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” We are all very focused and aiming to win the competition, and in order to do that we are all together. There is lots of laughter and fun, but there is also concentration when needed. We are all like a big family and overall there is a good atmosphere.” 

Robin Van Persie, speaking to World Soccer, on the eve of Euro 2012.

Dutch divisions

Holland winger Arjen Robben has hinted that dressing room division undermined their Euro 2012 challenge. No, really?

Robben told Voetbal International: “Of course there were some internal issues but we will keep them indoors.”

Although by him mentioning the ‘issues’ he is flinging the doors wide open.

Defeat brings out the best in some and the worst in the Dutch and it hasn’t taken the squad long to begin apportioning blame for Holland’s worst ever performance at a major tournament.

Straight out of the blocks was coach Bert Van Marwijk who blamed “the players who usually make the difference for us, (but) for one reason or another, didn’t really reach their level.”

To be fair to the coach, he did accept responsibility for defeat in last night’s game against Portugal.

For those of you who missed the match Van Marwijk, perhaps inspired by Spain’s famous strikerless formation, sent out what turned out to be a defenceless team on Sunday.

Attack the best form of defence

Attack may be the best form of defence, but it is surely no substitute for one. Although, try telling that to Holland’s Gregory van der Wiel.

“My qualities were not utilised,” he lamented. “I could not play my own game because I was not used for my qualities. My qualities are going forward and making the life of the opponent’s left-back difficult. But I was only at the back.”

Van der Wiel, in case you’re unaware, is a right back. He was complaining that part of his remit was to defend.

This, on a night when Holland finished the game with Huntelaar, Van Persie, Robben, Sneijder, Van der Vaart and Afellay on the pitch. Where did he think he was going to play? At the apex of a 7-man attack?

Still, looking at the way he dealt with Portugal’s rampant Cristiano Ronaldo last night, we know one thing for certain: he’s a defender.

Father’s day

Ronaldo, it has to be said, was at his sparkling, sleek best last night, a timely reminder that while form may indeed be temporary, a decent hair gel is permanent. Not a hair was out of place as he cut a swathe through the inept Dutch defence.

The subject of much criticism for his uncharacteristically sloppy finishing in the previous two matches, the prolific goalscorer made amends by scoring twice, setting up countless more opportunities and prompting van der Wiel to wonder whether he was cut out for football at the highest level.

After the game, Ronaldo took off his shirt and revealed a Father’s Day message for his son. It read: “Junior, papa loves you. Congratulations”.

A nice sentiment, but on the money he earns you’d think he could do better than a handwritten, virtually illegible scrawl written with felt tip pen.

Women’s rights

The Ukrainian women’s movement FEMEN says group activists Oleksandra Shevchenko, Yana Zhdanova, and Anna Bolshakova were kidnapped by a group of unknown individuals in Donetsk on Friday, June 15.

The trio were among a group of 15 woman who intended to protest at Ukraine’s match with France, but according to a press statement issued by FEMEN, they were followed.

“After the women arrived in the city, a group of some 15 people, who appeared to be private security guards or special service officials, started observing the activists,” the report says.

Trying to escape, the women split into two groups and took public transport in different directions. Shevchenko’s phone went dead at 1600 and Zhdanova and Bolshakova stopped answering their phones about an hour later.

Quote of the day

“Silly game. As we say, it’s sperm chasing an egg to fertilize it.”

Never mind 22 men kicking a pig’s bladder about, this is FEMEN’s Aleksandra Shevchenko’s opinion of football.

Press Gang

Inevitably, given the high expectations that greeted their arrival at Euro 2012, reaction to Holland’s premature departure has been scathing.

“The joke of the Euro 2012,” said The Telegraaf. 

“Three matches, zero points. Never before has the Netherlands done this bad,” said NRC, adding “seldom has a team, that was still number one on the ranking list last year, broken its reputation as quickly and thoroughly as the Orange did in the last months.”

“The players’ egos were too big,” said Trouw, adding it was “difficult to imagine how (coach) Van Marwijk could continue.”

“Not for the first time the difference in dynamism, athletic ability and content of Dutch footballers as opposed to better foreign players showed.”

The last remark is particular cutting. They Dutch have often been happy to blame others, or even their own internal divisions for past failures, but rarely are they told that they’re not good enough.

