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As the whistle echoed around Estadio de la Cerámica, Dépor were safe; safe with the lowest points tally (33) for a 17th placed team in the history of Spanish football. A 0-0 draw was enough. Ecstasy and elation – words so often appointed to surviving a relegation battle – were non-existent among a majority of players and, frankly, fans too.

Relief and frustration best described the finale to this torrid campaign. A season in which Lucas Perez departed, two managers arrived and plenty of in-fighting ensued. There’s a clear division in the squad, evidenced best by this video posted by Florin Andone on FaceBook.

Interestingly, bar a handful of players, the dressing room was largely muted. Club president Tino Fernandez’s only words in this video were “thank goodness.” This reinforced the fear of those in power at the club, as well as the powerlessness that Dépor had felt in the final stretch of games. The constant expectancy of others to drop points is, undeniably, the reason why the team managed to stay up this year. In fact, despite that impressive draw against Villarreal, it was Leganes’ point at Athletic Bilbao that cemented Dépor’s safety on a basis of goal difference and head-to-head.

In a year that was riddled with so much promise, built upon a seemingly stellar defensive-minded manager and Dépor’s best squad in years, it ended up being one of the most miserable in recent times. Dépor stayed up with performances akin to whimper after whimper. A mere 40 goals in 37 games, paired with just 7 wins, summed up the incandescent powerlessness of the squad.

A mixture of torrid luck between the start of the season and January completely rattled then-manager Gaizka Garitano, who seemed more interested in crying conspiracy in every press conference rather than address the issues at hand. While there were some glaring officiating errors in Dépor games, overturning those failings wouldn’t have changed much.

This idea of a witch hunt spread throughout the squad, with Raul Albentosa the most vocal of the team. It could be argued that this is where Dépor’s season collapsed and a division in the squad ensued.

It felt like a bulk of the players knew that their underperforming could always be defended and overshadowed by poor officiating. The others were simply playing harder than their teammates which contributed to a lopsided presentation of dedication and erratic performance levels.  Naturally, fans became enraged by the mixed signals given by the team. By extension, Garitano began tinkering far too often. First it was a flat starting eleven, then a more possession-based formation ensued, followed by a defensive-minded five defenders. The regularity in structural shifts added to the inconsistencies of the side and meant that players finding their feet within a system was nigh-on impossible.

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Garitano’s black attire perfectly encapsulates a diabolical season

Tino could have relieved Garitano of his duties by December and nobody would have bat an eyelid but, after somewhat controversially sacking Víctor Sanchez in the summer, he knew that he’d be left with egg on his face if the man he vouched to be better than Víctor lasted just a few months. This singular decision, a moment of inefficiency from the president, is likely the biggest contributor to one of the worst seasons the club has encountered in a while.

Eventually, after a full two months without winning a game, Garitano was shown the door. A 4-0 loss to relegation rivals Leganes shattered any hopes of Garitano turning things around. As his time came to an end, he had only won 5 league games – one of which came via Lucas Perez’s injury time penalty before the forward joined Arsenal. Amidst those wins came heaps of losses and toothless draws. Enough was enough. In came Pepe Mel.

February 28th, Depor sit above the drop zone by two slim points. Mel, renowned as one of Spain’s most notorious managerial stop-gaps, arrives promising safety for the club. He delivers. Just about.

The thing with Mel is that he’s an old school coach. His tactics are outdated and built solely upon balance and solidity. In Spanish football, that type of restrictive structure is far too rigid to compete against the majority of teams. What Mel does offer with his old school approach is terrific man-management. He can talk you into walking off a cliff, happily, with a smile on your face.

In his first four games, he talked and inspired the team to an unbeaten run. Enough of a confidence boost, one would imagine. Sandwiched in this run was a 2-1 victory over Barcelona (in which two Gallegos scored) and a 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid on his debut.

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The team celebrates Joselu’s equaliser against Barcelona

The team looked like a well-oiled engine; attacking together, defending together. Remember, though, Mel is old school. The issue with old school is a lack of freshness, a lack of motivation beyond your usual spiel. In every single pre-game changing room talk, Mel would repeat the same phrases: “play harder than them, stay in the game. Remain focused.” When you hear the same words after a while, regardless of how well (or poorly) you played just a few days prior, one can assume it’s fairly reminiscent to CD player constantly looping the same lyric over and over again. CD players are an apt mirror to Mel, too. Once fancy, now totally outdated. If you pick one up today, they’re cool for a short while before you revert back to a streaming service. In Depor’s case, the streaming service ought to be a fresher coach – kind of like the one they unjustly sacked in the summer of 2016. Just a thought.

