Jun 08 2012

Fat Eck’s Euro 2012 Preview

Published by at 6:18 am under Guest

When the boys from Britski Belasi ask you how you think Euro 2012 is going to go you know it’s time to step up. I’ve seen their site. I’ve read their articles. I know how much they know about the game. When my postman, milkman, parole officer or next door neighbour ask me “who you backing for the Euros, Eck?” I just chuck a polite “Anybody but England, mate.” their way, perhaps a “Gotta be the Germans again, eh?” or even a “Portugal might be worth a tenner each way…”. Whatever. A one-liner covers it. That’s all they’re looking for. That’s all mere mortals require of me. But when you’re asked the same question by internet soccer gurus who can throw 10,000 words at you on the complete history of every left-back who pulled a groin muscle playing a Slovakian cup match at Tehelne Pole on a wet Tuesday night, in the month of March, with red hair, and size 9 feet, you know there’s nothing “casual” about this particular enquiry.

So let’s have it. Let’s have a Euro 2012 “chat”, lads. I’ll bite. I accept the challenge. Let’s see if I can give you an opinion worth printing.  Okay. Right. Deep breath … and here we go:
Spain will win it.Okay? How’d I do? That match up to your levels of expertise and in-depth analysis of the world game? Pretty incisive stuff on my part there. Pretty sharp, I reckon. That’s about as in-depth as it’s possible to go on this topic, right?  I mean there’s nothing else to say. Especially if you’re Scottish. In fact, even if you’re watching the whole thing on British television you could be forgiven for thinking this tournament is about one thing (aside, that is, from providing a bit of filler between the Queen’s Jubilee ecelebrations and the London Olympics) – about how easily and entertainingly Spain are going to win it. And that, of course, is just a complete nonsense.From where I sit - a badly-sprung sofa in Glasgow – this shockingly lazy and inept soccer assumption about a major international tournament is actually strangely entertaining. Purely because it’s such a pleasant change from the usual lazy assumption being beamed over Hadrian’s Wall before a Euro or World Cup finals. Every second summer I’m usually sat on that couch watching their Fourth Estate whip our Anglo neighbours into a frenzy of unrealistic expectation about the Three Lions’ chances. A nation which has reached one proper international final and four semis in its entire history is somehow always deemed a racing certainty to make the final itself. As per Sky Sports’ stunning report from the Olympic Stadium, Berlin in June 2006, “the only question is whether it’ll be Brazil or France they face here in next month’s final”.It’s an embarrassing stance for proper English football lovers, for all football lovers who respect the English game. It’s a malicious racket on the part of the media. This rolling snowball of misplaced conviction whips the nation into a frenzy of unrealistic expectation. It’s a simple but always effective set-up: If England are knocked out early then the tabloids appear justified on going ultra vindictive on the England squad, manager or prone young midfielder who flicks a boot at an experienced Argentinian and is then sent off and soon forced to “apologise to the nation” like a war criminal. If England reach the semis or further then the tabs cash in on the frevernt joy of the nation, casually ignoring the fact they’d created an air of pre-tournament assumption totally incongruous with such an explosion of delight. When England reached the semis of Italia 90 and Euro 96 no-one was sullenly declaring it their minimum acceptable performance.I take no pleasure in this media manipulation of tournament England. I’m always wary of nationalism and, despite a fierce love of my international team, am certainly not one of those Scots who proves their nationalistic pride by fixating on another country entirely. I like to see all the “home nations” doing well at big tournaments (though, obviously I hope Wales have to qualify via the play-offs for Brazil 2014 with Scotland topping the group) and the fact Scotland now haven’t qualified for one in a record-equalling length of time is more painful to me than we have time or gigabytes to explain here. The English tabloids in fact have nothing on Scotland’s little shark pool of hacks. A far smaller nation, we produce a no less vindictive media desire to take the legs from under anyone who achieves anything for us in our national sport.The attendances at football matches and the passion for the game in Auld Caledonia has always been disproportionately large but so, unfortunately, is the maliciousness of our journalists. Even though the sane voices of the majority of England fans is drowned out by red top invenctive, I envy the inevitable optimism which bounds along every second summer in England, no matter the tragedy or ineptitude of the display at the previous tournament. In Scotland we had Argentina 78, and then optimism was banned. We talked loudly before that particular World Cup. We felt confident. Cocky. England didn’t qualify and almost everyone in that squad had played in a European club final. At the previous World Cup, West Germany 1974, we’d become the first side ever to be elminated from the tournament without losing a game. We were probably going to come back from the Argentine with, as manager Ally McLeod infamously claimed, “some sort of medal”.
