Damn, not to sound like a bunch of dirty hippies around a drum circle ... but exactly where does the time go?
Four years. Four frickin years have passed since Euro 2008.
Four years since I came to make a bang.
Watching the clip that aired seemingly at every commercial break four years ago during ESPN's (excellent) coverage of the event. It might as well have been 1998. Or 1988.
Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo on Manchester United? That actually happened?
A talent young recruit dreaming to play for Arsenal? Huh?
Me, writing for a relevant website? Get the fudge out of here.
So ... yeah.
Here we all sit. Four years later. (And deeper in debt.)
Figured the Euro, is worth some kind of a preview, even if I've personally debated retiring from the blog game more-and-more lately. Hell, maybe the tournament will be my swan song. Who knows. We can worry about that later.
Right now, let's get down to business -- who the heck to root for in the Euro.
Realistically, unless you have a direct tie to one of the 16 participating nations via your ancestral lineage or maybe you went there on vacation once and met some cool people in a youth hostel, it's hard to pick a team to throw your support behind.
It's basically a case of picking the lesser of 16 evils since European soccer -- especially at the Euro -- is everything most Americans seem to loath about the sport, mainly due to the flopping and the fact 99 percent of the players look like they own one of those European male carry-alls, you know, a "murse." Strike that, they look like they might own multiple murses.
Or to sum it up in two words: Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
My thought here, instead of running down the usual crap you'll see in these previews, ie, who the coach is, who their most famous celebrity is, etc. -- there's this website called Wikipedia, perhaps you've heard of it -- let's examine who we can and can't root for by my absolutely arbitrary value system.
It helps, when you read through the "Love 'em, Hate 'em" portions of each nation to have the song "Who We Be" by DMX playing inside your head.(Quick tip: nothing goes better with summer than 90s hip hop jams. Fact.)
If you like it, put a ring on it.
I love 'em:
Kielbasa is awesome. ... Wojciech Szcezesny's Twitter feed was actually very funny until he shut it down. ... This idea of a bloody, severed Michael Ballack head is never not amazing. ... Polish captain Jakub Błaszczykowski wears "Kuba" on the back of his jersey at his club, Borussia Dortmund. You'd have to be heartless to hate a guy named Kuba, right? ... Legitimately the only team in the tournament without a standout, snearing, unlikeable douche on its roster.
I hate 'em:
Probably stole a spot from an exciting tam like Belgium (boo!); Turkey (Guuuus!); or Switzerland (meh); since it's doubtful Poland qualifies for the Euro unless they build three nice new shiny stadiums for Michel Platini and the rest of the UEFA cronies to enjoy. (The only pre-Euro existing stadium, Stadion Miejski was remodeled and looks fairly awesome on the inside.) ... For some strange reason the Polish Ekstraklasa is always included in the "FIFA" series of games. I've never known -- or seen -- one single human being use a team from the Polish top flight, ever. Trust me, as a gigantic loser, I've played a loooooooooooot of FIFA. Annoying when plenty of quality teams and leagues are omitted yearly from the game. ... "Polish jokes" were probably the bottom of the barrell -- and that's saying something -- from the school yard classic, "Totally Tasteless Jokes," yes, even worse than the "Dead Baby" chapter. ... Without copying and pasting Polish names are basically impossible to spell. Unrealistic scenario yes, but if Aliens were going to destroy Earth unless I could spell "Wojciech Szcezesny" well, we'd be screwed. (Hey, it's no less believable than aliens challenging Earth to a game of hoops, is it?) ... Polish hooligans talked a good game ahead of World Cup 2006 in Germany, but ended up doing nothing. ... Seems like the United States National Team has played Poland four or five times in recent years (actually twice) and each game was awful, despite one being played in the snow. ...
If Poland, in this era is ever going to do anything other than being the chafe of the tournament like they were at the World Cup six years ago and the Euro four years ago, it's here. On home soil and blessed with a soft group, they should at least advance unlike Switzerland and Austria last time around when the two hosts combined for one win and one draw.
Poland does have one thing to hang its hat on, the trio of Błaszczykowski, Lukasz Piszczek and Robert Lewandowski all featured for Bundesliga champion Borussia Dortmund, the latter two having excellent seasons. Are those three, plus Szcezesny in goal enough to offset the rest of the roster that even diehard soccer nerds like myself have never heard of without the help of the web? If home fan support is worth anything, there's a decent chance Poland is able to make a run here -- meaning out of the group.
Socratic method, yo
I love 'em:
21-year-old Giannis Fetfatzidis, is in the words of my pal Jared, "Sick with it." That said, maybe we dock him some points for tearing up the Greek Super League. Even Freddy Adu was able to score a couple goals there. ...Greek names seem like Dick, Tom and Harry when compared to Polish ones. ... Greece's home white kits with the blue trim are aesthetically pleasing. ... I got an A- on a paper about "Oedipus Rex" in my English 112 class. ... Dust, wind, dude.
I hate 'em:
Let's see, which bothers you most about Greece:
1. An ecomony that almost single-handily is bringing down Europe and in turn, the globe.
2. Somehow Greece, off one of the all-time soccer upsets of all time at Euro 2004 in Portugal have gone from plucky underdogs to the most forgettable international side this side of Switzerland, scoring one goal in its 2010 World Cup campaign.
