England and France – Just O.K.

I had high hopes for this meeting between these two European powerhouses. Unfortunately, the exciting moments were few and far between and I found myself close to asleep near the end. If this is how England intends on playing their competitive opponents, it’s a disappointment. I’m sure there are plenty of English fans thrilled with a point and only Sweden and Ukraine remaining, but with the amount of talent in England it’s unacceptable.

The first half was dominated by France, but England found a few week spots in the French defense (Milner had a golden opportunity which he should have put away) and England were able to convert a spot kick against the run of play. Nasri, Benzema, and Ribery were creating some issues for a well-organized backline protected by Gerrard and Parker. Nasri evened up the score not too long after England’s goal with a well-driven ball just outside the area. France continued to press England for the remainder of the first half but could not find a way past the buses England had parked in front of Joe Hart.

The second half was a little more back and forth ; England even managed to string three passes together. But the half was played at a much more reserved pace and both sides were content with a tie for the last 20 minutes or so.

Can’t blame him…

French Outlook: Clearly offensively potent, they looked like Barcelona trying to break down Chelsea in the Champions League semi, but I don’t think they have the requisite skill to try to walk it in. With an aerial threat like Benzema, France would do well to mix it up a little. I don’t recall Benzema’s head getting on the end of many, if any, crosses today. The downfall of France will be their backline. While certainly apt to get forward, the outside backs were less than outstanding defensively. Evra was downright lazy at times; the chance Milner was unable to finish in the first half was courtesy of Evra tracking with Milner only to a point, at which Evra slowed and half-heartedly attempted to pull Milner offsides. England was able to cause problems with only a few men going forward; once France meet a more balanced opponent (Spain, Germany, Netherlands, etc.) it will be hectic back there.

England Outlook: Bright spots were few today. What England should take away from this one is they didn’t play well, were outshot 19-3, and still tied a strong French side. I thought Welbeck and Oxlade-Chamberlain did very well given the lack of support and their relative inexperience in major competitions. Young was another aggressor for England and it will be fun to see these guys continue to build on that relationship. Gerrard and Parker were attached to the back four and their contributions were in the form of strong tackles rather than any playmaking. I am optimistic that this was simply a warm-up for an English team with plenty of issues (injuries) to deal with leading into the Euros and the intensity and attacking aspect of this team will ramp up leading into the next stage. Despite my disappointment in the performance today, they are still are very strong squad that could go places given the experience and resilience of their backline and goalkeeper. Let’s hope to see them gain some confidence after game one take a few more risks going forward.

Group D Preview and Predictions

Group D is an interesting one to say the least. Ukraine, France, Sweden and England make up a somewhat strong group that is marred by injuries.

The Ukraine is behind on their Euro 2012 preparations. This does not exclude their own home squad. The Ukraine has not won a game since October of 2011. They lost to France and Sweden during their warm-up games for this tournament. That being said, a host country can never be counted out. (Just look at Greece) Still, the quality in the team is few and far between. If Andriy Shevchenko finds his form of old, maybe, just maybe Ukraine can sneak a draw in. I don’t expect to win a game during this tournament, even with the support of their home fans.

Sweden enters this tournament in good form, winning every game they have played in 2012. The competition might not have been overly competitive but wins against Croatia and Serbia cannot be discounted. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a boss. He is unstoppable when he wants to play. He attracts enough attention to give other forwards such as my personal favorite, Markus Rosenberg, a chance to make something happen. How reliable are the role players on the Sweden side in the clutch moments? I don’t think they are and Zlatan has been known to disappear in big games so I do not expect must noise from the Swedes. An all too injured England side could provide a way into the knockout rounds.

France is the odds on favorite in this group. They have had an excellent and undefeated 2012 highlighted by a win over Germany, in Germany. This was a tune up but still gives France confidence going into the tournament, something they really needed after the World Cup bust up that was as embarrassing as it was damaging for the country’s national side. France is the most well rounded team in this group and has the most depth. I expect them to get out easily and make a run to the finals. Benzema, Nasri, young gun Ben Arfa and an experienced back line are more than enough to make it happen.

