Editors note: Once again, this post comes rather late because I fell behind in the previous rounds due to finals, graduation and work.
Unfortunately, my dream of watching every game of the Euro Cup came to end this round because UEFA scheduled each day’s games at the same time to prevent any sort of advantage. An asterisk (*) will indicate which games I watched.
Czech Republic vs. Poland*
I decided that this game would be more exciting than the Greece vs. Russia game (boy, was I wrong). Statistically, this game was more exciting in that it was evenly matched. Czech Republic held 58 percent of the possession, and both teams had seven shots on target (16 total for Poland and 11 total for Czech Republic). Poland stuck with its backup goalkeeper, Przemyslaw Tyton, who came in and blocked a penalty kick after starting goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was given a red card for a bad tackle. After more than two-thirds of the game gone, the Czechs finally broke through. Petr Jiracek scored his second goal of the tournament in the 72nd minute. Co-host Poland was knocked out of the Euros.
Russia vs. Greece
Admittedly, I thought Russia would blow Greece out of the water and capture the No. 1 spot in Group A. However, Greece has pulled off some incredible comebacks and goals in the past few games. Russia held 62 percent of the possession and had 25 shots (10 on target), but as I’ve come to see time and time again, it only takes one counterattack, and that’s all Greece needed. Greece only had five shots on goal (two on target). One of its two shots on target went in and Greece got the three points it needed to be the No. 2 seed from Group A and move on to the quarterfinals. Greece has had the most dramatic road to the Euro Cup finals–coming back from one goal down with 10 men to tie Poland, almost coming back against the Czechs, and beating group favorite Russia.
The Czech Republic advances in the No. 1 spot; Greece advances in the No. 2 spot.
Portugal vs. Netherlands*
My brother is a Netherlands fan, and we chose to watch this game. The Netherlands needed to win this game by two goals if it had any hope of moving on after two disappointing losses. The Netherlands also needed Germany to win its game against Denmark to ensure the Netherlands a spot in the quarterfinals. The Netherlands started forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and attacking midfielder Rafael Van der Vaart. In previous games, the Netherlands had taken a more defensive stance, but knew it needed to attack the Portuguese back line to get the win. Van der Vaart gave the Netherlands the lead in the 11th minute off the assist from Arjen Robben. But Portugal struck back in the 28th mine and Christiano Ronaldo got his first goal of the tournament. The Netherlands already hard task was seeming more and more impossible. Portugal looked the best it has in the tournament thus far, and Ronaldo finally looked up to his usual form. Ronaldo put the Netherlands away for good with another goal in the 74th minute.
Germany vs. Denmark
As Denmark had shown in the previous two games, it was not to be underestimated or cast aside in the Group of Death. It had upset the Netherlands, who placed 2nd in the 2010 World Cup, and gave Portugal a run for its money, only losing in the final three minutes of regular time. German midfielder Lukas Podolski scored in the 19th minute, and Michael Krohn-Dehli evened things up five minutes later. In the 80th minute, defender Lars Bender added another goal for the Germans. Germany is the only team to win each of its group games and get the most points possible.
Germany advances in No. 1 spot; Portugal advances in No. 2 spot.
Croatia vs. Spain
Seeing as I am an avid Spain fan and have been rooting for it the entire tournament, it was a no brainer that I’d watch this game. With Ireland already out, the final three teams in Group C were fighting for the top two spots. Croatia did one of the best jobs defensively with Spain. Spain held 65 percent of the possession and took 14 shots against Croatia, but Croatia did not sit back defensively against Spain and interrupted its flow of play by stepping to 50-50 balls and challenging the Spanish midfielders. Finally, Spain’s quick passing and intricate passing broke through the Croatian defense, and substitute Jesús Navas became the hero of the game scoring the game winning goal in the 88th minute.
Ireland vs. Italy
Ireland was already out of the tournament, but it didn’t mean it had given up. Italy still needed a win to move on. However, Italy dominated Ireland holding 60 percent of possession and had 27 shots (17 on target). In the 35th minute, Antonio Cassano put one in the back of the net. In the 90th minute, controversial forward Mario Balotelli scored an acrobatic goal in the 90th minute.
Spain advances in No. 1 spot; Italy advances in No. 2 spot.
England vs. Ukraine*
Wayne Rooney returned to the starting lineup for England. After a slightly rusty start, Rooney broke through and scored his first goal of the tournament in the 48th minute. Rooney became the first player to ever score five goals in his first five games of the Euros (this is a streak that was started in the 2008 Euros). England held off co-host Ukraine and won 1-0.
