EURO 2020: Group D

England (3)*, Croatia (14), Czech Republic (40), Scotland (44)*

This is one of the best England teams ever…oh wait, we say that in advance of every international tournament.  And, they haven’t won a World Cup since 1966 and have never won a EURO Championship.  Is this the year?  It could be…  Their group is not easy, per se, but navigable, and they should win it.  Croatia is always good – and has been a thrown in the English side, including beating the Three Lions in the World Cup semis in 2018 on a 109th-minute goal by Mandzukic.  The Czechs are never an easy out, and there’s nothing that Scotland would rather do than beat England.  But, this is still the English group to lose.

If anyone can underachieve with a loaded roster, it’s England, but even the GOATS of disappointing, heart-breaking flameouts might not be able to screw this one up because this iteration of the Three Lions is really, REALLY good.  At 11/2 odds to win it all, England is oddsmakers’ second choice to win it all behind only France at 5/1.  They have a stout defense loaded with top Premier League talent (Maguire, Stones, James, Chilwell, Shaw, Walker) a strong midfield (led by emergent Chelsea star and a personal favorite, Mason Mount, and Liverpool captain, Jordan Henderson), and a ridiculously talented group of forwards (Rashford, Saka, Sterling, Foden).  And, of course, there is Harry Kane, the reigning Golden Boot winner, who was the top-scorer (12) for the second-highest scoring team in all of qualifying (37 total goals behind only Belgium with 40).  The question marks are the tactical ability of manager Southgate and the immense pressure that is always placed upon the Three Lions.  And, the fact that they always fall short in this event, having only made the semis once (1996) and never played in a EURO final.  But they are coming off a semifinals at the WC, so this team might be ready.

Easily the biggest threat to England winning their group is Croatia, the team against whom they open the tournament.  The World Cup runners-up in 2018 won a really tough qualifying group and should be considered legit contenders to go pretty deep in this tournament.  However, there are concerns.  The Croats are still very talented, but also aging, particularly, their all-everything midfielder, Luka Modric, who is now 35 and apparently showing some signs of decline.  There are a slew of solid midfielders around Modric (Croatia always seems to produce great middies), including Chelsea’s Kovacic, a pair of Milan men in Perisic and Brozovic, and a potential future star in Vlasic, so it’s not all on their star, but they do need him to do Modric things if they are to go far this month.  Sunday’s opening game against England should be really good.

If the Croats show their age, they could be challenged for #2 in this group by the Czech Republic, who, while rarely talked about, have been a fixture in this event – making every EURO since 1996.  They made the semis in 2004 and the finals in 1996.  They struggled in 2016, losing all three of their matches, and they aren’t really seen as a real threat to do much this year, but it’s a proud program with a breakout Premier League star in Tomas Soucek, who has scored 10 times for surprising West Ham this season.  They probably don’t have enough around Soucek to challenge England, but their match against Croatia a week from today should be interesting.

Of all the teams that could have shown up at the #4 spot in England’s group, the most interesting happened – Scotland.  The Scots have not made a EURO since 1996, but they beat Israel on PKs in a playoff semifinal and then beat Serbia in PKs in the playoff final – going 5-for-5 in both shootouts.  And, now, they will try to get to the Knockout Stage here for the first time ever.  There are actually a good amount of Premier League players on this roster, including Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn, who scored 7 times in qualifying (no one else on the team had more than 1).  No matter what happens in the other matches, the June 18 showdown at Wembley Stadium against England is going to be must-see TV, and, if the Scots can pull off the upset, it could be a “remember where you were” soccer moment.

Doogan’s Thoughts:

-When your soccer focus is on the Premier League, the England team always looks like an All-Star squad, but moreso now than like 5 years ago. I’m still not totally sold, but hard to the Czechs or Scots giving them too much trouble. On top of all the stars Bry mentioned above, there are two other attacking options who have long been rumored for big club moves: Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish and Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho. They both might be finally making those moves this summer and maybe what they do here will play a role in where they end up.

-The retirement of Mandzukic looks tough for Croatia because I don’t see a striker option that can compare. But, maybe there’s some guy I just don’t know about.

