As the European Championship begins its lurch into the knockout rounds of their newly expanded tournament it’s time for everyone’s favorite component of the competition: MATH!
Yes, math! The thing you tolerated throughout your education because you were informed multiple times that you would need to calculate circumferences on a daily basis. It’s time for math, because before you think about who will win or how, you need to think about precisely how many points are needed to qualify for the second round, and how much goal difference would be required to save the day.
With that in mind, here are recaps, combined with everybody’s favorite: MATH!
Day 10: Group A
Group A Before the Matches:
3 Points Would Qualify: France or Switzerland as Group Winner, Romania as Runner-Up if Switzerland lost by enough, Albania as third place (if results go their way)
1 Point Would Qualify: France as group winner, Switzerland as runner-up, Romania as third-place (if results in other groups go their way)
0 Points Would Qualify: France as runner-up
France 0 – Switzerland 0
Les Blus entered the tournament still searching for that definitive moment that could catalyze national pride and enthusiasm. A goalless draw did about as much to break the national ennui as a pair of mimes on a smoke break.
Individual moments of beauty, pace and power had the team hit the cross bar three times. Other than that, the national team looked like they’d be just as happy to have a long lunch and a couple bottles of wine at a nearby cafe, and with Switzerland knowing that they would advance as well, they might have just joined them.
France is still a top team at the tournament, but may be saving their best work for later, just like the nation keeps saving difficult conversations about isolating foreigners for whenever the national team does well.
Romania 0 – Albania 1
Despite entering the day with the longest odds, Albania delivered one of the farthest reaching performances. They were energetic and positive in attack and remained absolutely robust in defense (Elseid Hysaj has had a glowing European campaign and is fast becoming one of those tiny nation darlings ready for a big pay day). The side that held the hosts scoreless for over 90 minutes had no real challenge with Romania’s attack, and, in the 42nd minute they had their moment in the sun.
Armando Sadiku’s lobbing shot confounded Romania, and catapulted the Shqiponjat (aka the Eagles) into the running for the knockout stage. Perhaps they shouldn’t be there. Perhaps scoring one goal over 270 minutes should not be rewarded. Perhaps the cup should be smaller, and less complicated, and more contained. But perhaps soccer’s meant to be fun, and if a larger field shortens the odds on that, perhaps it’s worth it.
Day 11: Group B
Group B Before the Matches:
3 Points Would Qualify: England as group winners, Wales as group winners if England draw, runners-up if not, Slovakia as group winners if Wales lose.
1 Point Would Qualify: England as group winners if Wales lose or draw, runners-up if not, Wales as runners up if Slovakia lose or draw, Slovakia as runners up, if Wales lose.
0 Points Would Qualify: England, Wales or Slovakia as third place team (depending on other results)
England 0 – Slovakia 0
Like the Red Sox in Boston, the Lakers in Los Angeles, or the Lynx in Minnesota, the English national team does seem to suck up all the available press coverage whenever they play in Europe, so I’ll spare you the post mortems and trust there are any number of newspapers, websites, magazines, podcasts and random ranters on street corners who can tell you what’s gone wrong for the Three Lions.
Meanwhile, let’s spend a moment acknowledging Slovakia. They held their own in a difficult group, providing a few moments of solid attack from an athletic and perceptive midfield (Marek Hamsik and Ondrej Duda leading the way with the omnipresent Vladimir Weiss complicating matters for opponents). Adding in the World-Class Pain-in-the-Butt Martin Skrtl finding his form in defense and they pose a tricky proposition for knockout round rivals.
Russia 0 – Wales 3
Okay, we should acknowledge that Wales (yes Wales) won the group. That they have played an engaging and impressive style of soccer. That Gareth Bale has lived up to the hype and helped hoist his countrymen along side him, and that they absolutely earned what they got.
But really, we just want to take a moment and revel in the schadenfreude that is watching a Russian team utterly implode. A key part of the Russian state propaganda apparatus was basically toothless throughout the tournament and had their best attacks through acts of street violence than on the attack. Their defense was so poor you could almost hear Napoleon in his grave turning over to say “now this I could beat!”. Their press has turned on them (in a rare display of Russian self-criticism), local communists are longing for a Stalin-esque return to the old days when players were tough (and under constant threat of execution for poor play). Sports journalists are anxious about the aging team, discombobulated management, and embarrassed about the fast approaching world cup finals…a finals that many in Europe and elsewhere are less keen on attending based on Russian fans’ behavior in France.
Vladmir Putin could not be reached for comment as he was busy ripping a bear’s arms from its body and miming several obscene gestures at a poster of Gareth Bale.
Day 12: Groups C & D
Group C Before the Matches:
3 Points Would Qualify: Germany as group winners; Poland as group winners if Germany lost; Northern Ireland as Group winners if Poland lost. All 3 teams as at least group runners up.
1 Point Would Qualify: Germany as group winners if Poland drew or lost, runners up otherwise; Poland as runners up; Northern Ireland as runners up if Poland lost by more than one goal, or as a third place team on goal difference.
0 Points Would Qualify: Germany, Poland, Northern Ireland depending on other results.
Poland 1 – Ukraine 0
Poland kept attacking through Robert Lewandowski. Poland’s opponents kept having defenders surrounded Lewandowski like Bachelorette contestants surround buckets of protein powder. Arkadiusz Milik continued to make a difference (this time by being the primary target on a corner kick) but delivering an assist to another NON-Lewandowski, Jakub Błaszczykowski.