France vs. Sweden
Sweden, after losing its first two games, was already knocked out of the Euros. But like the Ireland vs. Italy game, France needed the win and Sweden wanted to prove itself. In the 54th minute, Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored his second goal of the tournament. Despite France holding 57 percent of the possession and taking twice as many shots on goal (24 to 12), Sweden added another goal in the 91st minute. Despite France losing to Sweden, it still moved on to the quarterfinals.
England advances in No. 1 spot; France advances in No. 2 spot.
Portugal vs. Czech Republic
Germany vs. Greece
Spain vs. France
England vs. Italy
In the second round of group play, some teams saw their Euro Cup dreams vanish, while others made their mark on the tournament.
Greece vs. Czech Republic
The Czech Republic was coming off a 4-1 loss to Russia and needed to redeem itself. Greece had pulled off a 1-1 tie with Poland after a roller coaster of a game. Both teams were looking for a win to give them three points and boost them into the top two in the group. The Czech Republic came out firing and took a quick 2-0 lead in the first six minutes of the game. In the 53rd minute, Theofanis Gekas brought Greece to within one. However, the Czechs held Greece off for the remainder of the game, and the final score remained 2-1.
Russia vs. Poland
Group favorites, Russia, was leading the group and was running off a high scoring win against the Czechs. In the 37th minute, Russian youngster Alan Dzagoev scored his third goal of the tournament to put Russia up 1-0. Poland’s captain, Jakub Blaszczykowski, equalized in the 57th minute with a beautiful goal from 20 yards out into the upper left corner; the goal of the tournament thus far. Blaszczykowski’s goal dashed Russia’s hopes of becoming the first team guaranteed a spot in the final eight.
Portugal vs. Denmark
The first round of games in the Group of Death were far from disappointing. Denmark upset the Netherlands in the first round, and Portugal was seeking a win to give them any hope of reaching the final eight. Portugal took a 2-0 lead in the first half of the game, while Christiano Ronaldo continued to struggling during important matches. In the 41st minute, Nikolas Bendtner continued his scoring streak against Portugal with his fifth goal in five matches. In the 80th minute, Bendtner struck again scoring what would seem to be the game saving goal and tying the game 2-2. However, in the 87th minute, Portugal substitute Valera, who came on in the 83rd minute, scored the game winning goal to put Portugal ahead 3-2 and preventing Denmark from becoming the first team to clinch a spot in the final eight.
Netherlands vs. Germany
Germany has been very impressive and seem to have no weaknesses in its game. The Netherlands were coming off an upset and needed the points to give it a chance of moving on in the tournament. Germany striker Mario Gomez has been having an outstanding tournament and added two more goals to his score sheet to put Germany up 2-0 at halftime. In the 73rd minute, Robin Van Persie gave the Netherlands a glimmer of hope with a goal, but ultimately it was unable to capitalize and Germany won 2-1.
Italy vs. Croatia
Andrea Pirlo gave Italy a halftime lead off a beautiful free kick from 20 yards away. However, in the second half, Italy lost its attacking drive and Croatia took advantage of the small lead Italy had. Mario Mandzukic scored his third goal in two matches and tied the game 1-1. Going into the final round of games, neither team is safe from elimination.
Spain vs. Italy
In this game, Spain showed why it was world champions and Euro defending champions. Spain opted to go with its usual 4-5-1 starting Fernando Torres up top. Torres has been in a slump during the past two tournaments, but Vicente del Bosque has continued to put faith in Torres, and this game it paid off. Torres scored two goals in a 4-0 blowout against Ireland making Ireland the first casualty of the Euro Cup. The two spots from Group A are up for grabs between Spain, Italy and Croatia.
Sweden vs. England
England coach Roy Hodgson, still without starting forward Wayne Rooney, started Andy Carroll in his spot, and it paid off. Carroll scored in the 23rd minute to give England a 1-0. In the 49th minute, Glen Johnson scored an own goal to keep Sweden in the game. Sweden then took the lead after a goal from Olof Mellberg. England sub Theo Walcott picked up a cleared ball and fired a shot from 30 yards out passed Andreas Isaksson, whose reaction to the shot looked as though he had an obstructed view. In the 78th minute, Danny Welbeck put the game away from England and dashed Sweden’s hopes of a Euro Cup championship. Sweden became the second casualty of group play.
Ukraine vs. France
The host nation was coming off an upset over Sweden, and France was in need of points to ensure it would make it out of the group. Ukraine was not as successful this time. Jérémy Menez and Yohan Cabaye scored goals in the 53rd and 56th minute, respectively, to give the French three points and tying with England after two matches.
