Sunday, 29 June 2008

A fitting denouement

Congratulations to Spain, deserved European champions for the first time in 44 years. It was a very good game, packed full of flair, incident and tension. Just the end to Euro 2008 that the tournament deserved. Presumably Dani Guiza will now marry his girlfriend, as he pledged the other day.

Half way there

Germany started brightly, but Spain are well worth their 1-0 half-time lead from Fernando Torres (pictured) -- whose experience of bruising Premier League defences with Liverpool may have helped him to battle the ball into the net. The chipped finish was pure class, too. The German centre backs are being outwitted in the air, through the middle and around the side. Which doesn't leave much latitude! An early near own-goal and a Torres header well smothered by Jens Lehmann on the near post could have opened an even greater lead for the Spanish, who have now won 21 games in a row. Creative in midfield and lively up front, their record of conceding only three goals in Euro 2008 as a whole suggests that they should end their long wait (since 1964) for a major trophy tonight.

City of culcha

Ah, baffling football final ceremonies. Doncha love 'em? The organisers in Vienna tonight (no, don't get carried away, I'm only watching on TV, too) came up with a corker. Dodgy drama, dodgy art, dodgy acting and Enrique "son of Julio" Iglesias all rolled into one bulging globule of on-pitch entertainment. Awesome! When I say "dodgy", I don't mean monumental Eurovision-scale awful (it's not that hideously compelling)... just something so whimsically conceived-by-committee that it would need a lengthy commentary to make sense of it... involving, as it does, waddling puppets, floating balloons and marionette referees. "Football is focus of closing ceremony" it says here, in breathless tones. Classic. Motty, doing his last major tournament as a commentator, manfully decided to ignore the proceedings and reminisce, bless 'im. Plus he couldn't pronounce "Enrique" properly. A bit of little England was there after all. Now for the football... and the Germans are surprisingly lively at the moment.

Hoping Spain can reign

I'm not going to predict a Spanish victory tonight, but like the millions who will be watching, I hope that the final of Euro 2008 is a fitting climax to what has been (after a bit of a slow start) a fabulous tournament. Sad that Scotland were so near yet so far to getting there. But England haven't been missed, despite attempts by the BBC to make their absence the defining issue. Gary Lineker (pictured, trying to look wry) famously quipped that "football is a game involving two teams, in which the Germans eventually win on penalties." I don't think that will be the outcome tonight. But I could well end up saying, as I have many times before, "what do I know?" Or you, or anyone, for that matter. Which is one of the things that makes it a great game. A beautiful one in Vienna, too, we'd all like to say on a balmy evening.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

¡Venido el Sons!

Well, España, actually. But Spain are thoughtfully wearing Dumbarton colours for their Euro 2008 semi-final clash with Russia tonight... an absorbing, positive encounter between two skilled, technical and tactically aware sides. A few more fireworks are coming from the Spanish, though not with sharp enough finishing. Arshavin is very quiet for the Russians as the end of the first half approaches. But he could certainly explode into life at any moment. Update 21.33: Fabulous football from the Spanish and a deserved 3-0 victory, taking them to their first major international final in 24 years. [Pic: Two more for Jim Chapman?]

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Turkey on top?

Given that they have five players injured and four out with suspensions, few have given Turkey much consideration as Euro 2008 draws ever-closer to its denouement. But Germany have clearly been shaken by their opponents' smart semi-final start, with Colin Kazim-Richards rattling the bar and then a scrambled goal going in on 22 minutes. In a certain sense, the pressure is now on the outsiders in a game which is, in certain respects, a 'derby' -- given the close ties between the countries, including 2.5 million Turkish migrants and guest workers in Germany. It was gratifying to see that all sections of the crowd joined in the anti-racism aspect of the opening ceremony. Just over half-way through the first half, and this tournament is again living up to its promise of excitement, tension, twists and turns. (As I write, Germany have just equalised. This could be a corker, with both teams believing it is their destiny to get to the final.) Update, 21.42: though their performance did not merit it, Germany stole a turbulent match 3-2.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Withdrawal symptoms...

These mainly consist of looking obsessively at the TV guide to see when the next Euro 2008 match is, and figuring (for the sixth time in two hours) that it isn't until tomorrow night, then Thursday, then Sunday... then a big, fat nuffink for, I dunno, two weeks or more. More, given that I'll be in the USA at the end of July. How on earth will I cope? I'll just have to get a life, I guess. Actually, I have one of those. I just don't like to admit it when I'm in the company of fellow footie addicts. (On the bright side, I'm finding that every time I blink, Jim Chapman signs a new player for Dumbarton... Mainly from Partick, it seems. Thanks, Kenny. I hope.)

Sunday, 22 June 2008

A victory for football

Yes, I know it's a cliché. But all lovers of the Beautiful Game will surely rejoice that the forward thinking Spain triumphed over negative Italy tonight -- with Cesc Fabregas' cool decider in the penalty shoot-out and Iker Casillas' goalkeeping heroics finally separating the sides after a less than enthralling encounter in Vienna. Justice was done.