We came back with a stuffing from Peru, a point from Iran and a win over the already-qualified Dutch which would have been rescinded by FIFA had it meant anything because winger Willie Johnston had failed a dope test and been sent home from the tournament only slighly earlier than everyone else. Since that particular summer – the first tournament I remember – Scotland has been forbidden hope. Even as Denmark, Croatia, Uruguay and other nations of similar populations to our own excell at the top table of international football, Scotland has allowed one hubristic experience to jam shut the jaws of self-belief. We have the highest per-capita attendances at league games of any European nation, we have European club finalists, we have some of the best managers in the domestic league which has provided 8 finalists in the last 7 Champions League tournaments. Yet most of our big tournament optimism goes in the pathetic and cowardly willing of defeat on England.
Well, the way I see it, I have more in common with the majority of football fans in Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool, Birmingham and London than I do with the people running Scotland’s football media. And I would worry about myself if I couldn’t tell the difference between a hateful English media and the team and fans they exploit. BBC, ITV and Sky will provide fantastic pictures and access this summer. But reasoned analysis will be thin on the ground. This has been my particular bugbear of international tournaments this century: A xenphobic Anglo-centric media and a would be-xenophilic support which bites every time. So it is as pleasant as it is revealing to see the mainstream media presumption of Euro 2012 focus on Spain’s inevitable lifting of a second straight Henry Delaunay trophy. The subtext is two-fold.
Harry Redknapp was the tabloid favourite for the England job. When Fabio Capello left – another foreigner with impeccable credentials chased out the job because his inability to do anything substantial with the team was exposing the fact England’s players just aren’t good enough – the London media had long previously decided the identity of his successor. When the FA chose to go against tradition and pick their own man rather than the tabloid selection, it was assumed Roy Hodgson would be crap. Well he has to be, otherwise the hacks are wrong. And we just can’t have that. Hodgson, the intellectual multi-lingual cosmopolitan tactician and disciplinarian, is infinitely better qualified for the job than Redknapp, the man who once won the FA Cup and boasts he can’t write his own name. But Harry is a laugh. And, of course, that’s what England fans want, isn’t it – a manager who gives the journos a giggle of a press conference. Not some bore who’ll restore pride to the oldest football nation on earth.Therefore, a snubbed English media have decided not to play. England are rubbish because Harry’s not the manager and, like many neutral observers, I think this could be the best thing to possibly happen to an injury-,supsnension- and confidence-riven England team. No-one expects, so they might just get the peace and quiet they need to get on with a professional job in a very difficult but very do-able group D. Hodgson has won his two warm-up games in charge 1-0, with all the post-match talk centering on more injuries to the squad. Defeats would have killed him and big wins would have been worse. Only in England could a dose of indifference be the perfect way to prepare for an international tournament.  In 1966, and Euro 96 they began the tournaments with dissapointing Wembley draws. At Italia 90 they began with two such sharings of the points and at Mexico in 1986 they began with a loss and a draw. These tournaments provided England’s most celebrated finals showings (Mexico 1970′s quarter-final finish, like their thrid place at Italy 1968, could only pale in the wake of 66′s ultimate triumph) and you can’t help thinking it was because the squad got the media ganged up against them instantly and learned before it was too late that they had to block out the press and concentrate on their own game.And a little of that same media crassness explains the presumption about Spain. If, in the eyes of the Sun, Mirror, Daily Star etc, England are rubbish then, ala Brazil 70 or Hungary 53, some foreign side has to be the best on the planet in a way so stunning and inarguable that it somehow illuminates how “behind the times” England have fallen. The current Spain team is undoubtedly one of the greatest sides ever to