-#ChelseaWatch: On top of the Chelsea men Bry mentioned, Billy Gilmour is in the Scottish squad. The 20-year-old (who looks like he’s 14) got some run for the Blues this season, and while I don’t think he’ll be starting it will definitely pique my interest whenever he gets on the field in this tourney.

 

Hawks Game 1 reactions: Yup, it’s now Glenn Rivers

In between the lines

What a bizarre game. The Hawks could have and probably should have won this game going away by 25+ points. Instead, it’s completely fair to say that the Sixers lost to the clock as a 50-minute game would have likely meant victory for the home team.

For a majority of the afternoon, Atlanta could absolutely not miss and Trae tormented a completely incapable Danny Green (more on that in a minute). But Embiid did Embiid things which included dropping 39 points in his return from what remains a very concerning injury. Seth and Tobi both went for 20 points again. Also, it’s never a lost game when Tisse hits two 3s and looks very confident in firing away from deep four times in total.

The biggest X-factor today never stepped onto the court. Doc lost this game, in more ways than one. His rotations continue to mystify (if you are going to have Ben and Dwight share the floor together, you better have three ready, willing and able shooters on the floor alongside them). On a related note, he is still running a 10 man rotation (and that is discounting a very LONG minute from Shook Milton- thanks Dave!). But the big issue was the Danny Green on Trae situation. No words or sarcasm will do this justice. I will instead note that the irony is not lost on me that Doc refused to make the necessary adjustments on the day his old time the Clippers played a great Game 7 to advance to the second round.

 

The best from online

Here’s a pick-me-up after the Game 1 loss

https://twitter.com/dan_olinger/status/1401370736695164928?s=21

 

The bottom line

The Sixers nearly overtook a shell-shocked Hawks team down the stretch, in which they would have overcome red-hot shooting from the other team, inept coaching from their team, 74 points dropped on them in the first half and 19 turnovers. Add that all up, and it tells me that the Sixers will win this series. It will go six or seven, but when the chips are down, I think the Sixers recent playoff experience will be the different maker. Just keep Danny Green as far away as possible from Trae.

Only in Philadelphia?

Let’s get this out of the way- there is no excuse for the Westbrook popcorn incident (please know he is an evergreen member of my ‘very strongly dislike’ players list). He had a right to be furious. Low class move, it’s something none of us would want to happen to us while on a conference call. Ban this person. Now let’s move on.

Everything in life could benefit from some additional context. Have there been any other recent awful fan interactions, perhaps even that same night? Why yes there was, some Knicks fan SPIT on Trae Young. I would rather have popcorn dumped on me than be spat upon 101 times out of 100.

I’d be willing to bet a few mortgage payments that when we flash forward a few years, the incident from this night that remains in our collective memory is Popcorn Russ. Maybe there is a reason for this though? Russ is a bigger star, at least for now- but I think a few people have heard of this Trae Young guy. So nothing here. Was only one of these games on national TV? Nope, wrong again. Maybe the spitting incident happened in a small market? Nevermind, it was in New York and the other was in Philly… wait a second, the 215 was involved. Bingo!

The bottom line? When it comes to Philly, the national sports media is lazy and awful. How do I know that they are lazy? That’s because it’s made up of people and people are lazy, clueless followers whenever they can be. They have been relying upon and building the same case against Philly since a few throwballs were tossed at a cheap version of the man in Red (back when the world was still in black and white). Yes, there are terrible Philly sports fans, but it’s the same with EVERY fan base. The proof is a very simple equation- there are morons everywhere and sports events allow alcohol.

So, the other bottom line: To all of the Phanatical phans at Philadelphia sports events- please stop doing dumb things. Don’t give the internet and the talking heads the opportunity to degrade the best city (in sports).

Not My Phanatic?

With Opening Day right around the corner, there will be plenty of roster-related and wins projections articles to digest. However, something different is on my mind at the moment.

