MONDAY'S BIG STORIES
Here Come The Dutch
You thought Group C was going to be the boring group, right? Come on, you can admit it. We're all friends here. Personally, we've never quite forgiven Ukraine for that 0-0 against Switzerland back in 2006. Sometimes we still find ourselves thinking back to that fateless day. We close our eyes and we see… nothing. Nothing at all.
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Serves us right for our prejudices. People can change, and football teams change right along with them. This Ukraine team, together with the Netherlands, served up the game of the tournament so far: five goals, a roaring comeback, heartbreak, and the absolute bare minimum of defending possible in what can still legally be described as a football match.
In other words, pure tournament football. The kind of game that your favourite tournament was filled with, or at least seems to have been, in hindsight, now that your memory — a kindly editor — has carefully tidied away the 0-0 draws. Both sides played their part, of course, but particular credit goes to the Dutch, who seem to have decided that having a defensive structure is unsporting. Man marking, huge spaces: first to 10 goals wins.
This was clearly working nicely for some Dutch players. Gini Wijnaldum, for example, was able to spend the game roaming around and trying cool stuff, which was both entertaining and productive. Memphis Depay should in theory benefit from a little chaos, but in truth he had a quiet, bitty game. No surprise, really, when you consider how distant he was from his attacking colleague on the other wing. It's about 4,000 miles of chilly ocean between Memphis and Dumfries.
This probably means that the Netherlands aren't going to get past the first strong and well-organised team they come across. It also means that, for the discerning neutral, the Netherlands promise entertainment at both ends, along with a fair amount of "What? But why is he there? And what is he doing?".This, of course, is just what we like to see. Paint our face orange and pass us that tulip. We're going all in.
Give Him The Prizes
It's early to make such a big call, but we're happy to say that goal of the tournament has already been scored. No, not Yarmolenko. Dipping left-foot piledrivers are so last season.
We are talking, of course, about Goran Pandev. Spectacular goals are nice but funny goals are better, and funny goals sprinkled with significance and soaked in emotion are the best of all. Pandev is 37 years old in calendar time and at least twice that in football years: the pace has gone and so has most of the hair. But old footballers always know where they should be standing. Just in case this happens.
There's a lot to love here, from the moment of inadvertent pinball that sets the whole thing up to the fact that it ends with David Alaba, Real Madrid's big summer signing and one of the finest footballers of his generation, sprawling about helplessly on the floor. Football can be painfully democratic at times.
But the very best thing is a tiny moment, just after Daniel Bachmann comes for the ball, gets the ball, then drops the ball. He leaps to his feet, the picture of responsive attention. Where's the ball gone? Where's the ball? And he looks in precisely the opposite direction. One perfect second of total confusion that contains within it hundreds of years of goalkeeping misery.
Pandev, meanwhile, knows exactly where the ball is and where it needs to go. Out of retirement for one last job, and now his country's first ever goalscorer at a major tournament. Frankly, it's appalling that we have to wait three whole days for a bit more Group C.
The Sounds Of The Stands
Was there booing? There was booing. Of course there was booing. One of the certainties of human nature is that asking somebody very politely to stop doing something stupid has a decent chance of making them do it a bit more. Especially if they've been drinking in the sunshine.
But when England took the knee, there was also counter-noise. Applause, loud enough to mask most of the boos and, perhaps more importantly, make it clear that those booing are not the only voices in the stands. We can safely assume this was quite heartening in the moment: professional sports people are often ferociously focused, but it's impossible that this wasn't playing on one or two minds before the game.
And more generally, this complicates the picture. The implied dynamic of "England team vs. England fans" may have been useful for anybody trying to perform anger for money, but it's now clear that it doesn't hold in such simple terms; that there is support in the stands for the kneeling on the pitch. We can hope, perhaps vainly, that this turns the conversation away from the attempts to turn it into an argument, and back towards the broader point of the gesture, this "mechanism of peacefully protesting against discrimination, injustice, and inequality".
And hey, England won. The rules of footballing superstition are simple enough: if something out of the ordinary happens before a win, you have to keep doing that forever. Best keep applauding then. Just to be on the safe side.
IN OTHER NEWS
The Copa América got underway in Covid-affected fashion, with Brazil strolling past a scratch Venezuelan team that couldn't even pull together a full complement of substitutes. But Gabriel Barbosa did score with his stomach, so that was pretty good.
If the sight of Andriy Shevchenko strolling the touchlines in Amsterdam didn't send you straight to Youtube, then we can't be friends. Well, that's a bit harsh. Give this a watch and then we'll be good.
Between England (who won a World Cup once), Croatia (who got to the final of a World Cup once), and Scotland (who are back, back, back!), the Warm-Up hasn't had much time to think about the fourth team in Group D, the Czech Republic. Luckily the Guardian's Lukas Vrablik is here to tell us all about their manager, Jaroslav Šilhavý.
As a coach, Silhavy did not have his contract at Ceske Budejovice renewed in 2011 because the club felt he was too soft with players. He then surprisingly won the league with Slovan Liberec in 2012 and later led them to the Europa League knockout stages. Another title followed with Slavia in 2017, secured in style, unbeaten for 36 games. But when Silhavy lost in Champions League qualifying and crashed out in the Europa League’s group stage, he was sacked.
Scotland vs. the Czech Republic, which will be emotional. Poland vs. Slovakia, which could be fun. And then Spain vs. Sweden, when we finally find out just how being slammed into quarantine at short notice affects a side's preparations. Over in the Copa, Argentina get going against Chile.
Right now he's having PANDEV 10 inked into his back, but Ben Snowball will be here tomorrow to bring you details of Scotland's glorious return to the big stage.
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