After that invigorating Barcelona win: a loss against eternal-rivals Celta Vigo. A loss against Valencia. Depor would win just one game in the final 11. This included a humiliation at the hands of Real Madrid, a draw against a downed Granada and another draw to an already relegated Osasuna. The team was shot. Yet, before every game, “play harder than them, stay in the game. Remain focused.” Are these apt words for a team in a slump, fighting for their lives? The same tactics, the same players frozen out?

Until the last 2-3 games of the season, Mel had Andone and Emre Çolak on the bench – inarguably the two most influential players in the squad. He wanted them to be impactful substitutes, yet they would enter games when the games themselves were already lost. Way to frustrate your two biggest keys to safety.

In the end, Mel’s opening four games were just about enough to keep us up. The following 11 were also enough to see us drop a division if not for the sheer ineptitude of Sporting Gijon and Granada. Somehow, three clubs managed to be worse across 38 games.

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Mel in training

This is the vicious cycle that Depor have found themselves in. Three years of uninterrupted top flight football is a success story for a club who, when they dropped to the Segunda in 2013, were facing potential liquidation. Upon closer inspection, though, this is also a side that, for the last three years, has been kept up due to outside factors i.e underperforming rivals. These long periods of winless games have become contagious, rendering the team utterly complacent and wholly expectant of other results to go their way. It is a dangerous ideology to follow, purely because next season could be the one where teams are more competitive and less torrid. Depor could be one of the three horrendous teams that drops, purely because they’ve grown accustomed to becoming bystanders in their own destiny and future.

Relegation for the club right now would almost certainly spell liquidation. Safety was not something to celebrate in the grand scheme of things; it was a necessity. The club needed to stay up, not to save face or protect an identity, but to save the club from disappearing.

It’s clear that the squad right now is one that breeds complacency and distrust in one another. While this is the first time in years that a Depor squad has been comprised of permanent players more than loanees/one-year contracts, it is a sad truth that the squad needs to be disbanded. Bar a core of players along the lines of Andone, Çolak, Lux, Bergantiños and Sidnei – a mixed quintuple of talent and experience – Tino should be looking to offload a majority of the squad. It wouldn’t be reactionary, rather necessary. There’s too much in-fighting and distrust for this team to play outside of its comfort zone. Another year of it would likely sink the ship.

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Tino holds the key, but can he be trusted with it?

Sadly, though, Tino has confirmed Mel’s tenure at Depor will extend beyond the summer. This spineless act of pause is one that has marred Tino’s presidency and likely means he will keep the squad as it is bar the replacements of departing loanees.

Depor need an overhaul now more than ever. And they can sustain it, too. A fresh team and coach may take a while to gel, but it would more than likely inspire a renewed interest from the fans that extends beyond negativity and pessimism. A pipe dream for many, perhaps; it is for this writer. Depor’s future lies permanently in the slippery hands of Tino Fernandez. He holds the key to an overhaul, or negative stagnation. The diehard players of this team deserve better, the fans deserve more.

Safety was the goal this year and it was achieved. Just. 33 points is not enough to keep a team up in any other season. A repeat of this figure would spell doom for the club next year. Improvements are needed and big decisions have to be made. For now, it’s enough. Another year of LaLiga is upon us; another year where we can breathe.

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Many will be familiar with the name Víctor Sánchez. After all, he was part of that golden generation of Deportivo players that won the Copa del Rey in 2002 at the Bernabeu. He may not be remembered for the flair of Djalminha or creativity of Juan Carlos Valerón, but he was the guy who would bust a lung to dominate the wings and always sustained a high level of productivity. Today, at the age of 39, he is the manager of the club in question: Dépor.

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Víctor lifting the Copa del Rey in 2002

Víctor returned to A Coruña on the 9th of April with the club in the relegation zone, having just sacked the underachieving Victor Fernandez. Dépor were in a rut, struggling to get points and failing to operate as a cohesive unit. Individualism was valued over unity and it was a major component of the club’s unsuccessful return to La Liga.

Víctor’s job was tough: keep Dépor in the top flight with only eight games to go. In those eight games, there were three prestigious opponents: Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Madrid and Barcelona. His only loss in those three games came against Atléti, with two draws in the others to keep Dépor in La Liga. The final game, in fact, was away at Barcelona. Los Blanquiazules were 2-0 down at half-time… 2-0 down with 23 minutes to go. Fast-forward to the final whistle and Dépor were celebrating on the Camp Nou pitch. Lucas Pérez and Salomão scored in the final 20 minutes to turn the game on its head and keep Los Blanquiazules in the Spanish Primera. It was a game of pure ecstasy, but Víctor was the puppeteer.