The world changed in early 2020. We were so naïve. It couldn’t happen in our backyard. We’re talking about the best of the best; too big to fail. What could possibly force us to make sweeping changes to the red, white and blue… and green mascot. I mean, we’re talking about the best mascot in sports- the Phillie Phanatic.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way- the Phanatic is the best mascot. Not just in the MLB, not just in North American sports, but in the history of professional activities. Do I have an above-average knowledge of the pantheon of professional mascots? Nope, but it doesn’t matter.

If you try to award any other mascot with the crown- you’re not just wrong, you’re stupid. Who else could it possibly be?

The San Diego Chicken? We are talking about a chicken, next…

The Canadiens’ Youppi!? The exclamation point is part of his official name. Uh yeah, I don’t want grammar anywhere near my sports.

Wally the Green Monster wouldn’t even make it as a Sesame Street cast member.

Mr Met? Stop, you’re embarrassing yourself.

Et tu, Brute? It’s absolutely not Brutus of Ohio State.

How about the Phoenix Suns Gorilla? Sorry, but if you are a mascot in a city where sports is about the 100th priority, you are eliminated.

Feel free to keep trying, but you’re wasting your time.

Back to it, we are only about one year removed – from what has admittedly felt like thirty years in reality – from hearing that the Phanatic was no longer going to be the Phanatic. In a move to get ahead of a legal battle over the Phanatic’s ownership rights, the Phillies played Darwin and forced overnight evolution.

As a quick side note- this story got buried as we battled the early stages of a pandemic. Which was a huge PR break for the Phils, since our city’s natives are not the most forgiving bunch. Potential fan backlash could have factored into the upcoming legal proceedings. While it’s not clear how the reactions would have went, the window for visceral reactions is gone and it’s now largely an afterthought within our collective ADHD attention span.

I’m not concerned about the legal battle here (visit the Google for more). What I really want to talk about is how they changed the lovable goofball that we all grew up watching. This version has a star-struck look in his eyes, has bleached its fur, sports new kicks, has these odd scales and is displaying an interest in being slightly more healthy. You might not notice it much when you see him, but looking at a before and after side-by-side might be enough to make your inner child cry. At minimum, it just feels… wrong.

Your brain can’t place it, but it’s there. Something is not quite right. Like Uncanny Valley in aesthetics, Philadelphians and New Yorkers getting along, preferring cats to dogs, that hazy feeling after too long of a midday nap or why you are so deeply compelled to dispel any Wawa slander.

Perhaps it’s not that important in the long run, but it sort of is. The Phanatic has been part of the fabric of Philly since the late 70s and is well-known outside of sports. There was something wholesome about the creature, co-existing alongside the rest of the creatures in the stands. In other words, the legitimate ‘fanatics’ belittled by national pundits that are too lazy to form a self-realized narrative.

He was always there through the bad times, which are plentiful in Philly sports fandom. We projected our optimism onto him and he gladly embraced it. The Phanatic brings equal joy to a nine month old and a ninety year old. In a world that keeps changing and where new is sold as better, this green furball provided consistency.

Now because of a dispute over money, we were handed a modified Phanatic. It would be easy to say this is not my Phanatic.

But here’s the thing, he’s not my Phanatic, and he’s not yours either. Creators Bonnie Erickson and Wayde Harrison don’t own this creature. Nor do the Phillies. I also don’t think that David Raymond or “best phriend” of the Phanatic Tom Burgoyne would claim ownership rights.

The Phanatic is all of ours. Neither his appearance nor arguments over his copyright change what he means to the City. He’s a treasure and, despite Nicholas Cage’s best efforts, Philadelphia always protects its treasures.

He’s the manifestation of a city that is overly passionate, not often enough victorious and always misunderstood. He is the most likeable thing from a city that is anything but likeable, but I think we would rather have it that way. Sure no one like us, but we don’t care.

So as we get ready to ‘play ball’ once again, remember who has been around longer than anyone on the field or in the front office- our dear Phanatic. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “we’re rooting for the clothes,” and he’s been wearing the jersey longer than anyone.

Hold up, Jerry is one of the biggest Mets fans out there, so maybe we can co-exist with Mets fans? Well, probably not, but with the weather warming up and a return to the diamond, anything is possible.

