Saturday, June 30, 2012

Blanc says stop - Merci Laurent

After 48 hours of reflection, it appears that Laurent Blanc will not look to renew his engagement with the French national team. This is not entirely surprising. While France "fulfilled" its sports goals - reach the 1/4 finals - overall the Euros have to be viewed as more of a disappointment than a success. Here is his "line" -

  • 27 games managed
  • 16 victories
  • 7 draws
  • 4 defeats...unfortunately they book end his tenure!
  • Qualified for Euro 2012 by finishing first in their group
  • Reached 1/4 finals of Euro 2012
  • Notable victories - Bosnia, Brazil, England and Germany
  • Notable losses - Belarus, Norway and Sweden
Le President decides to go home

His record gets a grade of an incomplete from the Frog...why? For me when Blanc took over Les Bleus I saw this as a 4 year project, taking France to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. After the disaster that was the Dumbenech era, I felt that both the federation and the coach needed to look at a 4 year window, barring complete implosion. From the outset I felt that Blanc was looking to develop his "core" find the handful of players that he would build around. The bad ending of the Euros aside, he was progressing towards that goal with the likes of Cabaye, M'Vila, Lloris, we will have to start over again.

Of course Blanc might have felt he lost the dressing room. After managing these egos for the past two years, and doing a good job of it, what took place the last few days at the Euros might have been an eye opener for Blanc. He hadn't gotten through to the likes of Nasri, Menez or M'Vila. Maybe Blanc realized that he was on a slippery slope with these players and if he was still going to struggle holding the dressing room together why deal with this headache?

So France now moves on...most likely with Blanc's former teammate - Deschamps. DD has been itching to run the national team for many years and he finally gets his opportunity. I think Deschamps has the chance to be a good manager - like Blanc he has the trophy case as a player and unlike Blanc a larger body of work as a club manager. But he will have his work cut out for him. Like Blanc he does have a wealth of riches to select from, but does he have the right "mind set" from his players?

Merci Laurent, I wish you could have seen this adventure through to Brazil.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Italy v FRG...I mean West Germany...I mean Germany

Now this is a rivalry that has a deep history on the pitch - Germany v Italy. They have met 30 times (7 times in World or European Cups), Italy has never lost in those 7 meetings. There are some that argue the 1970s World Cup semi finals is the greatest match of all time...

The game had some legendary names and some players who changed the way the game was played - Facchetti and Beckenbauer showed the world how defensive players could influence the game offensively. Sepp Maier revolutionized goalkeeping by introducing the use of special gloves (notice that the Italian keeper Albertosi is bare handed, old school!). Das Bomber Muller set the standard for strikers and goal scoring.

More recently there was the 2006 World Cup semi-final, where Italy scored 2 late goals to get into the finals, where they would eventually beat Les Bleus on penalty kicks...sigh. There was also the 1982 World Cup Finals, and one of the most iconic goal celebrations we have seen.

Tardelli gives the Azurri a 2-0 lead in 1982

Anyways back to Germany v Italy circa 2012. This match will pit two teams that know each other well and know each other's style on the field. I think this is the tournament that Germany finally gets the Italian monkey off their back, three reasons why:

  • The German midfield will snuff out Pirlo and therefore the Italian metronome. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira will be too much for the Italian play maker. If you look at the two midfields, the advantage has to go to the Huns. In addition to the two I just mentioned, Ozil will create some headaches for the Italian midfield. If De Rossi is not 100% this will make the Italian midfield's task that much more of a challenge. In the battle for the center of the park, I look for Germany's talented players to keep Pirlo in check and create too many mismatches for the Italians to overcome.
  • Germany is more rested and healthier than the Italians. With the aforementioned Schwinnie declared fit for the game, Germany do not have the amount of injury concerns that Italy has. Italy may not have the services of the likes of Abate, De Rossi and Chiellini, add to this that Maggio is suspended and Italy are starting to look thin at the back. Especially at right back if Abate cannot go. In addition, the Italians played two days ago while Germany had and extra two days of rest. Without some key players and assuming heavier legs, can Italy keep up with the attack minded Germany? I doubt that even the best catenaccio will hold the likes of Ozil, Muller, Podoloski, Klose, Gomez et al at bay.
  • The German pace will be to much for the Italian back line. I never thought I would write the words "German" and "pace" in the same sentence....but one has to say that this German team is not the methodical bulldozer my uncle used to call them. This team has pace and speed down the wings as well as through the center. If the Italians are forced to play with 3 at the back (due to injury and suspensions) and do not have a full fit De Rossi to break up the attacks in the midfield, I think the German pace down the channels with the likes of Klose or Gomez in the box will be too much for Italy.
I think this game will be a tight one, but late on it will open up for the Germans. Italy will not go away easily but in the end - Germany 2: Italy 1.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The last 4 - now the fun begins

We have our first semi final - the Iberia derby! Spain v Portugal. The rivalry itself is not as intense as one would think based on their geographic location. I think a large reason is that they have not had too many major matches on the pitch, aka World Cup or European Cup (they had a 1-1 draw in the Euro group stages in 1984). They also do not have big rivalries at the club level. But obviously there is a geo-political rivalry. Add to this that Portugal's best player - Ronaldo - plies his trade at Real Madrid and we do have some intriguing story lines.

Keys to Portugal
All the talk before this tournament is whether or not Spain would be able to challenge history by winning three straight major tournaments. Both Germany and France fell short of this ambitious goal themselves. In addition, many are expecting to see a Spain v Germany rematch in the finals. I am not one of those. Three reasons why I think Portugal will pull off the upset and reach their second European Cup final:

  • Spain's "luster" has worn off. Take aside the feeble attempt by France to play a defensive formation to surprise Spain in the 1/4 finals and the reality is teams have started to figure out La Roja. Without a healthy Villa, and a less than optimal Torres, Spain have not had the one key element that makes their tiki-taka game lethal: a striker that can spring up behind the defense to score. Del Bosque has insisted on playing with Cesc at that role, with limited success. Take aside the Ireland game and the Spain offense has not looked as deadly as it did in the past. Add to this losses to the likes of England, where Spain dominated possession but England just sat back and hit them on the counter...1-0. Or the two losses where they gave up 4 goals to Argentina and Portugal. I realize those were all friendlies. But they demonstrated that teams have started to figure out Spain. Of course understanding and doing are two different things...
  • Which leads me to point #2, Portugal is getting in a grove...especially Ronaldo. Tournaments are all about how you finish not how you start, how is that for a cliche! Look at Portugal, they emerged from the group of death. Take out the first 60 minutes against Germany and they have been a very dangerous team. Denmark gave them a run, but if Ronaldo had been more clinical that game would have been 4-2 Portugal. Against Holland they once again showed their resilience, being down early they calmly fought back and earned the victory. They have been building every game. Of course they had to wait late against the Czech Republic, but they did what it took to get through. And looked the more dangerous team throughout that 1/4 final. The Portuguese have the momentum and extra rest...
  • Finally Portugal has one key that I think Spain will struggle with - dangerous wingers. Spain's tikki-takka usually revolves around the center of the park. Iniesta, Xavi, Alonso, Silva, Cesc and Busquets run their little triangles in the center of the park. The width is provided by Alba and Arbeloa bombing up the wings from their fullback positions. Blanc tried to block these runs by adding the likes of Debuchy as added cover. Portugal will fight fire with more fire. With Ronaldo and Nani manning the two wings, the Spanish fullbacks will have to be more cautious with their forays into the offensive third. This will impact the width that Spain needs to make their game dangerous. Without a true striker to make the diagonal runs behind the back 4, Spain relies on their fullbacks to over run a side creating mismatches that allow one of the midfielders to find space behind the defense. If Portugal limits these runs they can keep packing the middle of the park and allow Spain to have possession but not goals. In addition, if the Spanish fullbacks get caught too high up the pitch, look for Nani and Ronaldo to punish them on the counter - look at what Croatia was able to do on their counters. 

