Monday, October 09, 2006

Euro 2008 Round-Up

Sweeping aside the aberration that was England’s performance against Macedonia, let’s take in all the news from around the groups in Saturday’s Euro 2008 qualifiers:

In Group A, Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice and Chelsea’s Ricardo Carvalho got the other in Portugal’s 3-0 over Azerbaijan. It was their first win of the campaign after drawing away to Finland last month, but top spot in the group goes to Serbia who inflicted a 1-0 defeat of Belgium to remain unbeaten after three games.

All the headlines in the Sunday papers were squarely focused on Group B where Scotland secured their third straight win of the competition against World Cup finalists France. The Scots put in a disciplined and heroic performance at Hampden Park that was topped off by a Gary Caldwell goal midway through the second half. It was the first time France had been beaten in a major tournament qualifying match since 1999 and they’ll go into their next match away to Ukraine on Wednesday with a genuine belief that they can reach the Finals in 2008 after such an impressive start.

Scotland will no doubt also be buoyed by the news that Italy picked up their first win at home to the Ukrainians at the weekend, thanks to two goals from Oddi and Toni. The Italians now face Georgia away from home on Wednesday while France play host to the Faroe Islands.

Group C has turned into a three-horse race as Greece beat group leaders Norway 1-0 and Turkey beat Hungary away by the same score. Norway, Turkey and Greece all now have six points and though the Norwegians are ahead on goal difference, Turkey and Greece have a game in hand over them with two wins out of two so far.

In Group D, the Czech Republic put seven past San Marino to add to the thirteen that Germany scored against them last month. The Czechs have now won all three of their games so far and lead the group, but Slovakia joined the Germans on six points after an emphatic 5-1 win away to Wales. It was the worst home defeat for the Welsh since a 7-1 home loss to England in 1908, and a win in their next match at home to Cyprus on Wednesday will now be seen as essential if they’re to salvage any hopes of qualifying from a strong group.

Cyprus themselves will think they’re in with a chance of qualifying after a remarkable 5-2 win at home to Ireland. Richard Dunne was sent off late on in what was the worst result in a competitive match for the Irish since a 7-0 defeat to Austria in 1971. They next face the Czechs and will hope that they too can upset the form books in order to belatedly kick-start their Euro 2008 campaign.

OK, here goes. Group E was no stranger to eyebrow-raising results as England failed to defeat the Macedonians at home and Israel battled to a 1-1 draw away to Russia. Croatia picked up their first win with a 7-0 thrashing of Andorra and await the visit of England on Wednesday.

England’s inability to supply the likes of Crouch and Rooney with scoring chances was offset by the (at times) seven- and eight-man defence of the visitors, but it was again the overall quality of the passing that let England down. The ‘Bring Back Beckham’ campaign strengthens apace, but of more concern to most people will be the absence of Steven Gerrard against the Russians who was booked for a second consecutive match.

The team to watch in Group F is clearly Sweden who picked up an excellent 2-0 win over Spain at the weekend. They now have a maximum nine points from three games while their opponents languish in fifth place having picked up only three. Spain must now be reeling after losing to Northern Ireland in their last match, but even Denmark were unable to break down the Ulstermen on Saturday as both teams settled for a point after their 0-0 draw.

Finally, as expected, Group G is headed by Holland and Romania, but Holland stay in second on goal difference following their hard-fought 1-1 draw away to Bulgaria. Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie headed the equaliser for the Dutch after Martin Petrov had given the home side the lead on twelve minutes. Romania stayed ahead of Holland at the top of the group after a 3-1 home win against Belarus. They’ll be keeping a close eye on Holland’s midweek game against Albania as they next see action away to the Dutch in March.


Kedge said...

First things first. Well done Scotland. Keep it up.

I heard on the radio this afternoon that the coach of Croatia, a former West Ham player, said of Englands performance that it demonstrates how you can have a side full of the top players, but unless they can gel together, they ammount to nothing.

Watching the match I was really impressed by the way we started. Plenty of width, balls being crossed in from the bye line. We were all over them. Then suddenly the formation changed. Gerrard and Downing, instead of staying wide and running at defenders moved infield more. This meant that Carrick and Lampard were becomming compressed, with no room to turn, no time to pick passes, in fact their targets were often only inches away. This allowed Macedonia to re-group and to stop our fast fluid attacks. Add Rooney into the mix in midfield and once again we were bogged down. Crouch, while not the best holder of the ball, he seems to do better when it lands on his chest rather than at his feet, struggled manfully. Rooney is still not back to what he was pre-injury. Lampard still looks out of touch. The bright note was the back four who seemed to cope with most of what was thrown at them.

The thing that suprised me was Maclaren's lack of vision with his substitutions. With Gerrard unavailable for Wednesday, does he go for his most likely formation for the latter stages of the game? No! That would be too sensible. Instead, he retains Gerrard, still in the packed middle, takes Downing off and puts Wright-Philips on as a left winger. Okay, so it nearly paid off, but who is he going to play instead of Gerrard? Choice seems to be either Wright-Philips or Lennon wide on the right with Downing back on the left. If so why not try that out on saturday when he had the perfect chance?

Maybe the Croatian coach is right and we need to drop one or two of the "stars" in favour of a more journeyman type of player. Trouble is who?

Kedge said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Smart said...

England dont interest me at the moment.

Yes, they are my national team, but I think I have been totally Sven'd out. The primadonnas such as Beckham, Cashley, Rio etc didnt exactly help either.

I dont hold out too much hope for us in Croatia. Croatia havent lost in a tournament match at home for 5 years.

I predict a 2-0 win for Croatia.

I'm more interested in Scotland at the moment!

Vive la difference!

Chris said...

I think there's every chance of a Croatia win tomorrow night. 2-0 would be suitably humbling, I think.

As for Saturday's game, I thought Crouch did about as well as could be expected, Lampard managed to get in a few more shots than he has in previous matches, and as Kedge said, Rooney's still not quite back to top form yet.

Downing to me looked pretty poor and should be replaced by someone else. As a West Ham fan, I know that Etherington's a competent option on the left wing, but whether he'd ever be considered seriously by McLaren or not is anybody's guess.

The defence was more than capable of dealing with Macedonia's long range efforts, but the Croatians will be a whole lot better at getting through them, without a shadow of a doubt.

Bilic is more or less right in what he says about the England team. He said we have lots of good quality players, but they're not playing together as a team. Actually they're not playing together as a positive, attacking team.

If McLaren could sort that out, along with the accuracy of the passing, they could be back to some semblance of a useful outfit again.

Smart said...

Downing is poor, and how my club, Spurs, saw fit to offer £7 million for him is beyond me.

Then again, that was according to the tabloids, so hopefully it wasnt true.

As for Etherington, well I'd rather Downing. Or Joe Cole. Or Lennon and Wright-Phillips on each wing.


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