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The School´s own sports pundit, Richard Deering, gives you news, views and gossip from deep behind enemy lines. EURO 2000 it’s here. Watch this space.........................Ball5113

ENGLISH EYES IN GERMANY WITNESS DUAL FAILURE,

BUT MUCH ELSE TO ADMIRE

 Somehow to blame?

by Richard Deering

At a time like this, that of the reaction to footballing failure at Euro 2000, I can probably be helpful to supporters of Germany – the reason being that I’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 it’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 “we just aren’t good enough”. 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 – or “30 years of hurt” – 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 Solingen…

Our conquerors

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 England’s (Germany’s) exit, there being some consolation to complain that “at least we were beaten by the eventual winners”. 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 midfield’s ability to retain possession and create openings, would make Portugal a good bet to finally confirm the potential of “the Golden Generation” and go all the way. At least if their semi-final opponents weren’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. Hagi’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 country’s tradition.

Two other contenders

This Italian renaissance sets up the fascinating prospect of Thursday’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 wouldn’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 Netherlands’ 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 Sunday’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 doesn’t happen in modern football. Or, at least, it didn’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 Sunday’s final, should prove to be misleading – 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 Raul’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 that’s where I guess I’m lucky. While I’ve never seen my native country win anything of significance at the international level (I take it le Tournoi de France doesn’t really count) at least I’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 – England supporters know better than that. Honest.

©Richard Deering 28/06/2000    For questions send mail to Richard Deering.