  • I am not saying this game will be an easy one for Portugal. Spain remains the best team in the world. But I think that this is the end of the run for La Roja. I had predicted that Spain would fall at this stage and I am sticking with that prediction.

    Portugal 3 - Spain 2

    Sorry Jose!!!

    Sunday, June 24, 2012

    Les Bleus - Glass half empty, but the half full has some optimism

    So it has been less than 24 hours and the long knives have already come out. No surprise. After being thoroughly outplayed in their last group game, coupled with a timid exit from the 1/4 finals, there plenty of ammunition for the pundits to question Les Bleus. Let's look at what we learned from France's run:

    The Good:
    One of the few bright spots for Les Bleus
    • Reaching the 1/4 finals. I realize this is difficult to process after what we saw yesterday. However, after two disastrous tournaments - Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 - getting out of the group stages was one of France's goals. Les Bleus navigated their first two games as they should. While they could have hoped for a better result versus England, they were able to come back after being down 1-0. They then resumed regular service when they defeated co-host Ukraine 2-0. With 4 points, Les Bleus knew they had a foot into the 1/4 finals, good to take care of business from the start...not all good...more on the bad later.
    • The emergence of Lloris....okay this is not a news flash! Lloris did not have much of a chance to shine in South Africa, but he showed his class at these Euros. I would only fault him on the English goal, the others he gave up were unstoppable. The Lyon keeper will be backstopping Les Bleus for many years to come. A team cannot underestimate the comfort in having a stable #1 to call on....look at what Hart is doing for England!
    • A duo of M'Vila - Cabaye to build on? I realize that M'Vila struggled with an injury and at times was not able to display his full range of abilities. On the contrary, Cabaye had a coming out party at the Euros. His ability to link the defense and offense were on display in his first two games. He even opened his goal account with Les Bleus. Both players are young and look for France to build on this base in the midfield.
    • Menez playing on the right. I realize we have a small sample size. However the PSG winger was one of the few offensive players who fulfilled his role. He kept the right wing occupied and allowed the French to have the width necessary to off set the tendency to lean on the left with the likes of Ribery. Menez should scored more in his game versus Ukraine, but it was his goal that unblocked the situation. There is a future for the PSG winger on the right side of the French formation. But enough about the good....let's get to the juicy part.
    The Bad:
    • Backing into the 1/4 finals. As I had posted prior to the Sweden game, click here for post, I thought it was very important for France to end the group stages on a win after getting the 4 points after their first two games.The fact Les Bleus were thoroughly outplayed in their game against the vikings was a bad omen for yesterday. It is unlike what happened in 2000 when France lost their last group game against co-host Holland 3-2...starting a secondary line up. France had won their first two games and knew they were headed to the 1/4 finals. Many would argue that they were happy to finish second in the group since they would stay in their location. This time around, France should have wanted to finish first - avoid facing Spain! Alas, Les Bleus exhibited some hubris and lacked the professionalism to finish out the group. The reaped what they sowed.
    • I have to question Blanc's over managing at times. Of course had France come out of yesterday with the win we would all be heaping praises on his brilliance. I cannot completely throw Le President under the bus. I like the fact he was willing and able to shift strategies based on his opponents. Unlike his predecessor who would, apparently, blindly threw out the same line up. However does this gloss over a bigger problem? Did Blanc have faith in his team where he could just roll out his best formation and basically take on the challenge - strength on strength? At some level I think Blanc did not have complete faith in his team. Did not trust his best line up could beat another team's best line up. I do question starting Debuchy high on the right side. I understand the reasoning...but the reality is the Lille right back was dangerous when he was able to overlap and make runs from deep. Starting him higher on the pitch did not allow him to do accomplish this. Had Blanc really wanted more defense, why not start Matuidi? Have Debuchy play right back. Instead it felt like a round peg in a square hole. Again hindsight is 20/20. Good for Blanc to be flexible but sometimes one can over think the situation.
    • France needs an on the field leader! I realize that Lloris wears the arm band, and leads through example (he is the only player who gets a good rating for all his games) but he is not a leader a la Platini, Vieira, Zidane, Deschamps or Desailly. A player that will lead not only through example but by telling teammates to get it together. Les Bleus need one...could it be Cabaye or M'Vila eventually? Maybe. But there wasn't one in Poland/Ukraine.
    The Ugly:
    No repeat...yet
    • La Generation 87...Nasri, Benzema, Ben Arfa and to some extent Menez (although I did praise him earlier!) did not show up.  Yes Nasri scored the equalizer against England, but where was he in the other games? His tendency to drift to the center of the park left his right side vacant. He did not provide the offensive outlet the team needed. Benzema had a large number of shots and two assists against Ukraine...but he is our striker, he needs to score goals. I realize he got frustrated and dropped deeper to get the ball, but a striker can go all game with very few touches and still be effective. Look at Inzaghi! You would never hear his name for Milan or Italy and then all of sudden 3 touches and a brace! If Benzema is more comfortable playing deeper, like Ibrahimovic for Sweden, then France need to line up a true striker. Otherwise teams will just let their last bank of 4 sit deep and keep everything 10 - 15 yards in front of them. Finally Ben Arfa for his brief time on the pitch was a shell of himself. Where was the Newcastle player who ran at defenses and forced teams to their back heels? Granted he had a short run of it, but did not step into the opportunity.
    • I don't think Mexes covered himself in glory. First he seemed to show up in less than ideal shape. Second he continued to make mental mistakes during the games. Finally getting that second yellow card was silly...granted it might have been for the best since I think the Spanish would have skinned him alive. But for the 30 year old defender might he have seen his international career pass him by? I was always a fan of his, I think Domenech was a fool in the way he handled the AC Milan libero during his peak years. Unfortunately we are now getting him on the back nine of his career. Alas, another legacy left by Dumbenech!
    • Speaking of seeing the last of a player, I do not think that we will see Malouda for France any more. It is a shame. Flo has always been a good soldier for France. And another player that was mishandled by Domenech. I respect the reasoning behind why Blanc took the veteran Chelsea man, but his play on the field was not good. He was invisible. While it was ugly, I will thank Flo for his time and play for Les Bleus.
    • Finally, speaking of ugly...what Nasri did post game was unacceptable. That was ugly.
    So France head home. Not as early as the last two tournaments, but still with too many questions and doubts. There is a core to build upon. There remains some hope! I hope that Blanc stays on, he has done a lot already and changing jockeys at this point would seem counter intuitive. Allow him to build to World Cup 2014. 

    Saturday, June 23, 2012

    Les Bleus...normal service resumes

    Oh could have been worse...after the first 20 minutes I thought France were going to get run off the pitch. But regular service was restored...alas. Not much to say...not much energy to say it. But here we go...

    The Good:
    • Not much good...they made the 1/4 finals....won a game at a major tournament and didn't get run off the pitch. That is about it for Les Bleus.
    The Bad:
    • Les Bleus have still not recovered from the Domenech era. Yes I am still harping on this, but I think this has had a real detrimental impact on Les Bleus. The last two tournaments France found no joy. They were not able to build anything or have any consistency with the players...let alone bring players through. I believe this has led to a leaderless team, no player has been allowed to develop and take ownership of the team. 
    The Ugly:
    • France have to face Spain two more times...for the World Cup qualifiers! Well at least Les Bleus can get the second spot in the group.
    • Spanish diving....Ramos, Cesc, Busquets...I guess they are getting ready for the Olympics.

    I will try to write more once I get over this! Oh well...

    Joyeaux Anniversaire Zizou!

    For the Frog's 1000th post...we wish Zidane a happy birthday! On the day of Zizou's 40th birthday, a little reminder of what happened last time France faced Spain as the underdog. Unfortunately I do not think that #10 will be emerging from the dressing room today.

    Les Bleus...a defensive 4-3-3

    Wow another surprise from "Le President."  I will give Blanc credit, unlike his predecessor, he is willing to adopt his tactics and formations based on his opponent. Rather than just forcing his usual formation, he is acknowledging his position and the opponent he is facing.

