On Sunday in Germany, Joachim Löw was everywhere all at once. In the Frankfurt airport, his frown was plastered across nearly every paper on the stand. The Frankfurter Allgemeine, a burly broadsheet not unlike the the Wall Street Journal in this country, featured an illustration of his face on its front page, crumpled and then flattened, dappled with distress. "Celebrated too early," its caption began. "A week ago we were enamored with [Löw]. He was a star. Since last Thursday's 2-1 result against Italy we now know that he didn't get everything right, but rather, he actually got a whole lot wrong . Grrrr."
In Hannover, a mustachioed man with a bookshelf of a belly stepped into the dining car of a train headed for Berlin with the Bild, perhaps Germany's most infamous tabloid, folded under his arm. "Another Final Without Us," the first half of its headline read. "Can one still believe in Jögi?" He pored over a post-match breakdown the entire way to the capital city, hunched over and frozen, breaking away only for another wheat beer. He had four in just over an hour.
You may know Anthony Richardson from his CPUvsCPU YouTube videos, many of which we have featured on Grantland Dot Com Backslash Blog Backslash The Dash Triangle before. But I bet you didn't know Anthony was psychic. Yeah, that's an absolutely true story. It took me extra long to type because I have one hand on a Holy Bible. I swear. Don't believe me? Just check out this playthrough Anthony and the CPUvsCPU gang posted earlier today, predicting Italy and Germany's Euro 2012 semifinal. (Some language here not for the faint of heart.)
Last time around, I did a preview of the quarterfinals. I picked Germany, Portugal, France, and Italy. If my success rate at crossing the street was as good as my success rate at picking knockout soccer matches, I would be dead. So let's take a look at the semifinals!
Former France national team manager Raymond Domenech believes in things that you and I do not. Using astrology to help pick his team, for one. But here's one thing Domenech believes that seems to be right on: Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa, and Samir Nasri are not good enough for France. When Domenech was manager of the France national team, he resisted cries to include these young players, who were the core of France’s under-17 European Championship squad in 2004. And when the French players revolted and refused to practice at the last World Cup, it seemed a blessing in disguise that they were not there. Heading into Euro 2012, the feeling was that under new manager Laurent Blanc, Nasri, Ben Arfa, and Benzema were finally going to get a chance to strut their stuff. When the tournament ended for France with consecutive 2-0 defeats to Spain and Sweden, and a solitary goal between the trio of Benzema, Ben Arfa, and Nasri, the knives were out after yet another debacle, and it is now hard to escape the feeling that French football is in a state of terminal decline and the current crop of players won’t be the ones to stop it.
Here's Portuguese football legend Luis Figo, sitting next to Portuguese football legend Eusebio, at Thursday's Portugal-Czech Republic quarterfinals clash in Warsaw. And here's Luis Figo and Eusebio right after Cristiano Ronaldo's rather definitive headed winner in the 79th minute:
How They Got Here: Portugal pulled off the unlikely feat — or what seemed an unlikely feat before the tournament — of making it out of Group B, the Group of Death. After a fairly close loss to Germany, 1-0, Paulo Bento's side got a game-winning goal against Denmark from little-known Silvestre Varela and a world-beating performance from Cristiano Ronaldo in a 2-1 win against the Dutch.
The Czechs got their pants pulled down by Russia in one of the most one-sided losses of the tournament so far (4-1, on the opening day of Euro 2012). Since then, they've taken their chances very well (basically the key to winning tournament games). Their opening goal against Greece was like watching CCTV footage of a mugging.
Or at least let him speak his mind! On Monday, the Italian striker scored his second-ever goal for Italy, roasting Ireland defender John O'Shea with a volleyed hit to put Italy up, 2-0, on Ireland, in stoppage time, and secure their passage to the Euro 2012 quarterfinals out of Group C.
You know what play-by-play sports commentary needs more of? LASERS. Here's a Portuguese announcer Nuno Metas's reaction to Cristiano Ronaldo's game-winning, 74th-minute goal against Holland. The 2-1 victory over the Dutch, and Germany's defeat of Denmark in the other Group B match of the day, sent Portugal through to the quarterfinals. This guy sounds like he gave birth to a herd of magical unicorns while having an epidural of pure adrenaline pumped into his body. Let me get out my thermometer yeah, my man has Euro fever. Personally, I would have preferred a Funkmaster Flex bomb-drop sound effect somewhere in there.
Andrei Arshavin came to my attention at Euro 2008 the same way a man might find a beautiful woman in a dimly lit bar shortly after a breakup. Back then he got my mind off all that was wrong with Arsenal and offered the promise of something better. And as I watched him on Tuesday, in Russia’s 1-1 draw against Poland, I was reminded of why I once fell for him and why we simply can never be.
This past weekend, Spain played Italy in one of the marquee matchups of the Euro 2012 Group Stages. The match was held in Gdansk, Poland. It ended in a draw, 1-1, and Spain has subsequently started complaining, albeit informally, about the state of the Arena Gdansk pitch.
International football tournaments follow a fairly predictable script. The two most predictable scenes, after England failing to live up to the hype and the Dutch being eliminated on penalties, are the precocious young player who impresses and the small country that captures the hearts and minds of casual fans. When Euro 2012 kicks off this weekend in Poland and Ukraine, those looking for an underdog to support and a young player to discover need not look any further than Denmark and their young star Christian Eriksen. There are many reasons to support both.