Story Time

Today wasn’t exactly a marquee day in sports. (I know, pennant races, but they’ll be there tomorrow too.) So instead of talking about tonight’s Louisville-K State clash, I’m going to relay a personal story from my time in Australia. Plus, it’s my birthday and I like this story even better than the kiss-cam story.

In the Summer of 2006, my parents and I got to take a trip to Australia for about 10 days. We got to go to Melbourne, Sydney, and Cairns, which I would highly recommend to anyone.

When we first got to Melbourne, we went to our hotel, which was a short walk from the Melbourne Cricket Ground. During check-in, the guy at the front desk told us our reservation had been lost due to “the big match on Thursday.” I wasn’t aware of any “big match on Thursday” so I asked him.

“The football match, at the MCG, Australia-Greece,” he said. At the time, Greece were the current European Champions, making this quite a tantalizing matchup.

I wondered aloud how hard it would be to get tickets and the front desk attendee said, “No chance, mate. Match has been sold out for three months.” Continue reading

Defending Champs Ousted

Four years ago, Greece stunned the world when they beat Portugal 1-0 to win Euro 2004 in Portugal. The Greeks scored only 7 goals in their ride through the tournament, making them one of the most offensively futile team to ever win the Championship. They weren’t going to sneak up on anyone with their super-defensive style of play this year and are now the first defending champions to be eliminated after only two games.

The championship defense which held opponents to only 10 goals in 12 qualifying games suddenly became a liability as Sweden and Russia both took advantage of sloppy plays at the back. Minutes after Zlatan Ibrahimović’s cracking goal in the first game to make it 1-0, Petter Hansson clamored home a series of miscues from Greece’s backline, putting an end to the champions’ hope of getting back into the game.

I was hoping for a better effort today against Russia, but instead I was treated to another lackluster performance. The Russians really could have finished with three or more goals if Roman Pavlyuchenko had made any of his efforts count. He was always around the ball and in a good position, which is commendable, but he constantly had his head down and was unable to pick out his wide open teammates. Instead, they settled for one goal from Konstantin Zyryanov. The goal came seemingly from nowhere when Greek keeper Antonios Nikopolidis tried to chase down Sergei Semak who bicycled the ball back across the face of the goal, giving Zyryanov a simple tap into the empty net.

After the goal, Nikopolidis was shown yelling at his defenders about something (I’m not proficient in Greek), but I can say that he wasn’t very happy with them. I’m not sure why, as Ioannis Amanatidis has closed Semak down, giving him very few options. If Nikopolidis stays in his net, he’s able to punch out or catch the Semak’s weak cross. That would have changed the game considerably, giving Greece a chance to play their style of game, rather than be forced to attack and press the issue, which they aren’t very good at, as they proved. Instead, the Greeks are goalless headed home after their next match against Spain.

In other Euro news, the four group winners are decided as Portugal, Croatia, the Netherlands, and Spain all wait to see who they will face in the next round.

David Villa scored his fourth goal of the tournament in the 92nd minute as Spain beat Sweden 2-1 to secure their spot in the quarterfinals.

France and Italy will square off in what will be an elimination match, but Romania can make it all obsolete with a victory against the high flying Dutch.

My pick to win, Germany, must beat or tie the host country, Austria, to qualify.

In the most intriguing of first round matchups, the winner of the Czech Republic-Turkey game goes to the quarterfinals, but if they tie they will go to a penalty shootout to decide. This would be a first in the first-round of the European Championships.

Also, if you all were wondering where Weller has gone, and I know you have, he’s in Oklahoma for a wedding, but he will return tomorrow to catch you all up on your daily trivia.

Euro Match Days 3 and 4

Day three at the European Championships brought about some surprises. It was “The Group of Death,” or Group C’s turn to show their skill. I was able to get the games while at work, but couldn’t watch them straight through. My boss probably wouldn’t have liked that.

The first game was between France and Romania, which ended in a 0-0 tie. The French missed Thierry Henry’s presence up front. The one thing I really remember about the game was that Karim Benzema really should have put away a second half chance and given the French the 3 points. One sidenote is that France’s Lilian Thuram became the first player to ever play in 15 European Championship games, which is quite a feat.

The second game of the day between the Netherlands and Italy produced the shocker. It wasn’t so shocking that the Dutch were victorious, it was the very decisive 3-0 scoreline that got everyone’s attention. I didn’t think Italy was being outplayed that bad until Ruud van Nistelrooy’s 26th minute strike. I thought he was clearly offside, but I missed the injured Italian player, Christian Panucci, laying on the sideline. Apparently, that’s good enough to qualify as being “in the play” and the goal stood. Right after van Nistelrooy’s goal, the Italians looked for an answer off a corner kick but Giovanni van Bronckhorst cleared it off the line and started the most perfect counter attack I’ve ever seen. Van Bronckhorst ran 70 yards to give the initial cross that was headed down by Dirk Kuyt and finished superbly by Wesley Sneijder. Italy only gave up two goals in the entire 2006 World Cup, so obviously they missed the presence of center back Fabio Cannavaro. Van Bronckhorst deservingly got his name on the scoresheet with a header with about 10 minutes left. It was another clinical counter attack, finished off by the dwarfish van Bronckhorst. It was the best performance of the tournament so far. Holland is looking good for the second round after the morning tie between France and Romania. As for Italy, I’d hate to be Romania who will get the full wrath in their next game on Friday.

Today, Spain gave the Dutch a run for the best looking team when they thrashed Russia 4-1. David Villa scored the first hat trick in European competition since Patrick Kluivert did it against Yugoslavia in 2000. His goals were set up perfectly by Fernando Torres and Iniesta, all he really had to do was tap them in. His third goal had a little more individual effort, but was still set up by a great ball from Cesc Fabregas. The Russians pulled one back late and Fabregas got a garbage goal of his own. The Spanish looked fantastic today. They changed their formation after only scoring a late goal against the United States before the tournament. This allowed David Villa to crack the starting lineup; there were doubts that he would play against the Russians. He responded to this by netting at hat trick…I think he’ll be in against Sweden on Saturday.

In the nightcap Sweden downed the holders Greece 2-0. Greece threw their defensive play at the Swedes, putting seven or eight men behind the ball at all times. Sweden really had no space to move in the first half and looked awfully frustrated to me. It looked like we were headed for a second 0-0 tie when Zlatan Ibrahimović lashed a ball into the top corner of the net in the 67th minute. It gets my early vote for goal of the tournament. Petter Hansson scored what gets my vote for the worst goal of the tournament five minutes later and the Swedes got all three points. Both of these teams will have to step up their game in order to take on Spain, who looked like the title contenders everyone predicted. Sweden put themselves into a great position to go through, with a victory over Spain or Russia. I doubt any surprises come out of this group.

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