    Wow, a very defensive and "muscled" 4-3-3. The partnership of M'Vila and Cabaye is not a surprise, I look for them to be the core of the French midfield for years to come. Malouda is in the game for his veteran savvy. I have a feeling Blanc will give him the orders to push up judiciously and that his primary responsibility will be to track back. Debuchy as the right sided midfield is a surprise. The Lille right back does have good instincts going up, but he is a right back. Clearly Blanc does not trust his other options - Nasri, Menez or Ben Arfa to do the defensive work that will be required facing La Rojas.

    This formation is going to call upon the duo of Benzema and Ribery to do the bulk of the offensive work....look for them to try and play fast and hit Spain on the counter. With Spain playing with a 4-6 formation...again no true striker, look for this game to be a real chess game and Spain trying to get offense from any position. In a way this might play into Blanc's strategy, as Spain do not employ a true striker it might ease some of the pressure on his center backs. It will place more pressure on his midfield to slow down the ticy-tac of Spain. But with the line up he has rolled out, they have the defensive minded players to do this.

    Should be interesting!

    Allez Les Bleus.

    Friday, June 22, 2012

    France v Spain...preview of World Cup 2014

    For those of you not aware, France and Spain are in the same qualifying group for the World Cup 2014. So the match tomorrow is a nice little preview for those games...hahahahaa. First things first, France have backed into the 1/4 finals to face the defending World Cup and European Cup champions. Neither team emerged from the group matches without questions. The biggest are swirling around Les Bleus. Spain, however, do have their own concerns. I spoke with some folks yesterday who stated that Torres is back in form...uh not sure. Yes he scored a brace...against Ireland. Against Croatia he was invisible and was taken off the field. Unlike Gemany, I do not think that Spain is clicking on all cylinders. Let us not forget that had Croatia won the game, and they very well could have, then Spain would be home right now.

    France's issues smacked us right in the face against Sweden. Lack of on field leadership, in fighting, lack of heart...general disinterest. Question...the big one...can Blanc reverse this before heading to the game tomorrow? I do not think that Blanc will magically find an on field leader - one of the likes of Vieira, Platini or Zidane in 24 hours. However he can get his troops ready and have them play like they did the past 23 games.

    Can he bring joy to Les Bleus?
    Les Bleus have a puncher's chance versus Spain. How so? I look for France to play the counter attack style they leveraged for success against Bosnia in qualifications and again in Germany in a friendly. Look for Les Bleus to go to a 4-3-3 again, with a more muscled midfield - Cabaye, Diarra and M'Vila. The three will look to absorb and disrupt any Spanish attacks coming from the midfield. With Cabaye back on the pitch, look for the Newcastle man to continue to act as the link between the back line and the attacking side. The three at top will be Ribery - Benzema - Menez...yup Nasri on the bench. Why Menez? His discipline of staying wide and keeping width to the formation is necessary to keep Spain honest. With Ribery who likes to drift, but really does his best work on the left wing, Les Bleus must have a player that is more natural on the right. This should also provide some cover for Debuchy and allow the right back to get some deeper runs knowing that the right side will not be vacant of a player. France could potentially catch Spain on the counter, force La Rojas to defend deeper.

    Of course France will need to get the ball, which is a challenge when playing the Spanish. The last time these two nations met, it was an easy 2-0 victory for Spain.  I do not think we will see the same. Spain has suffered not having a top form Torres nor a healthy Villa. I think France will surprise many with their resilience and with their ability to put Spain back more than others. Les Bleus will be able to get the ball and possess it more than some might expect. But one thing for Spain, they are more clinical in their finishing and that will be the difference.

    Spain 2 - France 0.

    Unfortunately the 23 game streak will end as it started...with back to back losses.

    Allez les Bleus!

    Blast from the past - Platini and France 1984

    Getting ready to face off against the Spanish Armada tomorrow, France is the underdog and I am sure most expect them to get thoroughly outplayed. After what Les Bleus showed us against Sweden, I would say that is a distinct possibility. But here is a blast from the past -

    Wednesday, June 20, 2012

    Goal line technology...why are we even debating this?

    This time the English benefited from what appeared to be the wrong call in their group game against the Ukraine. Terry cleared what appeared to be a goal off the "line" preserving the English 1-0 lead at the time.

    Over or on the line??

    The most powerful and corrupt man in football - Sepp Blatter - seems to have finally come around and called for goal line technology. Well it is about time! I have to disagree with UEFA president...and one of my all time favorite players...Platini who seems stubbornly against introducing the technology. Platini seems to think this is a slippery slope and technology will play a greater role in the game.

    I strongly disagree. Every other major sport has some technology to aide the officials -

    • NFL replays that coaches have a limited number of appeals for.
    • NBA officials use replay on tight calls - such as out of bounds
    • MLB leverages replay to determine home runs
    • NHL uses replay for goal calls
    • Rugby goes to a tv replay for tries
    • Tennis for an in our out call
    I agree that technology needed not be used to see if someone dove, or if someone was off side...but goal line is vital. End of the day the game hinges on...who scores! So let's make sure that the goals are all properly tallied. Come on Platoch embrace modern times and back goal line technology! I stand with you that we do not want to stop the game every 2 minutes, but goals are too precious to not allow!

    Tuesday, June 19, 2012

    The Ibra goal...a thing of beauty I must admit

    Be happy....

    One of my favorite images from the group games...makes you smile and after the way Les Bleus played today I need something positive!

    France to 1/4 finals...via the back door...La HONTE!!!

    C'est la honte!!!! What was that? Nothing but a disgrace from Les Bleus...I am not sure what to write other than expletives. But I will try to contain my anger....

    The Good:
    • Get to the 1/4 finals...through the trap door. That is about all that was good. At least France live to fight another day. If Les Bleus put together a good showing versus Spain, even....gasp beat the Spanish this loss will be a distant memory. Let us not forget that Les Bleus were heading home at this stage last two tournaments...need to focus on the sliver of positive!
    • Okay I have to say the Ibrahimovic goal was amazing. Hitting a volley from that angle was nothing short of spectacular. Hats off to the Swede for that piece of artistry. No highlights yet live but check the web or TV for the replay.
    Thing of beauty...

    • One more "good" were it not for Lloris, France would have lost 4-0. He was the only French player that showed up today. Big saves in the second half, nothing he could do on both goals.
    The Bad:
    • France France France...Les Bleus were awful today. They were beyond bad. Only needing a draw they played like it. They had no heart no game no desire. France looked from the start of the game the team that was about to head home for the summer. They played flat. Unacceptable.
    • Ben Arfa, was completely invisible. I was expecting him to come in and bring some real width for France. Much like what Menez did in the Ukraine game. Instead, he kept drifting back to the middle of the park. And even there he was invisible. He unleashed one strike from distance but otherwise was a complete no factor.  I expected much more from Le Petit Prince.
    • No strikers for France! Yes I realize Benzema is France's striker, but really? The fact he wears #10 is very appropriate, why? Because he drops so deep really playing a #10 role. Against England and Sweden it was frustrating to see that France was facing a flat back 4 that had no threat of any striker. Once Giroud entered the game it opened up some space for the attack. I realize that Blanc said he does not want to play two strikers, but is Benzema really playing the #9?
    • Mexes gets a yellow...the French libero got a silly yellow which coupled with the yellow from last game means he is out for the 1/4 finals. Wait...hold on...maybe this is good since he had some serious brain farts in this game! The Arsenal man Koscielny will get the start along side Rami this weekend.
    The Ugly:
    • France...see above.
    • France mindset heading into 1/4 final. After having their streak of games (23 games) without a loss broke, how will Les Bleus go into their next game...against Spain? This will be a huge test for Blanc. The French manager will have his work cut out for him to get his team ready on the pitch but also mentally. Blanc needs to remind the French players what they were able to build the past 2 years, the fact they got caught in today's game must be set aside. At the end of the day all the teams in the 1/4 finals have zero wins and zero losses...
    What a frustrating game...France played like crap and deserved to lose. No heart. No desire. Too many players looked like they were thinking about the 1/4 finals and not the game. Maybe this is a wake up call and gets them to play like they can, or maybe this is an indication of the malaise that has hung over Les Bleus since South Africa...we shall see. Blanc has his work cut out for him.

