Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Euro 2008 Preview Part 1

(My Euro 2008 preview will appear in the sports section of the Business Mirror in installments beginning May 29, 2008. Here's Part 1.)

Who are the odds on favorites to win Euro 2008?
There’s the reigning World Cup champion Italy and the three other semi-finalists Germany, Portugal, and France. And all four teams find themselves in form and re-loaded for football’s second most prestigious competition.

You cannot discount Greece but they won’t be ambushing anyone this time around. Some quarters have said that Croatia was lucky after they gave England the boot, but the sad truth is that they were the Greek team of the qualifiers. They’ve got a good side, but I’d say that they will surely feel the loss of Eduardo to that horrific injury. What did Eduardo bring to the table? See here, he scored 11 goals in the qualifiers and that kind of scoring prowess isn’t easily replaceable.

Has success dampened Italy’s hunger?
Not one bit. The Azzurri as led by new gaffer Roberto Donadoni (who replaced Marcelo Lippi who managed their World Cup side) find themselves with a back-to-form (and newly recalled) Alessandro Del Pierro (who led Juventus in scoring this season) and striker Luca Toni who led the Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich and was the Golden Boot Awardee. Central back Fabio Cannavaro helped Real Madrid win back-to-back La Liga titles. Midfielder Marco Materazzi was a factor in Inter Milan’s third straight Scudetto. Fabio Grosso helped Lyon win its seventh straight in the French Ligue 1 while Danielle De Rossi and Simone Perrotta of AS Roma beat Inter for the Italian Super Cup.

You think they got complacent with all their silverware? Not one bit. After France beat them in Euro 2000, Italy, the masters of the late game ambush, got their revenge in Germany but they’d like to duplicate Les Blues feat by supplanting the Greeks as champions of Europe. They remember their failure to advance beyond the first round despite not losing a game as they were dependent on the Denmark beating Sweden (they battled to a 2-2 draw). In Germany 2006, with the game dangerously close to penalty kicks (they have not won a penalty shoot out in a long while Germany has not missed a shot in over two decades), the Azzurri struck late with goals by Grosso and Del Pierro to break the host nation’s hearts.

While this Italian side may be lacking star power as Francesco Totti and Alessandro Nest have retired from national duty, Mauro Camoranesi and Antonio Di Natale have proven to be the perfect complement to Toni in their 4-3-3 attack. With new faces and a new attack philosophy in mind, the team all the way to their solid back four attack in droves. Andrea Pirlo is solid in the holding midfield position and is ready to snuff out any counters while their stingy defense led by Cannavaro race back to protect their All-World keeper Gigi Buffon.

Definitely a solid favorite to win Euro 2008.

Will Cristiano Ronaldo shed tears of joy this time around?
For all intents and purposes, he can now claim the name “Ronaldo” all to himself as the Brazilian version has eaten himself away to obscurity and shame.

Euro 2004 was Portugal’s moment in the sunshine as they hosted football’s second most prestigious tournament. After committing a foul in the box that led to Greece’s Angelos Basinas scoring on a spot kick and the marginal goal, Ronaldo went on to become one of the tournament’s stars (along with the Netherlands’ Ruud Van Nistelrooy who led the tourney in scoring, the Czech Republic’s Milan Baros, Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and England’s Wayne Rooney).

He wept openly after Nuremberg FC striker Angelos Charisteas headed in the winner and Greece became the first side to beat the host twice and the defending champion (France) in Euro competition. Portugal’s became bystanders in the post-match celebrations but the results offered much hope after a dour showing in recent years. True enough they once more made it to the semifinals of Germany 2006 only to lose to a Zinedine Zidane penalty shot in the 33rd minute.

But the losses only served to steel the Manchester United striker’s resolve as he led the Red Devils to back-to-back English Premier League titles and a UEFA Champions League trophy.

And a Euro championship would cement Ronaldo’s place as the world’s best footballer (supplanting AC Milan’s Kaka).

Despite Ronaldo’s awesome talent on the pitch, Portugal’s strength lies in the strategic genius of gaffer Luis Felipe Scolari who would love nothing more than to deliver Portugal’s first international title. They came close to duplicating the feat of the great Eusebio who led the national squad to a third place finish in 1966.

The Portuguese side that will take the field in Euro 2008 is a wholly different one. Luis Figo, Costinha, and Pedro Pauleta have retired. Andrade is off the squad because of lingering knee injuries. Deco, Postiga, and Simao are on the bench.

The defense has been shored with Pepe coming off a solid season in Real Madrid’s back four partnering with Ricardo Carvalho to protect their solid keeper Ricardo. Jose Bosingwa and Marco Caneira flank the two defensive studs.

Maniche and Petit provide much relief from the midfield because of their goal scoring prowess and open up the field for Ronaldo, Nani, and Hugo Almeida who is due for a break out of sorts.

You can sense that the time is now for this young and hungry Portuguese side which will be led by Ronaldo who is in top form. They’re bracketed in Group A with the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Turkey. And barring any upsets, the world's best player today should lead his side at the very least to the semis.

The La Liga this certainly isn’t.
Spanish coach Luis Aragones believes that Spain’s chances of moving out of Group D in the opening round of Euro 2008 is manageable. His thoughts may be guarded owing to the Iberian country’s litany of underachievement in major international competitions despite fielding a line up of some of the world’s best footballers.

They’re bracketed in Group D along with defending champion Greece, unpredictable Russia, and dark horse Sweden.

If there’s anything going for Aragones’ side, it’s the confidence gained by striker Fernando Torres who showed flashes of brilliance at the last World Cup and had a breakout season with Liverpool where he no longer had to answer questions about his consistency.

The rub about this team isn’t the lack of talent available because he has young studs like Cesc Fabregas and David Villa up front. Their defense though is still suspect with Carlos Merchena and Joan Capdevilla on the left of Sergio Ramos and Carlos Puyol.

Although Aragones has been an enigma rubbing off people the wrong way with his wayward quotes and views, he has this Spanish side playing solid yet stylish football where they move the ball around a lot and exploiting weaknesses in the opposing team’s defense.

It’s a young team that has its flaws especially with a largely untested back four combo. Aragones has been scored for excluding former team captain Raul off the squad. But if they fall by the wayside as they are wont to do, expect Aragones to be given the boot.

Spain’s bracket isn’t exactly a cakewalk even if Sweden will be missing the retired Henrik Larsson, the former Celtic and Barcelona great who wreaked havoc up front last time around with the impressive Zlatan Ibrahimovic. They’ll have to play more than stylish football of they want to fulfill all that promise and potential.

Prediction: They’ll fail to advance.


For the football mad, if you're looking for kits of Germany, Spain, and France, you might want to check out the adidas stores especially in Trinoma and Rockwell. For Netherlands and Croatia, they have in Nike Greenbelt.

For cable details, I was informed by Solar Sports people that it's going to be available ala All Access meaning it's a special pay-per-view buy. It's either that or you go to the bars.

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