Saturday 14 June ~

Holland have played fantastically well at Euro 2008 but seasoned tournament watchers know that the best starters rarely end up winning – Brazil at the 1982 World Cup and Argentina in 1994 & 2006 being the most obvious examples. While several teams could still become European champions, we can assume that the defending champions are not going to retain their title. They could even bow out of the competition with defeat to Russia later today.

Greece's victory in 2004 polarised opinion among football supporters. For some they were a mediocre and cynical collection of players who rode their luck, while others saw them as a well organised, technically accomplished team playing at their absolute best. Four years on, Greece were panned after the 2-0 defeat to Sweden in their first group game. Indeed they got quite a pasting from ITV commentators during the match, with summariser Jim Beglin informing viewers that he wanted Sweden to win because of their opponents' negative approach. 

Greece didn't play well, as their coach has conceded since. But the negativity that so incensed some pundits mainly comprised several sequences of passing the ball around in their own half, with no challenge offered by their opponents. English clubs used to do this regularly during their decade of European Cup dominance from the late 1970s on, augmented by innumerable backpasses to the goalkeeper, since outlawed. Jim Beglin will have witnessed some such displays himself as a squad player with Liverpool in the mid-1980s. Rangers adopted a similarly cautious approach in this year's UEFA Cup Final, without incurring any criticism from the same commentators who blasted the Greeks. Tactics that are simply pragmatic when “we” employ them are a sign of fearful negativity when practised by anyone else.

Some viewers might be contemplating a drinking game during Greece v Russia based on mentions of England in the commentary, with extra shots prompted by references to Steve Gerrard's missing an easy chance in Moscow when his side were a goal up. If so, they are likely to be unconscious after about ten minutes. That's assuming that they have scrapped plans to do something similar for the earlier match today, Sweden v Spain, based on references to Liverpool whenever Fernando Torres gets the ball. Or Chelsea and their purchasing power whenever any other Spanish player does something good. Spain have matched the Dutch for attacking flair in their one match so far. If they are to finally make significant progress in an international competition, they ought to see off Sweden. Stick to soft drinks – and expect a draw.

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