    Allez les Bleus...

    Les Bleus - more changes for Sweden

    Blanc springs another small surprise on us heading into the Sweden game. With the need of at least a point, preferably three points, Blanc has rolled out a team that is positioned to get a result.

    What is interesting is we see Ben Arfa in the place of Menez. The PSG player had a shaky first half against Ukraine, but did get a goal as well as creating another clear cut goal opportunity. Interesting change to say the least. Cabaye is on the bench to allow him some time to recover from a knock he picked up last game.

    I do not think we will see much difference between the style of the French game - M'Vila is on par with Cabaye, granted different style, but no drop in overall talent. Ben Arfa will give France a strong presence on the right, and much like Menez will ensure the right side the presence it needs for balance.

    Finally, how will Mexes and Debuchy manage their play with the yellow card they have hanging over their heads? Ideally France can find a way to an early lead and take out these two players to protect them for the 1/4 finals. But first things first...France need a result, hopefully three points. After that let's hope they have all their players for the next round!

    Allez les Bleus.

    Giroud a Gunner?

    Even as the Euros get ready to go into high gear, the transfer market is already heating up. The latest rumor coming out of Ligue 1 is that top scorer and newly minted French Champion Giroud is heading to North London. This would be a great move for the Frenchman and I think a good long term move for Arsenal. Will he score 25 + goals for the Gunners immediately, I do not think so, but I think after a first season of learning the ropes he will fit in nicely in England.

    I really hope Wenger picks me...
    He has the size and power, he is a good "fox in the box" but can also create his own scoring opportunities. Partnered with Podolski, he should present a solid strike partnership. Of course this also begs the question - what does this mean for RVP? Does Wenger believe he can get his captain to stay? If so will there be enough playing time to go around?

    Clearly the futures for the likes of Chamakh and Bendtner are not at Arsenal. Neither player being able to live up to their billings. For Montpellier I fear this is just the beginning as their championship winning side will be stripped of some of its key parts. The team that takes the field will be a shell of the one that won the title, alas that does not bode well heading into a Champions League campaign.

    Monday, June 18, 2012

    Last surprises please France!

    Les Bleus head into the last group game in a position they have not enjoyed the last two tournaments - with one foot in the 1/4 finals! Granted at the Euros in 2008 and World Cup in 2010, they were not mathematically eliminated heading into the final game but the odds were against them...kind of like the famous scene in "Dumb and Dumber"...

    This time around, France sits on top of their group and all they need is a draw to get into the next round, could even loss the game and get in...but let's keep it simple. France need to win this game. Period. Sweden is already out of the tournament, only they and Ireland were eliminated before the last group game. Sweden have nothing to play for but pride. Sweden will pose a good challenge for Les Bleus.

    Let's face it, France has won one game in major tournaments in 9 tries and it was against Ukraine. Nothing against the co-hosts, but this is their first European Championship ever...and they are ranked 52nd. If France expects to do anything beyond they 1/4 finals they must show that they have overcome the malaise that has struck them the past few years. Additionally, Sweden will test one area of France's game that has been lacking for a few years - defending set pieces.

    Another aspect - France has three players on a yellow card - Mexes, Debuchy and Menez. I debated whether or not Blanc should look to protect these players, but I realized that if he tried to get too cute and France do not go through...well it will turn ugly. I expect Les Bleus to start a formation looking to win, looking to go forward and build on what they have done so far.

    Look for the Rennes MF to get higher up the pitch
    The one change could be M'Vila and Diarra partnered together in a more beefy midfield. I could see Blanc looking to a hybrid 4-3-3 slash 4-2-3-1. Looking to snuff out Ibra in the midfield and hit Sweden on the wings with his wide players. This could also be what Blanc wants to look to if France do progress and have to face the likes of Spain or Germany.

    How I see the starting line up -

    Clichy, Mexes, Rami, Debuchy
    Diarra, M'Vila, Nasri
    Ribery, Benzema, Menez

    Look for Nasri to have the freedom to roam wing to wing as well as play a higher line or drop deeper. M'Vila will play more like he does at Rennes in a traditional Relayeur role - linking up between the back 1/3 and the attacking 1/3. Diarra will continue to hold on to his role as midfield destroyer. The Marseille man will be tasked to keep an eye on Ibrahimovic, much of Sweden's offense goes through the big man who plays a 9 1/2  type role almost a traditional #10. I would look for Benzema to try and play a higher line, pushing the Swedish defense deeper and getting service from the wings. I would hope to see Clichy get a start again, he gives France more of a threat from the left back than Evra did in the game against England. He partners well with Ribery and opens up the diagonal run for the Kaiser. On the other side, Menez showed that he can keep his discipline by staying on the right wing, while he does drift inside at times, he is holds his channel better than Nasri who's natural instinct is to drift more to the center of the park. I also think that the first half of the Ukraine match, Menez had some jitters (it was his first action in a major tournament), but getting the goal in the second half should boost his confidence and I look for him to be more clinical from the start.

    France needs to play for the win, while minding the players on a yellow. Meaning - if France go out to a lead and have the luxury look for Mexes to get some time on the bench with Koscielny getting some run as well as Reveillere on the right. If the game is tight until the end, Blanc might still look to afford himself this luxury.

    Prediction - France 3 Sweden 0. Brace from Benzema and goal from Rami.

    Allez les Bleus!!!

    Friday, June 15, 2012

    Les Bleus WIN! Finally....

    Menez opens the scoring for Les Bleus

    Ouf Ouf Ouf...France come away from the Ukraine game with a victory and are top of Group D. For those of you keeping score it has now been 8 games in major tournaments between French victories. Last game was the 1-0 win over Portugal in the 2006 World Cup semi final!  In a game that saw a 50 minute rain delay due to lightning and rain, France put two past the Ukrainian keeper in a 6 minute span. This has to get a rather large monkey off France's back.

    The Good:
    Diarra making a case to keep his starting role
    • LES BLEUS WON! I do not think you can underestimate this. After the debacle in South Africa and the terrible showing 4 years ago in the Euros, France had to get a victory. That was the least of what one needed to see from the group games. Even if all teams had drawn each game and somehow France got to the 1/4 finals, a victory was the most important first stage for Les Bleus. Just imagine the pressure had France only drawn or gasp, lost, to Ukraine! Now Les Bleus go into the last game knowing that more than likely any positive result will see them through.
    • Goals...granted only two of them. But Cabaye did hit the wood work, Menez should have had a brace, could have should have! But France did get two goals. Both came from some clinical passing from Benzema. Maybe wearing the #10 kit for Les Bleus makes him more Platini or Zidane like! France have 3 goals from 2 games, no  one is going to mistaken them for the French team from the '58 World Cup. But compared to the past two tournaments, I will take the 3 goals!
    • Diarra once again showed his skill and ability as the midfield "destroyer." He was strong on the ball, strong in his tackles and read the game very well. His play will give Blanc a real dilemma, a good one, but a question of should he bring in M'Vila or use him as a late game substitute to shore up his midfield. Not a bad problem to have!
    • Speaking of midfielders, the play of Cabaye was excellent. His first half was quiet but he did his job. Second half he had a fantastic finish, after slotting higher up the pitch when Benzema dropped deeper for the ball. He could have had a brace after a fantastic shot from distance hit the wrong side of the wood work. His midfield partner - Nasri - had another solid game. He was dangerous on set pieces, held the ball very well and was able to provide a safety valve for Les Bleus when need be.
    • The left side of the formation. The change of Clichy for Evra changed the French game. Clichy was much more active charging down the flank, opening up space for Ribery. The Manchester City player also defended very well. Ribery once again showed he had his dancing shoes on. Making some fantastic runs, pick pocketing some Ukrainians and being very active through out the game. Now if he can only get himself a goal! 
    • The Ukrainian keeper...Pyatov kept his side in the game, without big saves versus Menez (1v1 break), Mexes (header off a set piece) and Nasri (direct kick). Without Pyatov Les Bleus might have run off to a 3 or 4 goal victory. He was also assisted by his posts on a powerful strike from Cabaye who can very close to a brace.
    The Bad:
    Game started under a small typhoon
    • Benzema, okay not bad in the way you might think, but it is clear that the Real Madrid man is getting frustrated at not finding the back of the goal. This might become bad if he starts pushing and forcing his game. Mind you he was the reason for the two goals that France did score. Tactically he seems to be drop deeper on the pitch to get his touches, this takes away any potential pressure that the defense might have to face where he to play off the last defender. Something to watch.
    • Silly yellow cards...both Mexes and Debuchy got yellow cards late on for fouls that were not necessary. These are not smart. Both players will be on a "alert" heading into the Sweden match...if either get another yellow then they will miss the 1/4 finals. Not good. Menez will also be on alert, however where he to miss the 1/4 finals I feel France have more cover with the likes of Malouda, Ben Arfa and Valbuena. Something to watch for next week. I would not be surprised if Reveilliere did not get the start for Debuchy against Sweden, not sure if Mexes will sit nor Menez.
    • French finishing...I realize they scored two and had some clear opportunities, but they need to be more clinical and put one more goal. There was a time after being up 2-0 that France just toyed with Ukraine, rather than go for the goal...let's not forget that French flair sometimes bites us in the arse...Sevilla 1982...
    The Ugly:
    • The that was scary. Never seen a professional football match get postponed like that! That was ugly...correct move.
    Overall not much to complain about after winning the match. With England beating Sweden, France are in a good position to get to the 1/4 finals. The standings after day 2 -

