Press gang

Spain and Italy are through from Group B, but judging by the press reaction in both countries, the final round of matches turned out to be tense affairs.

In Spain, AS stated: “A goal three minutes from the end eased the anxiety of Spain, who did not play well. (Iker) Casillas had to work a miracle.” A reference to a late save from the keeper that spared Spanish blushes.

Sport added: “Triumph with suffering” reads the headline on its website.

The tension was almost too much for columnist Ramon Besa, writing in El Pais, who compared the mood to a Hitchcok film.

“(Final group games) tend to be of tremendous dramatic tension, psychologically demanding and extremely dangerous … So, the match played out like a Alfred Hitchcock film,” he said.

In Italy, it was an equally nervous evening, not least because of the pre-match concerns over the potential for Spain and Croatia to contrive a result that would guarantee the Azzurri could not go through.

Gazzetta dello Sport’s Riccardo Pratesi said: “A goal in each half against Trapattoni’s Ireland and no repeat of the farce in 2004 … Cesare Prandelli was right. There was no need to worry about the sportsmanship of the Spanish.”

In Ireland, there was relief that the country restored a modicum of pride to their battered reputations with a battling performance in defeat to Italy. The main focus, though, was upon the Irish supporters and in particular, a new song aimed in the direction of their harshest critic, former international, Roy Keane.

Those of a sensitive dispostion should avert their gaze now. Irish Independent’s Fiach Kelly stated: ”Mr Keane, the former captain, was told where to go with a new tune sung in the streets of Poznan and stands last night. ‘We will sing what we want, fuck you Roy Keane, we will sing what we want,’ it went.”

If it’s broke, don’t fix it

Giovanni Trapattoni has defended his selection of the Republic of Ireland’s veteran players after they failed to earn a single point in a dismal Euro 2012 campaign.

Having lost their opening two games Ireland faced Italy last night with nothing save pride at stake but nevertheless, Trapattoni resisted the temptation to blood some of the younger players. The upshot was another defeat but, it has to be said, an improved performance on their previous lamentable efforts.

“When you do your job well – until now, I think they have played well for our country, and we must have a reason,” said Trapattoni.

“In your job, when you get old, if they gave you a pension and say. ‘Go’ without respect, what would you think?

“It’s not loyalty, it’s respect because they helped us to achieve qualification and we must give them the honour of playing.

Admirable sentiments, but somewhat shortsighted in the cut throat world of professional sport.

Russian to judgement

Russian football captain Andrei Arshavin, whose Euro 2012 performances were described by Moskovsky Komsomolets as ‘lazy’, has been filmed on tape saying it was the fans’ “problem” that the squad were knocked out of the tournament.

News reports said Russian lawmakers who were staying at the same Warsaw hotel as the players, did not take Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Greece lightly, and made their sentiments known to the team.

“They accused the players of surrendering (Russia’s) national interests, of having a lack of will, and of destroying the hopes of millions of fans,” the Sovetsky Sport wrote.

“What should we apologise for? What?” Arshavin demanded before repeating the word several times.

Anton Belyakov replied that the team “failed the expectations of millions of supporters” and should have said something after the loss.

“Whose expectations were these – yours or ours? If we did not fulfil your expectations, then honestly, these are your problems,”  replied Arshavin.

The exchange, which can be seen below, could have lasting repercussions. Having returned to Russia on loan from Arsenal last season, Arshavin may find that his status as returning national hero, is no longer assured.

UEFA get their priorities wrong

Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner is to appeal against the fine imposed upon him for wearing sponsored underwear during his side’s game against Portugal

The pants, sporting the logo of bookmaker, Paddy Power, earned the striker a one-match ban and an astonishing €100,000 (£80,000) fine.

Fortunately, for Bendtner,  the bookmaker has agreed to pay his fine – as well they should: this kind of free publicity is priceless.

A statement posted by the bookmaker on Twitter read: “Inspired by your Twitter feedback, we have agreed to pay the barmy €100k fine that #Uefa dished out [to] Nicklas Bendtner.”

Paddy Power said in a statement: “We are appalled with the severity of Nicklas Bendtner’s fine for displaying Paddy Power on the waistband of his lucky underpants recently.

“This is a hysterical and deeply cynical move by UEFA dictated by pure commercialism and is a far greater penalty than recent UEFA fines for far more serious incidents.”

