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Spain and Dutch impress, Italy and Greece not so much

Hey everyone. Really too busy to post game recaps anymore and they weren't getting many responses anyway, but I thought I'd write a little something since everyone has now played a game.

Eight matches in and what have we learned?

The Netherlands are perhaps far more dangerous than we could have imagined and the Italians transition defense can be had.

Spain possesses the most dangerous, skillful and deep attack in Europe but still have their issues in the back.

Portugal and Germany are what we thought they were. Sadly, most of the lesser teams are what we thought they were as well.

France (as was the case in World Cup '02) are going to struggle mightily for goals without Zizou and hierry Henry.

Romania wasn't very interested in scoring and Greece's approach against Sweden was a disgrace, the epitome of every awful soccer stereotype and a classic example of why so many Americans are turned off by the sport.

France 0, Romania 0

With Zinedine Zidane retired, and Henry injured, (not to mention Patrick Vieira) Franced looked for goals from Nicolas Anelka and Karim Benzema and neither were up to the task on this day. They had a few chances, and both of them should've put at least one away, but I don't know if you can argue that they deserved to win. Their attack wasn't consistent enough and Frank Ribery was their only midfielder worth a crap.

Netherlands 3, Italy 0

I don't think Italy was nearly as bad as the scoreline indicates. On offense they had plenty of chances and missed out on scoring due to some stellar work from Dutch goalie Edwin Van der Saar and a whole lot of fucktardishness from Italian forward Luca Toni. Andrea Pirlo was as dangerous as ever on his free kicks and almost scored. Of all the teams that were shut out in their first game the Italians clearly showed the best attack and really it was better stuff than Croatia and the Czech Republic managed in wins as well.

They were done in by a early goal from Ruud van Nistelrooy that shouldn't have been allowed and two masterful counterattack strikes that were created mainly to the tireless Giovanni Van Bronckhorst. Dirk Kuyt assisted on both with headers, the first volleyed spectacularly by Wesley Sneijder and the second by Van Bronckhorst, whose defensive play started both breaks.

Spain 4, Russia 1

A hat trick for David Villa and he could've had five. That's how lethal Spain's offense was, continually carving up the Russians and finding wide open gaps in their back. Their midfield quartet of Xavi, Marcos Senna, David Silva, and Andrés Iniesta always had the ball and were pushing it hard upfield every change of possession. Spain has so much quality that they could afford to leave Xabi Alonso and Cesc Fábregas on the bench (though the latter shouldn't have been, he was stellar from the second he entered the game as a sub, assisting on the third goal and scoring the fourth).

The Russians had a few quality looks at goal and really could've scored three themselves, but were alternately hesitant, unsure and unlucky with their final touches. Spain's backline left much to be desired and I question how they'll fare against Italy or Holland in the quarters if they go on like this.

Sweden 2, Greece 0

A frustrating, atrocious show for the first two thirds. Greece's game plan seemed to be to make Sweden come out and press them so they could exploit the gaps left behind. Only the Swedes refused to take the bait and it was as if they were saying, "We know we're the more talented team, we're not going to do anything stupid, and we're going to make you dribble and pass it around us."

As a consequence Greece spent the majority of the game passing it back and forth among themselves in their own third, with no one in a yellow jersey around them, and had their own fans booing and the announcers groaning. It was a pathetic display.

Finally, in the 67th minute Sweden took the initiative and Zlatan Ibrahimovic broke out of his national team slump with a fantastic strike, set up on the one-two with Henrik Larsson. Give Ibrahimovic credit, he called his shot. He implored his coach to recall Larsson on the team and said that he would score if he played alongside the ancient forward, and he did. The second goal, five minutes later, was ugly and shouldn't have been allowed as I thought Petter Hansson fouled his marker before he even got his first shot off.

Your starting XI thus far

G: Edwin Van der Saar - Netherlands. Several good saves against an Italian side hellbent for goals.

LB: Giovanni Van Bronckhorst - Netherlands. A great clear off his line saved a goal and his subsequent run out and cross on the break created one. Scored the third on a header for good measure.

CB: Pepe - Portugal. Scored the game winner against the Turks and had another disallowed. Did a nice job keeping Nihat Kahveci at bay as well.

CB: Tomáš Ujfaluši - Czech Republic. The Czech captain patrolled his box and engaged in several seek-and-destroy missions battling the inspired Swiss.

RB: Philipp Lahm - Germany. His quadrant was never tested by the Poles while he was relentlessly taking on defenders down the right flank.

LM: Lukas Podolski - Germany. Cheating a bit here as he's really a forward, but Germany started him as a left midfielder against Poland. Podolski scored two goals where his only challenger for the spot, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, could've bagged a pair himself.

CM: Xavi - Spain. One assist and a lot of dangerous other passes from the Iberian in their dismantling of the Russians.

CM: Rafael van der Vaart - Netherlands. Played a part in all three goals and constantly had the ball for the Dutch.

RM: Frank Ribery - France. So many candidates here. Clemens Fritz and Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany both didn't play enough. Spain's Iniesta, Libor Sionko of the Czechs, Darijo Srna of the Croats and Wojciech Łobodziński of the Poles all merit consideration. In the end I went with Ribery as he was France's best player. He could've used The Wee Rapping Frenchman as a forward, for sure.

LF: David Villa - Spain. A hat trick, scoring one from the left, one from the middle and one from the right. What else can you say?

RF: Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Sweden. The game winning goal against the impregnable Greek defense and he almost had one earlier on a flick header. Every time he touches it, you think something will happen.

Today, I'm in the unenviable position of having to root for the Portuguese (if the Czechs win, Turkey is basically fucked) and have to pull for my homies to somehow, someway win a road game in Switzerland with seemingly their entire starting eleven injured. How we'll score on them, I have no idea.