    Group D

    France France21103124
    England England21104314
    Ukraine Ukraine210123-13
    Sweden Sweden200235-20

    France only need a draw to go through, and can even make it if they lose to Sweden. Of course France should push and look for the win, Sweden is on 2 straight losses and if France get the full 3 points they will most likely avoid Spain in the 1/4 finals.

    Les Bleus should get to the 1/4 Finals, barring a disaster...lets hope that the French can build off the good win as well as avoid any players getting another silly yellow and missing the 1/4 finals.

    Allez les bleus!

    France makes 2 changes...not the ones expected

    Interesting, Blanc makes some interesting changes to his line up. The formation is more of a 4-2-3-1

    Diarra keeps his place over M'Vila. Clichy is in on the left over Evra, a surprise and Menez makes his way on the right to the detriment of Malouda. This makes sense since Les Bleus seemed to forget the right side of the attack at times against England.

    I am surprised Evra gets switched out...should be an interesting attacking formation, with more width than against England.

    Allez les Bleus

    Thursday, June 14, 2012

    Merci Sylvain!

    Sylvain Wiltord announced his retirement from football this week...a quiet story in the shadow of the Euros. Wiltord was one of those players who had a great career, yet does not get the recognition of other players of his generation. He was part of the invincibles with Arsenal, won the FA Cup, the Premiership and Ligue 1 at the club level. For France he won the Euros in 2000, 2 confederation cups and world cup runner up.

    Of course what he will always be remembered for was the equalizer against Italy...the Trezeguet volley is what is remembered from the match. But without the Wiltord equalizer we never would have gotten to that kick!

    Merci Sylvain, best of luck in retirement you had a great career.

    Moving day - France v Ukraine

    In golf the "moving day" is usually associated with the third day of a 4 round tournament...but we only have 3 group games in the Euros! In the Euros and the World Cup, the second game is when teams figure out who is in to the knock outs and who needs a miracle in the final well as who goes home (see Ireland). So tomorrow's game for Les Bleus will determine if they can get to the 1/4 finals.

    The weight on the game cannot be underestimated. First, France is facing the co-host who pulled off a surprise win versus Sweden and sits a top the group. If the Sweden v Ukraine game is any indication, the crowd is going to be super-charged. Second, France have history to contend with...they have not won a game in a major tournament since they defeated Portugal in the 2006 World Cup semi finals! Need I remind you that Zidane was the captain of the team, Barthez was the keeper, Vieira was patrolling the midfield and Inspector Clouseau was the manager (Domenech). Since then Les Bleus have 3 draws and 4 defeats...France need a victory. Granted they could draw against Ukraine and still qualify in their final match. But I rather see a France win for obvious reasons! Finally, France cannot allow Ukraine to get a point or gasp a win! If so it will make the final game very dicey.

    So will Blanc change his line up with the return of M'Vila and the ineffective play of Malouda? Not sure...based on his press conference there is a chance he might, but he remains mum.

    France will most likely stay with a 4-3-3. The back line and keeper will not change, least last minute injury. The front three will most likely remain the same as well...unless. The question becomes, does Diarra sit for M'Vila and what to do with Malouda?

    Paired up like against Bosnia?
    Diarra had a good game against England, had he not allowed Lescott run onto the Gerrard free kick for the England goal then I would say he had a very good game. Diarra was a rock the remainder of the game allowing the other midfielders to focus on their offense. Ukraine, surprisingly, might be more offensive minded than the English! Well maybe that is not too surprising. Against Sweden, the Ukraine played very open, attacking football. Might Blanc opt for two more defensive minded players in his midfield to break up any potential attacks and act as a platform for counters.

    Or does Blanc stick with Malouda and his veteran stature?

    I think Blanc will insert M'Vila in place of Malouda, go with a more muscular midfield - Cabaye, M'Vila and Diarra. Mimic what he did away to Bosnia. France was in no shortage of offense against England, but then again the Three Lions sat back. Ukraine appears to be more keen on going forward, France will need to break that and ensure that Shevchenko does not get fed opportunities from the midfield or wings...

    France will get some chances on the break and in general, the interplay between Nasri and Ribery with Benzema higher up the pitch will cause problems for Ukraine. I do not see the co-hosts with the same discipline England showed in the first game.

    Prediction - France 2 Ukraine 0

    Benzema with a brace.

    Allez les bleus!!!!

    Monday, June 11, 2012

    France v England kissing your sister

    Well I guess I have some predictive abilities...I smelled the draw. What I didn't smell was England playing like Greece circa 2004, parking the bus, a trailer and a few scooters in front of their goal!

    The Good:
    Served well as lone defensive MF
    • France didn't lose...I realize that isn't something that is great to hang your hat on, but I could see the Three Lions getting a late goal on the break after Les Bleus were pushing for the win. France has gotten a point from their biggest rival in this group. Now they have a chance to get points against the co-host Ukraine. Get a point and move on. England looked dangerous through out with regards to beating Les Bleus on a counter, the fact the French defended against this is positive.
    • Diarra was huge. Granted his defending was questionable for the England goal - he allowed Lescott to run almost free to head in the goal. Otherwise Diarra was huge. He defended extremely well, he was very active on set pieces - forcing a huge save from Hart - the way he played would make me question whether M'Vila will slot back into the starting line up for the next game!
    • Ribery and Nasri both looked very lively and gave the English defense some real problems. The Manchester City man gave Les Bleus the point with a long range effort that beat his teammate to the near post. They both has some nifty touches where they almost sprung Benzema. The one problem - too often they found each other bunched up and without space.
    • Taking shots from distance, I realize that the great Alexi Lalas made some dismissive comments about France taking shots from distance. However I think that France forced Hart to make some decent saves. When a team defends with 8 field players in the box and gives you space you need to take what is available. Shooting from distance, when you put the ball on goal, will lead to good things. I am sure Lalas believes that someone like Landycakes would just dribble through the entire defense...France should continue taking these chances, but just need someone to crash the net. In addition, France was putting shots on goal...rather than ballooning the shots into row Z...oh and yes....France's goal came from a shot from distance by Nasri.
    • England's right back Glen Johnson played a wonderful game. He defended well against the attacks from Ribery and also contributed to the English attack. His play and defending forced Ribery to float more into the middle of the park at times actually getting to close to the likes of Nasri allowing the British defense to defend in mass.
    The Bad:
    Never got to take off the warm ups...
    • France didn't win...Les Bleus dominated this game offensively. France had 8 shots on goal...England 1 (the goal). France had 10 corners to Englands 3. At one point France had 60% possession...that is what you see when a team like France or England play the likes of Barbados! Les Bleus allowed England to sit back and clog the goal box.
    • Blanc's usage of substitutes leaves something to be desired as well. He did bring on Martin and Ben Arfa late in the game, showing his desire to try and get the full three points. But those moves were very late ... less than 10 minutes. I question why he left Giroud on the touch line. Why? England was packing the penalty area - parking a bus in front of Joe Hart. It did not help that Benzema kept dropping deeper to get involved in the game. Why not put in a Giroud who can play on the last defender, who can receive crosses, hold the ball up or be used to distribute high passes? that might have put the English further on their heels maybe getting the second goal. I think Blanc should have been more aggressive with the timing of his substitutions.
    The Ugly:
    • Defending of set pieces by France. Once again Les Bleus show a deficiency in this department. England did exactly what they needed to do - defend and look to get a goal on a set piece. The Gerrard kick was well placed, but it was a ball that Lloris MUST come out and play! In addition, what is Diarra doing letting Lescott just run to the spot? Once again this is something to watch for with Les Bleus. I fear that something they have not been able to solve in years will get figured out in a few days! 
    • Lack of speed. What do I mean by this? France has shown something the last few games because they played with speed and urgency. They constantly ran at teams. Granted not the same level as England. But...France was too content to slow down the game, allow England to regroup, rather than taking chances and pushing the ball at the English defense. 
    • Parking the bus...okay I realize that the strategy got England the point they sought. And as the Gooner said, "England is terrible," so I guess it is a good strategy. But it is ugly. I was sent the following from facebook that captures the ugly England tactic - "England make Greece look like '73 holland" I think they mean '74 Holland but the point is very well made!