Raining on Spain

Well, here I am, blogging during a Euro 2008 quarter final again, and as I correctly predicted (for once) Italy are deadly -- in all senses of the word. Ten at the back much of the time, with four in the middle being just about their most adventurous gambit so far. Spain, to their credit, are seeking to enliven proceedings and actually win the game. But they could well go the way of the inventive Dutch and Portugese. I hope not. Even ex-Celtic and current Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill, a splendid man and a committed Azzurriphile, is recanting on live TV. Quite right, too. An Italian win on penalties would be the worst of all results.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

All that is solid...

... melts into air, as someone or other said. (It was a German striker). That certainly happened to the Dutch tonight. Somehow the magic from the Euro 2008 group stages deserted them when substance was most needed. Russia and the wily Hiddink deserved their victory. It is discipline, application and mental toughness that wins competitions like this, rather than bursts of footballing alchemy. My heart now wants Spain to weave a spell. My head tells me that Italy and Germany will be boxing and coxing in the final, with the technically proficient Italians best bets to lift the trophy. Turkey have probably had their day (yesterday).

Friday, 20 June 2008

It's Holland, then

In, er, a totally scientific and representative online opinion survey, of the kind for which football is renowned, the thronging hordes of Dumbarton fans are apparently plumping for Holland to win Euro 2008. By 68 per cent, no less, with Spain next in line on 15 per cent. What with the aura of Cruijff, several Dutch friends, Scotland manager George Burley and my trade paper The Guardian all plumping for the mighty Orange, the writing is surely on the wall. One way or the other. My nails may not get through the Netherlands -v- Russia match tomorrow night -- and this isn't even the semis, let alone the final. [Picture: Holland's destined players... or possibly a Dumbarton team from the early '70s. Those were the days...]

Perspiration and endurance

Croatia versus Turkey in the quarter-final of Euro 2008 hasn't been a neutral's dream as far as pure football is concerned. Underneath the cliches about "passionate support" lies an aura of violence and menace that makes neither of these sides instantly appealing. But extra time has been absorbing, and strangely, I have a feeling that Turkey, the less equipped of the two teams technically and imaginatively, might just nick this one. It's 0-0 in extra time so far. It could come down to set plays, stamina, heat... and in the final analysis, penalties. Nothing like the pulsating Germany versus Portugal game, which I was pleased to see the Germans win, if only to wipe the smug grin of Ronaldo's face. If he could switch to Spain for better prospects and money, I'm sure he would. [22.17: Astonishing. Croatia looked as if they had it, and the Turks scored in literally the last kick of the game. Then won on penalties. Nicked indeed.]

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

La France pauvre

It's hard to imagine more going wrong for France than it has this evening against boring, boring (if highly accomplished) Italy. First, Franck Ribery out with an early injury, then a slightly harsh red card after the (quite justified) penalty on 25 minutes, a second goal for the Azzurri deflected off the heal of Thierry Henry... Plus you know you really are in deep, deep trouble when one of your 'solutions' is to bring on Jean-Alain Boumsong (who's just got a yellow card for a clumsy, clattering challenge). As I write, France need to score three, or Romania two against the Netherlands. It's not going to happen. No revenge for the last World Cup Final, and Italy's first win over the French in open play since 1978. Not a good combination. Farewell la France pauvre.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Strachan's war on sweet nothings

Apparently a number of Celtic fans still don't think overly much of their manager, Gordon Strachan (pictured), even after three SPL titles in a row and two successive qualifications for the second group stage of the Champions League. Go figure. I suppose it's because he refuses to play ball with the tribal hatreds and the melodramatic highs and lows that are supposed to go with "commitment" these days. He's also seen as a bit of an Old Firm interloper from Aberdeen and Manchester United. Whatever. I think he's gold as a pundit on the BBC's Euro 2008 and elsewhere - intelligent, witty, spiky, funny, and with a refreshingly low threshold for fools and their cliches.

Asked today about the appointment of Phil Scolari to succeed Avram Grant as Chelsea boss, he was as dry and angular as possible: basically saying that if Scolari was really as much of a genius as the media was now claiming, and Grant as terrible ("I'm not saying that's my view, mind") then it will "obviously be a complete doddle" for the Blues to win a bucket load of trophies. Not for the first time, young presenter Jake Humphrey, surrounded by an aura of greenness, didn't quite know how to play that one. "Er... yes", he ventured, rapidly changing the subject.

Strachan does, I think, see poor Jack as a well-paid fish in the telly barrel when he's feeling a bit bored with the sheer predictability of punditry. Being bland and slickly vacuous just doesn't come naturally to Gordo. It makes for far better than usual pre- and post-match TV, mind. [Pic: Gordon Strachan (c) Sky]

Friday, 13 June 2008

Where are 'ya?