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Lucas and Víctor embrace at the full-time whistle

The 39-year-old’s arrival filled everyone with hope – from the fans, right down to the players. It was his first job as a manager and his hunger was clear to see. He immediately instilled a sense of belief in the changing rooms and the turnaround in performance levels was staggering. Take Salomão, the scorer of the goal that kept Dépor in the top flight, for example: he had barely featured all season, with the previous manager discarding him from the squad due to personal disagreements. He had no reason to play with such heart, desire and tenacity, but Víctor awoke those traits from within him and exploited them to turn the club’s fortunes around. It is those minute details that help define a coach, and that is precisely why he is being heralded as the brightest young manager in the country. To undergo your first job with heaps of pressure and come out of the other end unscathed and adored is undeniably impressive.

In the summer, Víctor worked closely with club president Tino Fernandez. The idea was to avoid making the same mistakes as in previous years: purchasing washed up journeymen and exhausting a partnership with super agent Jorge Mendes. The club wanted a fresh recruitment policy and the 39-year-old delivered just that. He went out of his way to bring Lucas Pérez back to A Coruña after a flawless loan spell – the striker needed little persuading, having grown up in the city as a supporter of the club. He made the decision to pick up some of the better, discarded players in Spain rather than going abroad for relative unknowns on the cheap. Thus Fernando Navarro, Fayçal Fajr, Pedro Mosquera, Alejandro Arribas, Cani, Fede Cartabia and Luis Alberto. These were players available on a free or happy to move on loan – their one thing in common? They all play in Spain. Víctor wisely opted for the more secure choices that would instill stability and immediate results to a Dépor devoid of that. His final signings: Borges, Riera, Sidnei and Juanfran were all returning to the club after loan spells the season prior. Jonathan Rodriguez and Jonas Gutierrez were the black sheep, arriving from Portugal and England respectively. The entire squad, bar Lucas, was assembled for zilch – with this crop of players, Víctor has taken the Galician club to unfathomable heights.

This season, Víctor has proceeded to amplify the quality of every single player in the side; he squeezes 15% more out of each individual. Moroccan midfielder Fajr was a fairly good – bordering on mediocre – player reaching his late 20s at Elche. Under the Spanish coach, he is now #9 in the list for chances created in La Liga. Furthermore, he has been capped by the Moroccan national team for the first time due to his outstanding club performances.

If our focus shifts to Mosquera, the same has occurred. He was a good defensive-midfielder at Elche, having failed to make an impact at Real Madrid, but now he is widely regarded as one of the best defensive-midfielders in Spain. He is constantly battling for possession, providing cover for his defence while also mixing it up with his passing to create chances. He has become integral to the way Dépor operate as a unit.

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Mosquera on presentation day

Lastly, and while there are other examples, none shines brightest than the Lucas one. Lucas was great in the 14/15 season, scoring some important goals amidst battling with recurring injuries. He scored six all season. As of now, he has 11 league goals in 15 games; his name is being widespread and campaigned in favour of a Spain cap & a trip to France for the 2016 European Championships.

All three of the aforementioned players are 27 years of age and were largely unknown on a grand scale up until this season. Víctor has catapulted them to humble stardom where they now transcend the opinions of their fan base and are widely accepted to be fantastic footballers.

It isn’t just his man-management or astute transfer policy that has helped him succeed. No, it is also down to his tactical flexibility. Víctor toys with different formations and player roles to exploit an opponent’s weakness pre-game and even during it. He started the 2015/16 season with an explosive attacking side that was scoring regularly and playing with no fear away from home. Yet in those extremely tough fixtures, the Spaniard shakes things up and plays with four full-backs to nullify the opposition’s overload on the flanks. It forces teams to move to the centre – where Dépor defend at their best with Mosquera, Sidnei and Arribas gobbling up possession regularly.

Víctor’s most impressive trait is the manner in which he meticulously analyses the opposition. Not only in-game, where he regularly adapts to the rival’s moves, but pre-game too. In fact, that is where he shines brightest. For the goalkeepers, he makes them watch the previous game of the upcoming opponent to see how they were shooting and from where. By doing this, it increases the goalkeeper’s awareness and gives him an edge over the rival players. It was successful most recently when Dépor triumphed in the Galician derby, with Germán Lux stopping Nolito’s penalty and his trademark technique of cutting inside and curling shots.

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Lux celebrates stopping Nolito’s penalty

With the strikers, he trains them all together and has them playing in different combinations to exploit an opposition’s weakness. Lucas is always the mainstay, boasting the ability to drop deep and carry the ball forward with blistering pace and technique. His partner differs from the towering Riera to the rapid and diminutive Jonathan. If he expects the opposition to deploy a high-line, he assembles Lucas and Jonathan together. If he is expecting a more combative game, then Riera joins Lucas to impose his physicality over the opposition’s defence.

Some managers attempt combinations, but fail to analyse the opposition’s recent games in-depth to truly determine how they will operate. Víctor’s attention to detail intertwines with a willingness to succeed and that is the key component to Dépor’s revival this season.

