Friday, June 8, 2012

Euro 2012: it begins

Now that the dust has finally settled over the tragedy of the Champions league semifinal (and final), it's on the Euros and a chance at redemption (for the game of soccer, that is). A few things to note as the tournament gets rolling:

1. The European Championship is probably the best tournament there is, in terms of the actual football being played, given the concentration of high-level games over the course of a single month. Sorry FIFA, but the Euros offer higher quality play, with fewer teams, and all of them just incredibly good. The World Cup is great for spectacle, but the North American, African and Asian confederations still lag behind Europe and South America and dilute the overall quality of play. (The very best matches are at the club level, but are distributed sparsely throughout the season, only when the very best clubs play each other.)

2. The past four years have been the era of Spanish-style attacking football, with Spain winning the last two international tournaments and Barcelona dominating (to a greater or lesser extent) the club level in Europe. After Guardiola's recent retirement, people in the football world have been talking about how he has changed the game for the better by making the attacking, passing, free-flowing style a staple. Though he deserves enormous credit, Barcelona and Spain were already in ascendance before he took over.

One thing that has contributed enormously—but invisibly, given that no one ever talks about it—to this ascendance is the improvement in the enforcement of offsides over the past decade. People say that soccer needs video review technology. Well, video review has already made an extreme difference, just not in the way people thought it would. Several years ago I watched the 1974 World Cup final, a classic match between Germany and the Netherlands. I was shocked to find that, in those days, players were called offside on plays that, today, most people would recognize as clearly onside. But nobody could rewind the tape in those days and see what was really going on: defending players stepping up after a ball was passed to an attacker, thereby making the play look offside when in fact it wasn't. I was lucky enough to see, in the age of the emerging DVR, how often assistant referees wrongly called offsides because of the the time it took to shift their attention from the source of the pass to the player in question, combined with the flash-lag effect.

The improvement in offside calls (or, mostly, non-calls), while vastly underestimated by players and commentators alike, makes good timing and fast attacking play a much more rewarding tactical option. In possibly the greatest soccer performance of all time, Barcelona's 2010 5-0 massacre of Madrid, 3 of Barcelona's goals were barely onside. Ten or even five years ago, all or at least a couple of them would have been called back before the players even had a chance to finish, and the game would have been much different.

In both of today's matches, crucial non-offside calls played a critical role, not in the results themselves, but in the play of the match overall. In Poland-Greece, the pass that led to Greece's penalty and Scezny's sending off was a very close call, as was the Czech Republic's goal against Russia. These aren't just isolated incidents. They happen game after game after game, and they are slowly having less of a negative impact on the game.

Game on!


  1. Good to have you back Postman. Hope your love for Barca doesn't blind your good soccer analysis skills. Pay close attention to Germany, Holland and France this tournament. They play offensive soccer but not "Spain" style. They don't have Xavi/Busquets-style players so they're more vertical and a little less paced, faster defense-attack transitions.
    Keep POSTing!

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  3. yes, i loved germany in 2010 (until their semifinal against spain, that is) and expect more of the same this time around w oezil, schweinsteiger and muller leading the way. i admit i haven't had the time to keep up with any friendlies leading up to the tournament, but i'll watch netherlands play tomorrow as well, and will be keeping my eye out for any surprising teams. the czechs were weak today, but i still think russia put on a good show, and definitely epitomize the madrid/germany-2010 fast counter-attacking style, which they also did brilliantly in '08. they should win group A and could go far in the tournament again....can't wait to see it all unfold