenders were parked on the bench, allowing Ricardo Carvalho and Nuno Valente a chance to shine. Though Pauletta and Simao were permitted to keep their starting spots, the slighted Rui Costa and Nuno Gomez replaced them in rapid succession after the hour mark. The motivational tactic worked wonders as Rui Costa ran hard and ultimately reclaimed his self-belief, stroking in a Christiano Ronaldo cross in the game’s dying moments. Figo also retained his starting spot, but was swapped for Ronaldo as soon as was appropriate for the morale of both players. The Navigators received some serendipitous assistance from Russian keeper Sergei Ovchinnikov. In one of the most profoundly stupid plays I’ve ever seen, he was sent off for handling the ball outside the area shortly before halftime. A further weakened ten-men Russian ship of fools may have constituted an easy target, but Scolari’s careful management of his talent stock was most impressive.


Switzerland vs. England


Here’s another team that looking to climb back in the saddle, muster atop their valiant steed if you will. The Swiss thankfully provide appallingly pathetic opposition. So meaningless are the Helvetians that even their font is of no use. England’s John Terry will return to give a demoralized side just the boost they need to put the freakishly twisted defeat to the French behind them. Beckham and Owen will play better simply by default. Frank Lampard and Gary Neville had solid enough initiations that they can build upon.

The Swiss will play absent PSV Eindhoven’s Johann Vogel, suspended after his dismissal in the Croatian match. Kicking a sick dog is no pastime for a romantic softie such as myself….unless the dog happens to be a way of allegorizing the Swiss. Go home, ye yodeling mountain men and take your “Köbi Coach” with you. Watching animated coaches is part of the fun. This man blinks less than Steve Forbes. I imagine he’ll wear the same placid face even as he dies of agonizing renal failure. God save the Queen!   

THE LINE: England +2 goals

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: England 3, Switzerland 0. The time had come for young Wayne Rooney of Liverpool. This will forever be immortalized as his breakout game. At that time he was but an overly freckled little Evertonian aspirant with natural hair. Twenty some odd minutes in. Gerard to Beckham, Beckham to Owen, Owen to ROOONEY. WAYNE ROONEY! THE YOUNGEST PLAYER EVER TO SCORE IN THE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP! The Swiss threw most of the back line forward, much to their detriment. Paul Scholes should have made it 3-0 by the time “lil Wayne” consternated everyone with a fake return pass followed by a firecracker of shot from an impossible angle. 2-0 England off a Rooney brace. Roughly one minute after Steven Gerard finished off a Gary Neville drop, Sven gave Rooney a much-deserved curtain call. The Limeys rose from their seats to applaud their new savior. The Beckham Era was over. “Admiral Rooney” would steer the course from now on.

France vs. Croatia


The entire armchair community is riding this pretty blue pony. I know of only one EU Football expert who thinks France won’t repeat as Champions. His name is Bjorn and he’s a very sad and lonely character whom everyone secretly dislikes. The Froggies are riding high after the thrilling last-minute attestation of their credentials. Who da champs now? Who dat say gonna beat them Frogs? The French fucked the English over with all the kinky flair of that irresistibly doomed circus freak girl you just knew you should have never brought home. After heaving and screeching on top for a half hour she reaches her orgasmic climax and punches you in the face. Stop pretending as if I’m the only one to have this happen to him. You just don’t want to talk about it.

The French will get Descailly back and lose Makelele. The former has fully recovered from his injury while the latter re-aggravated his. Mums the word on Santini, who may very well not even be in the stadium. None of this is relevant for the French, for whom Henry and Trezuguet appear in spectacular form. Even old man Zidane looks six years younger. Let Les Bleus times roll.  

