Euro Update: Guest Blogger Somehow Compares Boring Soccer to Exciting Football

(Editor’s Note: Neil “nkilla” Gariepy once again guest blogged the following post about soccer.  Seems like he’s learning the blogging ropes by writing about the NFL as much as possible to distract people from the fact that this is a soccer post.)

We are officially out of the group stage of Euro 2012 and into the knockout stage. I know many of you started following the Euro after my first riveting article and already know what’s to come in the knockout stage. For the few of you that were not converted based on the first post, now is the time to get in. The knockout stage is a traditional playoff format. Eight teams made it this far, and we go single elimination the rest of the way. If you are saying to yourself, “Self, it would be great to follow the ‘playoff’ stage of this tournament because any time countries play against each other in a single elimination tournament it is fun regardless of the sport, but I missed the group stage so how will I know what is going on?” fear not, I am going to provide a playoff doppelganger for each game from last year’s NFL playoff schedule to help you understand what is going on.

June 21st – Czech Republic (Group A winner) v Portugal (Group B runner-up)
Both of these teams had very similar paths to this point in the tournament. Both lost their opening group game, and then rebounded to win their next two games to make the knockout stage. The big difference was that Portugal barely lost their first game to powerhouse Germany (0-1), and then went on to win their next two games in the toughest group in the tournament. The Czechs were destroyed in their first game by Russia, appeared to be the worst team in the tournament, but somehow managed to rally and win what turned out to be the weakest group in the tournament.

NFL Playoff Doppelganger: San Francisco v New Orleans. Portugal is playing the role of New Orleans. They are coming in as a lower seed than the Czech Republic because they played in a tougher group, but everyone expects them to win.  The Czechs are an unknown commodity like the Niners were coming out of the NFC West. Portugal seems to be getting better with each game, so they should be able to move on to the next round, but that is what everyone said about New Orleans in January.

June 22nd – Germany (Group B winner) v Greece (Group A runner-up)
Germany entered the tournament as the number two favorite only behind Spain. In the group stage they showed they probably should have been the favorite. They were the only team to win all three of their group games, and they did it while playing in the toughest group in the tournament. Greece on the other hand needed several extremely lucky breaks to make it this far. Red-carded opposing keepers, their own backup keeper coming on in the middle of a game, extra time goals, and so on. Several miracles were involved to get the Greeks this far. Hey, speaking of miracles…

NFL Playoff Doppelganger: New England v Denver. Tebow and his miracle-working took Denver to the playoffs, and in Group A Zeus provided some miracles for the Greeks to get them out of the group stage. Just remember what happened to Tebow and Denver in New England before you start thinking Greece might be a team of destiny.

June 23rd – Spain (Group C winner) v France (Group D runner-up)
Defending champ and tournament favorite Spain got off to a bit of a slow start in their first match against Italy, then woke up and easily won their second and third match to win their group. France could have won their group and avoided Spain in this round but did not play all that well in their final match against Sweden (who had already been eliminated and had nothing to play for), and had to settle for second in the group.

NFL Playoff Doppelganger: Green Bay v New York. Spain, like Green Bay, is probably feeling pretty confident coming into the playoffs as defending champs and playing very good soccer. France on the other hand, came into the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the world over the past two years but did not play well at all in the final group match. Were they just playing possum knowing that they were getting through and resting for their match with Spain? The consensus seems to be that France is either going to give Spain all they can handle and get the upset win, or get severely outclassed. Seems a lot like the divided opinions on the Giants heading into their game with Green Bay last year, and unfortunately we all remember how that ended (where “we all” = “Patriot fans”).

June 24th – England (Group D winner) v Italy (Group C runner-up)
Coming into the tournament none of the experts knew what to make of the English squad. Some said they might not score a goal, others said they could win the entire tournament. The majority seemed to think they would narrowly squeak out of Group D as the runner-up. What actually happened was England seemed to get better with each game, got their best player back from a two game suspension for their final group game, and seem like a team that can give any other team in this tournament a stiff challenge head-to-head. Italy really only played 45 bad minutes of soccer in the group round (their second half against Croatia), but needed some help from the Spanish (via a win over Croatia) in the last group game to make sure they made it to the playoff.

