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All Things Footie | Wednesday, June 30 | Jordan

Euro 2004: So far, so good

And now, two intriguing semi-finals. My money’s on a Czech Republic vs. Portugal final with Portugal winning via a Deco thunderbolt—a Brazilian player scoring the winning goal for his Brazilian manager. So I’m predicting that ‘Big Phil’ Scolari will win both the World Cup and European Championship in two years, and in the process become the first ever ‘foreign’ manager to win either. Actually, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Otto Rehhagal’s disciplined Greek side upset the apple-cart tonight and set up a replay of the opening game of the tournament; an opening game that saw the aforementioned ‘Phil’ get a hell of a lot of stick from his adopted country, and the wider international football press. Following some fine performances against Spain and England—and likely requiring another tomorrow to overcome the Dutch—I think he’s vindicated himself.

It’s been one of the tightest Championships I can remember, so many games won by a single goal or penalty shoot-out, last minute winners and equalisers in almost every game. It’s no surprise though; there’ve been a lot of cautious tactics from the big sides, mainly because every team seemed weighed down by accumulated expectation. England with a fully fit squad boast about this being their best chance at a trophy for years; Portugal’s ‘last chance’ for the likes of Figo, Couto and Rui-Costa (on top of the pressure that comes with being the host nation); France looking to make up for their disappointing World Cup in 2002; Italy likewise; Spain widely tipped as likely winners. I found it funny that the Czech Republic were tipped as ‘dark horses’ by just about everyone, doesn’t that stop them being quite so dark? There has been pressure on the Czech side, no doubt, everyone expects them to do well, and so far they’re the only side not to disappoint once. A 100% winning record so far for Karel Bruckner—and an impressive one—beating Germany, Holland, a surprisingly good Latvia side and a decent Danish team. Write the Eastern Europeans with nerves of steel off at your peril.

It all makes my predictions in the first paragraph seem a little hasty doesn’t it? My hunch, from the start, has been Holland; but I can’t see them beating the Czechs, Greece or Portugal. My head says that Bruckner, Baros and Nedved’s Czech Republic should coast it. My heart wants Portugal’s entertainers to win on home soil and give Scolari a piece of history. The only team I have no feeling for is Greece; which almost certainly means that on Sunday evening, Otto Rehhagel will be celebrating with his unsung Hellenic Heroes. It would be fitting with the Olympics returning to Greece this summer too.

If there’s one thing that’s stuck out in the Championships so far, it’s the contrast of coaches. I’ve always thought that big names and big egos are rarely good coaches, yet all the big nations insist on employing these figureheads—almost regardless of ability. Eriksson, Trappatoni, Voller, Advocaat and Santini are all guilty of making simply shocking decisions, substitutions and tactical rearrangements—and are more at fault for their countries’ poor showings than players, referees and anyone else. The ‘smaller’ nations are picking up classy, unappreciated managerial talent: see Rehhagel, Bruckner, and Scolari. It’s as if the better sides feel they don’t need good management, just a face to put out at press conferences.

Eriksson has been shocking, barely got an important decision right all tournament; Trappatoni is almost not worth mentioning he made so many errors of judgement (taking Gattuso off when you’re trying to hold on to a lead?); Voller throwing a defensive midfielder on when Germany were chasing the game; Advocaat taking Davids off against the Czechs; Jacques Santini having some mildly worrying delusions about Sylvain Wiltord being able to contribute more than Robert Pires, and almost completely ignoring the fact that when you’ve got the best forward in the World on your side, you should probably try and play his game.

It’s a victory for the little men. A victory for the hard working teams who play for each other—the players and managers no schoolboy wants in his sticker book. Almost like Liverpool’s ‘victory’ over Roman Abramovich’s approach for Steven Gerrard. Stick it where the sun don’t shine Roman, some things are more important than bank balances.

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