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Nihat Kahveci: Turkey’s Golden Boy
There is probably no point in delaying talking about the team of the tournament so far.
Holland has been immense and have made an absolute mockery of the Group of Death, Group C. To face Italy and France and emerge not only with 6 points but with a plus six goal difference shows how far above their rivals the Dutch have risen.
There may be the feeling that the Dutch will still implode at some point but if they keep their current high-tempo and counter-attacking style they may just have enough to succeed.
Scoring seven goals in two games is a level of proof of their dominance but the overall style and passion shown by the Orange team has been tremendous yet Edwin van der Sar has still managed a lot of good saves.
It is fair to say that there hasn't been a lack of excitement about the Dutch so far.
Teams who are already guaranteed a place in the knockout rounds are Portugal, Croatia, Holland and Spain and Turkey while Switzerland, Greece and the Czech Republic know that their tournament is over.
What An End to Group A
We could talk about the conclusion of Group A but it would take another 2,000 words to do it even half justice.
Quite frankly, the last five minutes (plus stoppage time) of Turkey’s comeback victory was everything you could wish for in a group deciding final day type affair. Petr Cech is normally so reliable but for whatever reason he made a hash of a rudimentary cross and allowed Turkey to squeeze home an equalizer.
At that moment everyone was thinking about European Nations history with qualification being decided by penalties but Turkey had other ideas. The Czech Republic tried to play offside but Nihat timed his run perfectly and outdid it with his finish. 3-2 and advantage Turkey but even then they found the time to have their goalkeeper sent off for a push on Jan Koller and ended up with Tuncay in front of goal wearing an inside out goalkeeping top. This would not happen in any other sport and is further proof of how brilliant this tournament has been so far.
Italy and France is shaping up to be a massive game on Tuesday night but it could all count for nothing depending on the score of the Holland and Romania game.
Holland are already qualified and with their current form, many will predict that they will dispose of Romania with little hassle but stranger things have happened.
Marco van Basten may rest a few players, Romania will have every incentive to win and let’s be honest, it may be in Holland’s interest to see Italy and France on the plane home to their respective countries. The make-up of the draw this year means that if Holland make it to the semi-finals, there is every chance they will play the runner up from their group and they may feel that the larger nation may be able to regroup and show more resilience in the knock out round. If Romania wins on Tuesday, it may not be the biggest shock of the year.
Lack of Shocks So Far
Many were shocked at Croatia overcoming Germany but that must have been in comparison to the opening game of the Group because in all other aspect, Croatia are certainly the equal of Germany. There have not been too many shocks at Euro 2008 so far but this does not mean there has been a lack of drama or tension.
Late winners for Turkey and Spain managed to knock the wind out of Switzerland and Sweden whilst Poland was forced to settle for a draw against Austria due to an injury time penalty.
There is no doubting that the laws of the game states it was a penalty but it showed poor judgment on behalf of Howard Webb. Grappling and shirt grabbing happens at virtually every set piece and definitely happened during the course of the game.
It has never been given at any other point in the tournament and that decision either smacked of a host nation decision or a referee being so desperate to get a share of the limelight that they would deliberately make an attention seeking decision like that. Each game should see four or five penalties a game or the referee should have waved play on; the lack of consistency is the most infuriating thing for players and fans. It was extremely infuriating for Artur Boruc, the Polish goalie who kept his team in the game with a string of fine saves throughout the match.
That was one refereeing decision that could be questioned but there have certainly been a few like that during the tournament. On the whole, the tournament has been refereed extremely well with very few red cards and the game being played in the correct spirit but there have been a lot of big decisions that have went wrong so far.
Italy will definitely be feeling that the referees and their assistants have negatively impacted on their progress. The debate over Holland’s opener against Italy will be discussed for months but it was the right decision but the Italy and Romania match caused the Italians genuine concern.
There is no doubt that the Italians were toiling so you could sense the relief when Luca Toni put the ball into the net on the stroke of half-time. The flag went up immediately but replays showed that this was the wrong call and Italy were hard done by.
The second half saw an extremely soft penalty awarded to Romania but justice was done when Buffon repelled Mutu's effort. Mutu may once have had the confident swagger of a man with more than a passing acquaintance of Colombia's finest but he approached the 12 yard spot like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Expect the Pressure and Mistakes to Rise
With teams being so evenly matched and the stakes getting ever higher, it is probably safe to expect that there will be a number of other massive refereeing decisions that impact on games and anyone looking to place a bet on any of the outstanding matches will do well to remember the ref factor before they put their money down.
The next few days will see the conclusion of the group stages of Euro 2008 and the quarter final matches will be finalized in time for Thursday and the opening game of the knock-out stages. If any one of Groups B, C and D can come close to providing the excitement that Group A offered at the death then this week ahead is going to be full of must-see action.
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