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Latvia breathe life into Euro’s group of death

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

With the Czechs already through, the Germans can expect to face a team who will very likely rest their starting players. Why not? But that’s bad news for the Dutch, who are clear-cut favorites against Latvia. At least that’s the way it seemed at the weekend.
Latvia players raised their arms in the air after drawing 0-0 with Germany. It was an excellent result against the powerhouse Germans, but it’s one that also keeps them very much alive in the competition. They are by no means out of it. Not yet. Be reminded that Latvia were winning 1-0 at halftime against the Czechs. Milan Baros finally scored and assisted to break down a gallant effort by the Baltic debutants who lost 2-1 in that opening group game.
The Dutch will be considered red-hot favorites to beat Latvia, but there’s some serious disbelief in their camp after losing to the Czechs. The Dutch team got off to a flyer and went up 2-0. It was looking really good. Even though the Czechs pulled one back, Holland were still in better control of the game, and the ball. A critical moment in the game was when the Dutch coach took out Chelsea-bound winger Arjen Robben. It was a mistake. In fact his players are still demanding a more satisfactory explanation. Robben was replaced by Paul Bosvelt, who had no impact on the game whatsoever.
The tactical decision by Dick Advocaat was based on his concern that his team was not controlling the game, that his midfield was losing the battle by being outnumbered. But that certainly happened when Robben came off because Holland completely lost their width. Dutch fans booed the decision. And his departure backfired immediately on Holland. The Czechs went on the attack with confidence, knowing their wings were now safer. What was Mr. Advocaat thinking? The “tinker man” is what the pundits and analysts were calling him. Down the field the Czechs went, with attack after attack, while Pavel Nedved ran the show. Shot after shot was fired in on top of Edwin van der Sar. It was only a matter of time before the Dutch fell. They lost 3-2.
Edgar Davids was clearly annoyed at the moment of the substitution as he ran around the field like a headless chicken. But the disappointment of it was written all over the face of Ruud van Nistelrooy, whose look of emptiness said it all when the final whistle blew. Even a win today over Latvia may not be good enough because if Germany beat the Czechs, it’s hasta la vista Holland. Indeed, anything can happen in football. For example, if the Czech Republic beat Germany and Latvia beat Holland, Latvia go through. No wonder the experts labeled group D the group of death.
Holland’s Advocaat was not the only one messing things up with changes. Italy’s Giovanni Trapattoni was at it also. The Italian supremo tried to defend his lead by replacing attackers with more defensive-minded players. The changes backfired and Italy threw away two points against Sweden. Coaches messing up have been one of the low talking points of the tournament so far.
Euro 2004 did not get off to a great start, but two fantastic games over the weekend, Italy vs. Sweden and Netherlands vs. Czech Republic, have set the tone. Much hype has also been created with players coming of age, and none more so than Wayne Rooney. All the talk is how brilliant he is. Chelsea are said to have beaten Manchester United for his signature, while Everton said he is not for sale. However, Everton might find it tough to turn down an offer from Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich.
Amazing, isn’t it, how a good performance and a couple of goals can make you a superstar overnight? There’s no doubt that Rooney has superstar potential; however, world class he is not. Not yet anyway. It’s typical of the English commentators, experts and press. They should give the kid a break. Even Steven Gerrard is thrown in there alongside Rooney. It’s also believed that Gerrard may be tempted to Stamford Bridge to become the highest paid player in the EPL. Isn’t it amazing what a big stage can do to players who have merely had OK seasons? But then scoring goals against an average national team in a big tournament is as always a ticket to stardom.
The weekend finished on a very positive note when Portugal beat Spain 1-0. Analyst Liam Brady was right on the money when he said, “Teams that go into games thinking a draw will do can end up fighting an uphill psychological battle.” Once the Portuguese scored, Spain were unable to dominate the game in an attacking mode. And once again, Spain receives the title of underachievers in the football world. Nonetheless, it cannot be taken away from Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo, who caused major concern for the Spanish flanks. Figo in the end made the winning goal with a superb pass and run off the ball. Perhaps in the end it was better for the hosts to go on to the quarterfinals. They deserved to win for their attacking approach. Spain will have learned that attack is at times the best means of defense. Moving on alongside the hosts is Greece who although beaten 2-1 by Russia managed to slip past Spain.
As we go to press, it can be expected that the standard of the remaining games will continue to rise. We have to expect, or at least hope, that managers will not tinker while defending leads, as it’s already proven to backfire. And most of all, we have to expect that coaches will pay more attention to getting corner kicks right. At least get the ball into the box. The number of wasted corners has been amazing. It will be interesting to see which team gets corner kicks right. It’s the set piece that very often decides games, and championships

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