Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Football So Far

Two days into the European Championship and though there hasn't been a game of absolutely excrutiating boredom (Austria v Croatia threatened to become that at times, mind), the tournament has yet to really catch fire. Both the hosts deserved better than the 1-0 defeats they suffered in their opening matches. Austria in particular will find it difficult to pull back the deficit. The pick of the games so far was tonight's between Germany and Poland. The Poles brought the game to Germany, playing some attractive attacking football but unfortunately they were lacking any real edge up front, where former Celtic reserve Maciej Zurawski struggled to carve out openings. The Germans, obviously having developed a strong understanding over the past couple of years, are playing a more expansive game than they did on their own turf in the World Cup of two years ago and on tonight's evidence they are worth their favourite's tag. Their defence (and Jens Lehman) look suspect and they may suffer against a side possessed of more incisiveness than the Poles. It looks unlikely they will be tested however until a potential semi-final against Portugal, and given the dreariness of Croatia's performance today, they shouldn't have to break a sweat to even reach the quarter-finals.

Once again I am restricted to watching the matches on French TV, whose coverage is appalling as ever. TF1's commentary is saved only by the presence of Arsène Wenger in the gantry, who is the only person who knows what he's talking about. Over on M6, Thierry Roland (the French John Motson) and Frank Leboeuf dispense inane patter, devoid of any insight or knowledge of any players not associated with either the French national team or Ligue 1, and littered with enthusiastic 'magnifiques', 'superbes' and 'belles actions' to describe the most workaday efforts by highly-paid professional footballers. The tone of deadening banality and politesse makes you feel like watching the damn thing with the sound turned down, listening to the radio, à la Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh. On top of this there is nothing in the way of pre-match, half-time or post-match analysis and commentators for both channels make the most pathetic attempts at pronouncing the names of players e.g. Peter Cech is Peter Sèche, which presumably means he hails from 'La République Sèche'. It makes you pine for Motson, Clive Tyldsley and Andy Gray, never mind the unrivalled trio of Giles, Dunphy and Brady.

As preparation for the tournament I went to see Emir Kusturica's documentary on Diego Maradona, which proved irritating and enjoyable in equal measures. A few short months ago i walked out of Kusturica's infinitely tiresome comedy Promise Me This and I was a little suspicious about this. Actually, my suspicions were mostly confirmed, it being a massaging of El Píbe's ego while making Kusturica look good too (interspersed with the interviews with Diego and the stock footage of the man in his prime are outtakes from most of Kusturica's films). Diego spouts shite about politics, most of which involves taking potshots at the Yanks and the Brits and lauding Chávez and Castro, in a typically populist Latin American way. But his gleeful remark about feeling he'd pickpocketed an Englishman when he rose above Peter Shilton to score the infamous 'hand of God' goal is a refreshing alternative to the insufferable piety of the English who complain incessantly about it (as if they didn't win the World Cup due to a non-existent goal or Gary Lineker didn't dive to win a decisive penalty against a superior Cameroon team in the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals). Kusturica throws in a couple of interesting asides about residues of aristocratic dignity amongst the poor and the birth of the Tango, that I suspect he has filched from Borges or García Marquez, and he must surely be one of the few film directors that could go for a kick-around with Maradona and emerge with credit. The film is most remarkable though for its YouTube-esque montages of Maradona goals, which of course look all the better on the big screen.

The tournament starts in earnest tomorrow with two intriguing matches in the group of death. Romania v France and Holland v Italy. As ever I am supporting the Dutch though I think they may struggle to make it out of this group. France look the best equipped to give the Germans a run for the title but they can't afford to slip up early on. More later in the week.


rorebhoy said...

good to see you back Seanachie! Hadn't realised 'underachievement was back until I clicked on the bookmark last to read about those riots in Manchester ;-)