If the Dutch are concerned about the reaction to their exit they should spare a thought for the Russian players who flew back Moscow yesterday to a barrage of negative headlines.

“You broke our hearts,” wrote Tvoi Den, accompanying its article with a cartoon of two devils stewing the whole team and the Dutchman Advocaat in a cauldron.

Moskovsky Komsomolets got straight to the point with “Bastards!!!” on its masthead, while Sovetsky Sport daily went for: “Waste of space”.

One player, Andrei Arshavin, was singled our for criticism.

“His antics on the field show not just his laziness – he was always lazy – but a minimal level of expectation of himself. To be precise, no expectation at all,” wrote Moskovsky Komsomolets.

While Russia vents its anger and the Dutch wallow in an orgy of self loathing, their conquerors, Portugal, believe the country can relax because Ronaldo is back on form, and the title is as good as in the bag.

Correio da Manhã sums up the mood: “It was Cristiano Ronaldo’s night. He hit the post twice and scored two. We have our hero back. The country can sleep soundly.”

Publico was also caught up in the excitement, stating: “The leaders of the federation could already book tickets to Warsaw, where a surprising Czech Republic will be waiting for the Portuguese delegation for a remake of the quarter-finals of Euro 96. This time without Karel Poborsky.”

In Germany, there was an attempt to lift the mood after an unexpectedly tense victory over Denmark.

“Boom boom Bender!” said Bild, a headline that will cause titters across tabloid-reading Britain.

Still, just in case anyone was in danger of getting carried away with a run which has brought 13 consecutive victories (in qualifying and at the finals), good old curmudgeonly Franz Beckenbauer was on hand to dampen the mood.

“I thought it would be easier against Denmark,” he said. “To be champions, we must improve.”

Baptism of fire

Spare a thought for Republic of Ireland defender, Sean St Ledger, who only has another 90 minutes to endure before he can return to the comfort zone of Championship football with Leicester City.

St Ledger watched in awe as Ireland went down 4-0 to Spain; unfortunately, he was actually on the pitch at the time and was supposed to be trying to stop them.

He has described facing world and European champions Spain as the most difficult test of his career.

“They are the best team I have ever played against and am probably likely ever to play against,” said the 27-year-old.

Not sure what that says about Spain; the second best team St Ledger has faced was Derby County.

Nipped in the bud

Polish police say they detained 72 Russian football fans suspected of hooliganism as a preventative measure ahead of Saturday’s Greece-Russia Euro 2012 match.

“We arrested 41 people near the fanzone and 31 others close to the stadium” ahead of kick-off Saturday, Warsaw police spokesman Maciej Karczynski told AFP.

All 72 arresetd were released a few hours later following identity checks, he added.

“They were in tight knit groups, with their faces covered and wearing hoods. We found martial arts gloves on them, along with other equipment that could be used in a fight, mouth guards and disguises like fake moustaches and sideburns,” he added.

So, it was either a cunning group of football hooligans determined to disguise themselves before causing mayhem or, a very unlucky bunch on their way to a fancy dress party – possibly, judging by the mouth guards and moustache, with a John Conteh theme.

Positive spin

The tournament director of the 2012 European Championship says he is pleased with the finals so far despite a number of UEFA sanctions, fan violence and logistical issues.

“From what I have seen far it’s been working well,” Martin Kallen told insideworldfootball.

“I’m not responsible for what happens off the pitch, only with organisation.

“The stadiums are good in terms of access, design and parking but perhaps more difficult have been the distances between venues.”

“When you consider how many people have been pouring into the cities and fan zones the incidents of crime are pretty small.”

Indeed, perhaps it is time to give some credit to the efforts made by both Poland and Ukraine. Overall, the football has been great and barring the odd unforeseen incident such as an electrical storm stopping play, the tournament appears to be running smoothly. Take a bow co-hosts.

“We have sold all the tickets,” he claimed. “The reason for the gaps is no-shows.”

An interesting observation. One wonders who bought tickets and didn’t turn up. Ordinarily one could point the finger at the sponsors, who in previous tournaments have been entitled to a hefty percentage of tickets, but at Euro 2012 their allocation was reduced to 15 per cent. The missing fans shall remain a mystery.

Goal of the day

Rafael Van der Vart gave Holland hope when he scored a wonderful left-footed striker against Portugal.