Eurozone crisis? What crisis?

Victories for Portugal, Ireland, Croatia and the Czech Rpublic complete the Euro 2012 line-up and it looks a very strong field this time around.

Spain and Holland have been confirmed as top seeds for Euro 2012 by UEFA along with co-hosts Poland and Ukraine.

Germany, England, Russia and Italy will be the second seeds, while the third seeds will be Croatia, Greece, Portugal and Sweden. Even the fourth seeds Denmark, France, Czech Republic and Ireland look relatively strong.

Forget the Group of Death, how about a Group of Purgatory. Theoretically, one such group could comprise Spain, Germany, Portugal and France, which would be stronger than a comparable group stage at the World Cup finals.

The European economy may be on its last legs, but the football remains remarkably robust.

Getting the chop

Guus Hiddink didn’t have to wait long to discover his fate after his Turkey side were defeated in their Euro 2012 play-off by Croatia. The Dutch coach was sacked this morning.

Turkey’s failure to qualify for next year’s finals is a rare blemish on an otherwise impressive coaching CV for Hiddink and he was in no doubt as to where the blame for failure lay. Not with him obviously, but with the system.

“All national teams representing a country, starting with the Under-14 side up to the senior level, depend on how the clubs are organised and how seriously they take the education of young players from the age of 10,” Hiddink told reporters.

“In countries like Germany and Holland, this system is highly developed and the results are obvious.

“Holland is a small country but the national team is always in the big tournaments, with the solitary exception of the 2002 World Cup, because young players are getting a lot of chances to play for their clubs and are well educated.

“On the other hand, only one or two players from Turkey’s Under-19 and Under-21 sides have come through to senior level and while in those countries it’s a reliable process, in Turkey it’s an exception.

“Turkey has a lot of potential but will only take part in big tournaments more frequently if the system is organised in a better way, because the foundation must lie in the clubs and be 100 percent efficient.”

And with that he was out of the door.

Goal of the Day

Portugal brushed aside Bosnia and Herzegovina 6-2 in a thrilling encounter in Lisbon to earn a place in next year’s Euro 2012 finals. The pick of the goals was this stunning long-range effort from Nani.

Shocks aplenty in Asia

While Europe looks ahead to next year’s finals, the race in Asia to reach Brazil 2014 hots up.

Two perennial heavyweights of the regions, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, now face a fight on their hands to reach the next stages. Indeed for the Saudis, who could only draw 0-0 at home to Oman on Tuesday, nothing less than a win away to Australia will guarantee them a place in the next group stage.

South Korea, meanwhile, suffered a humiliating 1-2 defeat to underdogs Lebanon. The two countries are now level on points at the top of Group B. Kuwait’s 2-1 win over UAE on Tuesday kept alive their hopes of preventing one of the top two from progressing to the next stage of qualifying.

Reaction to the defeat in South Korea was swift and brutal. The official website of the Korea Football Association (KFA) was flooded with critical postings, with one suggesting a petition to dismiss Cho Kwang-Rae.

A similar campaign may soon begin in Saudi Arabia with coach Frank Rijkaard at a loss to explain his side’s failure to overcome an obdurate Oman team.

“Football is now really difficult, even small teams are able to provide good results since they can play very defensive,” he said.

“I think in such games, and for this match in particular, it is difficult to take too many risks as Oman has skilful players who know how to play on the counter-attack which may adversely affect us.”

“We tried to apply all the solutions to score the goal through the tactics and it was a difficult game to start with three strikers at the risk of upsetting the required balance,” he said.

Quotes of the day

Asked to comment on reports linking him with a move to Paris Saint-Germain, Everton striker Louis Saha said:  “They’re a cohesive team, which is under construction. It ‘s always fun and interesting to be part of a project like this.

“Paris is a difficult proposition to turn down, especially seeing the players that play there now.”

Responding to stories linking him with a move to Paris Saint-Germain, Saha tweeted:

“It s just Nonsense about #PSG stories. How lazy can be some journalists who are just trying to create rumours out of nothing.

“I’ve been asked many time if i would like 2come back playing in France, especially at PSG & always said why not but i dont want2 leave uk.

“Does that mean i want 2 go,no. I think it s way 2 easy. U wont see anywhere PSG wants me. So stop listen the #bulls**t”

Make your own mind up.

Big clubs flex their muscles

Europe’s big clubs want FIFA and UEFA to pay players’ wages during international tournaments, according to Barcelona president Sandro Rosell.

That, though, is a mere amuse-bouche to the main course which would see the top European leagues reduced to 16 teams and the Champions League expanded.