Go Phils!

We All We Got, We All We Need

(This was written by Bry shortly after Super Bowl LII.)

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Great masterpieces are created by great people standing on the shoulders of other great people. Well, the masterpiece on Sunday, February 4, 2018, was no different. And, this celebration is for everyone who shared in this dream. Everyone. As much as it’s for the IMMORTAL Nick Foles, Brandon Graham, and Doug Pederson, it’s also for Steve Van Buren, Concrete Charlie, and Greasy Neale. It’s for the “Philly Special,” the “Fog Bowl,” and a pair of “Miracles at the Meadowlands.”

It’s absolutely for the newly-minted gold jackets of Brian Dawkins and Terrell Owens, the old school gold jackets of Tommy McDonald and “The Reverend” Reggie White, and the future gold jackets of Jason Peters and Fletcher Cox. It’s for the would-be gold jacket and Super Bowl birthday boy, Jerome Brown. –everyone, take a second………okay–

This one is most certainly for Darren Sproles and Jordan Hicks, but, don’t worry because this one, the next one, and the decade of trophies to come will be for and the almighty Carson Wentz.

This one is for the true Eagle veteran on their first ever Eagles Super Bowl team, Brent Celek, but it’s also for his superstar understudy, Zach Ertz. It’s for the newly-drafted Derek Barnett, Rasul Douglas, and Mack Hollins. It’s for the welcome-aboards like Alshon Jeffery, Timmy Jernigan, Jay Ajayi, and Ronald Darby, along with extra sweet welcomes for Chris Long and LaGarrette Blount. Hell, this one can also be for “losers” Patrick Chung, Eric Rowe, and Dion Lewis – boom!

It’s for Corey Clement – the undrafted rookie free agent, who grew up an Eagles fan and then caught a touchdown in the Super Bowl wearing midnight green. It’s for another lifelong Eagles fan and now Super Bowl champion, Vinny Curry. It’s for Jake F’ing Elliott – the 69-inch man who kicked a 61-yard field goal. It’s for the much-maligned 7th-round draft pick, Jalen Mills, the “Human Trade Rumor,” Mychal Kendricks, the guy with the biggest interception in Eagles history, Patrick Robinson, and the only Eagle who has ever thrown a 4th-down TD pass in the Super Bowl, Trey Burton.

It’s for Nigel Bradham, who is very good, and Najeh Goode, who isn’t very good.

It’s for the second-best offensive line in team history – Tra Thomas, John Welbourne, Hank Fraley, Jermane Mayberry, and Jon Runyon. And, of course, for the best offensive line in team history – Halapoulivaati Vitai, Stefen Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson.

It’s for great men like Connor Barwin, Troy Vincent, and one of the greatest men of all, Malcolm Jenkins. It’s also for not-so-great men, like Josh Huff, Donté Stallworth, and maybe the “not-greatest” man of all, Riley Cooper.

It’s for Chris Carter, Keith Jackson, and Wes Hopkins. It’s for Brian Mitchell and Brian Westbrook. It’s absolutely for Randall Cunningham, but it’s also for Bubby Brister, Bobby Hoying, Kevin Kolb, Chase Daniel, Matt Cavanaugh, Rodney Peete, a pair of Detmers, a pair of McMahons, and a Super Bowl champion named STUD-feld. And, of course this one is for our enigmatic relationship with a guy named Donovan. After all, Number Five will always love us, so there’s that.

There’s a little piece of this for Jason Babin to complain about like a snotty child and an even smaller piece for good ole Nnamdi to enjoy in his car by himself.

And, I don’t care what anyone says, this one is for the great and misunderstood Michael Vick and the greatly misunderstood Chip Kelly. This is not for Marcus Mariota, but it for Sam Bradford’s sleeves, Demarco Murray’s workload, Kiko Alonso’s athleticism, Brandon Boykin’s size, and Demeco Ryans’s ”Mufasa-ness.” And, let’s not forget that this is for all three of Chip’s Matthewses (Ryan, Jordan, and Casey), his Maxwell (Byron), and his Jenkins (Cullen). This is definitely for the “obvious” gang ties of DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy.

