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Cock-A-Roaches The Only Sure Thing To Survive "Group of Death"

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Group C:

France: Les Bleus, otherwise known as "Ten Black Guys and a Gypsy Carney", are in desperate need of a transition phase, only like our Spurs, they're in a deep state of denial. You simply don't lose a player of Zizou's stature and carry on unscathed. Ze French are looking at gimpy midfielder Patrick Vieira to take over their leadership role and Franck Ribery (whose face is not made for HD TV) is being hyped heavily to provide the creativity and flare that Zidane gave them for so long. The flaw in their rationale is that Ribery is more of a wing player and can never hold the ball as well and consistently as Zidane could from the middle and Vieira, a guy I've always felt was a bit overrated, is too stoic to lead anyone.

Not only is Zidane history, but so is keeper Fabian Barthez, so the team will have to put their fate in the hands of untested Gregory Coupet, a 35 year-old who's been a career bridesmaid on the international tournament stage. Supporting him in the back will be Willy Sagnol, Eric Abidal, William Gallas and the ancient Lilian Thuram, all stalwarts for the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Arsenal. Patrice Evra of Manchester United is around as well in case Thuram decomposes before our eyes.

Vieira and Claude Makalele are both mainly defensive central midfielders so nearly all the supply to the forwards has to come on counters or from Ribery and left midfielder Florent Malouda, who, to paraphrase Shania Twain, has never impressed me much. When the team goes to 4-5-1 instead of 4-4-2, in comes Sidney Govou. Whee.

Even up front Thierry Henry is getting a bit long in the tooth and has never formed much of a partnership with Nicolas Anelka, the other likely starting forward. Anelka's claim to fame is missing a penno for Chelsea in the Champions League Final to give the trophy to Man U. Really 4-5-1 makes more sense for them, but one option is youngster Karim Benzema, who had a big year for Lyon and who has drawn the natural comparisons to Zizou for their shared Algerian heritage.

Ultimately though, there is no replacing Zidane. Not so soon. Despite the lofty projections from the experts, I think Les Bleus will suffer a bit of a letdown in their "Group of Death" that has them having to navigate through Italy, Romania, and The Netherlands. The team was lucky to qualify for the tournament, narrowly edging Scotland despite losing to them twice. Their luck will run out here and they'll finish a surprising last in their group.

Please, one last time, lets remember Zidane for his brilliance and not for the headbutt. He was one of the top five or ten footballers of all time and easily the best since Maradona. This Youtube compilation is particularly well done, I think.

Best Player Ever Zinédine Zidane (via 86zidane)

Italy: The world calls them Azzurri (same with the French nickname, it simply means their jersey color - blue), but for Manoli and I, team Italy will always be the cock-a-roaches. You just can't get rid of them.

The defending World Cup champions look anything but these days. Their long-time star, the enigmatic Francesco Totti, has retired from international football, probably fed up with his ever-fluctuating role in the attack as he was with his lingering injuries. Their captain and rock at center-back Fabio Cannavaro suffered a horrible ankle injury in training and was ruled out of the tournament and despite clamoring from the press and his AC Milan teammates, one-time fixture Alessandro Nesta wasn't called up in his place, perhaps he and new boss Roberto Donadoni don't see eye to eye. The team managed just 22 goals in qualifying, third fewest, ahead of only The Netherlands and Russia.

Still, you know when it matters they'll turn it on, like they always do. While Italy has always been a strong team, incredibly tough to get the better of, what makes this particular cycle so dangerous are the twin terriers in the middle, Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo. Italy have always been world-class in the back and at forward, but often they were blah in the middle and had to rely on converted forwards such as Totti or Alessandro Del Piero in the supply role, with mixed results. Gattuso can intimidate men twice his size and can wreck havoc with or without the ball while Pirlo meanwhile is a goal creator of the highest order, equally likely to thread the exquisite through ball as he is to strike a bending free kick into the corner of the goal.

Up front the hot-and-cold Luca Toni will once again be trusted to go it alone and if he can't get it done then surely either Del Piero or Antonio De Natale will get the chance. The team could also shift from their preferred 4-1-4-1 into a 4-3-3 with De Natale flanking Toni on the left and Mauro Camoranesi on the right. The Italians can get the odd goal from anyone as both wingbacks Christian Panucci and Gianluci Zambrotta have shown the ability to push forward to score backdoor goals (as has their sub, Fabio Grosso) and the infamous centerback Marco Materazzi is particularly dangerous on corners with his 6'5" frame. Lost in the headbutt hullabaloo was the fact that Materazzi scored Italy's lone goal of the World Cup Final on a header in the 19th minute, to answer Zidane's spot kick tally which came in the 7th.

Marcomaterazzi_medium


Marcomaterazzi_medium

He can use his head too, Zizou.

