Europe: the final countdown

All eyes will be on Angela Merkel when she attends Germany’s Euro 2012 quarter final with Greece in Gdansk. If I were her I wouldn’t celebrate too exuberantly if Germany score. It would seem a little tactless given the well documented circumstances surrounding tonight’s game.

Media in both countries have been rolling up their sleeves and using tonight’s game to settle a few historical scores.

The Greek press in particular appear to be involved in a race to the bottom. Whatever one may think of Germany’s role in general or Merkel’s specific role in their current crisis, can their really be any justification for portraying the German Chancellor like this, as Democracy has done. Apparently, the cover refers to Greece’s occupation by Germany from 1941 to 1945, for which some victims’ families are still trying to claim $100billion from Berlin in reparations. There must have been a more nuanced way of getting that point across though.

Meanwhile, Kathimerini  states: ”Whoever thinks today’s match is just a game is wrong,” vowing it was “politics (maybe even war) by other means”.

That distant scraping noise you can hear is George Orwell turning in his grave.

“To many Greeks, victory will represent the triumph of the weak against the wealth, might and arrogance of the powerful — the victim would humble his executioner… If the Germans win, they’ll see it as confirmation of their diligence, strategy, talent and thrift,” it added.

Germany’s press meanwhile, are mocking the greeks in a more muted fashion.

Bild newspaper said earlier this week: “Be happy dear Greeks, the defeat on Friday is a gift. Against Jogi Low, no rescue fund will help you.”

The tabloid BZ turned its cover pages into a poster of the German national squad in their kit but with Merkel’s face – pulling 11 different expressions – on top of each player. It sounds charming, and normally I’d link to it, but I’m aware some children might be reading this.

“Today, 20:45, there’s Greece – tuition in things EURO. Lads, do like the chancellor: hard, but fair!,” the paper said.

According to one report, not everyone was preoccupied with the game

“I couldn’t care less,” Said Panagiotis Pappas, 22, a chemistry student. “We’re on the brink of disaster and all they care is about is football for Christ’s sake.”

Which is the most sensible person anybody has said in the build up to the game.

Goose cooked

Michel Platini’s opposition to goal line technology is leaving him increasingly isolated in the upper echelons of European football.

Platini has ploughed an increasingly lonely furrow advocating the use of the Additional Assistant Referees (AAR), a system which was fatally undermined on Tuesday when one such AAR failed to spot the ball had crossed the line even though he was standing just feet away. It was always a flawed system. not helped by having an unwieldy name and a terrible acronym. The biggest drawback though, was that it clearly didn’t work. Only Platini and the partially-sighted AAR manning the goal line during the Ukraine-England game, could fail to see that.

Anyway, Franz Beckenbauer is the latest football dignitary to offer his support for the use of video technology to determine whether the ball has crossed the line.

“The IFAB will decide on #GLT [goal-line technology] on 5 July – I am confident they will realise that the time has come,” Beckenbauer said on Twitter.

The more the merrier

Expanding the European Championship to 24 teams won’t devalue the tournament or dilute its quality but it will allow more major nations to take part, Euro 2012 director Martin Kallen said on Friday.

The decision to increase the number of countries at Euro 2016 finals from 16 to 24 has been criticised in many quarters, particularly on the back of a broadly successful and evenly contested set of group matches at Euro 2012.

The UEFA president Michel Platini defended the decision to expand earlier this week and Kallen has backed his comments.

“At the moment we have the best teams here, but there are great teams who are not,” he said, citing Switzerland, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Slovenia and Norway as examples. “The Scots are also not here – they bring a lot of emotions, a lot of atmosphere with them. We need to see how 2016 will be. For sure this tournament will be more and more looked at because more nations can participate.”

To be honest, you’ll have to expand the tournament way beyond 24 teams to shoehorn the current Scotland into it. Besides, do we really need the Tartan Army when we have the the happy-go-lucky, big drinking, ginger wig-wearing, points donating, Irish caricatures to fulfil their role as ‘best fans in the world’?