    So both England and France leave this match with one point. England has to feel a bit better as they clearly were playing not to concede. France will be frustrated at their inability to break down the English back 4. The one advantage France have is they face the weaker of the remaining opponents in the next match - Ukraine. And based on what I have seen from the Ukraine v Sweden match, the former member of the Soviet Union is not looking to do any valeting. As for England, it seems more and more that they might be looking to play it safe until their last game when they get Rooney back.

    Allez les Bleus!

    Blanc goes with the 4-3-3

    No surprise, but Le President will start his Euro campaign with the 4-3-3 that we are accustomed to seeing the past few matches. His starting line up will also mirror what was rolled out in a 4-0 victory over Estonia.

    The formation is interesting to me, as I have written in the past, since it can evolve as my favorite "Christmas Tree" with the two wingers - Nasri and Ribery dropping deeper and Benzema pushing higher on the pitch. The question is can Debuchy and Cabaye slow down the "Ox" who gets the start on the left side of the English formation. The Arsenal winger is one to watch, I think he brings a threat that I am concerned about. Nasri will have to be disciplined to try and slow him down higher up the pitch, allow Cabaye, Diarra and Debuchy to reposition themselves prevent fast counters. Rami and Mexes will have their hands full with Welbeck's  pace so will not be able to slide over to cover if Oxlade-Chamberlain overruns the right side of the French defense.

    Much will be on the shoulders of Diarra as the true defensive midfielder, as opposed to other French formations that have seen two defensive players, or even when Blanc used a 4-3-3 in Bosnia when he had a very "muscular" 3 of Diaby - Diarra - M'Vila. This version of the 4-3-3 is leaning on the offense.

    I still smell a draw in this game...

    Allez les bleus.

    Sunday, June 10, 2012

    France v England...need I say more?

    After three great days of footy, we will have the last group kick off their matches starting tomorrow. With the much anticipated matched between Les Bleus and the Three Lions. Sweden will also play Ukraine, and this match also has some intriguing plot lines.

    Both sides will run out line ups without too much surprise:

    England (probable) : Hart, Johnson, Terry, Lescott, Cole, Milner, Gerrard, Parker, Downing, Welbeck, Young.

    France (probable) : Lloris, Debuchy, Mexes, Rami, Evra, Cabaye, Diarra, Malouda, Nasri, Ribery, Benzema.

    The only question was whether or not Andy Carroll would be featured at top of the English formation. I would keep an eye on him as a late game change, a player who could give real problems to Les Bleus and set pieces. The three keys to the game to watch for:

    1. Ribery on the left side. How will Johnson fare against the in form Kaiser? Johnson himself is eager to push up the pitch and at times forgets his defensive responsibilities. I am not sure that the England midfield will be able to cover for the gaps if that happens as well. If Ribery is allowed space and can get behind the English defense then it could be a long day for Hart and co. If Johnson does his best impression of the British squares repelling the Napoleonic cavalry charges at Waterloo than England will have countered on of France's major threats.
    2. Preview of what to expect from England?
    3. England's strikers and wingers. How will Welbeck and Young fair against the French back line? I have a real concern over Mexes. I think that Rami will be fine, but the AC Milan man has shown some rust and some shaky defending as of late. While I am not ready to anoint Welbeck as the next Shearer, he has the pace and skill to potentially exploit Mexes' gaffs. I would look to Diarra and potentially Cabaye to try to cut down the source of passes from the midfield and try to avoid Welbeck spring loose behind the French defense. Mexes will most likely defend high, which could be a risky proposition against the England strikers. Evra might be the wild card for France, knowing very well the English strikers' tendencies. Also look for The Ox to be a wild card, he could come on late and use his pace against a tired French defense to create some real problems.
    4. Who holds their nerve. This might not seem important when you have two squads comprised of players that play club football at the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, AC Milan...but both squads go into this match with high pressure. England has not won...well you know the rest...since 1966. Granted the Three Lions go into a tournament WITHOUT the burden of outrageous expectations from their home fans. For once the pundits in England are not predicting a title. But that pressure is always lurking...For the French until they win a game in a major tournament they will always be under the dark cloud of South Africa and the Domenech era. It seems like another life time ago when Les Bleus were in the same shoes as Spain - having won two major consecutive titles - World and European Cups. After an improbable run to the World Cup finals in 2006, France has been a shell of itself on the world stage. 2 points in 6 matches spanning the 2008 Euros and 2010 World Cup. France had goalless draws against Romania and Uruguay, and lost to Holland, Italy, Mexico and South Africa in that same span. Oh yeah and the little "strike" the players went on in South Africa! There is a tremendous amount of pressure on Les Bleus to do something...just win a game! Which ever team does not allow the pressure to impact their game will find a way to the points.
    How England wins - Welbeck's pace is enough to slip behind a shaky back four for Les Bleus. Gerard plays inspired football and controls the game from midfield, not having to co-exist with Lampard allows the Liverpool man to put his stamp on the midfield. Terry rises up to the challenge and shows steely nerve in controlling and marshaling the back 4 of England.

    How France wins - Ribery overwhelms the right side of the English defense and he combines with Benzema to run circles around the English back 4. Nasri keeps Cole occupied enough that the Chelsea left back becomes a non-factor. The French midfield trio of Malouda, Diarra and Cabaye are better organized and have more pace that their English counter parts suffocating the midfield and not allowing regular service to be restored.

    What will happen - I think this will be a very cautious match between two old foes. I think that the nerves will catch up with Les Bleus - especially on defense. England will beat France on a counter springing one of their pacey players to snatch a goal late in the first half. France will settle down and lay siege to Hart's goal. A late substitution of Giroud will prove the difference as he and Benzema link up for the equalizer - France 1 England 1

    Allez les Bleus!

    Saturday, June 09, 2012

    Jup Oranje already in trouble!

    Another reason why the Euro is a great tournament, and why I am not a fan of the expansion for the next version (I liked it when it was only 8 teams, made for instant drama) - 4 games in and already we have teams in crisis!

    Day 1 turned out to be not as drab as one might have thought. The Poland v Greece game ended with some controversial officiating - yellow card for going to head the ball? Really? Red card, penalty and save for ends 1-1 so both sides will fancy their chances to advance. The advantage might go to the  Greeks since they face what appears to be a sieve of a Czech team while Poland has to face the offensive minded Russians.