NFL Playoff Doppelganger: Baltimore v Houston. Really, either NFL team can be linked to either of these two soccer teams. Both played fairly well in the group stage, deserve their spot in the knockout stage, it should be a very tight match, and either could win. Unfortunately for the winner, they are going to be stuck playing Germany in the semi-final. Not unfortunate because they have no chance, unfortunate because if you play the doppelganger analogy out one more round, either Italy or England are going to have a player miss a penalty kick wide left that would have upset the Germans.

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Euro Update: Are We Supposed to be Excited about 1-1 Draws?

Editor’s Note: Sadly, we did have more than three views of Neil’s first soccer post, and I even got a “like” on Facebook when I linked to it last week, so I’ve given in and I’m allowing Neil to do a recap after each round of the Euro.  Don’t blame the guy if his post is boring…he’s covering soccer after all.  How exciting can you make the sports equivalent of watching grass grow sound?  Maybe if he does this first assignment well, I’ll promote him to my main WNBA blogger next.

According to Rmurdera, my article last week on why everyone should watch the Euro was the most read soccer post ever on this blog, so he asked me if I would do a quick recap now that everyone has played one game and what to look for as each team plays their second game in the group stage.

Group A
What happened: Everything went pretty much according to plan to start this group. Russia was a clear favorite in the group and they looked very good in dominating the Czech Republic. I laughed pretty hard when Rmurdera sent me a text five minutes into the Russia/Czech game saying he put a bet on Czech to win. Russia was up 3-0 about 15 minutes into the match. If only he read my post. Poland and Greece played to a very eventful draw that included horrible officiating, the home team dominating the first half, Greece scoring the equalizer down a man, and the backup Polish goalkeeper coming off the bench with no warm-ups and saving a penalty kick, which many of us may never get to see again in our lifetime.

What’s to come: Assuming Russia beats Poland in their match (not a guarantee because Poland is playing at home, but Russia looked really good in their first match), the Greece v Czech Republic match will tell us a lot about the second team to advance from this group. If either of them can get a win, that team will be in very good shape to make it out of the group stage. A draw is not the worst result for the Czech Republic, but would put serious pressure on Greece who will have to play Russia in their final group match on Saturday.

Group B
What happened: We were 16 minutes away from having giant upheaval in this group. Instead we got only above average upheaval. Denmark scored an early goal against one of the tournament favorites, Holland. Even though the Danes were exhausted from chasing Holland around, and Holland played a better game, Denmark hung on for the huge 1-0 upset. Portugal looked as if they were going to be able to hold on and force a draw with another tournament favorite, Germany, until the Germans scored a late goal and hung on for the win.

What’s to come: Again, The Netherlands were one of the three favorites (along with Germany and Spain) to potentially win this tournament. Depending on how things go on Wednesday they could be eliminated. On the other hand, it is not impossible to imagine both Portugal and The Netherlands wining on Wednesday and making for a very exciting final group day for this group on Sunday. Either way, both of the matches for this group should be great on Wednesday.

Group C
What happened: Spain and Italy, the two favorites to come out of this group at the beginning of the tournament, played to a well deserved 1-1 draw. Italy played a little better in the match but Spain is probably the better team, so the draw seemed pretty fair. Croatia more or less dominated Ireland and is now the leader of this group after the first set of matches.

What’s to come: With Spain only getting a draw and being outplayed by Italy, the most likely scenario is that they come out a little more motivated against Ireland and win easily. That makes the Croatia v Italy match on Thursday the important one for this group. Whereas Italy will probably be OK with a draw since they have Ireland in their last group match, Croatia will be more pressed to get a win as they have Spain in the last group match. A loss for either team will probably mean virtual elimination, so it will be interesting to see if the game is tied in the last thirty minutes or so whether either team risks pushing forward to try to win or would rather settle for a draw.

Group D
What happened: England and France played a fairly lackluster game (especially the English, they were very passive most of the game) and ended up with a 1-1 draw. Co-host Ukraine was able to to outlast Sweden 2-1 (all three goals came in an exciting 10-minute span) and will go into the second set of games as the group leader.

What’s to come: Much like group C, you had the two favorites to advance out of the group playing each other to a draw in game one. France will play against a home team in Ukraine on Friday, and would like a win but can probably live with a draw. England will need to be a little more aggressive and try to get a win against what will be a desperate Swedish team. England needs to avoid a situation where they would need to win what amounts to a road game against Ukraine on the last day of group matches in order to make it to the next round.