Stat of the day

There will be more to come, but let’s start with this singularly impressive number. 85. That’s the number of times that Joe Hart touched the ball in England’s penalty shootout defeat to Italy. Alas, he didn’t touch it once when it really mattered – ie. the shootout itself.

That figure of 85 is the highest ever recorded by a goalkeeper at a European Championship match. More pertinently, especially given the frequency with which England habitually squander possession, it’s also by far, the highest of any England player last night. Ashely Cole, with 65 was the next England player in terms of touches.

Perhaps more bewilderingly, Hart also completed more passes (45) than any other England player in Kiev.

To put those figures into perspective, there were three Italian players with more than a 100 touches, with man-of-match, Andrea Pirlo, notching up 155 touches on the night. That’s exctly 111 more than England’s Ashley Young, who managed just 46, although about 12 of those were used trying to control the ball on one occasion.

The Italian job

The history books will show that England went out of a major tournament on penalties. Such an exit conjures up the now familiar images of plucky, but unlucky England, suffering the outrageous arrows of misfortune yet again. But all those who watched the match will know different. England weren’t unlucky, they were actually lucky that the scoreline didn’t reflect what happened on the pitch.

England coach Roy Hodgson had complained that penalties are a lottery and Prandelli was not arguing.

“I’m in perfect agreement with Roy Hodgson, penalties are 80 percent luck,” said Prandelli.

“Obviously some decisive players miss less because they have the right coolness and concentration and they’re used to this type of pressure.

“But yes, I agree with Roy Hodgson that luck is the most important thing.”

Statistics show that Italy enjoyed 64 percent of possession and they had 35 shots (20 on target) to just nine from England over 120 minutes of goalless stalemate.

Yet Prandelli said he wasn’t surprised by the way his side performed.

“I wasn’t surprised, I knew we could dictate the play,” he admitted. “Our only worry was about not conceding too many counters but we did really well in stopping those before they developed.

“We tried to go through the phases, we tried to draw them out but they wouldn’t come out so we tried to go through them at great speed.”

For a team who created 35 chances but got 20 of them on target, Italy’s finishing was unimpressive, but Prandelli defended his strikers.

“All the attackers did a great job because it was very, very difficult to create chances,” he said.

“We didn’t just play with heart, determination and fire, we also played intelligently.”

They also played England off the park and though the scoreline didn’t reflect it, this was as comprehensive a drubbing at the 4-1 defeat England suffered to Germany in 2010.

Entente Cordiale

The France coach Laurent Blanc said the midfielder Samir Nasri showed “a lack of respect” by aiming a foul mouthed rant at a journalist following the team’s 2-0 defeat to Spain in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals.

Nasri was walking through the interview area when the heated exchange took place after the journalist asked him for a reaction to Saturday’s defeat. Asked by a reporter for a quote, he answered: “You are looking for shit, you are looking for trouble.”

Never a good way to start an interview I’ve found but, sensing a scoop, the AFP journalist replied: “Alright then get lost if you have nothing to say.”

A few seconds later Nasri returned and accosted the journalist.

“You told me to get lost, alright come with me and we will settle it outside.”

The journalist replied: “Yeah right.”

“Go f*** yourself, go f*** your mother, you son of a bitch. You want us to have it out, go f*** yourself. There, like that you can now write that I am badly brought up,” he said before leaving the mixed zone.

If only he’d demonstrated that level of passion on the pitch, then France would be looking forward to a semi-final encounter with Portugal.

Cruyff delivers his verdict

Dutch legend Johan Cruyff has delivered his eagerly awaited verdict on Holland’s dimsal Euro 2012 campaign. One thing’s for sure, he won’t admit to any of it being his fault.

Indeed, the blame for his country’s Euro 2012 exit lies with the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB), he argues. I’s forgotten that they picked the side, decided the tactics and then played the matches, all the while sowing discontent with each other.

The World Cup finalists were knocked out of the tournament at the group stage, losing each of their three games amid reports of disharmony amongst Bert van Marwijk’s troops.

“Every problem starts at the top,” Cruyff wrote in his column for De Telegraaf. “There have been huge mistakes. Especially in the last year.

“Our performances went downhill, and no measures were taken. Many teams have taken more and more characteristics of Dutch football, and we were pretty much the only team not to.

“What happened at the European Championship was a result of two years earlier (at the World Cup).”

It’s all a little cryptic. This time two years ago, Holland were preparing for a World Cup final.

Own goal of the day

While Cesare Prandelli was magnanimous in victory, there was a grudging acceptance from his English counterpart, Roy Hodgson, that the better team might well have won.

“For long periods it was an even game and interesting tactical battle,” Hodgson said, who has now redefined the traditional ‘attack against defence’ game as an ‘interesting tactical battle’. Presumably, in Hodgson’s Dictionary of Euphemism, Spain’s 4-0 demolition of Ireland earlier in the tournament, was a closely fought stalemate.

