Friday, June 13, 2008

Euro 2008: Daily ramblings - match day 7

Two inches.

That’s all the separated the disappointing Italians from elimination yesterday. Tied at one and staring down a penalty (another off of a tugging call that has never before been called at this level but has consistently been called in this tournament) it didn’t look good for the world champs.

But Adrian Mutu’s strike didn’t quite go where it was supposed to and Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon, a man who has seemed to be in goal for Italy forever, got first his hand and second his boot on the ball to keep it out and Italy in.

Buffon leapt to his feet, pumping his fist in the air triumphantly. It might have been the first real passion the Italians had shown in the tournament thus far. At the time you were left to think that surely that was it—the turning point for Italy. That the Azzurri would burst forward and steal the result back from Romania.

However, the Romanians—well organized and determined throughout—held off what surge Italy managed to muster. It ended tied--a result that must disappoint Italy and satisfy the Romanians. For now, they still have the tournament in control. A Romania win in its final match and the quarters beckon.

Italy is left to wonder. Is the magic gone? Is the team too old? Was there really any magic to begin with (Italy didn’t really look like world champions in 2004 until they actually were)? An old foe, France, equally as wounded and confused, is next for Italy. Both teams must win to have a chance. Both teams must hope that the least heralded team in the group doesn’t steal the quarters away from both.

But, those are worries for another day. Today, Italy could only marvel at how close it had been. And thank its goaltender for giving them another chance to move on. The Euros can be forgiving. For a contender like Italy, just getting to the knock-out stage can be enough. Three wins there and no one remembers today.

The expectations are off now. All the pressure has shifted to Holland, Portugal and Spain. Those are the teams expected to be standing on the final day now. Italy has shown before that it can grow in a tournament until it emerges as champions. For the Azzurri’s fans it’s that hope that they must hold onto now.

It seems like a long shot but all you can do in this tournament is to stay alive. As long as you are still in the game you have a chance. And, at times rotten play aside, Italy is still in the game and is most certainly still dangerous.

Today: (Ok, tomorrow) Sweden and Spain hash it out for top of the group while Russia and Greece try to stay alive. In some ways the Russia/Greece game might be the most interesting. Despite Sweden’s win Spain looks to be the class here. How well Russia performs will tell us a lot about just how good Spain is. Was the Spaniards four goals a mirage made possible by porous defense? Or, a sign that Spain is a real player this year?


krister said...

If Spain scores first the Swedes are toast (or would that be herring?:) If Sweden scores first it will be interesting to see if Spain does it usual 'el foldo' or bounce back. Remember, Sweden beat Spain in qualifying so there is some good history on Sweden's side. Heja Sverige!!!

btw - many people in the Swedish media (and no doubt other media as well) yesterday said that if the Dutch are smart they rest all their players for the final game and let Romania win to eliminate both the French and Italians because you never know if you have to meet them again and, especially the Italians, they have shown themselves to be formidable foes when it comes to play-off football. Interesting theory

sager said...

1-1! Zlatan!

Mike said...

I wonder whether the 'Group of Death' is all that deadly anymore? Both Italy and France have come in playing beneath their heightened expectations, I think that's fair to say.

This is not a shot against Romania or the Netherlands, just watching the Italians and French thus far this tournament it seems they're missing something they usually have. I think the Dutch are a true force this year and its definitely going to be difficult stopping them!

Right now I'm hoping for a Netherlands-Croatia final, the way - in my opinion anyways - France '98 SHOULD have ended! (granted my Croatian heritage may have something to do with this desired finale, but I think it'd be a pretty good game AND a realistic pick right now as well!)

krister said...

Leave it to Sweden to lose a heart breaker like that. Just sad but not uncommon.

June 14, 1941 was the date my grandparents were sent to Soviet Concentration camps - my mother wasn't home that day and survived to get to Sweden - so it is all Greece for me for the next game. Actually, a tie would be good.

krister said...

I should have added that they lived in Soviet occupied Latvia.