THE LINE: France +2 goals

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: France 2, Croatia 2. Silvestre conceded yet another penalty and the Croats demonstrated how one shoots a spot kick past a dwarf keeper. AIM HIGH! Descailly played a miserable match, allowing the Monaco striker Dado Prso to treat him like a turnstile moments later. The French were fairly lucky to escape with a point from this one. Trzeguet received an auspicious bounce that enabled him to coax the ball into an empty net. Henry seemed to be shooting for some other net positioned closer to the parking lot. The other French goal came courtesy of Croatian Defender Igor Tudor, who whiffed on a clearance and ending up putting the ball in his own net. Everyone dismounted from the pony after this game. The prurient sexual dynamo put her clothes back on and sauntered over to a dark corner where she could broom amidst the haze produced by chain-smoking Gauloises.


Denmark vs. Bulgaria


The most interesting thing about this match is the name of the Bulgarian Keeper: Zdradkov Zradkovo. Those must be some really cool monogrammed towels stacked up in the linen closet. Some of you have written me with the fair criticism that I utilize too much hackneyed alliteration. I accept this objection you “nattering nabobs of negativism”. Now allow me to humor you haters with a complete breakdown of this meeting between the “Dashing Danes” and the “Blundering Bulgarians”

As noted above, the Bulgarians will play better…if only because their mothers would be capable of playing better. They still don’t stack up against a Danish side that will have Everton’s Thomas Gravesen back from suspension and Chelsea’s Jasper Gronkar back from a family funeral. The Danes performed quite well absent their midfield stars last time out. The new additions will only further heighten the play of established super strikers Jan Dahl Thomason and Dennis Rommedahl. The Danes possess plenty of verifiable weapons. The Bulgarians possess…well….Zradkov Zradkovo.

THE LINE: Denmark +2 goals

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Denmark 2, Bulgaria 0. The memorable moment from this match occurred some twenty minutes in when Rommedahl essentially snapped his right leg in two after coming down from an aerial challenge. Scary stuff. As much simulation takes place on the pitch, it’s important for casual fans of the game to know that lower limb injuries incurred during a game, in point of fact, fucking hurt like hell. Next time you spring forth from your horizontal position on the couch and spit out a mouth full of Cheetos to express outrage over a player grasping his shins as he rolls around on his back, recall the infamous scene from “Family Guy”:

Sweden vs. Italy


I wish I had a button to press. No button in sight. Hmmm…..I suppose I’ll just bang on my desk emphatically. UPSET ALERT!! UPSET ALERT!! Wooooooo—hooooo! UPSET ALERT!! My dearest forlorn Italian Stallions, I’m feeling remarkably magnanimous today. It is my benevolent pleasure to give you an opportunity to win your money back. I’ve taken your head and with it your power. What distinguishes a football tournament from the Highlander Series is that you’re still alive. We’ll make this a pick, meaning your cherished Azzuri only have to win by ONE TRIFLING GOAL. Before making it official, I’ll afford myself some trash talk space.

Trusting your team proved impossible even before they laid a heaping steaming pile of shit on the pitch against the Danes. Have I mentioned that your head coach is completely in his cups? Zanetti and Cameronesi in midfield? Bahahahahaha. The jig is up. I heaped praise on your predictably underachieving forwards del Piero and Viera just to lure you into a false sense of security. Pannucci and Zambrotta are the only true talents. In front of them sit an unfit group of primadonnas with no chemistry. Priceless how I had you fooled! You buffoons ate it up. Ahahahahahaha. Now you’ve lost Totti to a replay suspension and you’re about to get smacked up by the Swedes. Forza Italia! Sei un po babbeo o dici solo delle sciochezze?

You may find yourself mollified by the fact that I am in the minority among bookmakers. Vegas, Bodog, and practically every online gaming site still have the Wops as odds-on favorites. I happen to know something that the more experienced odds makers don’t. Namely, busting you guy’s balls is always an effective strategy. Want to see me eat my words? Wouldn’t it be more satisfying if some cash were flowing in your direction?