It’s for Bryce Brown, Sheldon Brown, Ronnie Brown, and Reggie Brown. It’s for Marcus Smith and Torrey Smith. It’s for Nate Allen, Eric Allen, and Allen Rossum. It’s for Donnie Jones, Dhani Jones, Sidney Jones, and Chris T. Jones. It’s for Shawn Barber and Allen Barbre. It’s for Cary Williams, Charley Williams, Clyde Williams, and Calvin Williams. It’s for 1942 3rd-round pick Ted Williams, 1947 first-round pick Neill Armstrong, 1970 4th-round pick Spike Jones, and 1960 undrafted free agent tackle, Ezra Eugene “Goose” Gossage.

It’s for the greatest kicker ever, David Akers, but it’s also for Gary Anderson, Norm Johnson, Eddie Murray, Matt Bahr, Chris Boniol, Luis Zendejas, Alex Henery, Caleb Sturgis, and Cody Parkey. It’s for Feagles on the Eagles, Sav Rocca, Mitch Berger, Chas Henry, Dirk Johnson, and even Tommy Hutton (though, more for his punting than his holding). 

It’s “for who, for what” and for Ricky Watters and his “Lightning” sidekick, Charlie Garner. It’s for the awesome Andre “Dirty” Waters – a guy who was born to tackle – and the awesome Asante Samuel – a guy who was born NOT to tackle.

It’s for great leaders like Byron Evans, “The Axman” Jeremiah Trotter, and Takeo Spikes.

It’s for under-appreciated special teams aces like Tim Hauck, Chris Maragos, Colt Anderson, and Bryan Brayman, but it’s also for over-appreciated QB divas like Mark Sanchez, Vince Young, Tim Hasselbeck, and “Senator” Trent Edwards.

It’s for Mike Ditka, Bill Cowher, and Herman Edwards. It’s for invincible (and overrated…oops) Vince Papale.

It’s even for pass interference penalties from Bradley Fletcher and Leodis McKelvin, as well the most head-scratching of all pass interferers, Al Harris.

It’s for champions with small, but important roles like Beau Allen, Corey Graham, and Kenjon Barner and for champions with small, unimportant roles like Wendell Smallwood, Isaac Seumalu, Dannell Ellerbee, and Will Beatty. It’s for the young guys like Donnell Pumphrey, Elijah Qualls, Nate Gerry, and Shelton Gibson, who watched and learned how to be champions in their first foray into professional football.

It’s for all the first-round disappointments like workout warriors Mike Mamula, Antone Davis, and Brodrick Bunkley, the injury-riddled Jerome McDougle, the underappreciated Jermaine Mayberry, the over-appreciated Leonard Renfro, the kind-of-crazy Bernard Williams, the probably-crazy Stacy Andrews, his definitely-crazy brother, Shawn Andrews, the on-another-planet-crazy Fred-Ex, and the guy with the crazy wife, Hank Baskett. But, It’s also for projected “scrubs” like Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, and Mike Golic – all parts of the greatest defense in NFL history and all drafted in rounds that no longer exist. It’s for pleasant surprises like Trent Cole and Andy Harmon. But, it’s also for total letdowns like Na Brown, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Winston Justice, and Curtis Marsh. It’s for the 26-year old firefighter, Danny Watkins, and the 24-year old snowboarder, Jeremy Bloom.

It’s for Moses Fokou, Roman Gabriel, and the 1958 2nd-round pick, Proverb Jacobs. It’s for Earl Wolff, Dustin Fox, Leon Seals, Brandon Bair and Rabbit Keen. 