Editor’s note: I apologize for the late post. Due to finals, I was unable to watch all the games when they were played and had to watch replays at later times.
If you haven’t realized by now, the 2012 Euro Cup started last week in Poland and Ukraine (and if you haven’t heard, you’ve probably been hibernating for the past few weeks). I would like to do a short recap of the first round of games, group by group.
Poland vs. Greece
Arguably the least exciting group of the tournament, Group A’s Poland versus Greece was the first game of the tournament. What I love most about the Euro Cup (and this goes for the World Cup, too) is that there are no safe bets. Greece is probably one of the worst teams in the tournament, so I was expecting a rather one-sided game. However, this proved to be one of the most exciting games of the first round. In the 44th minute, with Poland up 1-0, defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos was shown a second yellow, leaving Greece to play a man down the rest of the game. In the beginning of the second half, Dimitris Salpingidis comes in as a substitute for Greece and scores in the 50th minute despite being a man down. In the 69th minute, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny makes a challenge and clips Salpingidis, and he is given a red card and Greece is awarded a penalty kick. Back-up goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton is forced to come on cold and blocks the penalty kick. The game continues 10 v. 10 and ends in a 1-1 draw.
Czech Republic vs. Russia
On the opposite end of the excitement scale falls the Czech Republic versus Russia. Russia, the Group A favorite, ran away with this game 4-1. Russian striker Alan Dzagoev had two goals in the game as Russia showed its dominance as the No. 1 seed for Group A.
Netherlands vs. Denmark
In Group B, the Group of Death, first and second place is up for grabs. All four groups are ranked in the top 10 in the world. The Netherlands, who placed second in the 2010 World Cup, had a slight edge over the Danes. But as I mentioned, there are no safe bets in the Euros. Denmark stunned the Dutch with a goal in the 24th minute and held onto that lead to give the Danes three points in their group and showing the other teams that they were contenders.
Portugal vs. Germany
Despite my love for the Spanish national team, the Germans are heavy favorites for the Euros, and they’ve been playing with such dominance I’ve begun to believe they will win. Portugal’s defense held its line and fended off the Germans until German striker Mario Gomez headed in the game winner in the 72nd minute. Portugal fought hard to tie the game up but were unsuccessful. The Germans and Danes took the lead in the group.
Spain vs. Italy
Both teams have a lot to prove. Spain is looking to be the first “three-peat” champions (winning the Euros, the World Cup, and the following Euros), and Italy wanted to make up for its early exit from the World Cup in 2010. In a surprising move by the Spaniards, coach Vicente del Bosque opted to play a 4-6 lineup. By halftime, the move had not paid off and I prayed that del Bosque would substitute a forward in for the second half, but he didn’t. In the 61st minute, Italian sub Antonio Di Natale pushed the ball past Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas to put the Italian’s up 1-0. The lead did not last long and del Bosque’s risky move paid off; David Silva slips a pass through to Cesc Fabregas who puts the ball past goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. The game ended in a 1-1 draw.
Ireland vs. Croatia
Unfortunately, not all games can be like Spain vs. Italy or Germany vs. Portugal. The Ireland vs. Croatia game was less than exciting. Ireland let in a goal by Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic in the 3rd minute; Ireland dug themselves a hole and were fighting an uphill battle the rest of the game. Croatia capped off the night with two more goals, including another one by Mandzukic, and Croatia won 3-1.
France vs. England
France and England were also teams that needed to prove themselves. Both had early exits from the 2010 World Cup. France nearly had a mutiny during the World Cup with several players walking out on practices and receiving heavy suspensions. England, historically a good team, over the past few major tournaments has been unable to perform to the level its players are capable of. All eyes were on this game to see whether either team could prove the critical media wrong. Both teams started with a strong attack, but France soon took over the game, pounding the English defense. Despite their best efforts, the French could not break through. In the 30th minute on an English corner, defender Joleon Lescott headed a ball into the net to put England up 1-0. Nine minutes later, Samir Nasri, who was left out of the 2010 World Cup squad, slipped a ball past Joe Hart to tie the game. The game ended in a 1-1 draw.
Ukraine vs. Sweden
Ukraine, who has never played in the Euros before, was given an automatic bid for being a host country. They entered this game as the underdog against a tall and strong Swedish team, headed by European great Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Andriy Schevchenko, Ukraine’s leading scorer, announced he would be playing in his last major tournament. The 35-year-old made history by knocking in two headers, making him the oldest player to score two goals in a European Championship game. Ukraine won 2-1 and took the lead in the group.
Editor’s note: Due to a graduation ceremony I attended and Mother’s Day, I had to watch a recording of the Manchester City vs. QPR game late last night, which is why this story came out one day later.
