Euro 2012: Day 2 and 3 Thoughts

More observations from the second and third day of action (lumped together because it’s a weekend and all):

First off, I’m shocked like most of you that Denmark got past Netherlands. Roger Bennett explored one of two possible explanations in this ESPN column — that the Netherlands are just too talented to have all its alpha dogs play together. It’s either that, or simply that van Persie and Robben have been slipping heading into the tournament — van Persie only scored four goals in his last 10 Premier League games this year compared to a nearly goal-a-game clip in the first 28. And, for Robben, his missed PK and his not scoring at all otherwise in the Champions League finals underscores the can’t-finish rap he’s acquired.

(Then again, Denmark did get away with a handball in the box. The video evidence begs the question: Why didn’t the refs see this one?)

Germany was a bit lackluster in dispatching of Portugal, though I’m sure it was a relief for German fans to see Mario Gomez convert a cross into a goal with a well-executed header. But Podolski and Muller each missed fairly easy goal opportunities (though, of course, it seems far easier to score when you’re watching from above rather than actually being on the pitch). Germany was lucky to escape; Varela had a perfect scoring opportunity late, but managed to deliver his strike directly into goalie Manuel Neuer’s crotch, when he could have peppered any corner of the net. Jerome Boateng had a masterful, game-long shutdown of Cristiano Ronaldo — he’s our pick for Man of the Match.

The Spain-Italy match was much anticipated, though the odd decision to play a 4-6-0 formation (which eventually sort of paid off with Cesc Fabregas’ pretty equalizer goal) was only compounded by the decision to put in Fernando Torres, who seems determined to become, if not the world’s worst striker, the striker who’s fallen the farthest from his former form. In 15 minutes of sub time, he managed to turn a perfect through-ball into getting stripped by Italian goalie Buffon (who came out to rightly challenge him), get booked for a wayward elbow to vatera an opponent’s face, and then taking another goal-scoring opportunity and turning it into a chip over the bar. And yet, the worst striker moment in the game goes to Mario Balotelli, who stripped Sergio Ramos, had a clear path to the goal, and then meandered until Ramos caught up to him, whereupon he dinked the ball over the end line for a goal kick. The most mystifying moment of a 1-1 tie that really could have been a win for either side with better execution. (Note to Spain: Llorente’s a striker with confidence. Maybe try him next match?)

There’s not much to say about Croatia’s rout of Ireland, except that Ireland’s possibly the worst of the teams assembled here (though Ukraine’s yet to play, and the Czech Republic had a terrible showing on Day One), and who would have thought that Dzagoev and Mandzukic would be tied for the Golden Boot right now?

Euro 2012 Preview: Part Two

In this look at Group C and D (which Phil West wrote for CultureMap Austin), you’ll get explanations on tiki-taka, the best Google search terms to put next to Mario Balotelli’s name, which team has a super-fan who has spent half a million dollars (400,000 Euros) over his lifetime following that team, and which club team has the most players on an individual national team. (And a link to the Zidane headbutt meme.)

By the Way, the Last of the Pre-Euro 2012 World Rankings (For Real This Time)

Here’s how it looks on the eve of Euro 2012, according to the latest FIFA World Rankings: Spain’s still #1, but Germany’s slipped to #3 (with Uruguay taking the #2 spot), the Netherlands staying at #4, and a whole bunch of movement from the 5th spot on. Brazil’s now the 5th best team in the world, with Portugal sliding from 5th to 10th. This means, technically, with Denmark staying at #9, that Portugal’s the “worst” team in the Group of Death. (Would you rather have Cristiano Ronaldo or Nicklas Bendtner finishing up top for you? Yeah, that’s what I thought.)

Other random items: Benin moved up 52 spots to #72, Israel moved down 23 spots to 81st (losing a 2-0 friendly to Germany couldn’t have hurt them that much, right?), and the Turks and Caicos Islands hold down that 206th and final spot. (They were 205th last month. But now there’s a 206th team in the mix.)

David Villa Out for Euro 2012

This just in from the Euro 2012 site: David Villa’s still not right from the broken leg suffered earlier this year, so he’s out of contention for Spain’s squad next month. That leaves Llorente and Torres as the main striker threats for Spain, and all of a sudden, that may open the door a bit for Germany and some of the other challengers.

Here are the current odds on top goal scorer in the tournament as well as the odds to win the tournament.