As of now, Víctor has undergone 26 games at Dépor losing a mere four times. He has won eight and drawn 14 – some of which have been against the more bigger clubs in the country: Atlético, Barcelona (twice), Valencia, Sevilla and Athletic (twice). When he returned to A Coruña he said, “This is a club that has suffered a lot. I want to bring hope back to Dépor.” He has done just that, and then some. Not only has he upped the belief and faith of everyone at the club, but he has allowed the entire city to dream of bigger and better things. For once, the dark cloud that has surrounded the club for the last seven years is beginning to disperse into sunlight.

Expect to hear the name ‘Víctor Sánchez’ roll off the tongue of many in the coming years from all corners of the footballing world. His ceiling is impossible to predict and he boasts the greatest of tools to succeed in the game. An adaptable, tactically savvy man-manager that can mastermind positive results with his impressive attention to detail, the sky really is the limit for the young Spaniard.

 

 

The superb album cover of 'The Thieves Banquet', with the track list on the right-hand side.

The superb album cover of ‘The Thieves Banquet’, with the track list on the right-hand side.

UK rapper, and North London born, Akala, released The Thieves Banquet on May 27th, 2013. His fourth studio album, following his first It’s Not a Rumour (2006), has seen the evolution of Akala as an MC. Roll Wid Us gave Akala the catapult and push to getting his music heard after it was in Kidulthood, a British film about “ghetto teenage life”. From the heavy use of the word “nigger” in some of his tracks like Shakespeare (2006) to the eloquence in his tracks now, Akala has developed his game and become one of the best MC’s in the UK; some may dub him as a ‘conscious rapper’ but I feel as though that’s putting him in a box, because, what is an unconscious rapper?

Whilst Akala’s flow remains the same, as ever, on The Thieves Banquet, it’s quite noticeable that the beats are extremely authentic and original – this is because, for the first time, Akala experimented with a live band to cover all the tracks on his album. It’s a breath of fresh air considering how many rappers use beats composed, electronically, on a computer as opposed to Akala who’s used a live band; not that I’m knocking any of the other rappers. It genuinely gives Akala his own character, and it’s an experiment that has worked very well.

With Malcolm Said it, Akala educates the listener by rapping about revolutionary figures who stood by something, fought by its side, and took it to their grave with them, ensuring they’d make change: “Malcolm said it, Martin said it, Marley said it, Ali said it, Garvey said it, Toussaint said it” – all these people fought for either equality, peace or freedom. A strong and more powerful message is delivered in the hook when Akala says “If you ain’t found something to die for, you’ll never live”. Akala is encouraging his listener to achieve their dreams and not sit back and wait for something to happen.

Pissed off is a track where an enraged Akala raps about all the things that anger his average listener: “it’s just a red letter warning, sucking every penny that you’ve got”, Akala is, essentially, speaking about the struggle to pay your bills. The track develops, as the live band, especially the electric guitarist, truly shine, and it becomes even more thought provoking.

The final track(s) I’m going to look at is The Thieves Banquet, part one and two. Without any exaggeration, this is one of the best rap songs I’ve heard for a very long time. Akala’s theatrical nous shines as he takes on the voices of four different characters, literally, and delivers his rap in a theatre-like manner as he cycles through the four characters. The context behind the track is that the devil has a feast and rounds up four of the “greatest thieves in the land”: a monarch of empire, a banking cartel, the head of a religious order and a third-world dictator.  These four thieves are then asked, one-by-one to enlighten the devil as to why they’re the greatest thief in the land. The third-world dictator steps up first as Akala modifies his voice to a deep, “oh-so serious tone” and speaks about how he kills anyone who believes that presidential elections should be ‘fair’, condones murder and rape because he wants more money: “with that profit, what’s a little bit of torture?”. The track continues to develop, as your feelings evolve and your hatred begins to breed for these ‘thieves’. The monarch of empire is the second character who steps up and tries to better the general vile words spoken by the third-world dictator: “who do you think trained this amateur dictator to behave this way?”, by insinuating he’s an amateur, the monarch of empire begins to speak about doing worse things, but with an air of concealment behind it. “People think I’m heaven sent”, again, shows how the monarch of empire may look like to the average outsider, but this gathering shows how evil he is when he speaks about deliberately allowing countries to starve to death and encouraging slavery. The third character who steps up is the head of a religious order, as Akala modifies his tone to a more sinister, malevolent one. He speaks about putting on a nice voice and reading the audience a book; the fact he doesn’t call it by its name i.e Bible, Quran shows that the head of the religious order doesn’t care about religion and just uses it as a “cloak” to persist with wrong-doings like paedophilia and using peoples “life savings so I can buy jets”. The final is the cartel banker and, in my opinion, the biggest ‘thief’ of them all as he speaks about all the other three people “depend on me”. He speaks about paying for the “guns, bombs and the tanks” that promote the war that the others in this are involved in. The rap ends with the head of the banking cartel telling the devil “don’t be biased, if you don’t give it to me, I’ll just buy it!” – this, ultimately, shows how money is the root of all evil, as the saying goes, and that the head of the banking cartel is the man who instigates all the other crimes that the other thieves commit.