have played the international game. But their core comes from a Barcelona and Real Madrid who are both exhausted by a two-year long el clasico psychodrama in both Europe and La Liga. Neiteher of the big two could make the Champions League final from winning positions in home second legs and, well, in Poland and Ukraine those Barca and Real boys are without Messi and Ronaldo. The world has spent an entire season lauding the near-miraculous goal scoring feats of the sun tan man from Madeira and the plasticine machine from Rosario. It would then be safe to assume their absence will give Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Iniesta and Xavi one major instinctive gap in front of them.Okay, La Seleccion didn’t need Messi or Ronaldo when winning the last two international tournaments in which they competed. Spain still have, man for man, the best squad by a mile at this summer’s tournament yet what they’re seeking to achieve – lifting the trophy at three succesive major finals - has been achived by absolutely no one else in the entire history of international football (well since the first European championships in 1960 at least. If you want to count Italy sandwiching an Olympic gold between two World Cups in the 30s then don’t let me stop you). No one seems to be mentioning this. To even equal what the great West Germany team of 1972-76 managed, Spain must reach the Kiev final on July 1st and take it to penalties. They haven’t won anything like enough trophies as a nation to be considered the best country of all time. And they still have an entire tournament to get through, and take the final to the very last kick, before thetiki-taka Spain of the 21st century can be considered even the most consistently succesful one-off international side ever.New players are coming through, of course. The Spain squad is, it appears, shedding its skin and calmly regenerating. Marcos Senna is long gone after his pivotal role in Austria and Switzerland four years ago. Fernando Llorente of Athletic Bilbao became a vital squad member in South Africa. And Fernando Torres could come full circle from one heroic Euros to the next with a poor World Cup and some awful club football melting away with one winner for Chelsea in the Nou Camp just a few weeks ago. But, even for new or returning stars, there is a cumulative psychological strain in what Spain are trying to do this summer. The team of 2008 were the first in 44 years to win a trophy. The team of 2010 were the first to reach the semis proper of the World Cup, far less win the thing. It’s all been firsts for this Spanish generation. They had pressure but no properly ingranied expectation. Now they have to go and do something they’re expected to do and that is always so much harder, especially when you’re everyone’s cup final and especially when you’ve been playing inumerable friendlies between your key players’ inumerable high-intensity club games.And, furthermore, for god’s sake, wont someone explain to the press this isn’t the World Cup: This is the Euros. That in itself should send a chill down the backs of those resting their caps on Espana. Yes, it’s the last of the 16-team Euros – next time, at France 2016, we’ll be up to 24 teams and it’ll be ruined. The first five editions of these “finals” were merely a knock-out competition between the four best sides from the qualifying campaign. But since 1980′s move to eight teams, through 1996′s extension to 16, the Euros have been the one big tournament where European viewers can genuinely expect anything to happen. Not one big nation going out early or one unfancied nation reaching the semis, as the World Cup terms “shocks”, but complete no-hopers winning the bl**dy thing outright. England 2012 are infinitey better prepared and fancied than were Denmark 1992 or Greece 2004. That these sides won the trophy is all the British media need to know before writing off their own players or bowing at the boots of Spain’s.Ronaldo has no Lionel Messi breathing down his neck, for honours or numbers, in this competition. That sudden sense of freedom could propel him to new heights, ably abetted by Champions League and La Liga stars round him and Nani beside him. If there is to be one dark horse in this tournament – Germany and Spain are easily favourites to reach the final – superstition and intuition would say Italy. Their one ultimate triumph at the Euros came in 1968, after a replayed final and some very lucky refereeing decisions… in Rome. But that too came after a humiliating World Cup. Slovakia and New Zealand at South Africa 2010 can be substituted for North Korea at England in 1966. And, of course, there’s a match-fixing scandal currently erupting, Vesuvius like, in Serie A, just as there was before the azzurri lifted the 1982 and 2006 World Cups. Perhaps, however, that’s too obvious a choice for best outsider. Everyone has grown so used to expecting big things from Portugal then watching them fall way short that, frankly, they’ve become