The rain in Spain…
It might come off as strange on a day that David Villa nets the first -– and probably last -– hat trick of Euro 2008 to begin talking about his strike partner Fernando Torres (or as I just arbitrarily call him, “Fro”).
Torres was at the heart of the first Spanish goal in their 4-1 thumping of Russia in the Group D opener in rainy Innsbruck, Austria. His layoff, after a nice, deep movement, did all the hard work; Villa simply had to steer it into the net.
When Villa’s strike found the netting, he went immediately toward Torres and hugged him like it was going out of style. Not to get too graphic, but they were writhing around on the wet turf, locked in each other’s embrace like a newborn South American monkey clinging to its mother in the tree canopy.
That’s the power of Torres, aka El Niño.
In one season at Liverpool, he made the entire red-half of Merseyside and millions worldwide Gay For Torres. All other sporting man-crushes pale in comparison. Maybe it’s the headband, the blonde locks, the freckles. (Wait, this is starting to get weird.)
Whatever your feelings tell you, there’s no denying that Torres could be on the cusp of becoming one of the world’s all-time best forwards. Roughly a decade ago the world expected big things from Dutch striker Patrick Kluivert, but it never came together for the well-traveled player, who, until Villa, was the last to bag a hat trick at a Euro competition back in 2000. (Kluivert did his trick in the first half of a 6-1 quarterfinal win over Yugoslavia in Rotterdam.)
Though you could say he announced himself to the world at the last World Cup, Torres has the chance here to pull the Spain team up by their flowing locks and win the country its first major tournament since 1960. So yeah, Villa bagged a hat trick Tuesday, but if Spain’s going to win this thing, it’s Torres who will be the matador plunging lances into the opposition.
Tuesday’s heroes: David Villa, Spain. Three goals for the ‘Robert Smith’ full-name-on-jersey Hall of Famer. The third goal in particular was a great individual move, faking the Russian keeper out of his jock. Safe to say his inevitable transfer to an English team (Chelsea, cough cough) went up a few million Euros.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden. The giant Swede broke his massive goal drought dating back to October 2005 with a stunning thunderbolt off his right boot that came out of nowhere and bristled off the hand of the Greek keeper. Prior to the goal his only impact on the game was absorbing a kick to the junk from Greek midfielder Giorgos Karagounis.
A scary thought: It’s a necessary evil for ESPN to cross-promote the NBA Finals during the Euro telecasts, but is it necessary for Tommy Smyth to offer his two cents on “Celtic”? It’s not a big deal, but hopefully Norby or Skipper aren’t planning a Smyth for A. Smith swap.
Coaching genius: Spain coach Luis Aragones is a lot of things. Old. Possibly a racist. Paunchy. The 69-year-old has been in charge of Spain since 2004 and hasn’t done all that much in that time. Tuesday he committed to a 4-4-2 formation, which meant Arsenal hero Cesc Fabregas found himself on the bench, with Marcos Senna and Xavi favored in the central midfield. Spain got two first half goals and then subbed off Torres for Cesc -– who scored the final goal in extra time. See, everybody wins.
Not to rub it in: How’s it feel today, England? It was bad enough that Croatia needed a penalty kick to stop Austria –- the worst team in the field. Today Russia was run off the field by Spain, the final five minutes aside. These two teams edged ahead of England in qualification. Is it beating a dead horse to suggest Steve McClaren should be exiled to the most remote Orkney Island?
A modest proposal: This goes out to Vlad Putin and the rest of the Kremlin politburo. Why not opt for all Russian national sports team to revert back to the “CCCP” Red Army stuff? It would be a definite psychological edge. (Sorry. Not a lot to say about the Russkies; their names are too difficult to type anyways.)
At least they’re fair: During the Spain/Russia game, there was an on-screen graphic noting Spain’s notable wins during its streak. It included the likes of England, Greece and Sweden. Somehow the 1-0 win over the U.S. National Team in Santander last week didn’t quite ring out in Espana.
If it ain’t broke?: Greek coach Otto Rehhagel set his team up for failure Tuesday. Yes, the Greeks shockingly won the 2004 competition on the basis of air-tight defense. Against Sweden they went with a sort of 5-4-1 formation, which stifled the Swedes until a moment of individual brilliance by Ibrahimovic and later one of the sloppiest goals you’ve even see bungled in by defender Petter Hansson. (Sweden coach Lars Lagerback wasn’t much better as he looked befuddled by Greek’s defensive formation until his foil Zlatan bailed him out.)
Take away the goals ,and if it ended 0-0, Greek would have been in a touch of trouble. Before the game, most would say the winner of this game would advance out of Group D. Playing for a draw, or simply hoping for a fluke 1-0 win, put the Greeks on a tightrope. It basically left them needing to beat Russia and hope for a draw against Spain, or pray the Swedes flounder.
Ugh. The Greeks made me whistle at their back-passing from the comfort of my couch.
Four years ago Rehhagel was like a guy continually rolling sevens. Tuesday he crapped out right away.
So this explains it: It took a little time to figure out why the Euro highlights were interspliced with Rolling Stones concert shots on ESPN. (Keith Richards, another HD fright.) Greek keeper Antonios Nikopolidis was the Stones’ original drummer.
Where’s your head at?: Best line from the ESPN studio today? From Julie Foudy who said Ronaldo can, “Score from anywhere, with any part of his body.” (Form your own jokes; even she laughed, catching herself as soon as the entendre slipped.)
Today’s Games (Group A)
Czech Republic v. Portugal, Stade de Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland (11:50 a.m., ESPN2): Both teams have three points in the bank, but this is a massive game because if the winner (if there is one) likely avoids Germany until at least the semifinals. The Czechs have won four straight in this series. Expect Portugal to carry the bulk of play, with the Czech’s trying to spring a counter-attack. The Czechs would be wise to try to play for a win, since playing Turkey in the final group game could be tricky. Look for Ronaldo to make his first impact, possibly from (many) deadball oppurtunities.
Guy to watch: David Rozenthal, Czech defender. The Czech back four — Jankulovski, Ujfalusi, Grygera and Rozenthal — were stout vs. the toothless Swiss Saturday. They’ll be under massive pressure from the Portuguese and Rozenthal might be the weakest link and could even give up a penalty, though if there’s a game Portugal’s lack of a center forward comes to haunt them, it’s this.
Score guess: Czech Republic 0, Portugal 1
Switzerland v. Turkey, St. Jakob Park, Basel, Switzerland (2:30 p.m., ESPN2): Normally a pairing of these two countries doesn’t conger images of war. Today, at least, it should. Flashback to the second-leg of the 2006 World Cup qualification playoff, when the teams rumbled in the tunnel in Istanbul after a wild game that saw Tuncay Sanli bag a hattrick and a combined nine yellow cards. The brawl left Turkey with a closed-door ban for a couple matches. Look for the Turkish fans to flood over from Germany (aka New Turkey) to drown out the passive Swiss partisans. Oh right, both teams probably need all three points to even dream of advancing. (Note: Turk captain Emre is out with an injury.)
Guy to watch: Tranquillo Barnetta, Switzerland. Maybe the one top-class player on the Swiss side has a chance to assert himself her and keep Switzerland’s hopes alive. The Bayer Leverkausen wide man has nice pace and decent shot. Against the Turks he better have an eye for goal, or the home nation could go goalless at the Euro.
Score guess: Switzerland 1, Turkey 1