Saturday, June 14, 2008

EURO 2008: And On the Eighth Day...

Last Stand in Salzburg for Hiddink or Rehhakles?

Spain v Sweden, Innsbruck
Greece v Russia, Salzburg

Greetings from Innsbruck in the South West of Austria, a city in a spectacular mountain setting, capital of Tyrol and former home of the Winter Olympics.

As in Group A, the two winners of the opening games play each other next in Group D. Spain, who steamrolled the Russians 4-1, return to the Tivoli Neu Stadion to face a strong Sweden team who defeated holders Greece 2-0 in Salzburg.

Both teams are packed with firepower up front: Hat-trick hero David Villa and Liverpool ace Fernando Torres for Spain, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, author of a golazo against the Greeks, and veteran 'bomber' Henrik Larsson for Sweden. A passport to the quarter-finals is the winner's prize.

The other game in Group D today sees an eliminator between the European Champions Greece and Guus Hiddink's Russia.

Greece played the pantomime villain in their opening game, their shamelessly defensive tactics earning them a round of boos from the crowd and descriptions such as 'blockhouse', 'concrete bunker' and 'stone wall' from the press.

Otto Rehhagel's future as Greek coach probably hinges on tonight's game. After bringing the European crown back to Athens in 2004, Rehhagel's Greece performed abysmally at the 2005 Confederations Cup and failed to make it to Germany 2006.

Forever a Greek hero for his extraordinary feat in Portugal, Rehhagel is unlikely to continue at the helm after these finals.

"Why should I worry?" Rehagel said today. I am healthy and I have a lovely family. I have been with my wife for a wonderful 43 years. What bad can happen to me now?"
Ironically, the Greeks qualified in some style for Euro 2008 and are overall an improved team from four years ago. Whether the (Greek) gods remain on their side however remains to be seen. Anything less than a win tonight and the reign of King Otto 'Rehakles' will soon be over.

Hiddink too has a reputation to uphold. After taking South Korea to the 2002 World Cup finals, and then doing well with Australia in 2006, the Dutch coach was widely considered the best in the world. His experience with those two nations, as well as with PSV, Real Madrid and the Netherlands made him hot property for jobs including coaching Chelsea and England, before Roman Abramovich's millions lured him to Moscow.

Yet a somewhat fortunate qualification after defeats in London and Tel Aviv, a 3-0 friendly battering by Romania and now a 4-1 thumping by Spain have tempered Hiddink's Midas Touch. Should Russia fail to register a victory today and with the Swedes still to come, their hopes of making it to the quarter-finals would look slim.

Group C, aka the Group of Death, is still the sexiest. While many thoughts are turning to the France v Italy showdown as the potential pick of the games so far, at the same time many are wondering who can stop the Netherlands since the Oranje have banged seven goals past the 2006 World Cup finalists.

The Dutch still have many mountains to climb. Spain and Sweden will surely give them a tough 90 minutes in their quarter-final in Basel, while Italy might have woken up enough to defeat them if they meet again in the semi-final.
Add to that the dangers posed by Croatia, Germany and Portugal from the first half of the draw and it is clear that it is far too early to be planning the victory parade in Amsterdam.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

1 comment:

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the competition is getting more interesting , it promises to be full of surprises with France and Italy like to be the first casualties

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