what Spain were before 2008. The talent is still there in the Iberian Peninsula’s smaller nation, but without the weight of expectation. And, as we saw from Turkey’s performance at Euro 2008 – or even Greece’s performance at Euro 2004 after Turkey took bronze at the 2002 World Cup – there’s nothing like seeing a derby rival doing well to push you to new heights.For just that reason I’ll personally be paying close attention to the refereeing on show at Poland and the Ukraine. Craig Thomson is Scotland’s top whistler and I’d love to see him go one better than Hugh Dallas’ Fourth Official stint at the 2002 World Cup final. After Howard Webb’s abysmal showing at South Africa’s curtain-closer it would be a welcome boost for British football if Thomson could take his Champions League and SPL form into a tournament where he hasn’t the same potential impediment to personal glory as say the German, Dutch and Spanish officials. And, of course, who am I kidding with the “British” line? I might not be anti-English but I’m sure as hell pro-Scottish football. If this is all we can get, I’ll take it.What is more, the SFA have spent the last two years coming under enormous and pernicious flak from Rangers and Celtic. One of their men proving no-one officiates like Scots would shove it right down the throat of the paranoid hysterics who blight the Scottish terraces.A recent BBC Panorama report highlighted the racist violence which blights the terraces in Ukraine and Poland. While it neatly side-stepped the fact this was a major problem in Britain not so long ago, the scare-mongering tone couldn’t hide the real worry there should be about violence or bigotry spoiling the tournament. The authorities, even if it has to be in an authoritarian manner, will most likely have it under control and the hooligans will maybe be priced out of this premier event. However, it did chime very oddly indeed when one night I watched ITV screening UEFA’s official guide to Kharkiv’s Metalist stadium with close-ups of smiling fans wearing official replica tops and waving colourful club flags and the next night, just a flick of the remote control away, shots of fans in the very same Kharkiv seats showed a group of asian student being viciously assaulted by moronic Metalist “ultras”.This is the first time the Euros have been properly “east” since the 1976 mini tournament in Tito’s Yugoslavia. With the exception of the matches which took place in Leipzig at World Cup 2006, it’s the first major finals to land behind the old Iron Curtain. So many of the aforementioned journalistic trolls – full of their own bigotries – would love to see it fail. Any footage of some of the back-street rammying in Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester etc which took place during English club matches before Euro 96 would have helped stoke up precisely the same levels of paranoia which Sky and the BBC have indulged in this last month. And we all remember the horror stories about the crime on South Africa’s streets which were peddled two years ago.The effort put into meeting the criteria of UEFA tournaments has been phenomenal in Poland and Ukraine. The stadiums look utterly jaw-dropping. And the only trouble-making this pivotal event deserves is the host teams refusing to bow out well before the semis as everyone expects them to. There’s nothing like watching a host nation reach new heights on home soil. Poland has a history-laden football identity and we all know the Ukraine was at the heart – often more – of any of the USSR’s on-field achievements. Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk may have hit the heights in European club competition but Andrei Shevchenko might have just one more heroic miracle in him.The idea that there’s any single “group of death” is ridiculous. In fact it’s a term usually applied to the collection of teams with most life in them. Even if Group B has managed to shove together the smallest average of FIFA ranking points ever assembled between four teams in a round-robin, the actual difference in class between Germany, Holland, Denmark and Portugal could arguably be greater than that between England, France, Ukraine and Sweden in Group D or Poland, Czech Republic, Russia and Greece in Group A. It’s easy to imagine draws in every game here. Spain may be far and away the best side in C but the remaining three of Italy, Croatia and Eire each have their talents and their problems in equal measure – depending on how the internal vibes fluctuate on the day, second place behind the holders could be the tightest battle in the entire tournament.My honest opinion? What do I truly, personally, think will happen? My final prediction? England will make the semis. Germany to win the trophy, beating Spain on penalties in the final. And, make no mistake, that final could be the greatest game we’ve ever seen. This is the Euros – nothing is easy and yet nothing is impossible. Hell – maybe I’ll even warm to Gary Lineker’s punditry … Alex Anderson