It remains to be seen how much Cannavaro will be missed and who will take his place, anchoring the cock-a-roach defense. Keeper Gianluigi Buffon might be busier than he's accustomed to and the squad might be better served switching to a modified 3-1-4-2 with defensive midfielder Daniele De Rossi becoming the full-time sweeper a la the way Greece deploys Dellas, and Del Piero joining Luca up front. At least that way they'd have their best eleven on the pitch at once.

Of all the opening games of the Euro Cup, Italy-Netherlands figures to be the highest quality affair and its result will go a long way in determining if the Azzurri can pull off the double, pulled off successfully by the French in WC '98 and Euro '00. While they may escape that match with a point, I don't think Italy are quite up to the task, in light of their injuries, defections and coaching retirements, from winning this trophy as well. They'll win their group and get by a game Sweden in the quarters, but their hole in the back will be exploited by Spain's Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas in the semis.

Netherlands: And speaking of the Dutch, the clockwork Oranje (I'm sensing a theme with the team nicknames) or as I used to call them back in the day, Team Apartheid, aren't in the best form themselves. A nation once fiercely proud of their "Total Football" commitment and long believed to have the most multi-faceted, consistent attacking style in all of Europe, Holland has undergone a tactical about face, boring the piss out of everyone with listless, lifeless, defensive affairs in qualifying, scoring a mere 15 goals in 12 matches and surrendering just five. In other words, of all the teams here they've got the best defense and the worst offense. A terrible combination for neutral fans everywhere.

It's ironic in a country known for readily available weed and hookers that the Dutch team never appeared all these years to be having any FUN on the pitch and the main reason why, unfortunately was racial tension amongst the squad. There is no casual way to put this - the white players and black players (mostly from Dutch Suriname) immensely disliked one another. Manager Marco van Basten, a star striker for the '88 Euro Cup winners tried to solve this problem in the '06 World Cup by getting rid of the black players. Gone were Patrick Kluivert, Clarence Seedorf and Edgar Davids (and his ridiculous sunglasses). Seedorf was called up recently for a couple of friendlies, only to be insulted with 10 combined minutes of playing time in the two games. He pulled himself out of the Euro Cup, not giving his manager the chance to insult him further and has pledged to never play for van Basten again.

To be fair all three of these one-time stars were getting up in age by 2006 and battling injuries too. All three had numerous disagreements and public spats with previous managers as well. Still, the Dutch were mighty pale in '06 and not only did they fare just as poorly in that tournament as their past disappointments, but they still had horrible body language on the pitch. Really, I think they all hate van Basten and will be pleased when he steps down after the tournament to coach Ajax.

My condolences to all players currently employed for Ajax.

It appears that van Basten will scrap the Oranje's traditional 4-3-3 for a more conservative 4-2-3-1 setup that will have flankers Giovanni Van Bronckhorst and Demy De Zeeuw staying home to support the back line and rarely venturing forward. Perhaps it's a good idea. Do the names Wilfred Bouma, Mario Melchiot, Tim De Cler and Johnny Heitinga inspire you? No? They're Hollands back four. At least old geezer Edwin van der Sar is still in between the sticks, and playing well of late, having won the Champions League with Man U.

The attack will have to come solely from a midfield trio of Wesley Sneijder, Rafael Van der Vaart and Robin Van Persie, although Ibrahim Afellay and Arjen Robben (a notorious flopper on par with Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo) are in the mix as well. They'll all be aiming to supply the ball to Holland's bell cow, Ruud van Nistelrooy, the preeminent center forward in all the world, equally adapt at scoring with his head or feet, from in close or further out, and not needing much time or space to do so. To put it bluntly, if the Dutch are to do anything, he'll have to have a monster showing. If his manager does decide to go back to the 4-3-3, it's likely that he'll be flanked by Robben and Van Persie making all sorts of runs into the box, looking to fall down as soon as a defender enters their field of vision.

The Netherlands weren't always so plodding and pathetic. Once upon a time they featured my favorite all time player Dennis Bergkamp, who like van Nistelrooy wasn't fleet afoot but still managed to score many "wondergoals." He didn't participate in too many international tournaments because of his aviophobia, but The Non-Flying Dutchman still produced several moments of brilliance for Oranje (and many more for Arsenal), so enjoy the clip.

Dennis Bergkamp - Een Legende (via DanteSantadio)

Anyway, the Dutch should squeak by Romania and the fallen-from-grace French to capture 2nd in the "Group of Death" but the ride will be end quickly for them in the quarters against Spain. They have a few good footballers here - but not nearly enough - and with van Nistelrooy nearing the end as well, they too will be facing nuclear winter unless some youngster emerges to inspire (and perhaps unite) the footballing nation.

Romania: Um, it’s late, I’m tired, and I don’t know anything about them. The last time Romania was good, they had Gheorghe Hagi, and that was 1994. No expert is picking them to do anything in this group, so that’s good enough for me. Then again, they had the Netherlands in their qualifying group and still won it, so maybe they’re decent, I dunno. I will watch their game with France on Monday with great intent and scrutiny and give the scouting report them. In the meantime, this should do, if you scroll down.


Nadia2_medium

Literally all I know about Romania.