The men have been separated from the boys. As the ‘boys’ who have now been eliminated embark on the summer holidays, the ‘men’ continue their journey to be crowned European Champions. But what have we seen and learned from the group stages and what does this tell us about what to expect in the next 2 weeks?
Prior to the tournament, all of the talk was about Spain’s possession game, Germany’s power game, The French quick counter attacks and the Dutch’s ‘Total Football’ approach. However, after two weeks of thrills and spills, there are several different talking points in the bars around the world.
Sure, Spain have dominated possession (2,289 total passes in 3 games) and the German’s have looked powerful (14 straight wins in last 14 competitive games). Do Spain lack a cherry on the top of their otherwise quite delicious passing game by playing without a striker and do Germany have the ability to cope with a team who do not go toe to toe with them physically? Without doubt, these are the two front-runners to lift the trophy however…
But what happened to the Dutch? Are too many players fatigued from the club seasons? Are they simply a team of talented individual’s who cannot play together due to their egos and different views? One thing is for sure, after their unexpected early exit, the ‘Total Football’ approach may need to be taken back to the drawing board…and fast!
As for the French, they have not yet set the world alight with their attacking firecrackers have they? Perhaps this is due to a lack of identity. On one hand the French have some fantastic attacking options who offer flair and pace. On the other hand, they want to take a page out of the Spanish book and simply keep the ball away from the opposition. At some point within the next two weeks, they may have to take the shackles off, take a few risks and play to win, not to not lose. Limiting Karim Benzema to 17 shots with none being clear scoring opportunities may be something that could cost Le Bleus in the knockout stages.
Speaking of playing not to lose, that brings us to the English. “If we can just scrape through the first two games and wait for Wayne to come back we will be ok”. That appeared to be the approach taken by Roy Hodgson and his players. And for all of the critism and negative feedback from press and fans alike, there is no arguing it worked. Now what though? Will the English team bus be parked in the parking lot for Sunday’s game or will it continue to be parked in front of Joe Hart’s goal in the hope that Wayne and his questionable hair cut can work his magic again at the other end of the field.
Someone who know a little bit about working his magic so far this tournament is Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. After a drab opening game, ‘Ronny’ changed into his pink and white scoring boots and set the team alight. With a total of 30 attempts on goal in just 4 games, he is on track to being the Portuguese’s LeBron James. However, as electric as their attack may be, the Portuguese defense may need a jump-start against a more technical, tricky and imaginative opponent. When Pepe cannot simply use his physique, but instead rely on his brain to defend, the Portuguese may be in a spot of bother.
Now for the Elephant in the room…Penalties. With the knock-out stages now underway, it is almost inevitable that at least one of the games in the next two weeks will be taken to the little white spot 12 yards out. But is this the right way to end a game? After 2 hours of combat on the field and months of preparation, is it right for the fate of a nation to come down to one kick of a soccer ball which has been argued to be no more then a lucky punt? Surely, there must be an alternative to decide a winner of one of the biggest games in world football. Perhaps we simply let the two teams play until a winning goal is scored. Or how about we let the two teams continue to play and after every 5 minutes over Extra-Time, one player from each team is removed from the field.
Whatever your preference, the next two weeks will no doubt provide some heart stopping moments, some awe inspiring performances and some crushing disappointments. Football remains, and always will be, the ‘Beautiful Old Game.’
But I leave you with this. As other sports around the world evolve, and introduce new and exciting ways to ensure that winning and losing becomes fairer, should we not be questioning the “Beautiful Old Game’ and its traditional structure after what we have witnessed so far in Euro 2012? Should we not be more open to introducing new ideas, fresh structures and innovative technology to move with the times? When so much money is riding on the modern game and so much pressure resting on one kick of a ball, should we not be more concerned with the “Beautiful Modern Game?”
Tom Butler is the New England Regional Manager for Youth Elite Soccer, and an avid fan of football and football fashion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.