As 5-M likes to put it, the best part of the Summer nears its terminus.
Bravo, Europe. Your friendly bookie stands proud of his continent for finally getting on with the show. Football and life are back after yet another boldly torched trail out of the COVID thicket.
Stateside footballing enthusiasts still have some highly recommended and worthwhile tournaments to follow through the end of this month and into the next. The US girls are headed to the Olympics while the USMNT contests their own continental championship.
As pertains to Europe, however, it's time soon to take a bow and exit the stage. Most of is will have the Olympics on in the background, throwing it some passing glances whilst we prepare for the start of the new club campaign. Most of the European leagues kick off in shortly over a month.
Former UEFA president Michel Platini still receives some flak for, among other things, scheduling what was supposed to be a romantic trek through 12 separate European cities. Odd criticism. The French executive can be held culpable for a number of activities related to corruption within the sport, but the idea of a pan-European continental championship definitely isn't one of them.
How was he supposed to see the pandemic coming? Who could have predicted that the conceived romantic trek across the continent would come amid this multi-year global health crisis? It was a fabulous idea that met with the harshest of luck. One nevertheless got a taste of how grand it shall be when we get around to doing it again.
Our final Lines section returns us to the same musical visionaries that led all the Group Preview sections back in late May and early June. Gentlemen, I give you the intellectual godfathers of a Europe without hard borders. It's Kraftwerk again. It's "Europa Endlos", a.ka. "Endless Europe".
Tuesday, July 6th
Italy vs. Spain
Mama-fucking-mia what a match this is! A rematch of the 2012 final! Combaté finalé! As Alma so eloquently put it in their famous Spanish 2010 WM song, "it shall be the match of your life". Two fallen giants of the footballing world both seek a path back to glory. One shall succeed. When football fans began piecing together their hypothetical brackets some 18 months ago, we pined for this matchup. Now here it is.
So many memories. One of them from comes from days long before the syndicate even began. Recall that Roberto Baggio brace in the 1994 World Cup quarterfinals at Foxborough? How about that tense shootout in the Euro 2008 quarters? The last meeting between these two was the above-mentioned 2012 EM final. The Spanish super-team delivered a 4-0 smackdown on what would prove the last hurrah of La Roja's four year run of global dominance.
Nine years have passed. The teams we discuss today bear virtually no resemblance to those squads of yore. We're still in for real treat here as the tournament's most successful offensive side squares off against a "squadra" that are no attacking slouches themselves. Both teams possess quite the penchant for free-flowing attacking football. We could behold a true goal-fest here.
Having kept close tabs on both teams throughout the competition, your friendly bookie is pleased to report that we're looking at a 4-3-3 vs. 4-3-3. This should prove a recipe for one helluva end-to-end affair. Plenty of spaces for both sides to exploit, meaning every approach carries with it the potential for thunderous rolling counterattacks. While one can obviously never be certain of how matters will unfold on the pitch, bookie confidently predicts it won't be reminiscent of the 2008 quarters.
Back then, it was Luis Aragones' boring ass slow-build 4-4-2 vs. Roberto Donadoni's "Catenaccio on Crack" 7-2-1. Thank goodness both of those coaches and their archaic footballing systems have been consigned to the dust-bin of history. Here we have contemporary football. Both national teams rebuilt their programs with fun in mind. It's not at all unlike how the German F.A. once....nevermind...forget I brought that up. Let's head elsewhere.
When building Mancini's XI, we've two very important matters to keep in mind. The first is an old--in the context of this tournament--problem. Locatelli, Verratti, or both? The Italian trainer hasn't exactly answered the question, even if Verratti got the nod in both knockout games. The PSG central midfielder played different roles in both victories. He functioned as a direct support buttress to Lorenzo Insigne on the left against Austria and worked on a flat midfield axis with Jorginho and Barella in the Belgium fixture.
Neither concept produced what one might term a "lights out" result. Moreover, our second issue comes into play here. Namely, how to compensate for the loss of Leonardo Spinazzola. Emerson Palmieri isn't a straight swap for the injured fullback. He's actually even more of a roamer. Mancini may seek to compensate for the amount of hunting prowess he has on the left by putting a back-three in place to add an extra layer of protection.
Bookie thinks it would be a good idea. A 5-3-2, somewhat similar to the constellation originally projected, could conceivably keep the Spaniards at bay while according the wingbacks maximum forward operating capacity. I ultimately don't think we'll see it as Mancini would fear doing something so drastic this late in the tourney. We're thus left with a straight-arrow plug in and the same flat midfield axis.
This comparatively conservative approach could end up being Italy's undoing. All Luis Enrique needs to do is ditch his own more recently couched constellation and return to the even triplicate striking trident in order to get behind the Italian midfield. Bookie operates on the assumption that he will do so. Additionally, I think the Spanish manager has the added benefit (through his squad rotations) of knowing precisely which personnel to deploy.
With Ferran Torres slumping a bit, Pablo Sarabia switches back over to the right. I'll bet Enrique then goes bold with a start for the streaking Mikel Oyarzabal on the left. Enrique could also start Dani Olmo over there with similar effect. Even if he leaves the front three unchanged I believe that La Roja maintain a slight edge in attack. They can also keep things tighter at the back if Garcia returns to partner with Laporte over Pau Torres.
It should be fun in any case. Loads of fun. Take a long lunch break to enjoy the show. Bookie tips Spain to return to the final and the Spanish caravans to return to the streets. Oh what a beautiful life. Guess the team in white kits wins again.