Manchester City hadn’t won a Premier League title since 1968. It’s cross-town rivals, Manchester United, have won 12 titles in the past 20 years. This year’s title was between the two Manchester teams; they were tied at 86 points apiece, but City had an eight goal lead, which means with a win, City would hold the title. And yesterday, as the final games of the season were played, Manchester United hoped that City would falter as it had earlier in the season.
Man City, the team with the best home record, played Queens Park Rangers, the team with the worst away record, at the Etihad Stadium. Man City was the clear favorite; QPR was fighting to stay out of the bottom three to avoid relegation. If Man City won, they would win the title; if Man City tied with QPR and Manchester United lost or tied its game, Man City would win; but a loss would guarantee ManU another league title.
Man City held most of the possession for the first half. The team used its quick foot work and intricate passing to attack QPR around the box. QPR’s clear tactic was to play a defensive game. After nearly a whole half of wearing QPR down, Man City defender Pablo Zabaleta struck the ball at QPR goal keeper Patrick Kenny. It was an easy stop that should have been caught or pushed over the top of the goal, but instead Kenny popped the ball over his head and into his goal. Man City took a 1-0 lead into half time.
At the start of the second half, Man City was pounding QPR again, but a miscue by Man City defender left the ball in the path of QPR forward Djibril Cisse, who put the ball in past goalkeeper Joe Hart in the 48th minute. QPR was fighting to avoid relegation and putting up a fight. The game continued in dramatic fashion. In the 55th minute, QPR midfielder Joey Barton elbowed Carlos Tevez in the face after the two were fighting for position. The referee presented Barton with a red card, and in the scuffle following the card, Barton kneed Man City striker Sergio Aguero in the back. Barton has since been charged with two acts of violent conduct.
The red card was a blessing for Man City, who now only needed one goal to win the title. QPR substituted defender Armand Traore in for striker Cisse to protect the tie. Again Man City attacked the QPR goal trying to find an opening or final ball that would lead to that final goal. But QPR struck again in the 66th minute on a header from Jamie Mackie. Now Man City found themselves in a hole: they needed two goals to win the game, and ManU was beating Sutherland 1-0 in a game that it had complete control of.
In the 90th minute, QPR still lead the game 2-1. The title was slipping away from Man City, and you could see it on their faces. Manager Roberto Mancini was yelling on the sidelines, and the Man City players were sending desperate crosses into the box. The ManU game had ended and the title was almost theirs. But City would not be foiled. In the 92nd minute, Edin Dzeko headed the ball off a corner kick to tie the game at 2-2. Two minutes later, in a final act of desperation, striker Mario Balotelli fought to get a pass to striker Aguero who had been quiet most of the game. Aguero pushed the ball past the defense and struck a ball low under the reach of goalkeeper Kenny.
It was a stunning finish, reminiscent of the game against Sunderland in March, in which Man City scored two goals in stoppage time to tie the game and keep Man City in the title hunt. A shocked ManU team saw the title slip through their fingers because of the goal differential. It was a glorious win for Man City, who played like a championship caliber team for a majority of the season. It was Man City’s first title in 44 years – recognition for the hard work Man City had put in all season – and a message to the other teams that Man City was on top.
As an avid sports fan, it’s somewhat surprising that I’ve never gotten into fantasy sports before now. But a few weeks ago, one of my best friends convinced me to join his fantasy baseball league. Being a complete newbie to the fantasy baseball process, he ended up giving me tons of tips regarding drafting strategy, how to set my team each week, how to manage my DL list, and how to drop and sign new players. But the best advice I received came from my dad, an hard-core baseball fan (and someone who has never participated in fantasy baseball either). The day before my league’s draft, my dad said to me, “Don’t draft Tim Lincecum, draft Matt Cain.”
I’m a huge Giant’s fan, and Tim Lincecum has been my favorite player the past few years. With two Cy Young Awards under his belt, he was easily the Giant’s No. 1 pitcher. The Freak had an ERA of 2.74 in 2011, just 0.46 behind LA Dodger Clayton Kershaw who won the 2011 Cy Young Award. Lincecum’s 2012 Spring Training numbers weren’t great, but it didn’t alarm Giants fans because he had a history of not producing great numbers during Spring Training.
So why did my dad advise against drafting Lincecum? Perhaps it was a hunch, or perhaps it was because the Giant’s had just signed Cain to a $112.5 million deal over five years with $5 million signing bonus and $7.5 million buyout in 2018 (obviously the Giant’s office management and manager Bruce Bochy saw something in him). This deal makes him the highest-paid right-handed pitcher in baseball history.
