18 June 2008

GREECE 1 (Charisteas 42)
SPAIN 2 (De La Red 61, Guiza 88)

Xabi Alonso appeared to be playing for that Juve contract. He was a couple of yards out with a shot from the half way line and had George scrambling across goal with another long range effort. The Greeks took the lead from a set piece. Charisteas met Karagounis' free kick with an absolute bullet header.

Xabi Alonso was getting closer, his third insane effort, from 35 yards, rebounded off the inside of George's right post. Fabregas dropped a ball over the towering Greek defence to Guiza and De La Red met his knockdown with a fantastically violent shot that floored Nikopolidis as it thundered in off the underside of the crossbar. CRACKERJACK! Guiza headed in another late winner for the Spaniards from a sublime left footed cross.

On the BBC's late night highlight show Adrian Chiles referred to Nikopolidis as George Clooney and where do you think he got that from?

Attendance : 30,883
Assists : Karagounis (fk), Guiza, Fabregas

RUSSIA 2 (Pavlyuchenko 24, Arshavin 50)

Fullback Zyrianov, who had an outstanding game, flashed a volley wide from a corner. Arshavin played a one-two on the right touchline sending Zyrianov clear, he squared to Anyukov (the right full back) who in turn passed to Pavlyuchenko and the misfiring striker finally found the back of the net, gently stroking the ball into the bottom corner. While replays of Pavlyuchenko's goal were being shown Henrik Larsson meet a deep cross with a deft flick header which bounced off the top of the crossbar. Bilyaletdinov received a pass on the edge of the box and danced past two Swedish players with ridiculous ease before laying off to Pavlyuchenko who cracked a first time shot against the underside of the crossbar, Zyrianov's header on the rebounded was clawed away by Isaksson and from the resulting corner Zhirkov's 30 yard drive was tipped against the crossbar and out for another corner. Ljungberg ruined some rare good approach play by shooting. Go and model some underwear you twat.

The Swedes won a free kick in their own half and gave the ball straight back to the Russians. Arshavin played a one-two with Bilyaletdinov and made a diagonal run towards the centre pulling Mellberg hopelessly out of position and leaving Zhirkov the freedom of the left flank, Zhirkov ran into the box and centred for Arshavin who slammed a first time shot past Isaksson. Simple, brilliant. Zyrianov's deflected shot bounced off a post and Saenko missed an open goal on the rebound. A minute later Anyukov made a raid down the right wing and sent a peach of a cross to the back post to Pavlyuchenko who headed straight into Isaksson's arms. Arshavin passed up on the chance to score a second with a lazy shot.

Here's a joke I learned in school over 25 years ago. What do you call a Russian with three balls? Whodoyounickyouknackersoff. Write it down.

Attendance : 30,000
Assists : Anyukov, Zhirkov

14 June 2008

RUSSIA 1 (Zyrianov 33)

Charisteas, the hero of Euro 2004 wasted Greece's best chance of the half, failing to connect with a superb Basinas free kick which Semshov almost turned into his own net. George Clooney gave the Russians a chance even they couldn't miss. Torbinski played in Bilyaletdinov on the left of the penalty box, Bilyaletdinov overhit his cross, George ran across his six yard box and tried to punch the ball clear but missed, Semak hit an overhead kick back across goal and Zyrianov tapped into an empty net.

In the first minute of the second half Charisteas did a Luca Toni. A ball over the top sent him clear, his first touch was great, his second absolutely woeful. Akinfeev made a meal of a Karagounis drive and Basinas blazed over from 12 yards. Bye bye Greece, you suck.

I'm not going to waste my time describing Russia's chances. If you've seen anything of the Russian national team over the years you'll know what to expect. Fast counter attacking, some great technique and embarrassingly poor finishing. These guys couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo and for this reason I'd prefer to see the dire Swedes face the Dutch in the last eight. At least they will put up a fight. Russia will create and miss chance after chance before being annihilated on the break.

Attendance : 31,063
Assist : Semak

SWEDEN 1 (Ibrahimovic 34)
SPAIN 2 (Torres 15, Villa 92)

Spain continually attacked down the right with zero joy. As soon as they switched the focus of the attack to the left side they scored. Capdevilla forced a corner. Xavi played the ball short to Villa, he passed to David Silva who chipped a low cross into the box and Torres got in front of Hansson to stab the ball inside the left post. Spain switched off and almost gave up an immediate equaliser. Henrik Larsson received possession on the edge of the box and slipped a pass through to the overlapping Rosenberg who could only find the side netting. On 24 minutes Bam Bam Puyol went off injured and nothing of note happened until the Swedes suddenly equalised. An excellent crossfield pass out of defence found Stoor in acres of space on the right, he didn't have the confidence to take on Capdevilla so swung a cross into the box, Ibrahimovic recovered from a heavy first touch to bring the ball under control, Ramos jumped in with a tackle and missed, Ibrahimovic hit a weak shot on the turn which crept under Casillas' arms. A rare mistake from the normally brilliant Real Madrid goalkeeper. In first half injury time Spain should have been awarded a penalty when Elmander ran over David Silva in the box.