Overall, I feel as though this is the most authentic album Akala has released. From the eloquent, thought-provoking lyrics to the live band, it’s probably the best album you’ll hear this year from a UK rap artist. For £7.99, you’re supporting one of the best MC’s in Britain and listening to pure, uncensored, truth-speaking gold. Purchase The Thieves Banquet here.

 

 

U19 Euro’s – The Final!

Posted: July 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

It’s finally here. The U19 Euro’s final. Spain will take on Greece in what will be a fascinating encounter.

Spain’s attack is something any team dreams of having; whilst their defence is incredibly lacklustre. Jese Rodriguez, the top scorer in the tournament, has had two good games. Despite having the most goals in the tournament he hasn’t been consistent. Deulofeu, though, has been superb. Be it via assists/goals Deulofeu has been Spain’s shining star. Paco Alcacer also deserves a mention, being used by Spain as a ‘super-sub’, he’s been a huge player for Spain. In the semi-final, against France, Spain brought on Paco Alcacer who had a stunning impact on the game. A goal and two assists for Valencia’s hot prospect after coming on as a 55th minute sub. There have been others who have been great for Spain in this tournament, Grimaldo has shown great maturity for someone who is the youngest player in the tournament. Oliver Torres has been instrumental in the midfield.

Greece have a great all round squad. Greece’s ‘forwards’ Katidis and Diamantakos have a keen eye for goal. Diamantakos is the second highest top scorer in the tournament, one goal behind Spain’s Jese Rodriguez. Gianniotas is another of Greece’s gems, a tireless winger/out-and-out striker. Katidis, the captain, has been superb for Greece. His quick movement in the box and lethal finishing has seen him carry Greece in the last two games. I used the term ‘forwards’ loosely when mentioning Katidis because he’s usually a central midfielder, but he’s been playing just behind Diamantakos or even up-front supporting Diamantakos, at times. Greece have a decent defence. Their full-backs are a bit dodgy, defensively. Going forward they’re superb, but Greece usually concede most of their goals via crosses and exploits down the flanks.

I think it’ll be an even affair for the most part. Spain will start off possibly with their ‘false9’ approach, which they’ve used quite a lot. Deulofeu on the left, Jese Rodriguez on the right and Juanmi spearheading the attack, despite being a midfielder – Fabregas-esque. Spain could start with Paco Alcacer playing up-front, which would signal some attacking intent from the Spaniards. Greece will most probably start with an un-changed side. They’ll want to force Spain’s defence into making mistakes, which isn’t hard. They’ll have Diamantakos to pounce on any loose balls/rebounds. Let’s not forget, these two met in the first game of the tournament! Spain were the victors in that game. 2-1. Spain dominated the first-half but got very complacent. Greece took advantage of their complacency and will surely try and force Spain into ‘panic mode’.

I believe Spain will win. Should Alcacer start, I think Greece will have no chance. I’m going for a 2-0 Spain. If Alcacer and Deulofeu link up as well as they did in the previous game, Greece are going to need a footballing miracle to keep Spain from scoring. The game kicks off at 19:30 GMT, I believe.

~GB 1886 – Hope you guys enjoyed the final installment of my U19 Euro’s articles. It was fun writing these, hopefully you guys have had fun reading them. I’ll now return to writing about Arsenal and other teams/leagues.

Matchday three served up some tasty encounters. I’ll only be reviewing the games in which the semi-finalists were involved in.

Spain took on Estonia, the hosts, in what was meant to be an absolute demolition by the Spaniards. Spain went into the game with a few changes in their line-up. Highly rated Paco Alcacer came into the mix as well as Manchester City’s Denis Suarez. Spain dominated possession, as you’d expect. They didn’t have many shots towards the Estonian goal as they should’ve. The Estonian’s couldn’t get an attack going, they tried to play on the counter and it didn’t work. Deulofeu and Alcacer were fantastic in the game. Alcacer, despite being isolated, still had some great movement around the penalty area and would often be dropping deep in order to mix-up the play.  Deulofeu was tireless down the right be it passing or dribbling past defenders. Those two combined perfectly for the first goal. Deulofeu with some great work down the right found a low cross which Alcacer touched into the path of Denis Suarez, who comfortably slotted the ball into the back of the net. Alcacer found Spain’s second goal, in the dying embers of the game; picking up the ball 35 yards away from the goal, dribbling past one defender, and blasting an absolute rocket from 25 yards out, which cannoned off the crossbar and went in. A truly memorable goal, dedicated to his father who passed away last year. Spain won 2-0.

