Euro 2004: First Round, Group A, Day 1

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
June 13th, 2004 • 12:15 am

In recent years, the Euro has probably become the most important international competition in football. Nothing can replace the World Cup in terms of world-wide appeal, especially with the presence of Brazil and Argentina — but there is also little doubt that the quality of the World Cup competition suffers from the presence of lowly teams from various parts of the world that only managed to get there because of their geographic location.

The Euro, on the other hand, is a smaller competition where most teams fully deserve to be there… except maybe for the host country, which is automatically qualified. Yesterday, once again, we saw the harm that automatic qualification can do to a team. Portugual were thoroughly outclassed by Greece in the opening game of the tournament, and the final scoreline is actually flattering for them, because they were really fortunate to get one goal back in the dying seconds of the game through a Ronaldo header.

It was actually quite pleasant to see how little effect the hype surrounding the host country and its supposed teenager superstar had on the Greeks, who went about their business in supremely professional fashion and only let their guard down a bit in the final 15 minutes of the game. It was actually hilarious to see Ronaldo dancing around like a step-over maniac in his corner of the field, only to deliver a cross that systematically fell in the middle of nowhere, far from any Portuguese striker. Somebody should tell him that getting the ball across is only one quarter of the job. Of course, when you are trying to concentrate on stepping over the ball half a dozen times before finally kicking it, it’s hard to lift your head up and look at where your fellow team mates actually are on the pitch. Maybe if he continues to concentrate on his dancing skills for several more years, he’ll eventually grow a third eye on the top of his head. I don’t know. If I were Alex Ferguson, I’d have my doubts.

This tournament is off to a good start! After the Greek lesson of team spirit, the Spanish players took pains not to fall into the same traps as their host country neighbours, and actually delivered some good football, with the two wingers Vicente and Etxeberria playing an important role as playmakers and defense tormentors.

The Russians were outclassed and fully deserved the flurry of yellow cards that descended upon them in the first half, with far too many cynical physical challenges. Let’s hope that this is a good indication of what the refereeing will be like in the tournament. Zero tolerance for cynicism is what is required — Makelele and Desailly beware!

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