Euro 2012 has been a fantastic tournament so far with 61 goals scored in 24 group matches and with the culmination of the group stages last night comes a quarter-final line-up which promises plenty of action in the knockout stages.
It is sad that neither of the co-host nations, Poland and Ukraine, were able to make it through to the quarter-finals. Both countries had the chance to qualify in their final group matches but they also knew that nothing less than a win would secure their places in the last eight and it subsequently proved to be a mountain to climb. Poland had drawn their opening two matches against Greece and Russia but were ultimately undone by a late Petr Jiráček strike in their final match as the Czech Republic turned their fortunes around following a poor start. Last night saw Ukraine go out at the hands of an England side who, under the management of Roy Hodgson, have failed to excite but are taking a pragmatic approach to the tournament and scraped through 1-0 in Donetsk with Wayne Rooney’s goal taking the spark out of local interest. Ukraine, nonetheless, did win their opening game against Sweden with the double strike from Andriy Shevchenko proving one of the highlights of the competition so far. Following the defeat to England Shevchenko, a European champion at club level with AC Milan in 2003, announced his retirement from international football and went out on a stage befitting his talents.
Amongst the favourites the Germans were the only team to win all three of their group matches (against Netherlands, Denmark and Portugal) and to do so in the so-called “Group of Death” proves that they are the most serious contenders to take the title from Spain. Speaking of Spain, the European champions surprised many by not playing a recognized striker in their 1-1 draw against Italy but went on to claim victories against the Republic of Ireland and Croatia, the former put to the sword in an easy 4-0 stroll but the latter unfortunate to concede very late in a 1-0 defeat. The Italians could be an outsider for the title as they remained unbeaten in the group with one win and two draws despite having not performed anywhere near their best. If the Azzurri can get a lucky break in their quarter-final match up against England then there’s a possibility that Italy can finally win the second European title they’ve craved since winning their first in 1968.
Portugal are another team capable of causing an upset in the latter stages. Following a 1-0 defeat to Germany the 2004 finalists had to scrap their way to a 3-2 win over Denmark before they sealed their quarter-final spot with a 2-1 win over the tournament’s biggest disappointments Holland. The game against the Dutch signalled a change of form for Cristiano Ronaldo who had struggled in their opening two games but whose input proved the difference in the crucial final group match as he scored both goals in a 2-1 win. It is difficult to tell whether one should read too much into France’s 2-0 defeat to Sweden last night especially as Les Bleus looked the better team in their opening games against England and Ukraine. One player who should be of concern to supporters of the French team is Karim Benzema who has not looked like the player who scored 32 goals for Real Madrid last season. Greece, champions in 2004, are hoping to pull off another such shock but a tough quarter-final against Germany awaits them. The Greeks look to be using the same approach to guide them through this tournament, soaking up lots of pressure whilst hitting teams on the counter attack. This has meant that their performances in the group stage were topsy-turvy but somehow scored goals at crucial times and their 1-0 win over Russia meant that they finished second in the group ahead of the Russians who must be thinking what might have been and whose exit has prompted the departure of coach Dick Advocaat.
If the knockout rounds can maintain the momentum generated by the group stages then we should be in for a treat. After all there were no goalless draws in the group stages and it has been refreshing, for the most part, to see two teams in each game going out to win rather than not to lose. Obviously the stakes will be higher when the first quarter-final kicks off on Thursday night when Czech Republic plays Portugal so the tension of the occasion may incur on the attacking ambition of some teams. However, the signs are positive that the final seven games of Euro 2012 will only add to the legacy of the tournament.
21/06/12 Czech Republic v Portugal
22/06/12 Germany v Greece
23/06/12 Spain v France
24/06/12 England v Italy
Montevideo giants Nacional have claimed the 2011-12 Uruguayan championship following last night’s play-off final against Defensor Sporting. Alvaro Recoba scored the only goal of the game in the 41st minute to ensure that Nacional win the title for the 44th time in their history, just two behind eternal rivals Peñarol. Nacional, as the team with the best aggregate number of points following this season’s Apertura and Clausura championships, only needed to win last night to claim the overall crown. Defensor Sporting, who won the Apertura title, needed to win last night in order to force a second leg but the defeat ensured that a return fixture won’t be necessary.
