Russia staying calm

Russia will not be getting carried away by their 4-1 hammering of the Czech Republic, with hard-to-please coach, Dick Advocaat, managing to find fault in a sublime attacking performance.

“At 2-1 it could have been 2-2. There were moments when we could have been sharper,”  Advocaat told reporters.

“We weren’t really in the game the first 13 minutes. We weren’t very sharp. From that moment on we kind of controlled the game.”

Somewhat surprisingly, the ultra critical coach refused to point the finger at misfiring striker, Alexander Kerzhakov, whose profligacy was such that #OMG!Kerzhakovmissesagain was trending on Twitter midway through last night’s game.

“I would choose Kerzhakov once again. You make certain choices and you have to back those choices. The only thing he didn’t do was score,” the coach added.

Very true, although there were a number of occasions last night when he really should have done.

Like here, for instance:

Czech mate

The Czech media didn’t hold back in criticising the performance of the national football team after their  4-1 loss to Russia.

DNES ran a front-page picture of devastated Czech captain Tomas Rosicky on the pitch.

“A dark football evening,” it added. “The Czechs collapsed and lost 4-1,” the paper said, calling the loss “cruel but deserved”.

The paper’s sport’s columnist said the Czechs were like lambs to the slaughter.

“It was as if they told the Russian bear: here you are – eat us!” he wrote. Although, mercifully, Kerzhakov’s loss of appetite spared the Czechs an even greater thrashing.

“Like whipped dogs,” Lidove Noviny  said in its frank assessment of the game, which it described as “a humiliation”.

“What a trashing!” agreed Blesk on its front page, comparing the team to the two cartoon characters that the Czechs had picked as team mascots.

Poles apart

In Poland, reaction to their 1-1 draw with Greece was reasoned and balanced.

“Half a victory,” read the headline in the Gazeta Wyborcza , while the tabloid Super Express said on its front page: “Thanks, guys!”

The Gazeta said the match was a “see-saw of crazy emotions: two red cards, a penalty save and a disallowed goal. These aren’t typical of an opening match. Incredible. The footballing gods must be mad”.

On the subject of god,  the best headline came in the  sport section and was tweeted by the Guardian’s Barney Ronay. It described the opening game as: ‘Heaven. Hell. Purgatory’.

Apt for a Catholic country, to incorporates all of life’s (and death’s) rich tapestry.

UEFA under fire

Former Holland captain Ruud Gullit has criticised UEFA’s suggestion that victims of racist abuse who leave the pitch without permission from the referee will be shown a yellow card.

Writing in the Daily Mail , Gullit said players who are targeted for racist abuse should be allowed to make a stand if they feel they are not getting support from officials.

“The monkey sounds that greeted the Holland team at their training session this week were an embarrassment to the Polish authorities,” he said. “The problem of racial abuse of footballers is now on everyone’s radar and it has to be dealt with.

“UEFA have given referees the power to stop a game and I am behind that. The problem needs to be tackled straight away, so players shouldn’t just keep quiet and play on like in my day.

“It has been suggested by the UEFA president Michel Platini that players would be booked for leaving the field as an act of retaliation and defiance. That, in my opinion, is the wrong message.

“If a player is racially insulted, he should have the right to leave the field. I would like to think we can trust referees to take everyone off but, if the officials are not supporting the players correctly, then the individual should act. The message this would send out: ‘we will not tolerate this abuse’.”

Try telling UEFA that.

Euro boycott

Danny Jordaan, the man responsible for organising the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, is the latest person to boycott the Euro 2012 finals.

Jordaan is unhappy with the official attitudes shown by the host countries to the issue of racism.

“If the host country acts in contrary to the spirit of the game, then one must take a principled decision,” said Jordaan.

Jordaan said he had also heard there were similar monkey chants when England trained at the same Krakow venue, although this has not been confirmed and there was certainly no complaint from the England camp.

“I heard in the media that when England trained there were racist chants,” he said.

“We must not support or celebrate such outdated philosophies.

“It is sad that there has not been any strong condemnation by the two host countries.”

Even sadder when UEFA does nothing either.

Life at the coalface

Let’s give credit where it’s due though: UEFA has been scouring the host countries to unearth some of the human stories that might otherwise be ignored, as we celebrate Europe’s festival of racism, sorry, football.  Today, the official UEFA website carries an interview with Andriy, a coal miner employed by a colliery in Donestk, one of Ukraine’s host cities.

Andriy won’t be attending any matches at Euro 2012. Told by the UEFA reported that he will be given time off work to watch the matches, he scoffs.

” “I will be supporting the guys from the coalface,” he says.  “Our job has its own demands. We work on holidays, on days off and on working days. Shift work is shift work; the mine has to work constantly – it goes without saying.

There’s nothing like an interview with a Donetsk coal miner to bring you back down to earth.

Trivia buffs will not be surprised to learn that the nickname of local side, Shakhtar Donetsk, is the Pitmen.

Goal of the day

Russia’s Roman Pavlyuchenko came off  the bench and made an immediate impact. Set free by Andrei Arshavin, the striker twisted and turned the defence before unleashing a venomous shot past Petr Cech.

 Quote of the day

“Why are people giving me loads about England saying “cant get in squad etc”. On ability I walk in the squad, on behaviour i don’t… #fact…If Henderson got in, any englishman not currently in the squad has to feel aggrieved. Yes, i wish i was there but im not…”

Joey Barton sits down in front of his computer: mayhem ensues. For once, though, he does have a point.

Confidence boost

Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin has done little for the self belief of his players by saying the forwards are unable to shoot and the defenders unable to tackle.

“Excuse me, but this level is very low for our championship,” Blokhin said, when told that the top goalscorer in Ukraine’s championship, Evhen Seleznyov, had managed only 14 goals all season.

“If a forward can’t create a situation where he’s able to poke the ball home, then he’s not a forward for me.”

Returning to one of his favourite themes, Blokhin pins the blame for Ukraine’s shortage of reliable goalscorers on the number of foreign players playing in the country.

Listing some of the foreigners who line up regularly for teams in Ukraine, he said:  “In our case, it’s difficult even to find a forward playing permanently for his club.”

It’s not just the forwards who are deemed sub-standard.

“We have problems related to both the central defenders and full-backs,” he added. “Figuratively speaking, our defenders do not even tackle properly.”


Wayne Rooney is not the first person who would spring to mind when contemplating footballers who would be interested, or even aware, of the fate of those murdered in the Holocaust. But, life is full of surprises, and the England striker spoke with sensitivity about the subject after visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp with several England team-mates.

“I wanted to see this place for myself,” he said. “It’s hard to understand. You’ve seen the amount of children’s clothes, all their shoes, it’s a really sad experience.

“There was the guy, the doctor, who made all the decisions, whether they live or die. He’s probably gone home after that, listened to music, had dinner with his family as if nothing had happened.

“It’s crazy. It’s only when you see it first hand; you see how these people were made to work without food and water. It was a form of torture. Many died. The others got murdered.

“It’s good for us to see what happened. It certainly puts football into perspective. What happened here will never be forgotten.”