Europe’s top leagues – Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A and England’s Premier League all have 20 teams, which Rosell said was too many.

“The objective of reducing from 20 to 16 teams is to give more space to our players,” he said.

“Then once the dates are liberated, these dates are not for the (national) federations. The dates are for the clubs to organise friendly games or to increase the European competitions.”

Translated this means: so we can embark upon lucrative overseas friendlies to faraway places that pay us more than we currently earn.

“We are asking for more revenue. We are asking for governance, transparency, insurance,” Rossell continued.

“We would like to have a Champions League with more teams. That means, one day we can play a Barcelona v Manchester United Champions League game on Saturday or Sunday.

“We have to convince the Premier League to reduce to 16 (teams) as well.”

Currently, the European Clubs Association has an agreement with UEFA until 2014 and Rosell warned that the clubs could go it alone unless the governing body accepts its demands.

“If not then ECA is entitled to organise their own champions competition by themselves,” he said.

“If this doesn’t happen, then the worst case scenario is that we will go away from UEFA.”

In many ways Rossell has done us all a favour. Gone are the ‘reasonable’ declarations in which the clubs claim to act on behalf of the players, and no longer will we hear the clubs claiming to be motivated by noble or sporting reasons. No, this is all about money and ultimately about the clubs getting their own way or else. Another word for such tactics such as these would be blackmail.

Galaxy of stars

Another club that may one day be flexing their financial muscle is LA Galaxy. They have signed an astronomical deal with Time Warner Cable’s (TWC) regional sports channels starting in 2012.

The deal, worth $5.5 million a season may not seem that big when compared to some of the broadcast deals in Europe, but relative to the US market it is a huge figure. Currently Fox Sports pay about $300,000 to screen the entire Galaxy season.

Tim Leiweke, president of AEG, the group that owns the Galaxy, hinted last week that a lucrative TV deal was coming and credited that to midfielder David Beckham, who might be making his last appearance for the Galaxy on Sunday.

“It’s a major deal for our team and I’m telling you it never happens without David Beckham,” Leiweke said.

It’s a gamble by TWC as the current viewing figures for LA Galaxy’s matches on Fox barely register as a blip on the ratings, never attracting more than 16,000 homes. And that’s with Beckham as the main attraction. If he departs, much of the gold dust goes with him.

Blunder of the day

Tuesday’s friendly match against Costa Rica was a momentous occasion for keeper Iker Casillas who made his 127th appearance for Spain, eclipsing Andoni Zubizarreta to become his country’s most-capped player of all-time.

The pair attended a ceremony last week to celebrate Casillas’ milestone and Zubizarreta spoke warmly of the new record holder.

“I see it as absolutely normal that Casillas moves ahead of me on the all-time list,” he said. “He’s a goalkeeper who has grown, matured and has known how to live through the bad times. I think that he has a point of maturity that when he is between the posts he looks unbeatable.”

Maybe. But when he moves away from the posts, he looks eminently beatable as Costa Rica discovered last night.

The numbers game

As well as Casillas landmark, there were several other noteworthy milestones reached in the latest rounds of international matches.

Casillas is a mere stripling in international terms compared to Egypt’s Ahmed Hassan, who made his 178th international appearance during his country’s 2-0 defeat to Egypt on Monday. That draws him level with Saudi Arabia goalkeeper, Mohamed Al Deayea, as the most capped player in the history of the game. Casillas, by comparison, lies joint 36th in the list of most-capped players. the full list can be found here.

Gareth Barry scored England’s 2000th international goal in the 1-0 win over Sweden, although if we are been pedantic the final touch came off Swedish defender Daniel Majstorovic. The match was Joe Hart’s 16th international appearance during which England have never lost a game.

Luis Suarez became the first player in 11 years to score more than three goals in a South American World Cup qualifier when he notched four in Uruguay’s 4-0 win over Chile on Friday. The last player to manage that was Romario, who scored four against Venezuela in 2000.


North Korean state news agency Korean Central Television scrapped its evening broadcast schedule in order to re-broadcast the entirety of the country’s 1-0 win over Japan in Pyongyang. Which must have come as a welcome relief for the viewers, who were expecting to see Kim Jong-il’s Got Talent, which has been on a continuous loop since 2007.

“Today’s proud victory brought faith and encouragement to the soldiers and citizens on the front lines of the final battle to establish our great nation,” said a narrator at the conclusion of the Japan match.

Traditionally, North Korea’s matches are screened on a tape delay. The first match from abroad to be shown live was 7-0 defeat against Portugal at last year’s World Cup finals. You can bet that they won’t be making that mistake again.