The UEFA European Championships have started in earnest but on the other side of the Atlantic there was only one match that mattered this weekend. The two giants of South American football, Argentina and Brazil, met in a friendly match in New Jersey and thrilled the capacity crowd of 80,000 with seven goals and some stunning football.
The game was a topsy-turvy affair with both teams taking turns to hold on to the lead. Brazil went 1-0 up in the 23rd minute through Vasco da Gama midfielder Romulo only for Lionel Messi to turn the game on its head by the 37th minute with two expertly taken goals. The Brazilians hit back after half-time with Internacional midfielder Oscar and Chelsea transfer target Hulk giving the Seleção a 3-2 lead with a little under a twenty minutes of the match remaining. That, however, was still enough for Federico Fernández to restore parity in the 78th minute before the irreplaceable Messi stunned the crowd with a beautifully struck goal with five minutes remaining to give the Albiceleste the win in an entertaining game.
Tahiti are the champions of the OFC Nations Cup for the very first time following an exciting final against New Caledonia. Tahiti, whose previous tournament best had been three second placings in 1973, 1980 and 1996, finally scribed their name on the trophy following Sunday’s 1-0 triumph and claimed a place in next year’s FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil.
New Caledonia, beaten finalists in the previous tournament in 2008, had caused a huge upset on Friday when disposing of the defending champions New Zealand 2-0 in the semi-finals whilst Tahiti reached the final on the back of a tense 1-0 win over hosts Solomon Islands. The final on Sunday was preceded by the third/fourth play-off match between the two losing semi-finalists with New Zealand clawing back some pride in an exciting 4-3 win over the Solomon Islands. The final, however, didn’t see as many goals but no shortage of tension as Tahiti, thanks to the exotically named Steevy Chong Hue, scored the only goal of the game in the 11th minute of the game. Try as they might, New Caledonia were unable to equalize and Tahiti were able to see out the game and claim a maiden title.
The tiny Pacific island, part of French Polynesia, will be hugely rewarded for their success in the OFC Nations Cup by taking part in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup which could see them pitted against the likes of world champions Spain and tournament hosts Brazil. Tahiti, as well as the other three nations who made the OFC Nations Cup semi-finals, also have the third round of FIFA World Cup qualification to look forward to which begins in September this year.
So the big kick off is imminent. The 2012 UEFA European Football Championships are upon us just so soon after the domestic seasons in Europe’s major leagues have come to a close. It only seems like yesterday when Fernando Torres scored the winning goal in the final of the 2008 tournament to secure Spain their second Euro triumph with a 1-0 over Germany. Can Spain do it again or will one of the other fifteen nations go on to stop the defending champions in their tracks?
Spain remain the favourites to win back-to-back European Championships but Germany will be hoping to go one better than four years ago whilst the Netherlands, who lost to Spain in the 2010 FIFA World Cup final, will think they have a great chance to go all the way this time around. France have re-emerged as a credible force following a World Cup beset by infighting and rebellion in South Africa two years ago and under Laurent Blanc have found new direction and purpose to their game.
England, under new management under Roy Hodgson, have been downplaying their chances of success in this tournament. The English know only too well what it’s like to play with the heavy burden of expectation upon their shoulders so the understated approach to these finals may help them in the long run. Italy are always a threat in any tournament but they are not as strong as they have been in recent years and the 2006 FIFA World Cup victory already seems like a lifetime ago to followers of the Azzurri. Portugal still haven’t won this competition and having come so close in 2004 will think that anything is possible should they emerge out of the “Group of Death” which also contains Germany, Netherlands and Denmark.