It’s for the amazing wide receiving duos of Stinkston & Trash and Small, Johnson. It’s for Arkansas Fred, Toast Jenkins, Mighty Mouse, and The Freak. It’s for Eric “Sleeping With” Bienemy, “Who Framed” Roger Ruzek, and Blaine Bishop, “Old School.”  It’s for “He Hate Me” Rod Smart, and it’s definitely for Super Bowl champion, Steven Means Business! It’s for Juqua Thomas, Juqua Parker, and Juqau Thomas-Parker. It’s for Dorial Green-Beckham, Max Jean-Gilles, and special teams ace turned kickoff-specialist, Kamu Grugier-Hill. It’s for quarterback Adam Joshua “A.J.” Feeley, safety Herbert Lee “J.R.” (???) Reed, defensive end Ndukwe Dike “N.D.” Kalu, and tight end Little John “L.J.” Smith.

It’s for all the greats for other teams who couldn’t rest peacefully until they wore Eagles green – Tom Dempsey, Herschel Walker, James Lofton, Mark Bavaro, Bill Romanowski, Antonio Freeman, Erik McMillan, Ken O’Brien, Irving Fryar, Kurt Gouveia, Sean Landeta, Mark Ingram, Ken O’Brien, Roy Green, and the one and only William “The Refrigerator” Perry. But, it’s also for those that started here, but went on to greater things (sort of) elsewhere, like Derrick Burgess, Kevin Finneran, Kurt Coleman, and Chris Clemons.

It’s for Vaughn Hebron and Correll Buckhalter, Ryan Moats and Chris Polk, Amp Lee and Reno Mahe. It’s for Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant, Kevin Curtis and Greg Lewis. It’s for the incredibly underrated duos of Stewart Bradley and Carlos Emmons and Damon Moore and Quentin Mikell. But, also for the appropriately lowly-rated duos of Chris Gocong and Mark Simoneau and Joselio Hanson and Quentin Demps. It’s for Corey Simon and Hollis Thomas, Jerome McDougle and Victor Abiamieri. It’s for the often overlooked career of Mike Pitts.

It’s for Ike Reese, Jon Ritchie, and Brian Baldinger. It’s for Vai Sikahema punching the goalposts and then anchoring the news.

It’s for Jaws, Wilbert, and Harold. It’s for Bill Bergey and Norm Van Brocklin. It’s for Pete Pihos, Alex Wojchiechowicz, and the half-blind NFL Championship and Pro Bowl QB Tommy Thompson.

This is for the sad life and death of Kevin Turner.

This is for the great WR Mike Quick and it is absolutely 100% for his second-act partner Merrill Reese – the only non-player or coach in this montage, and as deserving as anyone on the planet.

But, in the end, this one is for us. It’s for you and me and everyone that has lived and died with this team from the moment we can remember. This isn’t a collection of talented men from around the country that just happen to be wearing the same jersey colors on Sunday. This is the vein that pulses through our city and through the lives of anyone that understands what Philadelphia is about. This city, this team, these colors, they – for better or worse – are a part of what makes us who we are. Outside observers don’t get it, and I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t get it either if I hadn’t lived it. Watching the Lombardi Trophy march down Broad Street on the warmest 20-degree day in Philadelphia history wasn’t just the coronation of a football team; it was the coronation of an overly-deserving fanbase. A fanbase that has been – and will continue to be – maligned by national observers in what is nothing more than a thinly veiled expression of misunderstood jealousy. People put us down because they want to believe the way we believe. They want to feel the way we feel. We aren’t Yankees fans who have tasted a title enough times to consume every generation with spoiled privilege. We aren’t Lakers fans who only care about the team when they’re good, which is more often than they deserve. We are Eagles fans. We are fans who spend our lives having the final score on Sunday dictate our personal happiness for the next seven days. And, never have we tasted what we tasted on February 4, 2018. And, never will that taste leave our mouths. The downside of being who we are is that we feel every loss to our bones – it rattles us to our core. And, since, by definition, 31 NFL teams will end every season in disappointment, we are set up to suffer. We are set up for heartbreak. We are set up to fail………except when we don’t. And, THIS is why we invest our emotional capital into this team. THIS is why we suffer so badly and pick ourselves up and do it all over again. We do it all for THIS. And, that is why we thank those who delivered it and respect those who came before. THIS is the only rational reason to be how we are. And, I can’t possibly think of a better one. In the words of the great Malcolm Jenkins, “We all we got. We all we need.” Fly, Eagles, Fly!!!