    What is really interesting is what happened today. Denmark sprung the surprise, defeating the Dutch 1-0.  I was only able to listen to the game on satellite radio and from the high lights I saw afterwards it appears that the Dutch missed on a few opportunities while the Danes did what they do best - play steady and collective football. In the other match, Germany secured the essential 3 points of a win, but I was not impressed by the pre-tournament favorites. Then again style does not matter, the three points do. However the Germans should consider themselves fortunate that Pepe could not find the happy side of the woodwork at the end of the first half and that Varela couldn't beat Neuer late in the match. The German offense seemed slow - where was Ozil? Looking at the statistics one would think that Portugal would have at least earned a draw - 2 posts hit and 7 corner kicks (Germany had 2).

    This sets up a wonderful second day for Group B. With Germany facing hated rival Holland and Denmark and Portugal squaring off. Holland has to win the game, they could be fine with only a draw but that would place a tremendous amount of pressure on them for the final game. Germany, in case of a win, would be assured to go through and could rest players for the final game. Plus both teams hate each other! Should make for a juice match. In the other match, Portugal and Denmark face off again after being in the same qualifiers where they split their matches and the Danes finished top of group. Denmark will be happy with a draw, while Portugal has to also look for a win. Much of how this group will turn out depends on the Germany v Holland match. Holland must win, so it should prove to be a charged up match! Looking forward to that!

    Friday, June 08, 2012

    It is here...Euro 2012. The Frog's Predictions

    We are less than 24 hours away from the kick off from the Euros, arguable the best football tournament in the world! You might say...better than the World Cup! I would argue yes, because unlike the World Cup you will not see any Brazil v North Korea games! Arguably the "worst" group stage game might be Poland v Greece and that involves a host and former champion! So let us look at each group and who I see winning the entire tourney.

    Group A:

    Poland - Co Host nation who has not enjoyed international football success since the 1980s when the likes of Boniek and co won the bronze at the 1982 World Cup (beating Les Bleus in the 3rd place game...). Since then Polska has fallen on hard times. Much has to do with the fact some of their best players play for...Germany! Think how different if the likes of Podolski and Klose played for their native Poland. Polska will draw from the home crowd and their top notch goalkeepers. Best case scenario: advance to knock out stage. Probable scenario: In a quietly difficult group I fear the host will finish last.

    Greece - I am still amazed when we call the Greeks, former European Cup champions, but they are! Greece has been quiet since then, but quietly showing up for tournaments. The Greeks finished top of their qualifying group, ahead of Croatia. They are not the same side that won the Euros, playing defensive football, but do not look for Barcelona like passing either. It will be interesting to see if the Greeks can get off to a good start against Co-Host Poland. Best case scenario: advance to knock out stage. Probable scenario: Get result against Poland but finish 3rd.

    Ready for duty for Mother Russia
    Russia - The Russian side with Arshavin were the darling 4 years ago making a magical run to the 1/2 finals. This squad is 4 years older. But there is something about them that might make them a dark horse. With the likes of Akinfeev in goal, Arshavin with the creative spark, and the likes of Pavlyuchenko up front look for Russia to act as the dark horse.
    Best case scenario: another run to the semi finals. Probable scenario: Get to 1/4 finals.

    Czech Republic - The last hurrah? Cech, Rosicky and Baros are making their last stand! And they all have it in their boots for one more run...The first game will be key facing off against cold war rival - Russia. The winner will determine who finishes first of the group. Cech being a newly crowned Champions League winner will go a long way for his confidence. Best case scenario: a run to the semi finals. Probable scenario: Get to 1/4 finals.

    Group B:

    The group of Death!

    Germany - World Cup semi finalist and European cup finalist from 4 years ago, they head into this tournament as the odds of favorite. With the likes of Ozil, Mueller, Khedira, Podoloski, Gotze, Klose to name a few, Die Mannschaft will be loaded for bear. Germany is always expected to do well at international tournaments and this one is no exception. However they are in the group of death and have to start the tournament against Portugal. The defense is a bit shaky and I am not sure who will provide wide play other than Lahm. Also, does Klose have another tournament in his boots? I certainty do not trust Gomez up front. Best case scenario: Champions. Probable scenario: At least a 1/2 final...

    Holland - The World Cup runner up has no easy task in this group. At least they get the "easy" game to start facing the Danes. Oranje will head into the tournament with a very similar look as 2 years ago. The one variable will be RVP. Will he bring with him his scoring boots from Arsenal? If he does, the Dutch can ride him to go deep in the tournament. I look for Van Bommel and De Jong to continue to figuratively and literally destroy everything in the midfield. Robben will look to have a bounce back from a disappointing Champions League finals, and I do think RVP will have a solid tournament. Best case scenario: Champions. Probable scenario: At least a 1/2 final.

    Denmark - Take about a tough draw. The Danes are always a quiet team at tournaments, they even won one of these! But you can always expect the Danes to have a solid organization and play, to give someone trouble and to get to the knock out stages before falling to a bigger nation. The likes of Bendtner and Aggar will have a large mountain to climb if they are to emerge from this group. I do not think they will be embarrassed, could easily draw all three games and even take out a Portugal, but I cannot see the scenario where they take the second spot in the group. Best case scenario: find a way to 1/4 finals. Probable scenario: 3rd place in the group.

    I think I see a striker over there!
    Portugal - The European Brazil will look to live up to expectations and make a run this year. No player will be under greater scrutiny than the world's best player not named Messi - Ronaldo. The Real Madrid superstar will carry the weight of his nation and stature heading into the Euros. However, much like the past few tournaments the weight will prove too much for Ronaldo. Portugal has not solved some of the issues plaguing it since Pauleta retired...who is the goal scoring striker?? I know that Ronaldo scored a boat load of goals this season, but much like his success at Manchester United, he does so from his wing. He has the ability to lean on the likes of Rooney, Tevez, Higuain or Benzema at the club level. Who does he have with Portugal? Exactly. No one of the stature of the strikers I just named. I think this will be the undoing once again for Portugal. Best case scenario: 1/2 finals. Probable scenario - 3rd or last place in this group.

    Group C

    Spain - Spain is attempting the impossible, win three straight major titles. Can they do it? Had they not suffered some tough injuries I would say maybe, but now I am not sure. The biggest is Puyol. The crazy haired center back will be dearly missed. Not only for his talent but his leadership. Ramos will most likely slot in the center shouldering the central defending with Pique. On paper there should not be too much of a drop off, but at this level of competition I think it will coming back to haunt Spain. The other concern is up front. With Villa out, Spain will look to Torres to rekindle his winning touch or leverage Llorente who was a beast for Bilbao this season. But neither striker is Villa, a crafty striker who is perfect in the ticky ticka passing of Spain. Without Villa teams have discovered the way to beat Spain - let them have possession, park the bus and look to hit on the counter. If they cannot spring a striker behind you, you are safe. Torres is not the striker he was a few years back, so that threat is not there. Granted this is easier said than done. But there are chinks in the armor. Best case scenario: Repeat as Champions. Probable scenario - 1/2 finals.

    Italy - Injuries and controversy, what else is new for the Italians heading into a tournament! However will both be too much to over come for the Azzurri? After a terrible World Cup, the Italians will be looking to redeem themselves at the Euros. Unfortunately the injuries to the likes of Rossi will prove difficult to overcome. Much of the success of Italy will depend on the mercurial Balotelli. Which player shows up? The world class striker or the world class jackass? I have a feeling it will be the former, he had a terrible end to the club season with Manchester City and will want to show on the biggest stage what he is capable of. Best case scenario: 1/2 finals. Probable scenario: will battle with Croatia to get out of group.

    Croatia - They're back! Back to a major tournament after missing the last World Cup. Look for Modric and company to rally around their manager Bilic and his swan song as he announced he would leave after the tournament regardless of the out come. The Croats have the fortunate of starting the tournament against Ireland, if they can get the full 3 points they will be in a strong position as they take on Italy in the second game. I could see a situation where Croatia gets the full 3pts, faces an Italian team that lost against Spain, draws in that game and heads into the final game just needing a draw against Spain who might already be through. Best case scenario: 1/2 finals. Probable scenario: sneak past Italy to 1/4 finals.