England is in trouble. Injuries are unpredictable but that timing of England’s current woes could not have been worse. That combined with the John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Roy Hodgson riff is enough controversy to cause major problems for this team. Rooney is out for the first two games so it will be up to young Danny Welbeck to provide the scoring. This situation is the perfect set up for an England team with no pressure or reservations to make an unexpected run for the title. Is it likely? No. But, England still has some talent and given that the group stage should be a breeze, England could hold solid and find ways to advance further into the tournament.

I expect France to win the group outright and England to sneak out in second. England needs to get a little bit lucky but if they can find a way to organize an inexperienced back line and find goals without Wayne Rooney running the show, they will grab two wins and move on. I expect little to no resistance from the Ukraine. Sweden is a potential dark horse here but I don’t see them making it out.


Chelsea Wins!! Does Di Matteo Keep His Job?

I hate to jump right into this but I think his name must come up in the “Who will be the next permanent (like that happens at Chelsea) head coach?” Chelsea, a team left for dead, amidst a dreadful season with no hope at any sort of medalage comes from nowhere to take both the FA Cup and Champions League titles. This is something special and definitely something that should keep Matteo at Stamford Bridge.

Now to the game. I didn’t watch it. Not by choice of course but due to some other soccer obligations. It was a gorgeous day here but all I was thinking about was how the hell is Chelsea going to win a game at Allianz Arena with a less than full squad, against a Bayern team that is as impressive as it is potent? Chelsea didn’t win. They advanced. That is all they had to do to crown themselves as the Champions of Europe. Bayern had 20 corners. None of them were effective. Chelsea had one and converted. Drogba was always the one that would score. Ribery and Robben were good, but not great, not clinical like they needed to be. Chelsea rode a wave of confidence and defensive posture that was incredible. It is not easy to shock a home crowd with a penalty kick victory. It does become a bit easier when your goalie is a brick wall and was sensational all throughout the Champions League tournament. Petr Cech deserves much of the credit for Chelsea’s run. He was the backbone of a stellar Chelsea defense that thwarted the most potent attacks. Chelsea somehow found a way to win. Congratulations to them. My prediction was close. The right team but not the right score and I got a few beers out of the deal!

Back to Matteo. Roman has to give this guy a chance. Give him half a season like he does every other manager and if he is not getting the performances he wants, get rid of him and go buy Pep Guardiola. It he continues to provide the motivation, inspiration and tactical brilliance that he has so far, Roman might have been gifted a talent he otherwise would have thrown to the dogs.

The Champions League is won. Chelsea are the champions. Di Matteo has hope. So do the Chelsea faithful. Now if only then can convince Drogba to stay.


Bayern Munich v Chelsea – First half takeaways

A few points from the first half at the Allianz Arena:

  • Chelsea came out in similar shape to that of the semis. Despite not creating any real chances, Chelsea had some bright points going forward and it definitely seems like they could find the goal on the counter. The game opened up for Chelsea at times. Bayern has looked a little shaky at times around their own eight. For me, the most dangerous person going forward has been Gary Cahill… that will most likely have to change for Chelsea for them to come out on top.
  • Bayern attacked as expected. Robben has been a bit more dangerous than Ribery. Muller is doing well playing as a reserved forward. Gomez will be shaking his head thinking back to the first half; two very good chances didn’t find their way into the back of the net.
  • Although Bayern was by far the better team in the first half (possession, chances, corners, etc.), the longer Bayern fail to take advantage of their opportunities, the more pressure will be piled on the team and the more confidence Chelsea will gain. This is precisely where Chelsea want to be.

Still could go either way at this point, but I’m only slightly less confident in my prediction. A goal from Gomez will leave me in a much more comfortable spot.

In other news, what the hell is on the back of Kalou’s head? Also, interesting Abby Wambach commercial at the break. Good for her.