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Fat Eck’s Euro 2012 Preview”

  1.   Jameson 08 Jun 2012 at 1:53 pm

    First off, this is a true skewering of the English media. I agree with every word of what Alex says there, and no’one could have said it better. It’s a minor surprise to find that the Scottish version is actually slightly worse.

    1978 was the first big international tournament I was able to appreciate and the enjoyment was in no way lessened by England not being there. It just seemed to be a constant parade of brilliant goals (Haan, Rep, Nelinho, Gemmill…) and great matches. And I was too young to understand that Argentina had a military junta, or that the Peru match might have been fixed.

    I do remember we had a Scottish schoolmate who used to wind us all up before the tournament with that ‘we’re on the march with Ally’s army’ song. So I remember relishing the prospect, in the vindictive way of 8 year-olds (and some 48 year-olds), of asking him where Scotland’s chances stood the morning after those Cubillas goals for Peru. Obviously some level of expectation back then was justified, for all the reasons you point out, and it’s crazy that that one relative failure should then have led to Scotland’s media expecting nothing at all in later years. We’ve said it before but it really shouldn’t be beyond the country to do what Croatia, Denmark, even Slovenia and Slovakia have done and at least qualify for sth and then get beyond the first stage.

    Those are astute comments about Portugal too, you made me think there because, I must admit, I hadn’t particularly considered them. Perhaps partly because Germany will surely get out of the group and because Holland may also be a better side than in the last WC. Then again, they may not. Definitely an interesting group. And I also rather hope at least one of the hosts does better than Austria and Switzerland in 2008, as their exits left that tournament feeling just slightly flat.

    As for England, I usually come on side with them once a tournament’s actually started, after feeling indifference mixed with a touch of distaste and disdain during the build-up. This time, there’s no ambivalence. Not so much because Terry, Cole, Gerrard et al have suddenly become the modest, plucky outsiders battling impossible odds but because of Mr Hodgson. Again, this article gets the difference btw him and Redknapp perfectly. And, of course, Hodgson has left behind a bunch of good guys, a club that’s proud to have ‘lost’ its manager to the national team. (Said with total lack of bias, of course.)

    Also fascinated to see how the Czechs do. I think their media has underestimated what it took to get here (Scotland will have a lot to say about that, no doubt) and have been a bit unfair on both Bilek and the team for not being clones of the ’96-2004 era sides. How the Plzen players do will be particularly worth seeing.

    Also curious about Russia and Ireland , the two who escaped from SK’s group. Everyone’s saying how weak it was but I think they’ve forgotten how good Armenia were. Slovakia, meanwhile, had equal (low-scoring) head-to-heads with both Ireland and Russia (two draws with the former, 1-0 away win and home loss with the latter).

    As for the conclusion, I won’t hold my breath for your positive verdict about Lineker’s punditry. I know what it does to my Dad, usually the mildest mannered of men. Slovak TV, meanwhile, has some real pipe-and-slippers analysts, guys who almost make me feel I’m 8 years old again and watching at grandma and granddad’s house. But the commentators are hit and miss. One of them makes Jonathan Pearce seem restrained.

    Going to be 4 weeks of excitement, anticipation, frustration, annoyance… As ever with football. And cheers for the preview Alex, it’s great to have an exclusive of this quality.

  2.   Fat Eckon 22 Jun 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Cheers, James – my pleasure, Sir!

    Absolutely thrilled for Hodgson. Some of the interviews he faced pre-tournament were disgusting in their vindictiveness and sheer lack of respect. I honestly hope he wins the thing – it’ll be like David Beckham all over again, making the haters eat out the palm of his hands.

    And, of course, absolutely no detectable WBA bias in your comments at all :-)

    But – seriously – that’s just it, isn’t it. We all forgive – even expect – a bit of bias towards a particular team or country of a pundit or commentator. That’s part of the fun of the fair. In fact I often think the rank xenophobia and casual eschewing of all other football nations by the British media is a poorly executed effort to be “controversial”. The editorial remit is probably “you can be a pr*ck but, for god’s sake, DON’T BE DULL!” as the TV companies seek to avoid impersonating those more prosaic Slovak commentators you refer to.

    But when the pundits and presenters display a bias only towards themselves personally – so much of the BBC stuff especially seems to be nothing more than 19th hole badinage and pathetic one-upmanship – you’re presented with an atmosphere in which the broadcastng cvs of the presenters is so much more important than the historic fotball match we all tuned in to win.

