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EM 2012 First Round
The first round of the EM---which stands for Europameisterschaft<fn>, which means European championship in German---is over. The qualifying teams are mostly predictable, with all of the usual suspects making it through to the quarterfinals---France, England, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal---as well as the Czech Republic and Greece thrown in. Greece won the whole thing with an excruciating defensive style in 2004 and the Czech Rpeublic is often quite solid, so not really a surprise. Some of the quarter-finalists have proven to be quite fun to watch---France, Italy and Spain performed quite well in the midfield in most of their matches, creating ample opportunities. They didn't always capitalize on those opportunities, but at least they were creating them and giving us something to watch. Germany had a slightly different style that didn't use the midfield so much but also created a lot of opportunities. Portugal and England did not look as good---despite what their fans will floridly scream in your face---and England especially seemed only able to score on set pieces and defensive mixups. England's sole goal against the Ukraine in the last match was off of a bad bounce off of the inside of a defender's leg that Rooney hammered home with his massive head---newly adorned with an implanted coif---although it was far from the goal-scoring triumph that the German announcer I was watching claimed it to be. this <a href="http://audioboo.fm/boos/853801-606-caller-ranting-about-england-they-re-like-a-market-stall-eloquentrantings">606 caller ranting about England</a> sums it up rather well: <bq>What a poor, unimaginative, uninspriational, dour example of English football [...] how many opportunities did we have for sitting at the edge of our seats? [...] I was so bored I made about three cups of coffee during that match...and I didn't miss anything!</bq> <n>Click through to the <a href="http://audioboo.fm/boos/853801-606-caller-ranting-about-england-they-re-like-a-market-stall-eloquentrantings">rant</a> because the whole thing's quite funny and relatively well-delivered.</n> <img attachment="watch-mario-balotelli-scored-a-stunning-goal-on-a-semi-bicycle-kick-against-ireland.jpg" align="left" class="frame" caption="Mario Balotelli bicycle-kick goal">For truly inspired goals, look instead to the always exciting Mario Balotelli, who sealed Italy's win against Ireland with a spectacular bicycle-kick goal or to Zlatan IbrahimoviÁ, of Sweden, who full-volleyed his goal against France with such perfect timing and precision that there was never any doubt where it was headed. The Polish goal against Russia was an absolute <i>cracker</i> as the boys from Eurosport like to say. Rooney's header was pretty ho-hum compared to those; I only mention it because the German announcer sounded like he needed a couple of minutes alone every time Rooney's goofy-ass Shrek-like mug appeared on screen and one of the local papers splashed said Boo-Radley-like grin all over its cover. <img attachment="roonmain_1044361a.jpg" align="right" class="frame" caption="Hulk happy">I know it sounds like I hate the English team, but it's more like I'm sick of listening to how awesome they are when I've been wholly bored with their pedestrian performance. And especially this love for Rooney, who played <i>terribly</i> in his first game back after five weeks off. He bobbled almost every ball put to him and did nothing of real note. If I was on the English team, I'd secretly be pissed that he got credit for that goal: he hadn't earned it at all. Where the commentators didn't hesitate to chide Italy for their failure to pummel Ireland into the ground---and they played quite well in the midfield with a lot of possession but little finishing---they lauded England for an utterly dismal performance against the Ukraine. In fact, the Ukraine played very similarly to Italy: lots of inspired midfield with a lack of finishing, though no lack of shots. Unlike other years, the players of many of these teams have finally figured out where the goal is, putting the ball on goal---and sometimes into cloying defensive legs or the goaltender---instead of moonballing it into the audience in an attempt to bend it in an expectation not matched by anything we know about the physical rules of our universe. France, in the first game in particular, seemed to be quite a force for finding the net and made for quite an exciting game, even if they didn't score that much. Some of the set pieces still feature those frustrating rockets that <i>never</i> seem to come down and instead soar harmlessly off over the goal. I'm looking at you, Pirlo. <img attachment="bp2.jpg" align="right" class="frame" caption="This. Is. Russia.">I've been mostly watching the games on ZDF-HD, a German channel, because the announcers on Swiss TV are so damned biased---both the German- and French-language channels play clear favorites. And the BBC and ITV channels are wall-to-wall orgiastic displays of English-football love. The Swiss newspapers continue their less-than-subtle prejudice against the East Europeans, chiding the Croatian fans for "lighting flares" (something no other fans did, I'm sure) and the Russian fans for being "too martial [milataristic]" and including the picture shown to the right. Are you kidding me? That flag is <i>awesome!</i> It's <i>huge!</i> It's martial because there's an armed Spartan on it? (The text at the bottom is clearly a play on the signature line from the movie <i>300</i>.) The Swiss media chose instead to laud fans from Ireland and the Netherlands, two proper countries full of people who aren't trying to steal our jobs. And then there are the cameramen of all channels, who never, ever---ever---fail to highlight the most attractive young ladies cheering for their side. This roving, peeping-tom camera is such a standard part of football now that it's featured on every channel, regardless of country-of-origin. With those telephoto lenses, they get creepily close, zooming in right on the glistening eyes with their HD lenses. We get it: hot girls are hot. Can we <i>please</i> just see some timely replays now? Especially for those fouls-that-aren't-fouls and dives-that-aren't-dives? The officiating has actually been quite good, with the referees seeming to let the play run a bit more rather than whistling the ball dead at the slightest body contact. Offsides calls have been nothing short of outstanding---Italy breathes a sigh of relief here<fn>---and the only black mark so far is the uncounted goal by the Ukraine against England. That one was hard to understand, since there was a ref behind the goal, the one on the sideline and the main ref wasn't too far away either. At any rate, goal-line technology inches closer, with even the decrepit Sepp Blatter weighing in in favor yesterday. I'm actually going to be away from television and computers for the semifinal matches---maybe I can catch a game on a French radio station---but I'll throw out some predictions: <dl dt_class="field"> Czech Republic vs. Portugal <i>Portugal</i>: Christiano Ronaldo scored two in the last match and seems to be warming up. Czech Republic has a relatively well-organized side with a good midfield, but they haven't shown a flair for finishing. Portugal's defense will make its usual handful of grievous errors, but it probably won't be enough to tip the balance in the Czech Republic's favor. Germany vs. Greece <i>Germany</i>: Germany has looked good in every game this tournament, with a strong showing from back to middle to front. Greece was lucky to get this far and should not pose too big a problem. Look for a laser-like goal from Podolski; he hasn't gotten one yet. Spain vs. France <i>Spain</i>: France is unlikely to overcome the ridiculous midfield control that Spain has exhibited so far. Italy played Spain to a standstill on Spain's own terms, but France has not exhibited that they possess a similar ability in this tournament. Spain had trouble breaking through with a Croatian team that was strongly focused on defense, so the score might be low. Spain's defense is occasionally porous---like Portugal's---but it's unlikely to cost them the game. England vs. Italy <i>Italy</i>: England looked awful against both France and the Ukraine, with both teams swarming all over them the whole match. Their defense is relatively tight---and it better be, considering the caliber of player they have and the fact that they play a 1-9 formation, with 9 men in their own penalty box for much of the game---but they scored multiple goals only against Sweden, where they were slightly less lackluster. Italy's always unpredictable but, you know, Balotelli. 'nuf said. </dl> <hr> <ft>At least it does here, in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.</ft> <ft>Italy in particular has gotten the short end of the stick in the last few world cups, having had several goals called back for offsides that turned out not to have been offsides. Their run-and-gun style at the time seemed to confuse the linesman, I guess.</ft>