Pete’s Futbol Experiment: Final Thoughts

The 2012 European Championships have been finished for more than a week and the excitement still hasn’t worn off!

Ok, I’ll admit it, the excitement was never there in the first place.

But I feel like I gave soccer (without a U.S. team) a legitimate chance.I watched well over a dozen games over the course of the tournament, even when I couldn’t stand to watch another. I just kept telling myself, “it will get better.”

But it never did, even in the knockout stages.

My roommate, Super Fan Conor, almost had me convinced that watching the games of the Euro 2012 would be at the least, mildly entertaining.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to enjoy the games that I watched. There were a number of reasons for this.

1. I was unfamiliar with the majority of the players and history of the teams. This one is 100 percent on me. The underlying story lines provided by the players and coaches drive the action in sports and make it extra compelling. Because I didn’t know who I was watching, I felt no compulsion. Even though I recognized a few of the players because they were the biggest names in the game, they weren’t big enough for me to root for or against them. This is the same situation I find myself in while attempting to watch NASCAR, golf tournaments without Tiger Woods and the WNBA.

2.  Player injuries every three minutes. This was my biggest complaint. Virtually every time there was physical contact between two players, one or both of them would fall to the ground in agony. They would writhe around on the ground, holding their arms or legs and praying for death to come quickly. But suddenly, just as quickly as they plummeted, they would regain their composure, stand up and take off down the field like a deer. I couldn’t tell who was pretending to be hurt and who was “legitimately” hurt because of a low pain threshold.

For as long as I can remember, the best athletes were the ones who could play through pain and win, despite adversity. Athletes are supposed to be tough, both mentally and physically. After watching a few weeks of soccer, the players just seemed too soft for me to truly appreciate what they do. I could be wrong, but I’m just calling it like I see it.

3. Soccer fans throw flares onto the field…routinely. I don’t know how many times it happened, but it was enough for me to take notice and become disgusted by it. It’s bad enough in American sports when fans chuck beer bottles or other food items onto the playing surface or at players.

That should never happen.

But a flare? That’s just idiotic. It’s dangerous and distracting. And every time a flare landed on the pitch, the game needed to be halted to clear it and the smoke it created. This wasted valuable time and potential momentum for the players. These mindless stoppages forced me to start doing something else to fill the monotonous, smoke-filled void. And once the game lost my attention, it lost it for good.

4. Ties. During the group stage, there were five draws. I witnessed four of them. As I reiterated many times during my tweets and previous blog entries…

There couldn’t be draws in the knockout stages, so the issue lasted only through the initial round. But that didn’t make it any less irritating. The NFL is the only major American sport that can end in a tie (only during the regular season) and this occurrence is rare. Since 1974, there have been only 17 games to end in a tie. And believe me, I was furious when I witnessed an NFL game end without a victor. In a tournament like the Euros, every game should be meaningful. And if it means something, there should be a winner and a loser. Period. After all, two soccer teams shouldn’t go into a game with the intention of drawing.

Herm Edwards put it best…

5. Shootouts. I can appreciate the work a soccer team puts in to win a game. There is plenty of strategy and hard work going on during a match and whichever team works harder and implements the better strategy should win the game. A shootout blows all of that to hell. It minimizes the skill of the players and goalies to a guessing match. Basically, who ever is luckier wins the game. And yes, the Super Fans would be quick to note that there is strategy. Some players have tendencies that goalies might or might not know. Those tendencies could determine the final result. But ultimately, who ever gets luckier and guesses better what the opposing player will do wins the game. Hell, there isn’t as much luck involved in a poker game as in a soccer shootout. Yes, the NHL has a shootout to determine winners. But that is only in the regular season and it doesn’t involve nearly as much luck as in soccer.

So soccer, it looks like it’s goodbye. You had a nice run. You gave me something to bet on in the bleak summer months between seasons of fantasy football and fantasy hockey. You dared me to try something European. You even got me to remember a few players’ names.

But when it comes down to it, we just aren’t compatible.

I like action and you like infinite passing and kicking the ball out of bounds.

I like winners and you’re cool with ties.

I call them cleats and you call them boots.

I enjoy watching players with first and last names. You usually settle for one.

Really, the Simpsons illustrate my point the best…

 

Ultimately, we’re both better off parting ways.

I don’t hate you and I hope you don’t hate me. And hell, every time the World Cup rolls around, I’ll swing by while watching the United States put in a meager effort. But until then, take care soccer. You have a world of fans that love and adore you. Keep them close. And if you ever want to swing by the States and see how REAL football is played, I’ll gladly purchase you an extra ticket.