And it has to be said they do have a point. To put Bendtner’s fine into perspective, here’s some of the fines UEFA have handed out in recent years.

When Porto fans racially abused Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli in the Europa League last season, they were only made to pay £16,700. Other fines for racism include Spain in 2004 (£45,000), Serbia in 2007 (£16,500) and Croatia in 2008 (£10,000).

In the context of Euro 2012, Bendtner’s fine is almost as much as Russia were docked ( £96,000) when their fans attacked stewards during their match against Poland.

The disparity in fines has been neatly encapsulated in the form of an illustration.

Goal of the day

Mario Balotelli hasn’t enjoyed the best of tournaments so far, but he produced one moment of genius against Ireland to remind us that he’s not just an accident waiting to happen; he can play a bit of football to.

Miss of the day

Ivan Rakitic admits it will take him a while to get over his miss against Spain.

“I did not manage to take the chance that came my way. I think I will probably have sleepless nights thinking about that,” he told the official UEFA website.

Quote of the day

“They are one of the favourites and are expected to play in the final. Nobody expects that we will fly to the moon. It would be fantastic, but that’s another thing. The fans should expect good play, but we shouldn’t say to our nation ‘we’ll win the Euros’. They shouldn’t shoot at us if we lose.”

Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin plays down expectations ahead of his country’s decider against England.

Never mind the quality…

UEFA President Michel Platini insists the next European Championship finals in France will not suffer from a drop in quality when the tournament expands to 24 teams.

UEFA has been criticised for jettisoning the current format in favour of an unwieldy 24-team tournament in four years time.

“Twenty-four is okay…eight good teams to add,” Platini was reported as saying, looking ahead to France 2016.

“It’s not a problem of quality. It’s very important for the [additional] countries that qualify. It is good for the national associations and their development.

As for the current tournament, hailed by many as one of the best ever from a footballing perspective, Platini praised the atmosphere in the stadiums.

“The atmosphere in the stadiums has been 99.9 per cent fantastic,” he said, citing instances of discrimination as the only negative.

Quite a big negative though.

Build them up, knock them down

After presiding over England’s relatively low key entrance to Euro 2012, Roy Hodgson has fallen into the trap of so many of his predecessors by elevating the players to a status their attainments cannot possibly merit.

Speaking ahead of England’s final group game against Ukraine, Hodgson was asked to assess the likely impact of Wayne Rooney, who makes his bow tonight after sitting out the first two matches suspended.

A sensible response to such an enquiry would surely include the following platitudes: “let’s wait and see…not expect too much…it’s a team game…it’s Rooney we’re talking about here, not Lionel f***ing Messi.”

But, no, Hodgson compared Rooney’s ability to perform when it mattered to a little known Brazilian, called Pele!

“If you look back through the years… if you take Pele for example, he was capable of producing his very best football when it really mattered to help Brazil win World Cups.

“Let’s hope that Wayne can start to do that for us on Tuesday and then, if we win, who knows?

“If Wayne can produce his best, then he can help us keep going even further in the tournament.”

Finally…

His side may have been knocked out of the tournament but Croatia coach Slaven Bilic, soon to take up the reins at Lokomotiv Moscow, made a dignified exit from Euro 2012.

Fate had been unkind to Croatia, placing them in arguably the toughest group at Euro 2012, but a spirited showing in all three matches, meant that last night’s elimination was free from the recriminations that have accompanied many of the teams to depart thus far.

The 43-year-old had already been due to step down following the tournament after six years in charge.

“I just want to say thank you to everyone at the Croatian FA, they gave me a chance as a young coach, my technical staff have been great over the last six years,” Bilic said  after the 1-0 defeat to Spain.

“I didn’t expect this to be my last game in charge because I thought we would get past the group stage with this phenomenal group who’ve shown great character and built a fantastic atmosphere,” he told Croatian television.

“I want to congratulate the players for six years of impeccable work and behavior.

“I will leave nothing in the tank either professionally or emotionally whatever I do next but I will never be as proud as I was while coaching my country, which is a rare privilege and especially so for a young coach like myself.”

Bilic has not always enjoyed a harmonious relationship with Croat journalists, but as he departed the post-match press conference his final words to them were laced with self-deprecation and humour.

“Thank you for putting up with me.”

 

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