Thursday, May 29, 2008
Starting Eleven: Euro 2008 Preview: Group C--Group of Death
Is there anything more farcical than the Group of Death concept in major football tournaments. Most of the time, you get two marginally good teams paired in the same group, and the over-anxious press spits on the back of the label, activates the glue, and affixes it smack-dab on the group's collective forehead.
Well, with Euro 2008 a little more than a week away, we have a legitimate GROUP OF DEATH.
The fun began Sunday Dec. 1 when the Euro draw was announced, pairing poor Romania alongside defending world champs Italy, the Netherlands and France. While it may seem that all the fun will be concentrated in this one group, the bigger picture reveals that we will lose a giant, perhaps two, before we get to the knockout stage. I'm not sure that's good for football; I mean, let me slip on my cynic's hat for a second, if you're gonna rig the draw, at least rig it the right way!
No real surprises as the final rosters for each nation were announced. France excluded David Trezeguet, the Netherlands said no thanks to Khalid Boulahrouz. And Italy remains the team to beat in the group. Reuters reports that France coach Raymond Domenech doesn't play nicely with veteran Trezeguet; he has played only five times for Domenech since the last World Cup where France was the beaten finalist.
The Dutch, meanwhile, have a tough road to hoe and could be playing for third, or fighting for their lives to escape the cellar here. The front line is star-studded behind Ryan Babel and Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Ajax), Ruud van Nistelrooy and Arjen Robben (Real Madrid), Robin van Persie (Arsenal), but consistency isn't a strong suit for the Orange-clad Netherlands.
The sleeper here is Romania with Adrian Mutu (Fiorentina), Marius Niculae (Inverness CT) up front, Cristian Chivu* (Inter Milan) in the back and Bogdan Lobont (Dinamo Bucharest) in goal. Romania won its group, beating Holland ironically enough, by three points and taking three of four points from the Dutch. Romania scored a group-high 26 goals in 12 matches and could be a surprise quarterfinalist.
And then there's Italy. Deep, talented, and world champs until someone beat them. Italy topped France in qualifying -- again, if you're going to rig the draw, jeezus, don't pair up teams that have already played each other a bunch of times. Although France is the only team to have beaten Italy in qualifying.