6. The European Championships (Soccer)
The World Cup lite, basically. Same concept, same length of time between games. Almost as good, just lacking that little extra bit of colour provided by teams from the far corners of the globe.
Cutting swiftly to the chase, maybe you are a burgeoning soccer fan living in the States who is thinking about maybe peeking in on the Euros. Maybe you want to watch some of the tournament and see what all the fuss about this soccer football is. If so, this is the article for you. I am going to match each participant with a US sports team from recent history. Still clueless as to what I am on about? Read on, all shall be revealed.
The 2008 European Championships cheat sheet
- Switzerland - The Pittsburgh Pirates
- Czech Republic - The Anaheim Angels
- Portugal - The 07/08 Cleveland Cavaliers
- Turkey - The Kansas City Chiefs (when they were good)
Switzerland - The Pittsburgh Pirates
One thing you won't hear in my household, along with 'God save the Queen' which gets the mute button every time (I have my reasons!), is the sentence - 'Oh great, Switzerland are on TV!'. Maybe it's because they have knocked Ireland out of about fourteen tournaments in a row (it certainly feels that way). Maybe it's because Switzerland is the most boring place on the planet bar Newark. Or maybe it's because Switzerland have a really, really annoying national baseball team. Whatever it is, these boring clowns will hardly be noticed as they lose a couple of drab games and slip off into the night, or the cow pastures or chocolate factories.
So I pose a question to you. Say you are a big baseball fan, and say you are at home and there's nothing on TV and you are flicking through the channels and you find a station showing the Pirates on TV. Do you even pause, or do you just keep switching looking for re runs of the Simpsons? By the by, don't all the ads drive you absolutely nuts? One reason living in Ireland is vastly superior to living in the States is we don't have 27 minutes of ads for a 25 minute show. Where was I? Oh right, yeah, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Swiss national soccer team. If they fell in the wood, would anyone hear?
Czech Republic - The Anaheim Angels
For my money, the real dark-horses of Euro 2008. The potential to cause a major shock deep in the tournament. Kind of like the Anaheim Angels. One or two big names players but largely just a well coached, well managed, hard working team that will go further than it possibly should.
Portugal - The 07/08 Cleveland Cavaliers
A solid team with some flair, the ace up their sleeve is possibly the single most talented player in the tournament. Ladies and gentlemen, the 2006-2008 Cleveland Cavaliers and Portugal, Le Bron James and Ronaldo.
Will Portugal find, as Cleveland did, that 'team' means something more than one superb player surrounded by, sorry Wally, lesser beings?
With the wonderful Thierry Henry getting old fast, with Zidane off kicking his heels in retirement limbo and with Robbie Keane zipping off to some beach in Spain for the summer (had to throw that last one in there!), Ronaldo probably is the most talented attacking player in Euro 2008. He scored seventy five thousand goals for Manchester United this season (that may be slightly exaggerated however that's certainly how it felt) and comes into the tournament in superb form.
He may only play half of the game (Ronaldo would not recognise a tackle if it came up to him, introduced itself cordially and bought him dinner) but he certainly plays the half he is good at, attacking, at a supremely high level.
I should dislike Ronaldo, considering he plays for my least favourite team, Manchester United Plc (I see them as more of a business than a football team) - however one story I heard from two reliable sources makes me think he can't be all that bad.
A couple of summers ago Man U were playing a series of warmup friendlies in Ireland. They were training at UCD during their stay here. One day a soccer summer camp for kids was underway when some of the kids stopped playing and stood in astonishment. Ronaldo, an hour early for training, had stepped out of his car and was approaching them. For forty minutes Ronaldo played football with the kids, until a representative from Man U spoiled the fun by ordering Ronaldo to stop. Can you imagine how pumped and psyched those kids were after that?
That's a story those kids can tell for life.
Actually, can you imagine Le Bron stopping at a pick up game of basketball and joining in?
Eerie similarity - Portugal wasted the chance to lift the Euro trophy at home in 2004, losing in the final to surprising champion Greece, 1-0. Cleveland wasted the chance to lift the 2007 NBA finals, thus blowing one of their valuable years of service from Le Bron before he bolts to New York.