Just don’t bring any flares.

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Pete’s Futbol Experiment Update: Group Stage Over

So all of the preliminaries are out of the way for this year’s Euro 2012 and I’m still watching. Not enthusiastically, mind you, but I’m still on board and I don’t believe I’m bailing any time soon. After all, we are approaching the exciting part of the tournament, the knockout stage.

It turns out I didn’t watch as many matches as I thought I did. I missed more than I saw. Here’s what happened:

GROUP STAGE

WATCHED

Poland 1, Greece 1 – Draw

Russia 4, Czech Republic 1

Italy 1, Spain 1 – Draw

Ireland 1, Croatia 3

England 1, France 1 – Draw

Ukraine 2, Sweden 1

Germany 2, Netherlands 1

Italy 1, Croatia 1—Draw

Spain 4, Ireland 0

England 1, Ukraine 0

 

MISSED

Netherlands 0, Denmark 1

Germany 1, Portugal 0

Greece 1, Czech Republic 2

Poland 1, Russia 1 – Draw

Portugal 3, Denmark 2

Sweden 2, England 3

Ukraine 0, France 2

Czech Republic 1, Poland 0

Greece 1, Russia 0

Croatia 0, Spain 1

Portugal 2, Netherlands 1

Denmark 1, Germany 2

Italy 2, Ireland 0

Sweden 2, France 0

 

So I was able to watch 10 and missed 14. So I’m 10 for 24, so I’ve watched about 42 percent of the matches in the Group Stage. It’s not a majority, hell it’s not even half, but I think I have a decent perspective so far. Unfortunately, I wanted to see the most exciting games possible and for me, that means games that result in a team actually winning. Well, unfortunately for me, I witnessed every draw except for one. That’s right, out of the five draws, I witnessed four of them. I want winners!

 

As for the tournament pick ’em I’m in, here’s a screen shot of how poorly I’ve done with my selections, even after advice from the Montrose Super Fans.

A little too much red for my liking

 

Out of 16 people, I’m in a three-way tie for last place. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise for me, considering how little I know about soccer. But I at least figured the advice of the Super Fans would give me some sort of competitive edge. But there’s still plenty of futbol to be played, so somehow, someway, I’m still optimistic I can finish strong.

Pete’s Futbol Experiment Update: 4/6 Games Watched

I have now watched four games of this 2012 European Championships.

Poland 1, Greece 1 – Draw

Russia 4, Czech Republic 1

Italy 1, Spain 1 – Draw

Ireland 1, Croatia 3

*Missed Netherlands vs. Denmark, Germany vs. Portugal

My excitement level so far:  3

(Scale of 0-10, with zero being how excited I’d be to find a band aid stuck to the bottom of my foot and 10 being how excited I’d get to see the Pittsburgh Pirates win a World Series)

So far, I’m not overwhelmed in anyway. These games have been exciting at times, but for the most part I find myself disinterested. It’s the group stage, which means games can end in ties and no one is at risk of getting knocked out of the tournament.

I’m hoping that once we get by the group stage, the intensity will pick up, as well as the scoring. The two draws were probably the most entertaining games that I’ve watched so far, but they were still ties and at the end of the day, I can’t stand ties. I want winners.

A Few Notes

I’m guessing the three things that will continue to bug me throughout the tournament are flare-throwing fans, ties and flopping players.

Why do fans throw flares onto the pitch? It’s idiotic, makes the place smokey and it delays the game. Oh, and also it’s a FLARE. It could burn a player pretty badly. I’d compare it to the stupidity of fans in baseball or football running onto the field during the game, but it’s worse. It’s dangerous. You just don’t see that happen in American sports. At the most, morons might spill a beer on the players beneath them, but you don’t see any flaming debris being chucked onto the playing surface. Stop it. Soccer fans already have a bad enough reputation as it is.

Are soccer players really that easy to injure? Every time two players go up for a header, they both fall down and flail around like they were hit by sniper fire. Then, as the game continues, one or more players remain on the ground only to get up 30 seconds later, apparently fine. Are they really trying that hard to draw a call? It’s embarrassing to watch. You’re grown men, act like it.

Pete’s Futbol Experiment: Day One Random Commentary

DAY 1

 GAME 1- POLAND VS. GREECE

The first thing I noticed was that the commentators mentioned that the European Championships are more difficult to win than the World Cup. Wow. Had no idea, and have no idea why. They never really said.