We…Are…Back!

The old BroadStreetBelievers you used to know and love is back after a 2 year hiatus.  Give us a little time to clean up the site and make it all pretty again, but all our old content is back online and we’ll be putting up some fresh stuff in the not too distant future.

— new admin (J)

Euro Cup – Day 12

Group C:
Germany v. N. Ireland
Poland v. Ukraine

Not really much of interest here with these final Group C games.  Northern Ireland could get to the magic number 4 points with a draw vs. Germany.  Even though they were impressive in beating Ukraine 2-0, I just don’t see it happening.  Expect Germany and Poland to move on and the other two to pack it on home.

Predictions:
Germany 2, N. Ireland 0
Poland 1, Ukraine 1

Group D:
Spain v. Croatia
Czech Rep. v. Turkey

Spain/Croatia is a great match-up but tempered somewhat because both teams have already reached the 4 point total, at least.  But there does appear to be a real advantage to winning the group, which Croatia could do by beating Spain.  The group winner here will get a third-place team in their first knock-out game, while the second-place team will get Italy, who will be a tough out, of course.  You could probably argue that finishing third with four points in this group could be a preferable route to seeing Italy in the Round of 16.  Croatia needs to hope its players and its fans can regain their composure after the flare-throwing, protest thing that marred their draw vs. the Czechs, but they are with out Luka Modric for this one, as he’s out with an injury.

Speaking of the Czechs, their tournament appeared all but over when they were down 2-0 in the 2nd half vs. Croatia.  Their equalizer in extra time of that game means all they have to do is knock-off what appears to be a dysfunctional Turkey team to get to the 4-point plateau.

Predictions:
Spain 0, Croatia 0
Czech Rep. 2, Turkey 1

Euro Cup – Day 11

Wales v. Russia

The magic number in this group stage is really 4 points.  If you get to 4 points, you’re almost certainly through to the knock-out stage.  With three points, it will most likely come down to goal differential.  So, for this game, that means Wales needs a draw and Russia needs a win to feel safe about advancing.  I don’t think it’s in Russia’s nature to chase the game in the way they will need to here, and I’ll say that leaves them exposed to counter-attacks led by the speedy Gareth Bale.  Wales moves on and the Russians and their hooligan fans go home.

Prediction: Wales 2, Russia 1

England v. Slovakia

England is the only team in this group already sitting on those 4 points.  Does that give manager Roy Hodgson the green-light to continue tinkering with his line-up here?

In England’s win over Wales, it was easy to credit Hodgson’s substitutes, as the two goals were scored by subs.  Still, he deserves credit for making a double-switch at halftime, that involved inserting two strikers in Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge.  It would be a shock if he didn’t start this game with two strikers, and with Raheem Sterling as the attacking midfielder left out of the line-up.  The question is, which two strikers?  Obviously, Vardy and Sturridge had great impact, but does Harry Kane get left out?  Sturridge would seem to be the third option of the three, but he was the one that really had the best impact in that last game.  I’m really not sure which two he will go with, but it would be hard for me to leave Sturridge out after what he did against Wales.

For Slovakia, Marek Hamsik has absolutely been one of the best players of the tournament.  Even though he’s 28-years-old and not a young buck, I would be surprised if some big clubs don’t get on the phone to Napoli to try to pry him away in the coming months.  The Slovaks need a draw to get to their four points.

Prediction: England 1, Slovakia 1

Euro Cup – Day 10

Romania v. Albania

The first of our final group stage games here, as Group A will wrap things up with the only two games of the day, both at 3 PM.  Are these two eastern European countries under-rated, or are France and Switzerland over-rated?  We won’t find out until the knock-out round, I guess, but although these teams come into this with 1 point combined, they’ve both been impressive.  They both took mighty France to the brink, with a tie game until the very late stages in each.  And they both played right with Switzerland, as well.