England found themselves up against the only team to have won both their games up until then, France. France had already progressed to the semi-finals. England were still in need of a result to guarantee a semi-final place. France, surprisingly left out the man who pulls the strings in the midfield, their star player, Paul Pogba. England, also quite surprisingly left out Benik Afobe. The French started the game off superbly, they dominated the possession. It was England who broke the deadlock, though. With their first attack of the game, England went forward with some intent, the ball fell perfectly at Lundstram’s feet before the Englishman lashed an absolute belter in from 30 yards out. Beauty. France continued to dominate and were finally rewarded for their attacking persistence, Veretout found himself in acres of space and decided to fire a low shot from 25 yards out, the ball trickled under Johnstone and the French equalized. England slowly started to find some tempo and were gifted a goal in the 39th minute. Millieras fumbled Redmond’s vicious effort, the ball fell to Harry Kane who clinically tucked it away. The second half had barely any sting in it from either side. England edged it 2-1 and went through to the semi-finals, France had already qualified but will now face a stern test against Spain.

Greece had a fascinating performance against a resilient Portuguese side. Greece were unfortunate against Spain in the first game, since then they have performed very well. Greece’s lively winger, Gianniotas, opened the scoring with a great left-footed finish. Greece’s celebrations only lasted 42 seconds as Portugal’s comeback attitude saw them grab a goal via an Andre Gomes header. Portugal were hopefully looking for another gutsy performance from their players who gave it their all against Spain. It wasn’t meant to be. Daniel Martins saw his very rash challenge become awarded with red card, this made Portugal’s job difficult. They didn’t recover from the sending-off. Greece’s captain, Katidis scored five minutes after that red card. Portugal never looked like coming back from the dead, again. Katidis banged in another in the 69th minute which buried Portugal. Portugal scored in the 94th minute but it just wasn’t enough. Greece won 3-2, in the end. A scoreline which didn’t reflect Greece’s dominance.

So tomorrow England find themselves playing a very strong Greek side. I believe Greece will be too much for England although I’m hoping otherwise. Greece’s squad just seem like they could win it this year, I wouldn’t put it past them. I’m going for a 3-1 to Greece. Gianniotas to steal the show.

Spain will taking on France. This match is going to be an amazing one. Spain’s free-flowing football against France’s quick interchange between the midfield and the attack. I can’t think of a winner in this one, although there will have to be one come the end of the game. I’m going for a 1-1, Spain to win it on penalties.

 

~~ GB1886 – Hope you guys enjoyed this article. I couldn’t write much for the previews because the games could go either way. I wrote a bit more on the reviews than usual as I didn’t have to write about as many games and focus on both teams. Let me know what you think?

England England 14:45 Greece Greece
Spain Spain 18:00 France France

So, as we draw closer to knowing who will progress to the knockout rounds, I will be previewing all the games taking place tomorrow (9th July).  I will also review the matches from July the 6th.

Matchday two, saw some great matches unfold. Spain took on Portugal, two of the favourites locking horns. Spain were playing with a ‘false 9’ formation, as they did in the senior Euro’s. Jese Rodriguez stole the show, his quick feet and mesmerising skills are making him quite a player for the future. Oliver Torres was instrumental in the midfield for Spain. I’m making this sound as if Spain steamrolled past Portugal, they didn’t. Portugal were quite impressive on the counter; Bruma, their winger, was pure magic down the flanks and was the key to Portugal’s never say never attitude. Spain would score, only to have their goal equalled by the Portuguese on three separate occasions.  The final score, 3-3.

France took on a resilient Croatian side, who ‘parked the bus’. France were forced down the wings in every attack, their lack of aerial threat in the box meant they couldn’t do anything with their crosses… so the Croatians thought. Foulquier, who was restricted to the wings almost instantly in every French attack, decided to put in yet another cross, this time it looped directly over the ‘keeper. Was it intentional or was it a fluke? We’ll probably never find out. 1-0 was the final score, in France’s favour. France have qualified to the knockout stages.

Greece were playing the hosts, Estonia. Estonia were taken apart by Portugal in the last game, and Greece wouldn’t show them any mercy. Estonia were truly poor, they had no pluses to take out of the game. Greece mauled Estonia. Diamantakos scored twice toward the end to see him become the top scorer in the tournament, equal on goals with Jese Rodriguez. Despite a late goal from Estonia, Greece had already dealt the damage. 4-1 the final score.

England took on Serbia, a game which I predicted in my last article would end 2-1, I was correct. England were decent, nothing too special. Benik Afobe was impressive, getting the opener, hitting the post and being denied of a clear penalty. Redmond scored with a tidy finish, which saw England double their lead on the 63rd minute. Serbia scored seven minutes later, which in England’s head means, they’re going to come back – they didn’t and England took the three points.