Hosts Poland and Ukraine will be hoping to progress beyond the group stages in their home tournament whilst the likes of Denmark, Sweden and the Czech Republic are always amongst those teams that people underestimate at their peril. Greece, surprise European champions in 2004, will hope to shock further should they reach the knockout rounds whilst the Republic of Ireland will feature in only their second ever finals and will hope to replicate the spirit of Jack Charlton’s men who caused the odd upset in 1988. Croatia have a great record in major international tournaments since they gained independence in 1992 whilst Russia, semi-finalists last time around, are hoping to hit the ground running en route to hosting their own FIFA World Cup tournament in six years’ time.
So who is your choice to win Euro 2012? Please vote in Stoppage Time‘s very own poll.
The UEFA European Football Championship has enjoyed a rich variety of formats and winning teams since its inauguration in 1960. The very first tournament saw seventeen nations enter at the start of the competition with the semi-finals and final played in Paris over a four day period resulting in the Soviet Union becoming the first ever winners. The tournament in its current guise sees sixteen teams competing in the finals having been whittled down from an initial 51 nations trying their luck in the qualification process. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog takes a look back over the years to see how the competition has grown in stature and has become, in some people’s eyes, “the World Cup without Argentina and Brazil”.
The 1960 tournament, named at this time as the European Nations’ Cup, began with a two-legged qualification match between Czechoslovakia and the Republic of Ireland with the former winning 4-2 on aggregate in order to reach the first round proper. Sixteen countries then fought it out in a straight knockout format with two legs played in each round until the semi-finals. The official 1960 tournament finals were played in France with two former eastern Bloc countries, Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, reaching the first ever final after seeing off Czechoslovakia and France respectively in the semis. In the final Milan Galic gave Yugoslavia the lead just before the break but the Soviets restored parity in the second half with a goal from Slava Metreveli. With no further scoring the game had to go into extra-time and with seven minutes remaining Viktor Ponedelnik went on to score the winning goal which secured the Soviet Union’s one and only trophy at international level.
THE 1960 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL
The 1964 tournament saw a surge of interest in the number of nations hoping to qualify for the tournament. After just two countries took part in qualifying in 1960, the number increased to an impressive twenty four with the likes of England, Italy and the Netherlands entering for the first time. Spain was the host country for the second tournament finals and it was on this occasion that the hosts won the trophy for the first time in its history defeating title holders Soviet Union 2-1 with Marcelino scoring the winning goal with just six minutes remaining on the clock. Four years later saw the tournament change its name to what we all know it is as today and also saw the qualification process change from that of a straight knockout format to a league format with the 31 nations split into eight groups. England reached the finals, played in Italy, for the first time but lost out to Yugoslavia who, in turn, lost to the tournament hosts 2-0 in a replayed final after the first game had finished 1-1. It was the first and so far only time that Italy has had its hands on the Henri Delaunay trophy in what was the only final ever to go to a replay.
The next three tournaments would see the emergence of West Germany as a force in European football winning two of them. The 1972 tournament in Belgium saw the Germans easily see off the challenge of the Soviet Union with Gerd Müller bagging a brace in a 3-0 win and become the first team to hold both the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship at the same time. A shock was on the cards four years later in Yugoslavia when the defending champions, following a 2-2 draw after extra-time, lost out to Czechoslovakia in the first final to be decided by a penalty shoot-out with Antonin Panenka scoring one of the most audacious penalties ever to clinch the cup for Czechoslovakia. Italy was once again the host in the 1980 tournament with the finals format changed to increase the number of participants from four to eight. The eight countries were divided into two groups of four before reverting back to straight knockout from the semi-finals onwards, a format which would remain constant until 1996. West Germany would go on to become the first nation to win the trophy twice in 1980 following a 2-1 win over Belgium with Horst Hrubesch scoring both goals for the victors, the second just two minutes before full time.
