Reuters Soccer Blog
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When the Spain squad for Euro 2008 was announced all the talk in the Madrid media was about the absence of “El siete de España” — Raul. Luis Aragones, they said, would regret leaving out the former national team captain and all-time top scorer.
But David Villa has made light of the supposed burden of inheriting the number seven shirt and laid the debate to rest in the space of four days with his hat-trick against Russia and superb stoppage time winner against Sweden.
The chants from Spain fans calling for the return of Raul have faded away and been replaced by a chorus of “Villa maravilla“.
Born in the Asturian town of Tuilla, “El Guaje” (“the kid” in the Asturian language Bable) is the son of coal miner, but instead of following the family tradition and heading down the pits he decided to try his luck at football.
Having been drawn alongside Italy, France and the Netherlands in Group C, not many people would have predicted Romania would hold their own destiny and that of the world champions and World Cup finalists in their own hands going into the final group matches.
But my Reuters colleagues at Euro 2008 and friends back in Brussels — who are not laughing at me now – will testify that I was one of the few to tip the eastern Europeans as the dark horses to progress from the toughest group at the tournament.
Football is a simple game so why do UEFA make the Euro 2008 groups so complicated?
The criteria for determining the rankings of teams who finish level on points are mindboggling.
Italians are suspicious of everything, or so it seems. Several of my friends in Milan refuse to eat pasta or pizza outside Italy because they don’t believe it will taste the same.
They are just as circumspect when it comes to soccer.
The Dutch have already qualified for the Euro 2008 quarter-finals and meet second-placed Romania in their final Group C match in Berne on Tuesday. World champions Italy need the Dutch to get a result to have any chance of going above the Romanians by beating or drawing with France.
My non-journalist friends are very envious that I get to go to Euro 2008 matches for free.
If they had been with me to Italy’s 1-1 draw with Romania in Zurich, they might have changed their mind about the perks of my profession.
From a tiny second division Portuguese stadium to the luxurious surroundings and facilities of an Alpine sports centre, Greece are feeling like true defending champions at the Euro 2008.
The atmosphere, however, is not nearly as happy as it was in Portugal.
Four years ago when Greece settled in Vila do Conde, a sleepy seaside town in the estuary of the Ave river north of Porto, noone, including myself would have ever dreamt that a few weeks later coach Otto Rehhagel’s men would be crowned champions of Europe.
Switzerland have already bowed out and Austria are only just clinging on after a stoppage time penalty equaliser against Poland on Thursday. But the Euro 2008 organisers are insisting that no hosts equals no problem.
With Vlog on the Pitch regular Jon Bramley away in Vienna, Owen Wyatt has been scouring the land for the perfect replacement and we think he’s found his man in Tony Blair.
The former British prime minister, speaking at the launch of the Beyond Sport initiative, looks a bit nervous about his chances of winning the office sweepstake and reckons Euro 2008 is just about impossible to predict.
Total football is everywhere these days, in newspaper headlines and pub conversations. A few exciting performances from attack-minded teams at Euro 2008 and we’re back in the 1970s. Endless guitar solos, long greasy hair and flying Dutchmen.
On one side, you have the likes of Portugal, the Dutch or Spain, a bunch of daring young artists delighting football romantics with their wizardry. On the other side are the usual suspects, Italy and France, ageing cynics boring everybody with their cast-iron back fours and tireless holding midfielders.
The Bundesliga gets a bad rap at times. German clubs have for the most part failed to reach the latter stages of the Champions League in recent years, matches can sometimes seem to move in slow-motion and the officiating can be uneven or even downright scandalous (see Hoyzer, Robert).
But despite all that, Bundesliga players have been sparkling in Euro 2008. And with players from the German league on 15 of the 16 teams no league is more widely represented.
There have been players from the German domestic league in the starting line-ups of almost all the teams that have played of the tournament. Only Spain have no Bundesliga players in their squad.