THE LINE: Pick em’

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Italy 1, Sweden 1. You honestly haven't lived until you’ve bathed in money. Ever dump some fat stacks in the tub and loofa up your course skin with bills? We going sizzlin’, goin’ sizzlin’. So much money. You can’t stop that. After this match I was lighing' up cigarettes again, if only to relish in the please of setting bills on fire like a true king in the counting house. Cassano took Totti’s place, giving the Italians an early lead and me a spot of indigestion. Low and behold, however, Ibrahimovic knocked in a loose ball after a scramble in the 85th minute. I’ll never forget that moment, voiced by Javier something-or-other-o on the Spanish Channel. “Iiiiibraaahiiiimooovic. La Fuerta. La fuerta. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL. GOL. GOL. GOL. GOL. GOL. G-G-G-G-Gooooooool”. To this day I refuse to watch a contest involving Ibrahimovic unless I can hear the Spanish announcers string out every last one of the surfeit of vowels in his name  “Iiiiibraaahiiiimooovic.” Alas, the ecstasy was fleeting. L Less than twenty four hours later, it was time to run a large chunk of that the money through the dryer and send it back. 


Deutschland vs. Latvia


What a great game to entertain some friends with on a Saturday morning. By the end of this round, Portugal, France, and the Good Ship Fatherland should be right back on course. My frustrated Jungs can find an outlet for the blatant obstructionism the faced against the Dutch by lighting these losers up, Saudi Style. What part of “über alles in der Welt” do you fail to comprehend? As heavily favored as my Mannschaft is in this mismatch, we are in dire need of some modifications if this shutout is to be the convincing romp we require:

1) Kuranyi can’t do it alone. We need another striker. Voeller has been tentative to use Klose as he’s recovering from a knee injury, but if there was ever a time we needed the man who scored five goals last tournament it’s now. We should sacrifice a defender (probably Wörns) and trot out a 4-4-2 formation.

2) Hamann and Schneider appear non-existent on the flanks. Klose will be rendered completely useless unless we can exploit the width of the pitch and whip in some crosses. Schweinsteiger may not be ready for the start, but Kehl or even blast from the past Jeremies might complement Ballack better.

3) Should Klose start, either Bodic or Bradic must be ready to come on around the hour mark. Though the two Yugoslavs are way over the hill, they might still serve as emotional catalysts during the final push.

4) Schweinsteiger needs to come in at the restart and no later.

So there we have it Herr Völler. We’re all waiting to exhale. Know what? I’ll go ahead and exhale now. I’m so confident in my Jungs that I’ve invited two lovely ladies to come by the apartment to watch this massacre with me. I know you’ll deliver! 

THE LINE: Deutschland +3 Goals

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Germany 0, Latvia 0. Having a strong memory really is a curse. Oh but I could only forget this wholly forgettable match. After spending a week extolling the virtues of the beautiful game and touting the amazing skill of the Mannschaft, I ended up screening a goalless draw for two football virgins. They left much chagrinned that they even elected to come in the first place. Bloody hell. Had the Jungs actually put on a show, there’s no telling how it might have ended! Goddamn it. Reliving this fiasco will surely be as internally painful as watching the tape of my field sobriety test. Nevertheless, both are excruciating journeys one must embark upon should one wish to better comprehend this world. Fuck me. Here goes:

Jens Nowotny’s injury enabled Völler to play a 4-4-2 without benching any of the backs. In a curious move he started Fredi Bobic alongside Kuranyi. The pairing was a complete disaster, as the younger and hungrier Kuranyi’s timing was incompatible with Bobic’s and he ended up in an offside position no fewer than 12,290 times. As faintly presaged, Frings and Ballack played strongly while Hamann and Schneider did absolutely nothing to spark the midfield. Lahm and Friedrich did their best to compensate for the lack of any forward momentum on the flanks, creeping forward in that audacious way that would become their calling card. This only led to some embarrassing defensive errors including a handball booking for Friedrich. “So they’re really not allowed to use their hands?” asked my guest. Towards the end of the first half, Ballack and Kuranyi managed to put some attempts on target and both curled long-range efforts that narrowly missed the crossbar. Any appreciation of the subtle beauty of such shots was lost on my company. “So they don’t score often in this game I take it?”