WEST GERMANY WINS THE 1980 TOURNAMENT
France hosted the 1984 tournament and would emerge victorious with one of the most exciting teams ever to play in the competition. With names such as Michel Platini, Jean Tigana, Alain Giresse and Luis Fernandez, Les Bleus were involved in a classic semi-final against Portugal before going on to defeat Spain 2-0 in the final. France captain Michel Platini created history by scoring nine goals in a single tournament which remains a record to this day. The 1988 tournament in West Germany would become synonymous with the finest Netherlands team since the days of Totaal Voetbal in the 1970s. Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard were the central foundation of an exciting Dutch team who would defeat the likes of England and West Germany en route to beating the Soviet Union 2-0 in the final with Van Basten scoring one of, if not the greatest, goal ever scored in the tournament. The 1992 tournament finals would be the last ever to have eight teams and would be won in fairy tale fashion by Denmark. The Danes hadn’t even qualified for the tournament but were given a reprieve when Yugoslavia was banned from playing due to the impending conflict in the Balkans. Denmark saw off the national team of a newly re-unified Germany by two goals to nil with John Jensen and Kim Vilfort writing their names into Danish legend.
THE 1988 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL
Football came home in 1996 with England hoping to carve their name on to the famous Henri Delaunay trophy for the first time. The qualifying process for the “Euros” had become significantly increased by the ever changing face of Europe. With the number of countries participating having increased from 35 up to 47 following the break-up of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia the tournament finals had subsequently been increased from eight teams to sixteen with the teams divided into four groups of four, a format which remains to this day. England, however, would see Germany prove to be their arch nemesis once more with the Germans knocking the hosts out in the semi-finals before going on to defeat the Czech Republic in the first final to be decided with a “Golden Goal”, Oliver Bierhoff’s strike in the 95th minute proving decisive as the Germans won the trophy for a record third time.
GERMANY WIN WITH “GOLDEN GOAL” IN 1996
The year 2000 saw joint hosts for the first time in the competition’s history with neighbouring Belgium and the Netherlands holding the tournament. Following their FIFA World Cup win two years earlier, France would make it a fine double when David Trezeguet scored a Golden Goal to give the French a 2-1 win over Italy. Portugal hosted the 2004 tournament and were hoping to win the trophy for the first time but whose dreams were shattered after Greece, who had defeated the hosts in the opening game of the tournament, would go on to beat Portugal in the final too. Angelos Charisteas’ strike in the 57th minute would prove decisive as the unfancied Greeks won the trophy for the first time and became the ninth different nation whose name would grace the famous trophy. In the most recent tournament in 2008 Austria and Switzerland were granted the distinction of playing joint hosts but neither was able to make their mark on the competition beyond the group stage. Spain would emerge victorious following a narrow 1-0 win over Germany, Fernando Torres’ strike in the 33rd minute would prove to be enough for Spain to become the third nation to hold both world and European titles simultaneously.
SPAIN WINS EURO 2008 FINAL
Euro 2012, which sees more joint hosts in the form of Poland and Ukraine, will be the last tournament in which sixteen teams will feature in the finals. The next tournament, to be held in France in 2016, will see 24 countries take part for the first time. Whether this is a move which will complement the tournament in a sporting as well as a financial manner remains to be seen. For now, though, let’s look forward to a month long feast which will showcase the best that European football has to offer. Though if you really are missing Argentina and Brazil it just so happens that they’re also playing against each other this weekend in a friendly match!
The semi-final line-up of the 2012 OFC Nations Cup is now known following the completion of the tournament’s group stages yesterday.
Defending champions New Zealand have made through to the last four having topped Group B on goal difference over fellow semi-finalists Solomon Islands. Both nations had a record of two wins and a draw from three games but New Zealand’s goal record in their wins over group opponents Fiji and Papua New Guinea allowed them to pip the Solomon Islands, with whom they shared a 1-1 draw yesterday, to the top of the standings.
Group A was won by Tahiti who are the only country still in the competition with a 100% record having won all of their three group matches against Samoa (10-1), New Caledonia (4-3) and Vanuatu (4-1). In a group which was saturated with goals, New Caledonia claimed second place in the group and the final semi-final spot on Tuesday when thrashing tournament whipping boys Samoa 9-0.
Tahiti will meet tournament hosts Solomon Islands in the first of tomorrow’s semi-finals before New Caledonia face off against New Zealand to decide the second Nations Cup finalists. All four countries, as a result of reaching the semi-finals, have also progressed to the third round of FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifying in the Oceania region. Before that important phase of World Cup qualifying begins in September, the OFC Nations Cup will come to a conclusion on Sunday, June 10th with the winners subsequently qualifying for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.
