EURO A-Z: Part 3
Three group leaders gone, comeback kings Turkey through to the semi-finals with a rapidly thinning roster of players, Guus Hiddink working his particular brand of magic with Russia... it has been an enthralling EURO tournament. FIFA.com continues with its alphabetical analysis.
M is for Midas touch, which Dutchman Guus Hiddink
certainly possesses. His achievement in taking Korea Republic to
the FIFA World Cup semi-finals in 2002, when they had never
previously progressed beyond the first round, was impressive
enough. However, since then, he has led Australia to their first
FIFA World Cup in 32 years, negotiated a difficult EURO qualifying
group with a young Russian side, and now taken that same youthful
team all the way to the UEFA EURO 2008 semi-finals, with a
thrilling 3-1 win in extra time over his native Netherlands. Mr.
Hiddink, be careful with the next meal you eat, you may find it
turns to gold before you can swallow.
N is for Never-say-die, which sums up the attitude of
the Turkish team at EURO 2008 perfectly. Not content with snatching
a late winner against Switzerland and engineering an amazing
comeback against the Czech Republic in their final group game, the
Turks responded to what looked for all the world like the decisive
goal in their quarter-final against Croatia, with an equaliser
within a minute.
O is for Outrageous, the best way to describe Spain
midfielder Xabi Alonso's attempt, in the game against Greece,
to emulate his memorable long-range goal for Liverpool against
Luton Town. Antonis Nikopolidis, in his final international, was
very nearly caught out by Alonso's 50-yard effort. Just to
prove it wasn't a fluke, Alonso produced another effort from
distance shortly afterwards, a 30-yard rocket which cannoned off
the post. Beware the Liverpool midfielder, wherever on the pitch he
P is for Pride, which Switzerland emphatically
restored with their 2-0 win over Portugal in the final group game.
The Swiss co-hosts, weakened by the early injury to Alexander Frei
and perhaps disturbed by their coach's family distress, played
positive football throughout the group stage and were surely
unlucky to be out after two games. The sight of Switzerland's
players carrying a banner of thanks for Kobi Kuhn at the conclusion
of Switzerland's campaign has been one of the most moving
images of the EURO tournament.
Q is for Quality, which has been provided in large
doses by Russia, but more particularly by their outstanding
playmaker/forward Andrei Arshavin, the fashion design graduate with
a touch of Johan Cruyff about him. He has been at the heart of
Russia's finest moves in their last two games, and provided the
deft final touch to perhaps the most outstanding team goal of the
tournament, Russia's precise, flowing counter-attack which gave
them their second against Sweden.
R is for Respect, which Josef Hickersberger's
Austria side certainly gained at EURO 2008. The co-hosts were
dismissed as makeweights by almost everyone, but provided stiff
resistance to the Croatians in the opening encounter, gained a
deserved draw against Poland, and had much the better of the match
against their neighbours Germany despite losing 1-0; but for a
couple of heavy touches by Erwin Hoffer up front, it might have
been Austria progressing to the quarter-finals instead of their
fancied "bigger brothers".
S is for Shootouts: there have been two already, and
given the closeness of the competition so far, who would bet
against one or two more? Again, heroes and villains have been
created thereby, and who doesn't feel sorry for Luka Modric,
the Croatian midfield whiz-kid, who missed his first penalty for
the Croatians against Turkey? The new Tottenham signing had been
one of the most dazzling stars of the tournament, but the penalty
curse descended on his young shoulders.