Turkey - The Kansas City Chiefs (when they were good)
If this tournament was in Turkey, they would actually have a shot at winning the whole thing. Their home support is simply fanatical. So Turkey would have something in common with the Kansas City Chiefs (when they were good). Excellent home team, poor road team.
- Austria - the '08 San Diego Padres
- Croatia - the '08 Florida Marlins
- Germany - the last five years of Detroit Pistons basketball
- Poland - 01' - 07' Louisville NCAA basketball
Austria - the '08 San Diego Padres
Is it a bad sign if your own supporters have reportedly signed a petition asking the team to withdraw from the tournament before they embarrass themselves further? it can't be a good sign anyway, right?
Austria have had a pretty horrendous couple of years preparation for the tournament. As co-hosts they were given automatic qualification, and without that there is no doubt they would not be involved. Their only recent victories to note were against Trinidad and Tobago and The Ivory Coast. Those are not names to strike terror in the heart of the opposition.
Austria's European Championship record
• 1960 - Did not qualify
• 1964 - Did not qualify
• 1968 - Did not qualify
• 1972 - Did not qualify
• 1976 - Did not qualify
• 1980 - Did not qualify
• 1984 - Did not qualify
• 1988 - Did not qualify
• 1992 - Did not qualify
• 1996 - Did not qualify
• 2000 - Did not qualify
• 2004 - Qualified as co-host
Austria will probably be one of the worst teams in the tournament. Austria, meet the San Diego Padres of '08. Much as the Padres are not going to win the World Series, Austria are not going to with the European Championships.
Croatia - the '08 Florida Marlins
Recently the Croatian football federation announced they wanted to sign up-and-coming coach, and former Croatian star player, Slaven Bilic, to a long term contract extension. Upon hearing the news, and subsequent gossip as to how much he would be paid, here is what Croatia's coach had to say;
'I will sign anything, money isn't important.'
How completely and utterly refreshing is that? Imagine Flip Saunders, Larry Brown or Nick Saban saying that. If you read that quote associated with one of those guys you would start checking the skies for the seventy seven horse men of the apocalypse, right?
Croatia are a young, exciting and talented team, with a high upside and great potential. Most of all, they play like a team, not just a collection of individuals. Think, the '08 Florida Marlins. A tight, young group of players with huge potential, an exciting team to watch. Watch out for Luka Modric, the Hanley Ramirez of the team. The 22-year-old turned many heads during the qualification rounds.
Germany - The last five years of Detroit Pistons basketball
The German soccer team is that never ending itch on your back that you just can't quite reach. Always there, and always annoying. Another major tournament, another joyless pursuit of a trophy. The Germans are about as exciting as the Detroit Pistons of the last decade. You know they are always going to be there or thereabouts come tournament finish, but really, do you care?
Perhaps their most annoying trait, Germany take 'flopping' to a new level. Watch in amazement as German players dive to the ground clutching knees when their ankles are tapped, watch in bewilderment as they clutch their faces in agony after receiving a light push in the back. Basically, when all is said and done, the German soccer team is the world leader in simulating a foul, or, cheating.
If these guys make the finals, it could be a pretty dour tournament. You could have said the same about Detroit, a week ago, until KG and the gang kicked them out of the NBA playoffs.
Poland - 01' - 07' Louisville NCAA basketball
I bet you never thought you would see Leo Beenhakker and Rick Pitino mentioned in the same paragraph. Poland come to the Euros with a workman like side low on name recognition.Perhaps the most obvious name in the Polish setup is legendary football coach Leo Beenhakker. The 65-year-old Dutchman Beenhakker marked his fifth decade as a coach by guiding Poland to the finals of the European Championships for the first time in their history.
Most people would be hard pressed to name one Polish player however everyone knows Beenhakker. Poland, meet the 01' - 07' Louisville NCAA basketball team coached by Rick Pitino. Another team that punches slightly above its weight thanks to a legendary coach who everyone knows. Pitino may have been a bust in the NBA however his college coaching pedigree is beyond reproach. Pitino's .756 winning percentage in NCAA Tournament games (31-10) is third best among active coaches.
I can almost hear Beenhakker now;
''Zbigniew Boniek is not walking through that door...''
Group C (The group of death!)