Manuel Preciado, who only yesterday signed on with Villarreal CF to become their new coach from next season, has sadly died from a heart attack today, aged 54.
Preciado was mainly associated as a player with Racing Santander but also featured for clubs such as Real Mallorca and Deportivo Alaves. His coaching career began in the mid-90s with Gimnástica de Torrelavega before returning to Racing Santander to take charge of the “B” team on two occasions before two separate spells managing the first team from 2002-03 and 2005-06. His most recent job came with Sporting de Gijón where he stayed for six years from 2006, leading them to promotion in his first season and keeping them in the top flight before they went down at the end of last season.
Stoppage Time wished to pass on its condolences at this sad time.
In the final blog looking ahead to the 2012 UEFA European Championship, which begins on Friday June 8th, we preview Group D which contains co-hosts Ukraine as well as two-time winners France, England and Sweden.
ENGLAND: Best Performance = Semi-Finals 1968, 1996
Despite their status in the international game England still remains one of football’s great underachievers. It is perhaps for this reason, along with the fact that there are so many strong teams in this tournament, why the Three Lions go into Euro 2012 with dampened enthusiasm. Perhaps a downgrade in expectations could actually do the English some good as the pressure to perform in this year’s championship isn’t anywhere near as great as it has been in the last ten years or so. After all England have only ever reached the semi-finals of the European Championships on two occasions and even failed to qualify as recently as 2008. England qualified comfortably from qualifying Group G finishing unbeaten in eight games and topping the table six points ahead of Montenegro. It was against Montenegro, however, that Wayne Rooney picked up his three match ban, which was reduced to two on appeal, which will see him miss the first couple of matches in the tournament. In his absence the likes of Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll will be expected to step up whilst Theo Walcott will also be required to show that he has finally matured into a top class international.
COACH: Roy Hodgson
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 7
FRANCE: Best Performance = Winners 1984, 2000
It now seems like so long ago that the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry et al were setting the world alight with their free-flowing football and winning silverware. Twelve years since they won their second European Championship the French seem to be getting back on track following a turbulent couple of years in which internal strife and splits within the camp took centre stage rather than the action on the pitch. Under Laurent Blanc many fans of les Bleus will hope that they will show hunger and desire as well as purpose. Despite a shock 1-0 defeat the beginning of the campaign the French finished top of qualifying Group D by just a single point over Bosnia & Herzegovina. Franck Ribéry is the centre figure of the French team and with players of the quality of Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri around him they will be strong in attack and could score plenty of goals.
COACH: Laurent Blanc
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 16
SWEDEN: Best Performance = Semi-Finals 1992
The Swedes will be making their fifth appearance at a tournament finals since they made their debut in 1992. In that year Sweden, in front of their home supporters, reached the semi-finals but were unable to seize the initiative against Germany and went out 3-2. Since then the Swedes have failed to progress beyond the quarter-finals and not many expect to see them do so this time. Sweden, it must be mentioned, are a very capable side who are physically strong and resilient at the back. They qualified from Group E just three points behind the Netherlands and didn’t have to take part in the play-offs as they went straight through to the finals on the back of having the best record amongst runners up. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the undoubted major star of the team but much is also expected from 24 year old Rasmus Elm who is attracting some other Europe’s biggest clubs.
COACH: Erik Hamren
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 17
UKRAINE: Best Performance = Winners 1960 (as part of the Soviet Union)
Like their near neighbours Russia, Ukraine was a major contributor to the great Soviet Union sides of yesteryear. Since independence, however, Ukraine has failed to match the expectations of its public having only qualified for one major tournament in the last 16 years (i.e. 2006 FIFA World Cup). As joint hosts Ukraine will, therefore, enjoy its first experience in the European Championships and will fancy their chances of upsetting the big boys in their group. Veteran Andriy Shevchenko is hoping for one last swansong in front of his adoring fans but, whatever happens, it is a fitting stage for the legendary Dynamo Kyiv star to bid farewell to international football. Young stars Yaroslav Rakytyski and Andriy Yarmolenko have the ability to excite and to provide the firepower for Shevchenko and his striking partner Artem Milevskiy.