Schneider was subbed for Schweinsteiger at the half, Völler being obviously as concerned as I was that we weren’t getting any balls out wide. The switch succeed in initiating more offensive play, but all of the blasts from Lahm, Frings, Ballack, and Schweinsteiger were either well over the bar or directly at the keeper. The pressure persisted for the next half hour. Although the ball spent 90 percent of the time in the German attacking third real quality chances were lacking. There was no shortage of free kicks, almost all of them directly at the keeper Kolinko. Klose replaced Bobic shortly after the hour mark to no effect. When it became apparent that Kuranyi couldn’t stay onside he was pulled for Brdaric with a quarter of an hour left. He could do nothing but lurk close to Kolinko, waiting for gifted rebounds that never came. So it went until full time. “Well, Peter. It’s been fantastically boring. I think we’re going to leave now.” Bloody hell. Fuck me.      

Netherlands vs. Czech Republic


Nothing between these two very talented sides, both fully healthy and off to strong starts. The Brilliant Orange look to start the fleet-footed youngster Robben, placing the Sneijder/Zenden carousel on hold for the time being. Other than this leaked morsel, the plans of eccentric and unconventional coach Dick Advocaat remain a complete mystery. “Rockin Rud” is conveniently tearing shit up. Stam, Bouma, and van Bronckhorst are keeping things tight at the back. Keeper Van der Sar appears as adroit as any other fourth defender. The Dutch are an impetuous side capable of catching fire at any moment.

Not to be outdone, pushing the Czechs will be as easy as coaxing my grandfather into admitting the argument is over. Koller and Barros work well together up front. Their defense mirrors the Dutch approach. Three Strapping stalwarts and an above average keeper do the work of four. In this case it’s Grygera, Bolf, Jankulovski, and Cech. Two assault-minded teams can produce essentially any result. It’ll be a shootout in Aveiro. I’d be pleased to pick a favorite once I saw the final lineups. Since I don’t have that luxury…..

THE LINE: Pick em’


Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Czech Republic 3, Netherlands 2. You couldn’t have stayed for this one, girls? A five-goal match that concluded with one of the greatest comebacks in European Championship History? By this time I had processed the grief, “cleaned the pipes”, and pleased to watch the team that the Germans would surely beat in Round Three. A helluva show put on by so-called “German Sandwich” countries. As promised, Advocaat came through with the surprises, picking Milan’s Clarence Seedorf to be his midfield general. The Surinamese cyclone delivered, facilitating the famous “Orange Crush” of unrelenting Dutch pressure. They were rewarded already in the fourth minute, when Bouma headed in a perfect free kick from Robben. A quarter of an hour later it was van Nistelroy’s turn to benefit from Robben’s service. Seedorf could have easily made it 4-0. He hit the post twice. Advocaat looked like a genius for pairing the two together. Barros immediately stepped up his game and picked off Dutch captain Cocu. He linked up with a sprinting Koller who effortlessly beat Van der Sar.    

Dick Advocaat’s keen sense for talent alchemy would not go unnoticed. He eventually went on to coach South Korea, Belgium, and Russia. He became such a regular fixture in international football matches that I lovingly christened him with a German name (Schwanz Befürworter). In defiance of his well-earned reputation, he made a crucial mistake in this match. He tinkered too much with his well-oiled machine, subbing Robben out for the innocuous Paul Bosvelt at the hour mark. Czech coach Karl Brückner sensed his opportunity and brought on Marek Heinz as his third striker. Heinz drew double coverage, freeing up Nedved, Koller, and Barros to work an exquisite equalizer. Five minutes later Dutch defender Johnny Heitinga was sent off on a double yellow. The Dutch had to reorganize their defense, taking out Andy van der Meyde. An offense-oriented team reduced to ten never fails to look the hideous sight. Nedved hit the crossbar, Ujfalusi had a scorcher blocked, and Heinz forced Van der Sar into an acrobatic save. As supple as Van der Sar proved to, he couldn’t keep from relinquishing the rebound. Pobrovsky scooped it up and laid it off squarely to Smicer, an ambitious offensive substitute brought on shortly after the Dutch took their 2-0 lead. In the 88th Minute all the moves of this semi-chess match clicked into place. Zack, zack, zack. God I love football.