Meanwhile, as threats of violence continued to endanger fans, Ukraine continued to underwhelm, continued to miss the mark on short range opportunities (many thanks to 19 year old “Zolotyy Khlopchyk”/”Golden Boy” Olexandr Zinchenko), and continued to make those foolish enough to predict they would advance or were nearly Germany’s equals regret every overconfident piece of praise. They also continued to look disinterested, and to drive Ukrainian fans nuts (including President Petro Porocheynko who came to Marseille for the match) before continuing to make clear that their manager is about to be sacked…hmmm…I wonder what Denny Green’s doing…
Germany 1 – Northern Ireland 0
I’ve been hard on math so far, but let’s give it it’s due: even when it seems deceptive, it tells the story well.
The scoreline “1 – 0” could give you the impression that Northern Ireland did a fine job, challenging and daring the World Champions, and losing only by the skin of their teeth. In reality: Germany dominated. Other numbers will tell you that, numbers like Germany’s 70% possession percentage, or their 26 shots to Northern Ireland’s 1.
There was only one thing that stood in Die Mannschaft’s way: Goalkeeper Michael McGovern of the Scottish Second Division’s “Hamilton Academical” (though, given how keepers with sterling performances get snapped up, that may not last much longer).
Beyond the numbers, the feeling of watching these two teams offers a clear contrast. Germany seems, for all the world, like a lackadaisical world power, hitting the snooze button every 30 minutes (so, if they wake up late and chase down the knockout stage bus with different color shoes…well…they’ll be in good company).
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland continues to have the time of their lives, while playing a style that closely resembles death on a Triscuit: grim, greenish, and just possible about to come hurtling back up your middle. Still, the result was enough to give the Ulstermen a glimmer of hope as one of the top four third place teams.
Group D Before the Matches:
3 Points Would Qualify: Spain or Croatia as group winner; Czech Republic as runner up if Croatia loses by a large margin, or as 3rd-place team with some help; Turkey as 3rd-place-team with other results going their way
1 Point Would Qualify: Spain as group winner; Croatia as runner-up
0 Point Would Qualify: Spain as runner-up
Turkey 2 – Czech Republic 0
It took the better part of two weeks, but Turkey finally found their “give a dang” switch. Maybe because they wanted to show solidarity with legend Hakan Sukur whose legal trial started yesterday (oh, yeah, he’s on trial for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Twitter…so let’s all pause a moment and be glad we snarky writers don’t live in Turkey).
The same team that looked so lethargic over the weekend that Spanish players could reasonably have stopped to check for vital signs, turned it on while facing legendary Czech stopper Petr Cech, who strangely did not resemble either a legend, or a stopper.
With suddenly bright and incisive passes through a frequently fractured Czech defense, the Turks struck well twice, and then participated in good, old fashioned, smash mouth defending to hold their lead. A few strong attacks by the Czechs were dismissed, and in the end the greatest threat was the continued habit of Turkish fans to set off flares pretty much any time they wanted to (a tactic that adds atmosphere and–thanks to the Croatians–danger to matches).
Still the two goals Turkey got back may not be enough to flip their “mathematics” switch and slide them into third place.
Croatia 2 – Spain 1
The run-up to the match largely focused on whether or not the Croatian fans would once again endanger players, staff members and officials with flares, explosives or plain old drunken violence. The “protests” against Croatian leadership did not happen, and in response everybody’s favorite picnic blanket themed kits took home the spoils.
While Spain remained superb on the ball, with methodical, manicured movement and passing that put them in great position to score more often than not, Croatia had the better of the superlative soccer. Ivan Perisic provided both a pin point cross to help equalize the match at the end of the first half, and netted the game/group winning goal on a blitzing race down the left side of the pitch.
La Furia Roja had almost been slotted into the cup final before the match took place (the bi-product of post-game shows with fancy “knockout bracket” graphics and a surplus of time on their hands), but with Perisic’s performance (as well as a number of questionable decisions by a sloppy David DeGea and stonewalled Sergio Ramos), “The Blazers” in their furious red and white won the game and the group, without having to be all that furious
Third Place-Bubble Watch
IN: Slovakia and Northern Ireland
NERVOUS: Turkey and Albania
Day 13: Groups E & F
Group E Before the Matches:
3 Points Would Qualify: Italy as group winners; Belgium as winners if Italy lose by two or Runners-Up, if not; Sweden and Ireland as Third Place Teams
1 Point Would Qualify: Italy as group winners; Belgium as runner up
0 Points Would Qualify: Italy as group winners if Belgium loses, or runners up if they win; Belgium as third-place team, if they lose by two goals or less.
Group F Before the Matches:
3 Points Qualifies: Hungary as group winner; Iceland or Portugal as group winner if goal difference goes their way (and as runners up if not); Austria as Runner up if Portugal lose, and third place if not.
1 Point Qualifies: Hungary as group winner if Iceland do not win big; Iceland or Portugal as runner up if the other team loses OR if they score enough OR as third place team regardless
0 Points Qualifies: Hungary as runner up if Iceland draw or lose, as third place if Iceland wins.
Portugal – Hungary
Christiano Ronaldo may be under a bit of pressure to perform for the national team the way he performs for Real Madrid. Or he may just be a jerk. One of those two reasons is probably responsible for this…slight…over reaction to a reporter asking him if he was ready to play Hungary