I think not.

Calling it a day

Milan Baros has retired from international football after the Czech Republic were eliminated from Euro 2012.

His decision to retire reminds me of something Dorothy Parker said on hearing of the death of US President Calvin Coolidge: “How can they tell?” she asked.

Baros endured a particularly miserable Euro 2012, and his presence in the team was not greeted with wild enthusiasm by the travelling Czech fans.

An statement on the Czech football federation’s website read: “Baros’ retirement had been speculated about for some time. The 30-year-old has been the subject of sharp criticism, culminating in the first Euro 2012 match against Russia. When Baros was substituted, some fans booed him.”

Let this be a warning to you all

Watch too much football and you might die! For once this is not an example of health and safety gone mad, but the sad tale of a football-obsessed man from China who has reportedly died after staying up for 11 successive nights to watch Euro 2012 matches.

According to a report in Sanxiang Metropolis, the 26-year-old was found dead by his mother after his 11-day football-watching marathon, finally expiring after Ireland’s 2-0 defeat to Italy on June 18.

It wasn’t a classic, but it wasn’t that bad surely.

“We would rest occasionally but he watched everyday and would not miss a single match,” one friend told the Sanxiang Metropolis.

Friends said Mr Jian had seemed in low spirits while watching Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli score to take Italy to the Euro 2012 quarter finals in Monday’s victory over Ireland.

“Maybe he felt tired after staying up night after night,” said one friend, not too helpfully.

Liu Zhiling, a local doctor, told the newspaper: “Jiang was in good health. But staying up through the night and not sleeping enough weakened his immune system and he drank and smoked while watching the football, triggering his condition.”

Goal of the day

On course to become the player of the tournament? Who knows, but Cristiano Ronaldo is certainly the most charismatic performer at Euro 2012. Here he scores the only goal of the game in Portugal’s quarter final victory over the Czech Republic.

Commentary of the day

You don’t need to understand Portuguese to realise that that the person doing the commentary for Antenna1 was just a little bit excited when Ronaldo’s goal went in.

Quote of the day

“As team captain, on behalf of our players and myself personally, I would like to apologize for our performance and the result that we had.”

Russian forward Andrei Arshavin, aware that he has to live and work in the country for the foresseable future, apologises for his team’s performance at Euro 2012.

Limited ambitions

Czech Republic coach Michal Bilek admits he relied on a defensive strategy to keep Portugal at bay in Thursday’s quarter final but they ran out of steam and had no answer to Cristiano Ronaldo.

“We boosted our defence. We knew they would attack,” the Czech coach told reporters after a 1-0 defeat.

“In the first half we managed, but in the second we were losing strength and it was easier for Portugal to move in and score. We knew we weren’t on their level when it comes to football.”

“Ronaldo is just better. He knows how to play with his head, both feet,” said Bilek in one of the more honest post match assessments we’re likely to hear at Euro 2012.

Hero of Ukraine

Before the tournament started and certainly following his goalscoring exploits in Ukraine’s opening game against Sweden, there has been much talk of the symbolic role played by Andrei Shevchenko. But, before Shevchenko came Blokhin and before him came Valeriy Lobanovsky, the man who discovered both players and who after his death was awarded the Hero of Ukraine medal, his nation’s highest honour.

For those of you too young to remember, Lobanovsky was the unemotional, unsmiling face of Soviet football and in particular one of its leading clubs, Dynamo Kiev during the 1970s and 80s. He also coached the national side, leading them to the final of Euro 88. Although there was no sense of animation on the bench, Lobanovsky teams, always tactically and technically adept, were often be a joy to watch.

A bronze statue of Lobanovsky, who died 10 years ago at the age of 63, watches over the entrance to the stadium in Kiev that now bears his name. Since the start of Euro 2012 thousands have paid homage to the coach by visiting the statue and touring the ground and museum that bear his name. If you’re in Kiev, it sounds like it’s worth a visit.

If you wish to read more about one of the great coaching figures of the 20 century, I’d recommend two recent pieces: This, and this.