“La Furia Roja” (4-3-3)
“Squadra Azzura” (4-3-3)
Prop Bets (as always, feel free to offer your own)
120 Minutes—Straight Up
Penalty Shootout—Straight Up
Pau Torres start—Straight Up
Rodrigo Hernandez goal—3 to 1
Unai Simon howler—3 to 1
Bernadeschi start—2 to 1
Immobile brace—2 to 1
Chiesa brace—2 to 1
THE LINE: Spain +1 Goal
Wednesday, July 7th
Denmark vs. England
Some great history here too! In this case the bookie means actual history. Beautiful stuff. Ever wonder why these flags are essentially the inverse of one another? To make a centuries' long story short, it's because Danish occupation/aggression on the Isle essentially birthed England. Everyone is taught in school that the Normans are responsible for that. While not entirely false, it's not totally true either.
The many post-Roman kingdoms of Anglo Saxon England wouldn't have ultimately been unified by an expansive Wessex if not for the need for a united front against encroaching Danelaw between the 7th and 11th centuries. Cool no? Even cooler, these flags evolved as both Anglo-Saxon England and the Danish/Norse occupiers gradually converted to the Cross during these centuries.
Even cooler still, William the Conquerer wouldn't have won the battle of Hastings (and hence brought the Isle under Norman control) had Harold Godwinson not been forced rushed his army back from Northumbria, where he was effectively fighting a two-front war against both French and Danish invaders. Even cooler than that.....okay, okay....I'll stop we still have a football fixture to discuss after all.
There's plenty of history on the pitch too. Way back in the very first syndicate chapter, England blanked Denmark in the 2002 WM round-of-16. Just for shits and giggles, your friendly bookie looked up the old post. Just so you know, I was prattling on about an era of history that I can't get enough of even back then! Incidentally, I also encountered reams of Christen Eriksen praise pages in all the old posts. Oops. Could have done without that.
Before proceeding any further, I'll be so kind as to reveal to you that the Danes are the tip. I bring this up because I wish to emphasize that this isn't a sentimental pick. There's reasoning behind it. The bookie didn't carefully chronicle the tactical work of both these teams throughout the tourney for nothing. Danish syndicate -Ms deserve to know that their country shall prevail while English syndicate -Ms need to get off their cloud immediately. Trust me, Limey mates. You're in for a big drop.
We'll delve into why, beginning with England. This year's chapter brims with praise for Gareth Southgate. His shifting tactics over the course of the five fixtures clearly demonstrates that he's had a specific plan in mind for each match. You guys have an excellent tournament football head-coach! No sense denying that. He disassembled the group stage competition quite masterfully.
The squad was picked with his lineup for match one and his gameplan for match three in mind. For those who gave up on me after I punted on drawing it up for St. George after you beat my Vaterland, I've also documented how he took out Germany and then moved everyone around perfectly for the Ukrainian rout in the last daily. England still haven't conceded a goal in this tournament. I'm nevertheless afraid that doesn't mean much.
Here, Southgate faces a task that is deceptively simple. Kasper Hjulmand has been using the exact same tactics since the second round. We've got the 3-4-3 to 4-4-2 reformat drawn up on Day Seven, Day Eleven, and Day Fourteen in addition to the last daily. I think we'll see the same thing, with a few modifications, from the Danish trainer this time. Southgate can think up a strategy for this. In a much more likely scenario, he can over-think it Guardiola-style.
While there are no personnel changes forecast, I think Declan Rice slides back for a return to the 5-2-3 we observed in the first match. The idea is to stop the Danish 3-4-3 from achieving the type of quick start they've become accustomed to, then slowly break them down with soft counter pressing. All well and good if it works.....but I don't think it does. Even if the constellation succeeds in absorbing the early pressure, 60,000 live fans at Wembley will get restless with all the rearward passing they see.
Same formation for Denmark. Same personnel too with one notable exception. Yussuf Poulsen should be healthy enough to start over Dolberg. The man who, as noted below, will be wearing his "Yurary" tricot can get the guests rolling early. Some, including Southgate, may be surprised to see Dolberg take a seat after his last two performances. I happen to think Hjulmand has his true first-choice striker in mind and England doesn't.
Based on these matchups, we could see something akin to England's 2016 knockout loss against Iceland. All the Danes need are a pair of quick strikes before Hjulmand can revert to a proven defensive lockdown. The way England are projected set up ensures that the Scandinavians will get plenty of early chances. Moreover, the Lions' offensive engine isn't that smooth at all from open play and the pressure will build as the match wears on.
With apologies to the lads on the Isle, it looks like this isn't your year either. Southgate is poised to make the tactical error. Much as was the case last round, Hjulmand almost can't be forced into his own stumble. He has a system well-tailored to slice though you early. Were he facing a different opponent, it would be a different story. Bookie thinks we're in for a familiar tale here.
“De Rød-Hvide” (3-4-3)
“The Three Lions” (5-2-3)
Prop Bets (as always, feel free to offer your own)
120 Minutes—Straight Up
Penalty Shootout—Straight Up
Dolberg start—Straight Up
Jonas Wind start—2 to 1
Daniel Wass start—2 to 1
Phil Foden start—Straight Up
Kane brace—2 to 1
Sterling brace—2 to 1
THE LINE: Denmark +1 Goal
GENTLEMEN, ENTER YOUR WAGERS