Morning all, another interesting night at the Euros and a couple of Arsenal related bits going on, so we’ll get straight into it.
Group C was decided last night and unsurprisingly Italy and Spain qualified. That said, it was certainly a lot closer than it seemed in the Croatia v Spain game. As Italy led Ireland and that game remained 0-0, a goal for Croatia would have seen the defending champions go out. And Croatia had chances. They might have had a penalty and Rakitic should have scored with a header from about 6 yards but it was straight at Casillas.
Spain brought on Cesc Fabregas and in the 89th minute he made the difference, chipping a beautiful ball over the top of the defence to Iniesta who squared for Navas who finished like a 12 year old – smashing it into the open goal from about 2 yards. The agony of the goal for Croatia was made even more acute by the fact Navas was offside when Cesc played the original pass but because of these stupid rules (like we saw in the Croatia v Ireland game), this first phase/second phase/not interfering with play stuff comes into account, and he was back onside for Iniesta’s pass.
What’s interesting is how many neutrals were up for Croatia, Spain’s highly technical football has become a bit Steve Davis now. Their possession play and tippy-tappy is a bit relentless, I guess, and while you can’t argue with what they do or how they do it, I can understand people getting a bit fed up watching it. Not that they’ll care one bit, they dominate games, score goals and win most of the time, so why would they change? It’s a bit of a shame for Croatia, I have to say, but if you don’t take your chances and your manager wears a silly hat then them’s the breaks.
As for Ireland, well it was better than against Spain or Croatia. With the pressure off they didn’t seem as ludicrously bad as the previous two games, but again individual errors were costly. Shay Given’s miserable tournament continued as he fumbled a shot out for a corner which Italy scored from. He probably wasn’t fit, having picked up an injury not long before the first game, and while I think we’d all understand playing through the pain to take part in the Euros, perhaps that wasn’t the best thing for the team.
Keith Andrews got sent off late on for two yellow cards and promptly lost the plot, booting boxes and water bottles all over the place (Arsene will have enjoyed that particular skill), but you get the sense his frustration was more to do with Ireland’s tournament as a whole than the red card. Mario Balotelli then made it 2-0 with a very nice overhead kick (shocking defending from O’Shea though), and it was amusing to see his teammate come straight over and put his hand over Balotelli’s mouth to stop him saying something he’d probably regret. If he was capable of such a thing. Regret, I mean, not the saying stuff.
Ideally Ireland need to get rid of much of the old guard and bring in the younger generation. There are good players there, McClean, Coleman, Long should replace Keane immediately, James McCarthy at Wigan (a player Arsene has been watching since he moved from Scotland at a young age), and with them I think a new manager is necessary. Trapper Tony is rightly a legend for what he’s done in the game, and qualifying for a 16 man tournament with this group of players is no mean feat, but it’s hard to argue he’s the man for the future. Of course the FAI’s decision to give him a new contract before the tournament will complicate things, but surely the highly paid Chief Executive can take time out from getting shitfaced with the fans to sort something out.
Tonight, England face Ukraine with Theo Walcott likely to be fit. Whether he’s picked or not remains to be seen, while France take on Sweden. Again three teams can qualify so it should be a fun night, one way or another.
Meanwhile, UEFA have fined Nicklas Bendtner €100,000 and banned him from one competitive game for wearing Paddy Power’s underpants. When you look at their reaction to far more serious incidents it’s very difficult to find any sense in this judgement – other than the fact UEFA, as an organisation, value their sponsors above petty nonsense like racism or fair play. You don’t need me to give you examples of how chanting or monkey noises have brought about insufficient punishments in comparison, and until they sort this out their credibility is in the toilet, as far as I’m concerned.
On the flip side, however, whatever Paddy Power have paid Bendtner is probably the most cost effective piece of marketing spend they’ve ever had. Most people hadn’t even noticed his underpants until Nick was charged, so no doubt they’re delighted, especially as UEFA come out of this firmly as the bad guys. And a doff of the cap for Bendtner too. His goals, the assist against Germany and his all round play will have made clubs sit up and notice, while the Paddy Power stunt has raised his profile enormously. If that was his plan, and no doubt he’s The Greatest Planner That Ever Lived, it was well executed and hopefully it’ll make the business of selling him this summer a good deal easier.
Away from Poland and the Ukraine, and there’s been a lot of talk about how the Giroud deal has been ‘done’, it just needs finalising after the Euros. I don’t think this is anything especially new – I’m pretty sure I read all this a good few days ago – but it seems as if this is well and truly a runner (perhaps more than the 99% M’Vila was, eh?). More comment on it as and when it’s completed.
And domestically, the fixtures for the new season were announced yesterday. It’s a pretty tough start to the season for us. Sunderland at home is all right, but that’s followed by Stoke away, Liverpool away, Man City away and Chelsea at home before the end of September. Still, you’ve gotta play them sometime. The first North London derby is at home on Nov 17th with the return fixture in March. The season ends with a trip to JJB Sports Direct Umbro Heineken Wimpy Subway Starbucks Coca-Cola Arena in Newcastle but we’re bound to have the title wrapped up well before then.
And finally, if you fancy winning an Ox t-shirt, check out the competition here. You have until tonight to enter and the winners will be announced tomorrow.