So, after all those eventful games, we move onto the final games of the group stages.

France take on England, this will be the big game from matchday three. France come into the game from back-to-back wins, whilst England have somewhat struggled to kill their opponents off. France will believe that they have what it takes to beat England. England will need to kill-off all the deadly passes put through by Paul Pogba, they’ll need to restrict France to playing down the wings, like Croatia did. England have the strike force to deal some damage to the French who haven’t had to defend against lethal strikers, so far. I think this will be an even affair with England winning 2-0.

Spain Vs Estonia. I feel sorry for Estonia, no disrespect, but Estonia are by far the worst team in the tournament and I believe Spain will destroy them. With Jese Rodriguez in top form, I can’t see Estonia’s defence coping with the Spanish. 4-0 Spain is my prediction.

Portugal Vs Greece is going to be a top affair. Greece will come into this game in high hopes, top scorer Diamantakos is going to be a tough player for the sloppy Portuguese defence to deal with. If Bruma is in good form, again, I believe Portugal might just be able to see off the Greeks. I’m going for a 1-1.

Serbia take on Croatia in what will be the least anticipated game of the other three. Both teams are yet to register a win, they go into tomorrow’s game both needing wins. Both teams will throw everything at each other, I believe it’ll be a very end-to-end game. 3-2 Croatia is my prediction.

 

                       THE U19 Euro’s – 2nd Match day previews

On Tuesday 3rd of July, we witnessed some fantastic games in the U19 Euro’s. We had Jese Rodriguez’s stunning quick feet in the box which was followed by a lovely finish by the Spainiard. France mauled Serbia in the first-half of their game, inspired by a fantastic performance by former Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba – who scored and got an assist. Portugal strolled past Estonia albeit via an own-goal and some calamitous defending, having said that Daniel Martins settled the game with a great free-kick from 25 yards out, 3-0 the final scoreline. England’s high hopes were played down by a resilient Croatian side who took the lead in the 57th minute, only to have it chalked away by a Nathan Chalobah effort three minutes later.

Now that the dust has settled, we will surely see a less complacent Spanish side, a stronger Serbian side and an Estonian side who, as the hosts, will want to give their fans and country something to cheer about.

The first game, tomorrow, will be France Vs Croatia at 15:30. The French will be wanting to carry on their terrific form from the last game, against the Serbians. Croatia will undoubtedly be in high hopes after holding England at bay in the first game. This has the makings of a fantastic game, tactically. Will the Croats stay back and hit France on the counter, or will they throw everything at the French? Only time’ll tell I guess. I’m predicting a 3-1, in France’s favour. I believe the French have an all-’round fantastic squad, Pogba in particular, will be looking to exploit Croatia’s flanks by playing some balls down the wings, Lucas Digne, the full-back will be pouncing on these passes and putting one of his best assets into play – crossing.

The following game will be played 30 minutes later, this will see the hosts, Estonia, take on Greece. Estonia will be looking to set the record straight, they’ll want to put out a strong performance for their fans, whilst Greece will be felt hard done-by, their second half performance against the Spaniards was a fantastic one. They were throwing everything at Spain, Diamantakos scored but it wasn’t enough to grant them any points from that game. Estonia, as I said previously, made some calamitous mistakes against Portugal, I can’t see them harming the Greeks in any way possible. 2-0 Greece is my prediction.

At 16:30, England will be taking on Serbia. England played alright against Croatia, they had two efforts hit off the post, which they’ll feel could’ve given them the result they were expecting. Serbia were abysmal against France, no tempo to their play at all and they showed nothing in that game that could give them some confidence going into this encounter with England. England, if they don’t get complacent, should have enough firepower to overcome the Serbians. 2-1 England is my prediction.

The final game, is the one I’m eagerly looking forward to. At 19:00, Spain will take on Portugal. The Spanish are the best team in the tournament, their players are outrageously gifted, I wish I could go on about them but I have to keep this article balanced. Spain had a storming first-half against Greece, their second half performance was pretty bad, though. Spain became very complacent, defensively and their midfield starting lacking some creativity. Portugal steamrolled past Estonia and had a lot of ease breaking down the Estonian defence, something they’ll find difficult to do against Spain because I think Spain will learn from their lapses in concentration. Portugal didn’t have much to do when it came to defending against the Estonians. Going forward they do have some strong players and this could hurt Spain’s weak defence. This, in my opinion, will be a very close affair. 1-1 is my prediction.

Let’s see if I’m anywhere near getting the predictions right, one thing I’m sure of is that we will most definitely see some great games of football, especially the last game, mouthwatering encounter.

                                                                        As Euro 2012 draws closer to it’s end, I’ve decided to take an in-depth look at the U19 European Championships. The U19 Euro’s will be held in Estonia this year and the tournament officially starts on July 3rd. Previous winners, Spain, will be looking to retain their trophy and I believe they have a really good chance of doing so. England go into the tournament as slight favourites due to their outstanding Youth products, whom I’ll discuss later on in this article.