“They didn’t get behind us on too many occasions,” he continued. “We didn’t do as well with the ball as we should have done. Which team deserved to win it, that’s a matter for debate but, talking for my own team, we put up a very good effort. Had we won it, we wouldn’t have been apologising for the victory.”

“I think there was chances missed at both ends. Both teams created chances, but I think Italy played well. I wouldn’t begrudge them their victory.”

Hardly the most gracious concession speech we’ve heard this tournament.

“Once again we go home because we can’t win a penalty shootout, which quite frankly isn’t the same as a game of football,” Hodgson added. “It’s an entirely different competition.”

Except it’s not. It’s not like UEFA opted for a game of darts to decide the outcome (England-Holland final every year if that was the case). A penalty shootout is demonstrably the same game using similar skills. England’s practitioners, as they had been throughout the preceding 120 minutes, were just less skilled than their opponents.

Goal of the day

Well, obviously there weren’t any in yesterday’s only game, but I think we bend the rules a little for this little beauty.

Quote of the day

“At the moment I saw the goalkeeper making strange movements, so I waited for him to move and hit it like that. It was easier for me to chip it at that stage. Maybe my effort put some pressure on England and in fact Ashley Young missed the next one after me. I didn’t fear an upset, as England barely created anything, just tried to defend the result and drag us to penalties.”

Andrea Pirlo discusses what was going through his mind as he stepped up to take his penalty. It was a clever kick: he knew that Hart had been studying the techniques of the Italian players and rather than place it where he would normally aim it, he went where he knew Hart would be least expecting.

Team of the tournament

UEFA have updated their player rankings for Euro 2012. The Castrol EDGE Index charts a player’s every pass, save, shot and tackle at the finals to measure the impact of such actions on their side’s ability to score or concede a goal.

It’s a pseudo-scientific exercise, which is at least represents a step up from the unscientific opinion polls conducted in the not-too-recent past, which usually resulted in Lionel Messi being voted the player of the tournament – even if he hadn’t played in it.

Reading from the official UEFA site, a team of Castrol Performance Analysts will crunch all of the data to award each player a match score out of ten. Spain’s midfielder Xavi Hernández topped the inaugural Index at Euro 2008.

At the moment, the man to beat is Cristiano Ronaldo, although he faces stiff competition from no fewer than five Spaniards. Oddly, there are no Germans in the top ten, but there is someone from the Czech Republic.

The results are fascinating and occasionally misleading. For instance, Ashley Young is in 69th place overall, which sounds appropriately low until you realise there are almost 200 players deemed worse than him – one of whom is his England team-mate, Joe Hart. Apart from some needless gurning before last night’s shootout, the goalkeeper hasn’t done much wrong and can at least boast a superior pass completion rate to Young.

Young also finishes 40 places above Fernando Torres who, for all his faults, has at least managed to score two goals at Euro 2012.

Here’s the top ten and here’s the full list of players ordered  by their index rating.

Stalked by paranoia

Rated the player of the tournament and looking forward to a semi-final encounter against Spain, but it’s not too difficult to locate Cristiano Ronaldo’ Achilles heel.

Criticised in the past for failing to contribute to the Portuguese cause, there can be few complaints at his efforts at Euro 2012, where he has almost singlehandedly taken his team to the brink of the final.

“The bigger star you become, the greater pressure there is on you to perform at a level acceptable to other people let alone yourself,” said Ronaldo.

“Even Messi has his critics. You can’t please everyone. But I don’t get angry or frustrated by it.”

He should just let it go. Outside of his native Portugal, he is never going to enjoy the level of affection bestowed upon Messi. Nor should he aspire to. Ronaldo should focus on what it is that makes him unique and leave the rest to the press to deal with when they have copy to fill.

Finally…

One person who has been enjoying watching Portugal’s progress at Euro 2012 is the country’s legendary striker, Eusebio.

The former Portugal and Benfica striker has been taken to hospital in Poznan after falling ill on Saturday night.

The Portuguese Football Federation said in a statement on their website: “National-team ambassador Eusébio felt unwell when he was at the hotel with the team. After an initial observation and contacting his doctor in Lisbon, he moved as a precaution to a hospital in Poznan for further investigations.”

Eusébio, who had a heart operation five years ago to prevent a possible stroke, was treated for bronchial pneumonia in December and has been admitted to hospital several times since. He was well enough to attend Portugal’s quarter final win over the Czech Republic in Warsaw, where he sat alongside fellow Portuguese legend, Luis Figo.

“Right now, Eusebio is fine, he is stable,” Portugal team doctor Henrique Jones told reporters. “He was laughing and talking to us. He is ready to be discharged tomorrow.

“The only reason he is not discharged today is because he has to repeat the exams he underwent. He is only staying one more day as a precaution.

“He will probably return to Portugal after this, even though that is not his wish.

“As you know, he likes to be around football as much as possible, but we will try to make sure that he returns to Lisbon in good conditions from Warsaw.”

We wish him well.

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