The Latest (and Pretty Much Final Pre-Euro 2012) FIFA Rankings — Spain, Germany Still On Top

The last (well, next-to-last, as new rankings will come out 48 hours before the first kickoff) of the pre-Euro 2012 FIFA rankings have come out. Not much has changed from last month: Spain and Germany are still first and second, and Europe is still solidly represented in the Top 10. The only shift in the Top 30, in fact, is Argentina and Denmark swapping the 9 and 10 spots — the Danes are on the short end of the switch, but they’re still Top 10, which doesn’t make their Group of Death all that less deathy.

New FIFA World Rankings: We’re Number 29, and Further Euro 2012 Group of Death Evidence

This just in from the folks at FIFA — there’s a new world ranking table out, and the U.S. Men’s National Team is 29th, which means that we’re right there between Slovenia and Japan, and barely World Cup-worthy when compared to other nations. (Though we are second in CONCACAF, predictably just below Mexico.) 

What’s staggering is looking at how the Euro nations stack up behind world leaders Spain. In particular, check out Euro 2012′s Group of Death. Group B features Germany (#2), the Netherlands (#4), Portugal (#5), and Denmark (#9). Three of those four teams are ranked higher than (wait for it) #6 Brazil. In the UEFA rankings, the top 13 are all in Euro 2012, with 16th-in-Euro Czech Republic and the two host nations keeping out the more marginally deserving Switzerland and Norway, if you were just going by tables and taking the 16 best teams (which we’re not, of course). 

Also, despite Diego Forlan’s and Luis Suarez’ club-side woes this year, Uruguay comes in at #3, leading all South American teams, and being the only non-Euros in the Top 5. England, to the horror of the English, have slipped from 5th to 7th. 

A Quick Take on Euro 2012 Uniforms (Or Kits, As They’re More Britishly Known)

From Irish site The Score comes a look at the 16 home and away kits for Euro 2012. The Dutch kits (especially the away kits) are sweet, and the Sweden away kit might be the sharpest looking one here, though I also like the German surprise green. Croatia goes with their typical cool-yet-horrifying checkered tablecloth home uni for most eye-assaulting, which Spain goes with a decidedly non-Spanish blue when they’re wearing typical home reds, and England dons a black (?) away with a slate blue collar (more ?). Puma’s arty African kits of late are cooler, but, overall, these are mostly sound takes on classic looks.

It’s Never Too Early To Bet On Euro 2012!

If you’re looking for a fascinating preview to the prospective fortunes of various European sides at this year’s Euro 2012 (starting on June 8), take a peek at Oddschecker, an aggregator of some of the most popular betting sites-slash-EPL and La Liga sponsors. Some of the predictions aren’t hard for even casual followers of the sport to figure out — Spain’s favored? Germany and the Netherlands are in the mix? Van Persie and C-Ron are among the favorites to score the most goals in the tourney?

But it’s a good way to gauge how group play might go, starting with which is the Group of Death and which is, as Deadspin once awesomely termed, the Group of Delicious Cupcake Frosting. (Group B’s brutal, with Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal fighting it out to see who will join Denmark in elimination — sorry, Danes, but it’s true, and Group C looks pretty scrumptious for Spain, with Italy probably going through with them, unless they repeat their World Cup meltdown, which would most likely send Croatia through, despite how fun it would be to see Ireland advance.)

Oddschecker breaks down group play thoroughly, leading to pretty reasonable assessments of what the quarter finals might look like. There’s a distinct dropoff/chasm that divides the top eight from the bottom eight, and fans of Ireland, anything Scandinavian, the cradle of democracy that’s currently teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, or the host countries are on official notice to be bummed out sometime in late June. Spain, by the way, has even odds to reach the finals. Russia’s an interesting flyer to take if you’re wanting a hefty payday for your investment (not that we necessarily condone this), though Portugal’s got about the same odds and C-Ron, so that might be the best reasonable long-shot on the board. (Though that assumes The Prettiest Footballer Of All can handle a pressure situation. World Cup games against North Korea don’t count.) Yet Portugal winning it all means either the Germans or the Dutch would go home after group, which is hard to imagine.

The takeaway lesson from this, of course, is don’t bet on sports. (And if you do, David Villa as top goal scorer at 14-1 on some sites seems a solid play. Or why not take a flyer on Scott Parker at 250-1?)