Despite many people not showing interest in this tournament, I for one always look forward to this. My main reason for watching the U19 tournaments is to scout the youth from around the world. As an aspiring Scout I always like to be on the look-out for players from other countries as opposed to just England. There are many players who have caught my eye going into this tournament. England have a host of players who I’ll discuss soon; but for me Spain have the stronger squad.

Here are some of the players who I think will shine for their countries:

Paco Alcácer is an 18-year-old striker who plays for Spain. He’s quite a prolific goalscorer as you can see by his various records for club and country. Alcacer has been in scintillating form for Valencia B since 2009, netting 43 goals in 60 appearances. He also holds a fantastic international record, too. 15 goals in just 13 appearances for Spain’s U17 squad has seen him become a rising star. In the U17 Euro’s he netted 6 goals in the tournament, making him the Golden Boot winner. The U19 Euro’s last year saw Spain beat Czech Republic in the final to win the tournament; Alcacer scored two goals in the final and Spain won 3-2 in the end. Alcacer is blessed with a fantastic finish and a sublime first-touch. Alcacer will undoubtedly perform fantastically this year, mark my words.

Nathan Redmond is an 18-year-old winger for England. This past season has seen him become quite a revelation in the NPower Championship for Birmingham City. He’s one of Birmingham City’s youth products and has made quite a name for himself. Redmond is what you may call a speed demon, his pace leaves many full-backs chasing an already lost cause most of the time, should they catch up with Redmond he has the skill to turn them inside-out. Redmond has a powerful shot on him too which makes him a very good winger. He’s a fans favourite at Birmingham and I believe he’ll help them gain promotion next season. With only one cap for the U19s Redmond goes into this tournament with a point to prove and to show the footballing world what he is capable of.

 Cafú – no, not the Brazilian legend. Cafu is a player whom I haven’t seen much of at club level so I can’t really comment on his club performances. His international performances have been impeccable. Cafu is an Attacking Midfielder, he’s a set-piece specialist and is quite prolific when it comes to free-kicks. In the qualifying stages for the U19 Euro’s, Cafu, scored four goals and also got two assists. He plays for Benfica in a slightly more advanced role where he plays as an out-and-out striker, but for Portugal’s U19s he plays in the Attacking Mid role.

Pablo Insua is regarded as one of the best young players in Spain at the moment. He’s a centre-back who is known for being very dominant in the air as well as having a bit of pace about him. He currently plays for Deportivo La Coruna, who have recently been promoted to the top tier in Spain. Insua became a hit in Spain after becoming a first-team regular for Depor last season; Manchester City and Chelsea seemed to have shown interest in him over the last year or so. He has been said to be very mature for his age and has been likened to Gerard Pique, despite not being as tall as the Barcelona centre-back. He will form a fantastic partnership with Barcelona’s promising centre-back Marc Bartra, who is also regarded highly in Spain. As a Depor fan, I would love nothing more than to see Insua have a great campaign.

Benik Afobe is a striker who is very prolific when he steers clear of injury, he reminds me of a younger Van Persie in many ways. Afobe has a fantastic finish on him and is quite good in the air, too. Injuries have been quite frustrating for Afobe as we can all see the talent that he has, yet he can’t get the spotlight to shine on him due these injuries. Afobe is a superb player and he shows this for club and country; his record for England is quite good – 22 goals in 33 appearances for the U16s, 17s and 19s has seen him become a regular when it comes to playing for those sides. I think Afobe will shine at the Euro’s if he is partnered up-front and is not left as a sole-striker. My recommendation would be Harry Kane (Tottenham) partnering Afobe up-front as Afobe does get a few assists and thrives off playing with another striker. Barkley behind those two could prove to be a deadly formation for England.

Those are the players whom I believe will definitely shine at the U19 Euro’s, this year. There are some other players who I’d like to mention but it’d be too much to write about so I’ll just make a list of their names and you guys can do some research on them, if you like.

  • Jese Rodriguez – Striker (Spain/Real Madrid)
  • Dennis Suarez – Attacking Midfielder (Spain/Man City)
  • Betinho – Winger/Striker (Portugal/Sporting Lisbon)
  • Harry Kane – Striker (England/Tottenham)
  • Ross Barkley – Attacking Midfielder-ish (England/Everton)
  • Dimitrios Diamantakos – Striker (Greece/Olympiakos)
  • Lucas Digne – Left-back (France/Lille)

Let’s hope to see a fantastic U19 Euro’s this year. There will be many talented players on show and it should be very entertaining. England and Spain are my favourites for the tournament, possibly both finalists, should they avoid eachother in the semi-finals. Portugal will be the dark horses along with Greece.