    I can't wait to get back to real footy with Golden Balls and Landycakes
    Ireland - The luck of the Irish. Last tournament they get booted by the "hand of gaul" this time around they get stuck in a group with Spain! Ireland has made a good run to get here...but that is about all they can expect. This is the last hurrah for the likes of Keane, Duff and O'Shea. And the main problem is that they are still the ones being leaned on by the Irish. I cannot see this team getting too many results, now they do start against the "easiest" of their opponents, if they can sneak a result there who knows. But I could also see three defeats. Best case scenario: battle for 3rd place. Probable scenario: three defeats, last place.

    Group D:

    France - Ah Les Bleus, last two tournaments I started out and wrote out scenarios on paper and each time I found a way of getting France to the finals...shocking. This time is no different. But unlike the last two times I think that they might actually have a shot. Why? Blanc not Domenech! But the reality is the following, France just need to WIN one game and then we can figure out the rest. They are riding a decent run over the past 2 years, with victories over the likes of England, Germany and Brazil. But they also struggled against Albania and Luxembourg over that same time span. So which France will show up? Best case scenario: 1/2 final. Probable scenario: Get a win and find a way out of the group stages to the 1/4 final.

    At least we don't have to cohabit this summer
    England - For once the Three Lions are not being heralded as the odds on favorites as champs. And there is a reason for that....they are not that good! Rooney is out until the last group game, will that matter?  The John Terry row with Rio Ferdinand's younger brother means that the Manchester United center back is left off the squad even though he is one of the best in the game still. The midfield seems in shambles. Not sure if Andy Carroll is the striker you want to lean on. With all that said they will probably get to the semi finals and ... beat Germany on PKs! Best case scenario: 1/2 final run Probable scenario: too much turmoil leads to 3rd place in group.

    Sweden - The Swedes will do their usual, play solid football, get out of the groups and then fade away! This team is much more dangerous than what little coverage they are getting. With the likes of Ibra and Elmander they could cause some teams (see France) problems up front with their size and power. They have a veteran midfield and defense led by the likes of Kallstrom and Mellberg. The Vikings are not to be overlooked and starting off against Ukraine could prove the spring board needed to get to the next round. Best case scenario: 1/4 finals. Probable scenario: 1/4 finals.  

    Ukraine - When this pair of co-hosts was selected it was one of the weaker host pairings, even Japan - South Korea was stronger and we know the officials made sure South Korea had a good showing! Unfortunately for Poland and Ukraine, I do not think that is in the cards this time around. Ukraine is also heading into this with their best player in the twilight of his career -  Shevchenko. However he and fellow Ukrainian grey beard Tymoshchuk can still provide some danger on the pitch. Playing on their home soil might also be the inspiration needed for a result. Unfortunately I just do not see how they get out of this group. Best case scenario - 1/4 finals. Probable scenario: 3rd place or 4th place.

    Here are the Frog's predictions:

    Group A
    Czech Rep

    Group B

    Group C

    Group D

    1/4 finals
    • Holland over Russia - Van Basten comes out of stands to show 1988 volley
    • Spain over Sweden - Spain find a way to get past Ibra
    • Germany over Czech Rep - No golden goal like 1996 but same result
    • Croatia over France - This time there is no Thuram and a miracle brace like 1998
    1/2 finals
    • Holland over Spain - revenge for World Cup 2010 this time Robben doesn't gag away his chances.
    • Germany over Croatia - last meeting at major tourney was the end of a German generation now the same for Croatia
    • Holland over Germany....Oranje find a way to defeat their hated rivals. RVP scores in the first minute and then Holland decided to toy with Germany...oh wait we already have seen this scenario. But this time Van Bommel and De Jong pummel Ozil and company into submission. Jup Oranje!!!!
    This is for 1974 and that WWII thingy...

    Thursday, June 07, 2012

    France - Estonia: Building momentum

    I have been remiss for not posting on the France v Estonia match, the last one prior to the start of the Euros. But sometimes life gets in the way of my publishing! Here are my thoughts:

    The good:
    Keys to France's fortunes
    • I realize I sound like a broken record - the victory. Granted France were playing a smaller side in international football - 57th in the FIFA world rankings. The nation still finished second in their qualifying group, behind Italy. They ended up being thumped by Ireland in the playoff. But let us not forget what it was like during the warm up matches for the World Cup in 2010 - France lost to China! That threw everything into a tail spin, granted Dumbenech didn't help the situation and deciding to start Gouvou...sorry I digress. Heading into the Euros on a high note is a positive.
    • Benzema and Ribery - These two have been linked at times for all the wrong reasons, but the fact both got goals is very positive. The fact that Kaiser Frank has scored in three straight games for Les Bleus is even more positive. After not scoring for France in too long, he now seems on a nice streak. Granted he will be facing a slightly tougher opponent on Monday, but he must be heading into the tournament full of confidence. The same for Benzema. After a very successful season at Real Madrid, I wanted to see him score for France before the start of the tournament. 4 years ago he headed into the Euros with a lot of pressure on his shoulders, which he still has. However playing at the highest levels with Real Madrid, having to battle for his place on the squad have allowed him to mature. Getting a brace against Estonia is just what the doctor ordered. He also had a nifty flick on for the Ribery goal.
    • The 4-3-3 seems to be working well for Les Bleus, at least offensively. Scoring 9 goals in 3 games is a very positive sign. The freedom the formation gives to the offensive players has allowed them the freedom to exploit their offense. The move of Malouda to a deeper role seems to be working out very well. The question remains - is the system solid defensively? More on that later.
    • No one got hurt! This cannot be understated, while it looked like Diarra might give us a scare early on, end of the day none of the players picked up any last minute knocks. All you have to do is look at France's first opponent - England - and see what injuries can do to your squad.
    The Bad:
    • While not necessary bad, it is not good either...but I am still waiting to see the right side of the offense take the next step. Nasri continues to be a bit maddening in his inconsistency. At times he looks like the player we always expected him to be - able to play the right wing, slot to the middle, drop deep and bring an offensive touch to the side. Unfortunately at times he seems to disappear as well. I am also not convinced of his interplay with Debuchy, the Lille right back makes some very dangerous runs from deep, but I am not sure that Nasri is quite there yet with how to interact with him. We know that Nasri has it in him, but can he be consistent? The one saving grace is that Blanc has a number of options he can throw on the right in games to change the pace - Ben Arfa, Menez and Valbuena can all operate on the right side.
    • Of course on the left side I am concerned about Evra. He does not seem to have the confidence a player of his stature should have. I believe Blanc will stick with him because of his experience, but he is at times a tad shaky. His offensive runs are still useful but on defense he is not the defender we are accustomed to seeing patrolling the left side for Manchester United.
     The Ugly:
    • Speaking of defense...Mexes is starting to give me some concern. There have been whispers of he being out of shape and too "fat." Whether or not his weight is an issue, the fact remains that the AC Milan man has had some gaffs, which against a sterner opponent will not go unpunished. As with Evra, Blanc will stick with his core. Mexes has the talent and ability, the question is he paying for being injured much of the year in Italy? If the central defense gets leaky, this could get very ugly.
    • This is not helped by the current 4-3-3. I realize I stated I thought the 4-3-3 is good, and it is, but defensively it still needs some work. Unlike the formation and how it was leveraged away to Bosnia, where Blanc deployed 3 holding midfielders: Diaby, M'Vila and Diarra. He now has 1 true holding and 2 hybrid holding players...The question is, can Malouda and Cabaye be disciplined enough to pace themselves when it comes to their offensive runs? Both players will have to be very conscious of their defensive responsibilities otherwise we might see the equivalent of run and gun!
    Overall there is much to like from this last match. But none of this counts come June 11th. France will have a massive task ahead of it. Look for the Frog's Euro predictions coming out soon!

    Allez Les Bleus