Betting Euro 2004: The Final Four
The streets are silent. Heads are hanging low. The empire of ‘Roomania’
has fallen. Yes, England crashed out of a major tournament once again;
but not without a bit of controversy. With only minutes to full time, a
late header by Sol Campbell found the back of the Portuguese net. But
the goal was disallowed on the grounds that the goalkeeper was impeded.
Of course, England went on to lose in penalty kicks. Supporters across
the country took a day off work to sit at home and ‘analyze’ the
position of Campbell and John Terry in relation to the goalkeeper. As
the country became engulfed by the scandal, few in England saw the
‘goal’ replayed less than 300 times. Terry clearly handled the
goalkeeper, but it is questionable if that contact impeded the keeper in
any way. Regardless of whether the contact was intentional or the
goalkeeper was out of position, there was enough evidence for a referee
to disallow the goal. In any case, the decision was far from a clear cut
error; it could have gone either way. Several referees have weighed in
on both sides. Not surprisingly, goalkeepers have largely endorsed the
Nonetheless, the English media have had a field day slamming the ref who
‘Made an Urs of himself.’ Urs Meier, a grocer from Switzerland, has
received death threats for his decision. Newspapers have splashed his
website address across their pages, encouraging England fans to
send him ‘feedback.’ Hundreds of Romanian witches have cast a spell on Meier,
united with England fans in their hatred for the official. Romania
failed to qualify for Euro 2004 after Meier added five minutes of extra
time in their match against Denmark. Needless to say, the Danes scored.
Your correspondent even received an email from a major British
sportsbook with Meier’s face on a stylized ‘Wanted’ poster.
Of course, the media claim the turning point in the match was the
injured Wayne Rooney leaving the field after 25 minutes. Intoxicated by
the exploits of ‘Roonaldo’, few pundits were willing to accept the real
reasons behind England’s failure. England conceded far too much ground
to their opponents in this tournament. Against Portugal, England
regularly had six to eight men in their own box. Even though opponents
like France and Portugal struggled to break through all those bodies, it
prevented England from effectively counterattacking. With only two men
forward and a nonexistent midfield it became impossible for England to
advance the ball and retain any meaningful possession. A virtual 8-0-2
formation forced England to play long balls up the field, a tactic the
Portuguese stifled with ease.
But the single biggest factor behind England’s demise was the strategy
of coach Sven-Goran Eriksson. Against both France and Portugal, England
tried to cling to a 1-0 lead, dropping back and defending for most of
the match. On both occasions, the equalizer seemed inevitable. By giving
their opponents chance after chance, it became only a matter of time
before they scored. It’s even more remarkable England adopted such a
strategy considering no team in the Premiership plays that way. Perhaps
Eriksson spent too much time in Italy to realize he shouldn’t impose a
style unsuited to English players.
The story of this tournament, however, is not just England, but all the
big countries crashing out. Coming into this tournament as favourites,
the French were sent packing by minnows Greece. In fact, much of
France’s success at Euro 2004 came down to luck rather than skill. They
were losing for most of their match against England; they were gifted a
goal to salvage a draw against Croatia; and it took France 75 minutes to
score against Switzerland. Overconfidence and poor coaching that was
unable or unwilling to control it meant this team’s luck would
eventually run out.
The Italians showed that building a team around a single player is a
catastrophic strategy. Losing kingpin Francesco Totti to suspension
after he spat on Christian Poulsen precipitated Italy’s collapse. The
talk going into this tournament about Italy playing attacking soccer
proved little more than hot air. A draw with Sweden cost them dearly,
and despite continuing to attack for about 10 minutes after taking a 1-0
lead, the Italians could not help but drop back. Striker Christian
Vieri’s awful performance didn’t help either; nearly a dozen of his
headers missed the net.
Spain choked once again, a result we expected. Instead of taking the
game to Portugal, they played for a draw and were punished for it. Just
like Italy and England, the Spaniards made the mistake of trying to hold
a precarious lead, instead of continuing to attack.
Germany was simply an awful team, possibly the worst at Euro 2004. They
exhibited no offensive creativity whatsoever. The Germans severely
lacked quality in several areas. But unlike Greece and Latvia, the
Germans did not make up for it in coaching and team spirit.
Only four teams are left standing:
Czech Republic (+140): Superior coaching explains this team’s success.
Karel Bruckner’s decision to field a reserve team against Germany was a
brilliant move. If the Czech’s go on to win this tournament, it will be
because of him.
Portugal (+230): Despite being the last hurrah for the ‘Golden
Generation’ of Rui Costa, Figo et al, the 19-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo
has emerged as Portugal’s star at Euro 2004. Ronaldo’s determination
seems to be rubbing off on his team-mates as Portugal have improved with
each game at this tournament.
Netherlands (+280): The Dutch won their first penalty shootout in a blue
moon against Sweden. How? By specifically deciding not to practice
penalties in training. Ruud Van Nistelrooy is in top form and has
surprisingly settled his differences with Patrick Kluivert. Preventing
dressing-room squabbles was always the difference between Holland’s
success or failure at Euro 2004.
Greece (+1000): ‘King Otto’ Rehhagel is Karel Bruckner’s only challenger
for coach of the tournament. The German has instilled discipline and
organization into this Greek team, taking them past Portugal, Spain and
now France to the semi-finals. At 10:1, the Greeks remain the only team
with any value on the outright market. But they face a tough game
against the Czechs.