Go with a smile!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Unfinished business

There is a certain breed of shock winners for major football competitions: they are the ones who have had victories “owed” to them. The AC Milan team who inexplicably lost the champion's league final to Liverpool, and two years later won it back against them. The Chelsea team who outplayed Barcelona in the semi-final in 2009, but lost when two penalties they deserved were not awarded. (The same one that had Didier Drogba screaming into the camera, “It's a fucking disgrace!”) Then you had them being the shock winner in 2012 against a Bayern Munich team that was in every way superior to them, with Didier Drogba himself scoring the last minute goal in 90 minutes that took it to extra time.

Maybe even the Nottingham Forest team were owed something for the way that Brian Clough's tenure at Leeds infamously lasted only 44 days.

There was Spain, who were forever the bridesmaid, who formed the backbone of the Real Madrid side who won 3 European Cups near the turn of the century. There's a reason why people consider the Euros of 2000 one of the greatest ones ever, because there were 5 very good sides in France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Italy. (Funnily enough, all 5 of these teams would in the 2002 World Cup either perform quite poorly or get knocked out by South Korea.)

There was Germany, who reached at least the semi-finals in the tournaments of 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, before finally winning World Cup 2014.

There was the Bayern Munich side which infamously lost the final of 1999 against Man U, but came back to win in 2001. Then they lost the finals of 2010 and 2012, only to come back in 2013.

There was the Denmark team who had a pretty decent side in the 1980s, reaching the semi-finals in Euro 1984 and the second round in World Cup 1986. They won the thing in 1992.

So raise a glass for the Portuguese side, who supposedly had their “golden generation” in 2004 when they lost a final – at home – to Greece. They had semi-final or better finishes or better in 2000, 2004, 2006, 2012, and this was the year when they had a team that was not expected to be as good as their glorious past. In 2004, they had Maniche, Ricardo Carvalho, C Ronaldo, Deco, Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Nuno Gomes in their side. But that golden generation stuffed it against Greece. Irony of ironies, they got the former Greece coach, Fernando Santos in and he coached them to the Euro 2016 championship. And there will always be another chance for France, who look to have a good batch of players.

Of course, there are many other countries who never manage to succeed at the Euros, no matter what. England's best ever finish was at home, in 1996. Maybe they were lucky against the Germans in 1966 because they scored a goal that wasn't a goal, and this time they were unlucky that Gascoigne arrived at the goalmouth a fraction of a second too late to convert a chance that would have sent them through to the final. But even then they'd have to face the Czech Republic and as Portugal and France will tell you, just because you're playing at home in the final, it doesn't mean you're going to win. Fact is, England have never had a great record at the Euros. They missed their chance with the great 1996 team which had a bunch of guys who were not only great at football, but were all strong characters. They missed their chance during the Sven Goran Eriksson years, when Paul Scholes, England's best player of his time, quit. Eventually, he said that he was sick and tired of a few of the players' attitudes. Some of them would newly come into the team, and then instead of playing for the team, they would play in a way that was flashy and spectacular, and then compromise the performance of the team. As much as England was reviled in the Sven Goran Eriksson years, his record of successive quarter finals appearances are something that we'd be dying to have today. You can talk about England having a “golden generation” that had Lampard, Gerrard, Rio, Terry and Ashley Cole in it. But sometimes you wonder what could have been. Dean Ashton had his career ended by injury. Same for Owen Hargreaves, Michael Owen and Ledley King. Paul Scholes and Jamie Carragher quit before their time was up. A new generation has emerged, and they may bear the scars of getting knocked out by Iceland for now, but eventually we'll see what becomes of it. It's also worthwhile to note that the team which contributed the largest number of people to the England team was Tottenham, the same one which melted down at the end of the season and contrived to snatch a 3rd place when it was almost easier to keep second place.