Silva bottled out of a chance to put the finishing touch to a lovely move involving Iniesta and Villa, inexplicably returning a pass to the striker despite having a clear sight of goal. Villa cut in from the left and took out three defenders before finding Silva near the penalty but he hit an awful weak shot straight at Isaksson. Senna snapped into a tackle in midfield and bulldozed his way through three Swedes before letting rip with fierce right foot drive which Isaksson tipped away for a corner. Both teams seemed content with a point until the Spanish were gripped by a sense of urgency as the clock ran down. There were at least sixteen passes leading up to a Torres shot, unfortunately he hit the ball straight at Isaksson. The Spanish scored a typically un-Spanish goal. Capdevilla hit a hail Mary ball out of defence down the left channel, Hansson ran across Villa but forgot to clear and as Isaksson came off his line Villa calmly stroked the ball into to the corner.

This was the real Spain. A poor return of chances despite monopolising possession and overmatched physically. Senna is just as much of a key player as Torres and Villa. If he gets suspended or injured Spain are totally f*cked.

Attendance : 30,000
Assists : Silva, Stoor, Capdevilla

10 June 2008

SWEDEN 2 (Ibrahimovic 66, Hansson 72)

Just as ITV commentator Peter Drury was asking a rhetorical question about how many highlights the directors would find from this match Zlatan Ibrahimovic provided one. He turned onto a throw in and knocked a pass between two defenders into Henrik Larsson, Larsson played the ball back and from the right hand edge of the box the giant Swede ripped a first time shot into the net. Larsson intercepted a pass and slid a great ball into the rubbish Ljungberg who predictably shot straight at Nikopolidis, Elmander made a mess of the rebound slicing it high in the air and Hansson eventually bundled over the line.

I believe Ibrahimovic's goal was the first from distance i.e. outside the box this tournament.

Attendance : 30,000
Assists : Larsson, n/a

SPAIN 4 (Villa 20, Villa 44, Villa 75, Fabregas 91)
RUSSIA 1 (Pavlyuchenko 86)

Left back Capdevilla returned Shirokov's lazy ball out of the Russian half with a FANASTIC 60 yard first time pass to Torres. Kolodin managed to make up ground and put in a tackle but unfortunately for him he kicked the ball against the striker who had the awareness to lay off for Villa to tap into an empty net. The Russians should have equalised minutes later. Sytchev ran down Spain's left and pulled the ball back from the by-line, four Spanish players missed, Zyrianov swung his right foot at the ball and it rebounded off a post. The Spanish took a leaf out of the Dutch copy book by hitting the Russian's with a counter attack from a corner. David Silva started the move when he laid off an overhit cross to Capdevilla, the full back ran deep into enemy territory but by the time support arrived from Iniesta the Russians had also got men back in defence, Iniesta ran inside a defender before taking out five more with a magnificently weighted pass and Villa, who made a brilliant diagonal run, shot first time under Akinfeev's legs. Goal of the tournament.

Fabregas back-healed a pass out of defence and played a one-two with Xavi before angling a low crossfield centre between the Russian centrebacks to Villa, Villa was forced wide by Shirokov but checked inside the defender before slotting into the bottom left corner. The Russians became the first team in this tournament to score a goal while trailing, Pavlyuchenko with an athletic header from a corner. Semak should have pulled it back to 3-2 from Russia's next corner but having been left unmarked in front of Casillas he needlessly juggled the ball before giving the Real Madrid goalkeeper a back pass. In injury time Villa intercepted a hospital pass and ran forward before waiting for support and when it arrived in the shape of Xavi he lofted a sumptuous pass over the Russian centre backs, Akinfeev parried Xavi's volley and Fabregas headed in his first goal for Spain.

Senna was off the charts and has been the standout DM in this tournament so far. Aragones' surprise switch to 4-4-2 gave his midfield the perfect balance. Despite this performance Marcel Desailly, the BBC's pitch side analyst, said he felt Germany were the best side he had seen so far and I agree because despite the scoreline Spain's defence didn't convince.

Attendance : 30,000
Assists : Torres, Iniesta, Fabregas, Shirokov, n/a