At a time like this, that of the reaction to footballing failure at Euro 2000, I can probably be helpful to supporters of Germany â€“ the reason being that Iâ€™ve seen
it all before. First, the players who are apparently unable to pass the ball to a team-mate and the tactics so baffling that itâ€™s difficult to believe they made it past the dressing-room blackboard.
Then the inevitable early exit and subsequent enquiry, dominated by the suspicion that â€śwe just arenâ€™t good enoughâ€ť. And to cap it all the downfall of the hapless trainer at a time when no obvious
successor is in the frame.
In fact, the recent turmoil in German international football is so reminiscent of years of watching England â€“ or â€ś30 years of hurtâ€ť â€“ that I feel I might be
somehow to blame. In all the years I remained in England the German XI always seemed such an infallible bunch, then I move to Solingenâ€¦
And the rest is recent football history. Still, as a supporter well-accustomed to defeat I might lend my experience as to how to follow international football
tournaments when your home country has been eliminated.
One standby is to subsequently follow the team responsible for Englandâ€™s (Germanyâ€™s) exit, there being some consolation to complain that â€śat least we were beaten
by the eventual winnersâ€ť. Flawed logic but believe me it helps, and in the case of Euro 200 there was even more scope than usual as our teams were overcome by both Portugal and Romania.
Portugal were first up at the weekend, easing past Turkey in some style with another two goals from Nuno Gomes. Their total for the tournament now being nine, second
only to the revitalised Dutch, it seems that the fears about Portuguese wastefulness in front of goal were unfounded. This newfound sharpness, allied with the midfieldâ€™s ability to retain possession
and create openings, would make Portugal a good bet to finally confirm the potential of â€śthe Golden Generationâ€ť and go all the way. At least if their semi-final opponents werenâ€™t France. More of whom later.
Romania, unfortunate to lose in stoppage time against the Portuguese, therefore had to go to Brussels to face Italy. Never an easy task, particularly as the Azzuri entered
the game on the back of three efficient victories at the group stage. This confidence enabled them to withstand surprisingly extended spells of Romanian pressure and to score at just the right time to
arrest the self-belief of their opponents. Hagiâ€™s dismissal in the second-half made it even clearer that Italian organisation would eventually prevail.
What is particularly impressive about the new generation of Italians is their ability to absorb pressure and then to create chances almost at will at the other end of
the field. Going into the tournament I was surprised to find an Italian team with relatively few of their number well-known overseas. This has proved to be deceptive as there remains as much strength in
depth as ever, a quick look at the use of Alessandro Del Piero as substitute is enough to prove this. While at the other end of the field the other Alessandro, Nesta, has stood out among four defenders
formidably loyal to their countryâ€™s tradition.
Two other contenders
This Italian renaissance sets up the fascinating prospect of Thursdayâ€™s clash with hosts the Netherlands in Rotterdam. Reason enough not to mourn for too long the
absence of England and Germany, who this year were so leaden in comparison and wouldnâ€™t have set up a semi-final as tantalising as this.
One of the favourites going into the tournament, the pressure was seen to tell in the Netherlandsâ€™ opening match against the Czech Republic where the Oranje failed
to resemble the force they were expected to be. The chorus of boos which greeted their retreat to the dressing room at half-time in that match though has gradually been proven to be premature as the
tournament has progressed. Capable performances to guarantee home advantage by winning Group D led to Sundayâ€™s massacre of a sorry Yugoslavia.
Whatever might be said of the Slavic capitulation in the De Kuip stadium and how this favoured the hosts the significance of scoring six goals at the quarter-final stage
of a major tournament is impossible to ignore. That sort of thing just doesnâ€™t happen in modern football. Or, at least, it didnâ€™t until the day before yesterday and in the wake of such a performance you would expect the hosts to complete the job in some style.
While momentum at the very least should be enough to ensure they defeat a highly capable Italian team at the semi-final stage, the highest compliment to be paid to
France is that the Dutch could still not be seen as likely winners. While the Netherlands spluttered at first les Blues were quick to find their gear and ease smoothly through the first round. The
defeat against Holland, a likely precursor to Sundayâ€™s final, should prove to be misleading â€“ even considering the quality of the French reserves it cannot be forgotten that the team only narrowly
beaten at that stage were just that, understudies to masters like Blanc and Zidane and exuberant newcomers such as Henry.
Their return enabled les champions du Monde to ease so impressively past Spain on Sunday night, in spite of a late scare with Raulâ€™s ill-fated penalty. All of
which supports my expectation that the Henri Delaunay trophy will be held aloft in the same name as was the World Cup two years ago and current French domination confirmed. This time, let us not forget,
the World Cup winners have added a number of deadly strikers to their number.
And back to England and Germany
An observer of the calibre of Arsene Wenger has spoken of the difficulty he has had to forget that the inferiority complex to German football borne of a youth in Alsace
is no longer relevant. From the opposite perspective, that of the German supporter, I can imagine the problems of accepting that your side is no longer indisputably the best on the continent. But on the
evidence of this tournament that is something which, at least until the emergence of another generation, will have to be borne for a while.
And thatâ€™s where I guess Iâ€™m lucky. While Iâ€™ve never seen my native country win anything of significance at the international level (I take it le Tournoi de France doesnâ€™t really count) at least Iâ€™ve learned not to expect anything else. Yes, we may generate some fuss before everything kicks off and after thatvictory
against Germany there was a certain amount of tub-thumping, from me as much as any, but when it comes down to it we never really believed we could really get anywhere â€“ England supporters know better
than that. Honest.
©Richard Deering 28/06/2000 For questions send mail to Richard Deering.