    Yup. Like we’ve said, I’m always free to turn it off or mute the sound but recent tatstes of Allan Green and Alan Davies on Radio 5 Live proved that – scarily – there’s a lot worse fare to be had than the stuff on tlly.


    As you say rightly about Euro 2008, it’s pity about both hosts going out in the group stage again this summer but, even in doing so, they provided us with a few gems. Some cracking moments and proper atmosphere.

    I was gonnae apologise to you on behalf of that Scottish schoomate back in 78 (Andy Cameron’s classic still resides in the Anderson household and there’s few Scots who don’t know all the lyrics to both that ditty and the legendary B side – “I want to be a punk rocker but my mammy willnae let me. She says if I’m a punk, she will throw me oot and hit me …”) but, as we all know, he got his. And Scotland as a nation continued to feel, for about thirty years I’d say, the exact same way he felt the morning after that defeat by Peru and the desperate draw with Iran.

    Archie Gemmil’s dribbling masterpiece against Holland in the futile final group game win over Holland was voted goal of the tournament – utterly amazing when you consider the cornucopia of wonder srikes you mention James.

    But the most chilling aspect of the whole debacle is when Joe Jordan opens the scoring against Peru – yes we took the lead (and later provided the missed penalty so vital to iconic Scotland defeats)! – and David Coleman does his “Jordan! One-nil” descending scale classic goal commentary. The assumption in his voice – the sheer mater-of-fact intonation. “There’s the first” he’s saying “the first of the many Scotland goals we expect in this game, the next and right across the tournament”. He’s almost bored. Even the English journalist Coleman is expressing impatience with all this “first round” nonsense. It’s a mere formality – let’s get into the second round and the final for the interesting stuff – ye know, where Scotland might have a chance of actually meeting a team almost as good as them…. Oh god! Hubris in a semiquaver.

    And then I look at Croatia. Oh man. Bang-on, James. Smaller population than Scotland and perfectly at ease with ANY RIVAL IN THE WORLD. Oh man … don’t start me … :-) There is no excuse …

  3.   Fat Eckon 22 Jun 2012 at 1:34 pm

    *the historic football match we all tuned in to WATCH.*

    my original version of that line was typed by an S Freud :-)

  4.   Jameson 01 Jul 2012 at 8:12 am

    So what’s going to happen this eve. Don’t know what you think Alex but I was a bit disappointed with the KO games until Italy-Germany, which was superb. Perhaps Italy were just a little too comfortable for it to be a true classic, but a fine game nonetheless.

    The SK commentators made a good point during the CR-Portugal game – that a lot of the Czech players play, or were playing till very recently – in the Gambrinus Liga and simply didn’t have the techniques to withstand Portugal’s pressing. Even Spain struggled with it in the semis, so that’s not exactly a disgrace, just reality. Germany were far too good for Greece and Spain for France (whose approach to the game was pretty unfathomable for me.)

    As for England, again their efforts against Italy don’t look so bad in the light of what Italy have done since. I still reckon Hodgson’s just about in credit given what he started out with. It’s a cliche now about English players’ techniques but there’s truth in most cliches. I suspect Hodgson will go into the WC with the same basic approach he had here – solid defence, good organisation, decent balls into the box when opportunity allows and hope for the odd bit of inspiration from sb like Rooney or Wellbeck. I also think his Fulham and WBA teams were more constructive than they were given credit for. If he could get, say Scott Parker, broadening his range a bit to do what Danny Murphy used to for Fulham, that would be a start. Danny Murphy of 4/5 years ago was possibly the most under-rated player in the PL.

    Good call on Italy though, Alex. You said they were ‘obvious’ outsiders, partly because of that history (often responding to a rotten showing in the previous tournament, doing well after betting scandals etc) but outsiders they still were. I hope they win it.

    (Zilina v Slovacko yesterday eve in 30+ degree heat. Only a friendly but I’m going to risk the suggestion that Slovacko will struggle badly in the Czech league this season. Remind me of this as they enter the European draws next June…)

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