- Netherlands - The Phoenix Suns
- Italy - The 2001 New York Yankees
- Romania - The Carolina Panthers
- France - The 2008 New England Patriots
Netherlands - The Phoenix Suns
The Oranje, as Netherlands are known, are always one of the most entertaining and enjoyable teams to watch in the Euros, and yet they have not contested a final since winning the European Championships 1988. Odds on they do the exact same again, play free flowing football and end up unlucky losers to a more dour team. Phoenix Suns anyone? The Suns and the Netherlands are all about an attacking style. Two wildly entertaining and yet ultimately unsuccessful teams.
Ladies and gentlemen - the amazing Marco Van Basten - as brought to you by the Swedish Chef, apparently?
Italy - The 2001 New York Yankees
The reigning World champions, and in many punters eyes, the champions elect. The weight of an enormous fan-base rests on their shoulders. The 2001 Yankees, fresh off their dramatic 2000 title, know all about what Italy are about to go through. Will it turn out the same for one of the least likable Italian sides in recent memory?
Romania - The Carolina Panthers
This incarnation of the Romanian national side is a little like the current Panthers squad. You know they are in the tournament. You know one or two of their players (Mutu/Delhomme). They may even win a game or two. Ultimately, however, will anyone notice?
France - The 2008 New England Patriots
Just call Thierry Henry, Tom Brady. Much like France lost a stomach-punch championship game last time out, the Patriots lost a championship in even more horrific fashion. Be that as it may, both France and the Patriots share a recent history literally overflowing with success. While the Patriots have won three Superbowls since 2001, France recently held both the World Cup and European Championships simultaneously.
France's recent European Championships record is excellent
• 1996 - Semifinals
• 2000 - Champions
• 2004 - Quarterfinals
They might have a few older stars now, and they will have to deal with holding the title as one of the tournament favourites, however France will be itching to avenge their World Cup Final defeat in 2006. Can you imagine an Italy/France final?
They might have a few older stars now, and they will have to deal with holding the title as one of the tournament favourites, however the Patriots will be itching to avenge their Superbowl defeat in 2007. Can you imagine a New York/New England final?
See how I did that? Nice, huh?
- Greece - The San Antonio Spurs (with Duncan out injured)
- Sweden - the 05'-07' Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
- Spain - The '08 Boston Celtics
- Russia - '08 Texas A&M mens NCAA team
Greece - The San Antonio Spurs (with Duncan out injured)
Greece, playing some of the most base, boring and ugly football ever seen, actually won this tournament in a massive shock in 2004. This time few will be surprised by the crude and defensive tactics deployed by the German coach, Otto Rehhagel. Looking forward to watching them play about as much as I look forward to dental surgery. Obvious US Sports analogy? The never entertaining San Antonio Spurs. I added in the Duncan out injured bit as Greece can't claim to be as good as the Spurs, merely as boring.
Sweden - the 05'-07' Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Believe it or not, Sweden have become a regular fixture when it comes to international tournaments and have been involved in every finals tournament since the 2000 European Championships, this being their fifth consecutive finals. Impact strikers Ibrahimovic and the great Henrik Larsson, combined with a solid backline and decent midfield, might be enough to make Sweden dark-horses this time around. There in lies the problem. Sweden are always the dark horses for every single tournament they end up in. Always the dark horses, never the horse romping over the line to take the prize. Ladies and gentlemen I give you the 05'-07' Tampa Bay Devil Rays. How often did we hear the Rays were going to be the AL East's 'dark horses'? What remains to be seen is, will Sweden make like the current D-Rays squad and take it to the next level.
Spain - The '08 Boston Celtics
They both have the big name, superstar players. The magnificent Raul, Pierce, Torres, Garnett, Ramos and Allen. A veritable galaxy of stars. They both have passionate fan bases desperate for success. They are also both second favourite to win the title, the Lakers and Germany favoured ahead of them. The Celtics and Spain, who knew their destinies were intertwined. Raul and Pierce have both toiled loyally for their team, and have both scored at will, all career long. Both men have one thing missing from their stellar careers, a championship. They can both set that right over the next couple of weeks.
Russia - '08 Texas A&M mens NCAA team
Huge fan base, big expectations, some good players however ultimately, a flat finish. Russia or Texas A&M? I know, I can't tell the difference either!
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