COACH: Oleg Blokhin
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 50
GROUP D FIXTURES
11/06/12 France v England
11/06/12 Ukraine v Sweden
15/06/12 Ukraine v France
15/06/12 Sweden v England
19/06/12 Ukraine v England
19/06/12 France v Sweden
In the third installment of our Euro 2012 build-up, Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews Group C which contains the defending European champions Spain as well as Italy, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland.
CROATIA: Best Performance = Runner Up 1960, 1968 (as Yugoslavia); Quarter-Finals 1996, 2008 (as Croatia)
Following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in 1991 the Croatian national team has performed by far the best out of the newly created independent states. As part of the former Yugoslavia, Croats played a part in the Yugoslavia teams who finished runner up on two occasions in the 1960s. Since independence Croatia has only failed to qualify for a major tournament on two out of nine occasions showing that the national team is still one for many teams to fear. In Group F of Euro 2012 qualifying the Croats finished two behind Greece in the standings before a convincing 3-0 aggregate win over Turkey in the play-offs gained them their place in the finals. Croatia’s main focus in the tournament will be Luka Modrić who has been in fine form for his club Tottenham Hotspur and whose distributive and creative qualities will be needed for attacking players such as Ivica Olić and Nikica Jelavić the opportunities to flourish.
COACH: Slaven Bilić
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 8
ITALY: Best Performance = Winners 1968
Even hard core fans of the Azzurri would begrudgingly admit that this is far from the most vintage Italian team that has ever graced an international tournament. For a nation which has been world champions on four occasions it is surprising that Italy has only one European Championship title to its name and not many would expect a second title to be winging its way into the trophy cabinet this time around. Despite the pessimism the Italians still have plenty of individual quality and it would be a fool who would completely write off their chances of performing well in this tournament. Italy qualified from qualifying Group C with an unbeaten record of eight wins and two draws and with experienced players such as Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo still playing an active role in the side anything is still possible if the team gets its tactics right during the tournament.
COACH: Cesare Prandelli
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 12
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Best Performance = Group Stage 1988
They may be underdogs but the Irish wouldn’t have it any other way. Playing in only their second European Championship finals, the other being when Jack Charlton took them to West Germany in 1988, the Republic of Ireland will be something of an unknown quantity for their group opponents and, thus, they might be able to spring a surprise. Under the guidance of Italian legend Giovanni Trapattoni, the Republic of Ireland finished second behind Russia in qualifying Group B before sweeping aside Estonia 5-1 on aggregate in the play-offs. The Republic’s record goal scorer Robbie Keane will be spearheading the attack and if the likes of Damian Duff and Aiden McGeady can provide him with quality service from the flanks then there’s no reason why the Irish cannot upset some of the favourites.
COACH: Giovanni Trapattoni
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 18
SPAIN: Best Performance = Winners 2008
Victorious over Germany four years ago in this competition, the Spanish national team created history when winning the FIFA World Cup in 2010 to become only the third nation, along with Germany and France, to hold both the world and European titles simultaneously. Many superlatives have been used over the last few years to describe the current crop of talent at Spain’s disposal and they will be hoping to make further history by becoming the first country to win three consecutive major tournaments. The qualifying campaign was a breeze for Spain who finished with a 100% record in Group I and finished eleven points ahead of nearest challengers Czech Republic. Despite the absence of top scorer David Villa there are plenty of names who could win a game at any time for Spain. Names such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Silva have been there and done that but there are also the likes of Álvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente who are hungry and keen to show what they can do at the highest level.
COACH: Vicente del Bosque
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 1
GROUP C FIXTURES
10/06/12 Spain v Italy
10/06/12 Croatia v Rep. of Ireland
14/06/12 Italy v Croatia
14/06/12 Spain v Rep. of Ireland
18/06/12 Croatia v Spain
18/06/12 Italy v Rep. of Ireland