Thankfully, I listened to my dad (which doesn’t happen as often as it should). Currently, Lincecum has an ERA of 5.74 (after starting the season with an ERA of more than 10), while Cain boasts a 2.37 over four starts (30.1 total innings). In his second and third games, he pitched 18 scoreless innings, including a one-hit shutout against Pittsburgh, and a two-hit nine inning stretch in a game that went into extra innings. My brother’s friend Max dubbed him Matty “No Runs” Cain. (In case you were wondering, I picked Cain as my second starting pitcher, after the Tiger’s ace, Justin Verlander).
Lincecum has been under scrutiny because his velocity has dropped. In 2011, he averaged 92.2 mph, while he averaged 90 mph in his 2012 debut. My dad said his size forced him to have different pitching mechanics to reach the same power and speed as some of the stronger pitchers in the league, and his mechanics were finally catching up with him. According to Tristan H. Cockcroft on ESPN.com, “In his defense, four times since 2009 he averaged a lower number than he did on April 6, and in four of his first eight starts of 2010 he averaged beneath 91 mph.” The season is just beginning, which gives Lincecum time to adjust, settle into the season and bring his ERA down.
For now, the Giant’s No. 1 pitcher is Cain, who is 1-1 with 26 K’s and 0.63 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched). In his four starts he’s allowed eight earned runs, 14 hits (including 4 home runs), and five walks.
If Lincecum can improve his pitching, and if manager Bochy can deal with the loss of closer, Brian Wilson, the Giant’s are poised to have a better year than last year, especially now that they have better offensive support In 2011, they were ranked 29th (second to last) in the majors with 570 runs over 162 games (3.5 runs per game), while this year they are ranked 17th with 90 runs in 22 games (4.1 runs per game).
Currently, the Giant’s are 12-10 (.545) and in second place in the National League west, but the season is still young. If the Giant’s can overcome the unexpected events that have happened so far this year, and if second basemen Freddie Sanchez comes back hitting as well as he did the last two seasons, San Francisco will be a Giant force to be reckoned with.
Note from the editor: I usually try to refrain from inserting a personal bias into my blog posts. However, I’m allowing an exception because there are certain factors that could affect the fate of my 49ers. Most of this post is speculation based on my opinions. Enjoy!
Broncos fans breathed a sigh of relief today when superstar quarterback Peyton Manning decided to sign a three year,
$95 $96 million deal with Denver. Manning was released from the Colts March 7 and spent the past 12 days shopping teams including Denver, San Francisco and Tennessee. Denver seems like a good fit for Manning in terms of having John Elway in the office and head coach John Fox on the field, but do the Broncos have the talent to back up Manning? And where will fan favorite Tim Tebow end up now that the Broncos have decided to release him?
The Niners made a last minute push for Manning, and Manning would have seemed right at home in San Francisco with the strong offensive presence of Frank Gore, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and Vernon Davis. But much to the dismay of Niners fans, Manning did not choose San Francisco. So what does that mean for Niners fans? Unfortunately, Niners quarterback (and free agent) Alex Smith was not happy with the Niners push for Manning and met with the Miami Dolphins earlier today.
I’m a Niners fan, so naturally I’m interested to see where Smith will end up and what that will mean for the Niners next season. I would hate for the Niners to lose Smith because he helped lead the Niners to a NFC West Championship and their first playoff appearance since 2002. What Smith needs to realize is that the Niners made a push for Peyton Manning, one of the best quarterbacks in history and the only 4-time NFL MVP. It’s not something Smith should take personally, and I think he should swallow his pride and stay with the Niners, who have a stronger team than the Miami Dolphins.
If Smith decides to sign with another team, the Niners have a few options. The Broncos are releasing Tebow, and the Niners could pick him up. But there are rumors that Tebow will visit with the Jacksonville Jaguars back in his home state of Florida. Although Tebow has shined at times in the NFL, I would rather see Tebow serve as a backup to a veteran quarterback who can teach Tebow better mechanics. Until then, I’d prefer he didn’t come to San Francisco.
The Niners could also bank on backup quarterbacks Scott Tolzien or Colin Kaepernick, who only played 20 snaps and attempted five passes during the 2011 regular season. But if anyone has proved he can help a quarterback develop it’s Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh. The Niners could also take first round pick in the NFL draft to draft a quarterback, but I wouldn’t even begin to wonder who the Niners would choose after Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III go at No. 1 and No. 2.
The best we Niners fans can hope for is that Alex Smith swallows his pride, doesn’t take the push for Manning personally and realizes that San Francisco is the best fit for him.