Though I think it's already been in wide circulation, I rather enjoyed this tongue-in-cheek take on England's absence from Euro 2008:

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Beyond a Greek tragedy

The tragedy in question being the dire game on the telly right now (scribing at 9pm). When Greece scrapped their way to the European Championship title last time, it was a blow for the plucky outsider. This performance against Sweden, however, has been laced with long stretches of cynical back-passing and other forms of 0-0-seeking football avoidance. A plucking disgrace... Oh great, Ibrahimovic has just scored with a stunning strike for the Swedes. His first international goal for two years. And now another, this one delightfully scrappy. Go, you Svensters!

Meanwhile, the highlight of Euro 2008 so far has undoubtedly been the fabulous 3-0 Netherlands triumph over the Azzuri. I have rarely been so pleased to be totally wrong about a team's prospects being dampened by my ardour, not least as Italy knocked out Scotland. Then again, George Burley had singled out the Dutch for potential glory. It must be down to him, then. [Pic: Ruud van Nistelrooy]

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Lucky for some?

Flashes of inspiration up front, periodically confused in midfield, occasionally woeful at the back. Sounds like some past Scottish international performances we can think of all too readily, huh? Actually, I'm referring to Poland in Euro 2008 tonight, losing 2-0 to a couple of comedy goals against Germany when they should have stuck in at least two themselves. Then again, the Tartan Army had recently decided to give its official support to the Poles, on account of local links and (for some) Artur Boruc. This, frankly, was bound to be the kiss of death. Almost as bad as having me deciding to support you -- which could be bad news for Holland in the 'group of death', as it is they I am throwing my lot in with for this tournament. That's partly on account of Johan Cruijff's famous but unconsummated fling with Dumbarton (you always need one daft reason), but mostly because, on their day, the Dutch can still be the Brazil of Europe. Plus I've spent some rather happy times on vacation and on work assignments in the Netherlands. Go Orange!

Friday, 6 June 2008

Flowing football

Dumbarton fan George McVicar is taking part in the 'WaterAid Trail 100' on Saturday 7 June 2008 to raise money for WaterAid - an excellent development agency dedicated exclusively to the provision of safe domestic water, sanitation and hygiene education to the world's poorest people. The 'WaterAid Trial 100' aims to put teams of walkers on one hundred of Britain's best loved peaks between noon and 2pm. George writes: "I'm part of one of several Scottish Water/Scottish Water Solutions teams attempting to climb in Glencoe. Our team is tackling Bidean nam Bian. Please take a moment to sponsor me. It's really easy - you can donate online by credit or debit card at the following address:"

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Euro 2012 for Scotland?

This from the BBC today: "Scotland could be the beneficiaries if Uefa takes a dim view on Ukraine and Poland's preparations for Euro 2012. Doubts persist about the suitability of stadiums and infrastructure in the former Eastern bloc nations and an inspection is planned this summer.

SFA chief executive Gordon Smith told BBC Sport: "We have made it clear that we'd like to be considered if it's not going ahead in Ukraine and Poland. With the event likely to expand after 2012 it would be our last chance."

Scotland and the Republic of Ireland failed with a joint bid for Euro 2008, which gets underway in Switzerland and Austria at the weekend.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Investing in Dumbarton's future

The Sonstrust has handed over a cheque for £6,000 to Dumbarton FC Chief Executive Gilbert Lawrie (also a member and long-term fan) as part of its agreement to keep an elected representative on the football club board at Strathclyde Homes Stadium. (Full story here.) The payment represents an acceleration of three years worth of contributions and says something about the steady growth of the Trust.

Sonstrust and DFC Commercial Director Stephen Lynch commented: “The Sonstrust are committed to the future of Dumbarton FC. With more and more Scottish clubs recognising the value of supporter involvement in the boardroom, we will continue leading from the front.”

Monday, 2 June 2008

Sons bag Accies friendly

As part of the official announcement of Dumbarton's pre-season friendlies (sorry, to Alan Findlay - slipped my eye when I looked for this post yesterday!) - and as recorded in the the Daily Record, on the 23 July the Strathclyde Homes Stadium will host Hamilton Accies, newly promoted to the SPL. Four days later it's an away trip for Sons to Airdrie United in the Challenge Cup, for the first competitive game of the new term. The competition was introduced in 1990 to celebrate the centenary of the Scottish Football League. Entry is open to all 30 SFL member clubs, divided into two geographical zones, North East and South West. [Friendlies latest here]

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Just fancy that...

Not that I really care whether England get the World Cup in 2018 (I'd much prefer a joint England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland bid, with a home tournament to see who gets the 'automatic' two qualification places)... but as I've mentioned recently, I'm amazed at how the FA is being strung along. Recently Jack Warner, secretary of the Trinidad & Tobago Football Federation and major FIFA luminary, went around loudly saying he was against England getting it and wanted a host from the Americas. Now he's suddenly swung the other way. Yeah, right. Expect more to-ing and fro-ing over the coming months. The man is, as they say, "having a laugh", much as he did during the last round of corruption investigations. Meanwhile, England take on - guess who? - tonight. I'm glad that Beckham's been given another swing at the captaincy and, well, its a game of football, after all. Something to see us through to the European Championships next Saturday, no matter how inconsequential.