3. Perhaps not his fault entirely, but Greece's (nominal) top-scorer, Theofanis Gekas played recently at Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt, as both clubs were relegated from the Bundesliga.
4. When Sacha Baron Cohen inevitably makes a movie where he plays an offensive, cartoonish soccer player, he would be Georgios Samaras.
5. The burly jerk with a humungous mustache who yelled at you the first time you order a Gyro and pronounced it "Ji Row" instead of "Yeer Oh."
Greece went undefeated in its qualification group. Sounds pretty awesome, right? That group consisted of: Croatia, Israel, Latvia, Georgia (the country) and Malta. That's not that impressive, despite finishing ahead of Croatia. Basically Greece is living off that Euro 2004 win, getting a massive UEFA seeding bonus like a NCAA football team that makes the preseason Top 25 on the basis of its history, not its recent results. Sort of like a school like Georgia.
Unfortunately for the Greeks, there isn't a Peach Bowl equivalent at the Euro.
Sadly for us, the viewing public, one of these days Greece is due to do something. An easy group and the experience of 30+ year old midfield warhorses Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis might be enough to sneak through and bore us to tears in the knockouts.
Why so serious, Andrey? (Timely 2008 reference.
I love 'em:
Russia was nothing short of awesome at the last Euro, but like we said four years ago is a long time. ... Before there was Mario Balotelli filling the void of human soccer meme, there was Andrey Arshavin. God Bless the Lulz. ...Vladimir Putin is cooler than every single soccer blogger (and probably reader) put together. ... 21-year-old Alan Dzagoev has massive breakout potential according to every single person writing a Euro preview, so be a little leery until he actually shows he's a boss. ... "In Soviet Russia ..." ... ah fuck, even I can't go through with a Yakov Smirknov joke. ... The Cyrillic alphabet makes everything seem all the more amazing.
I hate 'em:
Every single incarnation of the Yuri Zhirkov joke has been made. Every one. ... There's always a chance everyone on Russia sports a bad -- yet somehow its fashionable again -- mullet, ie, Ivan Dochenko from Season Three of "Eastbound and Down." If not everyone, at least Marat Izamailov. ... If you're an American and you root for Russia, you risk the wrath of Powers Boothe or having your house haunted by Apollo Creed. (Yep, Cold War has been over for almost a quarter century, yet these jokes from the 80s will never die.) ...
Guus Hiddink took a victory lap and probably needed a couple months off to recoup from all the masturbatory praise of his Russian team at the 2008 Euro, which lost in the semifinals to Spain. Since then Hiddink had a totally forgettable stint in charge of Turkey, watched over Chelsea for a couple months and is now collecting a nice fat paycheck at Russian league nouveau riche club Anzi.
Hiddink's successor in charge of Russia, Dick Advocaat is also Dutch with a long coaching resume, with perhaps a better club career than Hiddink with a UEFA Cup win at Zenit as well as success at Rangers a decade ago. Advocaat, however, hasn't guided teams to any success at the international level.
Is that, alone, a bad omen for Russia this summer? Unlike four years ago Russia isn't sneaking up and blitzing teams and with minimal turnover from that roster they could be very predictable. Get physical with Arshavin when he's on the ball, keep an eye on Aleksandr Kerzhakov lurking in front of goal and you should be okay. It's a good, solid team without any glaring weakness -- but the chance for any upside is limited.
Russia has to be considered favorites for the group, if only for the CSKA Moscow defensive core led by keeper Igor Akinfeev, which allowed four goals in qualification. Problem is, this Russian team is still good enough to win this group, but either win or place second in Group A, they end up with Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal or even Denmark in the quarterfinals regardless -- a very tough match.
As the kids say, "Derp.
I love 'em:
Have to be honest here, got no love (Doctor Jones) for the Czechs. If you need further proof, read this opus from my 2007 archives. Actually, wait, there's one positive about the Czechs -- Jan Koller has finally retired.
I hate 'em:
Up until recently, I'd argue the U.S.'s 3-0 loss to the Czech's at the World Cup in 2006 which I personally attended was the worst day of my life. Think that would suffice.
The window on the Czech's "golden generation" is all but closed, and it peaked right around 2004-06. Pavel Nedved is long gone, but somehow Milan Baros -- arguably among the prototypes of unlikeable European soccer stereotypes -- is only 30 and Tomas Rosicky is only 31, although his bones and ligaments might be more in the range of 61.
Most of the Czech roster for the Euro is journeyman, take Jaroslav Plasil. A nice player at Bordeaux in Frances, but not exactly a difference maker at a high-stakes tournament.
In any other group the Czech's would be an afterthought, but paired with these three they should be able to at least hang around. The reason? Petr Cech did indeed have an excellent bounce back season this year for Chelsea. As long as the ghosts from 2008 don't creep back in, when Cech got a case of the yips vs. Turkey and the Czech's crashed out. Considering most of these matches figure to be in the one-goal range, a good goalie might be the difference.
Group winner: Russia
Runner up: Poland