There was a lot of talk coming into this tournament about how some third-place teams being able to advance would effect the tournament.  As far as I can tell (which might not be totally right), 4 points basically guarantees an advance to the knock-out stage.  Even with just three points and 0 goal differential, you’re probably getting through.  So, for this game?  A Romania win should advance them through.  Albania is probably done no matter what, with 0 points and a -3 differential, but it tells you something that they’re not eliminated already.  They both know they’re going home with a draw, which tends to make for some exciting games.

Prediction: Romania 1, Albania 1

France v. Switzerland

It was an interesting line-up switch by French coach Didier Deschamps to put two of his top-rated players, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, on the bench to start their game vs. Albania.  Of course, when your midfield is as loaded as theirs, there’s always going to be some top players left out of the starting line-up.  But it seems like he was trying to send a message to Pogba about how he wants him to play, and Griezmann was most likely left out because he’s pretty fatigued from a long season at Atletico Madrid that just ended in the Champions League final on Memorial Day weekend.

In any event, it will be interesting to see if they’re back in against Switzerland.  Even though Griezmann came on and scored the game-winner vs. Albania, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the bench to start again, because if you want to get him rest this is a good time, as they’ve already clinched a spot in the knock-out stage.  Whether or not Pogba is back in there is probably more interesting, because if he’s not that might mean Deschamps has decided to go away from him for the remainder of the tournament.

Switzerland has all but locked up a spot in the knock-out stage, as well, with four points through their first two matches.  But both of these teams have failed to impress thus far and could grab some momentum with a strong performance here.

Prediction: France 2, Switzerland 0

 

Euro Cup – Day 9

Saturday, June 18th:

Ireland v. Belgium (Group E)

Ireland was actually pretty impressive in their first game, as they outplayed Sweden despite just coming away with one point.  Sweden didn’t have a single shot on goal, with their only goal coming on an own goal.  Fullback Robby Brady had a great game, threatening in attack up the left-side throughout the game, and the “Irish Messi”, Wes Hoolahan, had a beautiful goal and some other good chances.

The Belgians, meanwhile, turned in a performance that would’ve been surprising if we weren’t getting used to their underachieving.  One of the questions of the first group of matches was: are the Belgians actually this inept in attack or are the Italians actually that good defensively?  We’ll start to get some answers here.

The Belgian coach, Marc Wilmots, has taken a lot of criticism for that aforementioned underachieving, and it’s not hard to see why.  The game announcer questioned his line-up decisions, both defensively and in attack.  He suggested that Dries Mertens should probably be starting and I have to agree with that.  Marouane Fellaini, with the big fro, is a good player who can play in different roles.  His size, strength, and skill mean he can play as a striker or as a defensive midfielder.  Wilmots played him in the “#10” role in the middle of the attacking midfield.  I don’t like him there.  He doesn’t move well enough and doesn’t have the ball-control or creativity to make things happen there.  They need to take him out of the line-up, move De Bruyne or Hazard into that role, and put Mertens on the wing.

Prediction: Belgium 2, Ireland 0

Iceland v. Hungary (Group F)

Two lightly-regarded teams here that turned in fairly shocking performances in their first game.  Many considered Hungary to be the worst team in the tournament and now they have a real chance to take 6 points from their first two games.  Both of these teams have the advantage of set rosters that played together a ton over the last two years, if not more.  While some other teams have star players sitting out qualifying matches because they play so many extra games in the Champions League, domestic cups, etc, these players are all there getting used to playing together.  And now either team can all but clinch a spot in the knock-out round with a win here.

Prediction: Iceland 2, Hungary 2

Portugal v. Austria (Group F)

The opposite side of the coin from the Iceland/Hungary game: the two favorites in this group that had bitterly disappointing results.  Austria may have been exposed as fraudulent with their 2-0 defeat by Hungary.  I also haven’t been much of a believer in this Portugal team, and their draw against Iceland didn’t change that.

Austrian attacking midfielder Zlatko Junuzovic is now out with an injury, so it will be interesting to see if they move David Alaba up into an attacking role.  Maybe that change will be good thing for them, as he came closest to scoring for them in the first game, banging a shot off the post in the first minute of the game.

Prediction: Portugal 1, Austria 0