Diary of a Euros: Day Twenty

We’ve reached the semi-final stage and the diary is still going, just about. A few of the bits have fallen off it along the way and there is an odd erring sound coming from the clutch but that can easily be ignored, as I am faced with the prospect of Spain against Portugal in a classic football encounter. Classic in the sense that it’s one of those fixtures that comes along every now and then where I would much prefer it if both teams lost.

Spain versus Portugal

The build up to this match centred, like a lot of things, around Cristiano Ronaldo. Would Spain make a plan for him? How would he play? Is he better than Messi? Is he selfish? Can he be a team player? Can he deliver on the big occasion? These are a sample of the questions being asked, others were remarkably even more boring.

Boredom is what watching Spain could induce if much of my twitter time line is to be believed. Would they change their style? Would they play a striker? Would they attack? Again with the questions. The team-sheet brought the first answer when the name Alvaro Negredo appeared on it rather unexpectedly. I was intrigued by what his selection might do for the game, interested in what exactly it might do to Spain’s shape and approach.

Shortly after hearing the news of Negredo’s inclusion I want to football training and missed the entire first half. Safe to say that I did a lot of running around and got sweaty, the kind of sweat that makes you feel like you’ve achieved something, even though it owed far more to the humid weather than the amount of work I’d done on the pitch. I’ve seen highlights of the first half and they were brief, so let’s just leave it there and carry on.

I arrived back in time for the second half and started to watch it, only to have it punctuated by the fact that I was in desperate need of a shower. Once I’d got myself sorted it I managed to sit down and watch the last twenty minutes properly and nothing of merit or note happened. That’s not to say the game was boring, there was certainly tension and ability on display, just no chances. The best it had to offer were a couple of Ronaldo free-kicks which never threatened the goal.

90 minutes came to an end and it was extra time. My main focus for the brief time I had been watching was shouting at the referee. Cuneyt Cakır was the referee for the Ireland versus Italy game and he did an appallingly bad job. So obviously he was rewarded with a semi-final. I previously described him as “an inept little toad” but after his performance in the semi-final I’m not sure that’s harsh enough.

I never like a ref who seems to enjoy booking players and getting involved in the game and this ref loves it. He wants to be centre-stage, it’s obvious. He comes across as petty, vindictive and obnoxious. At the end of the game, every player should have been congratulated for their restraint in not punching him repeatedly. He was the model of inconsistency. He gave plenty of fouls for pathetic nothing challenges, but made sure to punish any good tackle as well. Then when there was a bad tackle, he usually missed it and when he did give the foul, he didn’t follow it with a booking. Those were mostly reserved for nothing challenges and handed out liberally but only during the second half apparently. He spoilt the game and if he gets the final I might seriously consider writing a strongly worded letter to UEFA urging them that the only place he belongs is in a toilet bowl, because he’s shit.

Spain passed the ball in extra-time, something they hadn’t done while I had been watching and there were a couple of moments that almost looked like chances. Then Portugal had a good break, the ball found Ronaldo but his left footed shot was wild and well wide. So, 0-0 after extra time and we all know what that means…

Penalties

This penalty shoot-out will be remembered as the one where people tried to find a way to blame Ronaldo even though he did nothing wrong. Most people don’t like Ronaldo, I’m not his biggest fan, but I like to think I’m reasonably fair in any criticism I have. Not so in the case of every idiot (notably Alan Shearer) who couldn’t grasp the simplistic concept of him taking the 5th penalty for Portugal.

You have 5 penalty takers, each kick in the shoot-out sequence becomes more pressurised as the chances of that kick deciding the outcome of the penalty competition increase. So you want your best takers to take the decisive kicks. It’s not going to help a player who say for example missed early on in the shoot-out if instead of there being a chance his miss would cost the team, he *knows* that a miss would *definetly* cost them and cause them to lose.

England put their best takers early and all it served to do was put more pressure on the weaker kick takers. When we really hard to score we had Ashley Cole taking the pressure kick. If the players in your 5 miss, they miss, so to some extent it doesn’t matter. There is something to be said for making sure you score your first kick to try and put the other team under pressure, but ultimately, the first and second penalties will never be the final kick in the shoot-out.

Xabi Alonso’s kick was saved well by Rui Patricio. Joao Moutinho followed suit as his effort was beaten away by Iker Casillas. Iniesta scored with a weak effort and was lucky to see the keeper go the wrong way. Pepe and Pique both scored with good kicks proving that position really isn’t a factor when it comes to penalties, then Nani took the best penalty I’ve seen in ages, walking up and then bashing it into the top corner.

Sergio Ramos went for the chip and it worked again. Having smashed a penalty over the bar helping Bayern Munich on their way to the Champions League final it took some stones to step up for Spain and the way he delicately dispatched his kick was hugely impressive and should be commended. Then Bruno Alves hit the bar, it was close, a fraction less and it would have come down and crossed the line, but by such margins international football is decided.

It meant that if Cesc Fabregas scored Spain were through. What? Cesc Fabregas? Taking the fifth penalty kick? Why hasn’t anyone pointed this out? Surely, being one of Spain’s best penalty takers he should have gone before Ramos or Pique? He scored, albeit with the help of the post, again with those fine margins. All of which meant Spain were through and Ronnie didn’t get to take his penalty kick. Cue bizarre ill-thought-out-knee-jerk-reaction-extravaganza.

Spain are in the final… Again

Spain may or may not be boring to watch but I’m bored of Spain. I really don’t want them to win, quite simply because I want someone else to have a go at it, but this is football and sadly when it comes to football I rarely get what I want. Portugal were unlucky, they didn’t play badly, stopped Spain playing, created chances of their own and in the end it took penalties to eliminate them. It did make a change and was quite nice to watch as usually it’s them putting out England on pens.

As far as Ronaldo goes, he’s the same great player he always was and anyone who says that they wouldn’t want him or a player like him playing for England is either a moron, a liar or both. Most of the criticism levelled at his is grossly unfair, yes he’s an arrogant looking cock, so call him that. There is no need to try and invent other ways to insult him or blame him for things that are simply ridiculous.

Highlight of the game: Martin Keown’s co-commentary. Oh no hang on, I mean the other thing, low point, yeah that’s it. His performance wasn’t as annoying as that of referee Cuneyt Cakır as it was almost totally vacant. If your ears were incredibly well tuned and could listen to the sound drying paint makes, I reckon it would probably sound a lot like Martin Keown did last night.

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