Question 1- Why is this tournament more difficult to win than the World Cup?

Super Fan Rakesh- Bigger concentration of good teams in Euros, but still missing some outstanding teams. Group stages are more difficult.

It’s just 5 minutes in and there’s actually been a decent amount of action. Poland has had a few offensive chances.

Announcers are reiterating what I was told about this group from the Montrose Super Fans, Group A is “soft” and “weak.”  That brings me to my next question.

Question 2- How is each group decided? I know there aren’t seedings because it’s a round-robin format, but there has to be a way those four teams in each group are decided right?

Super Fan Rakesh- Random draws.

Fourteen minutes in we have our first “injury.” Ludovic Obraniak from Poland. Didn’t seem to be that big of a collision. Player is back up and back to normal after lying on the ground for 20 seconds. That annoys me. Was he injured? No. He was hurt. Shake it off and don’t waste our time watching you pretend you have some sort of injury.

16:47 And in just over a quarter in real football (15:00) Poland scores off a header. Pretty cool centering play and headed in by Robert Lewandowski. Now that’s a polish name! #Pride It was only a matter of time (I’m assuming) Poland has been putting pressure on Greece for the majority of the game.

Aaaaaand another injury. They’ve taken his shoe and sock off and spraying him with the magic spray. You know what my next question will be.

Question 3- What is that spray? What does it do? Is it like Icy Hot?

Super Fan Rakesh- Pain relieving spray, like Icy Hot.

Greece is playing with 10 players while the injured fella is being attended to. If the remedy for the player’s injury is a bit of spray then it doesn’t seem worth putting his team down a man for any amount of time. Walk it off?

After a collision between a Polish player and a Greek player, both go down and throw arms up into the air. Looked like a pair of dives to me, but what do I know?

Stadium is packed full of Polish fans. They whistle every time the Greeks get possession. It’s nearly as annoying as Vuvuzelas.  I’m guessing it’s supposed to get the Greeks off their game. But really, I think it’s just annoying.

 Question 4- How long is the grass on these fields? It doesn’t seem to be as short as golf greens, but maybe the fringe?

The net seems so damn big. How do these guys miss from in close? I’m guessing it’s harder than it looks, certainly under pressure.

It’s nearly half way through the match and Greece hasn’t had any legit scoring chances. They look incredibly inept.

First red card at 43 minutes. ENTIRE Greek team is pleading with ref to change the call. Did look like a crap call, I don’t know what he did to deserve the ejection.

Greece is mobbing the referee and getting a yellow card. They are arguing an alleged hand ball. Not getting the call. Maybe they should play better and score rather than arguing everything. That’s a sign of a really struggling team. Frustrated by its own limitations.

So we are now at the half and the score is 1-0. Poland was entertaining for a few minutes, Greece is a bunch of whiners and so far, this game is not turning me into a soccer fan.

So the ref that gave the red card apparently does that a lot in “La Leaga” whatever that is. Gotta be careful around ticky-tacky refs.

So if you lose the opening game, apparently it’s basically impossible to qualify for next round. Is that BS? I guess Greece can’t afford to lose one game in the group stage.

But scoring one goal seems like an insurmountable task for Greece at this point, so they should probably give up.

And at 50 minutes, Greece scores, making my previous comment…not…good.

Now we have a ball game! Can this end in a tie? That would irritate me.

 American Soccer Fan Charlie Ash’s Commentary- Yes. Tie’s in the group stage. The top two from each group advance to the knockout rounds. Once knock out rounds start then there are no ties.

In the group stage:

3pts for a win

1pt for a draw

0pts for a loss

WOW goalie gets a red card and there’s a penalty kick! This game is starting to interest me. Poland has been in control basically the whole game and now, Greece can take the lead. This is karma from that earlier phantom red card to Greece.

SAVE! WOW I don’t know what’s crazy in soccer, but this is now crazy.

That offsides call prevented a goal. I’m guessing there’s no replay in soccer? The call was actually correct, but the situation reminds me of a certain Briere goal in the Pens/Flyers series that should have been called offsides.

Since the game was tied, there hasn’t been much action. I guess both teams are playing for the tie? That’s no fun, whatsoever.

Game ends in a 1-1 tie. It was exciting at times, but ultimately I can’t stand ties. In competition, there should be a winner and a loser. Period.

 

GAME 2 CZECH REPUBLIC VS. RUSSIA

First 10 minutes are done and I haven’t seen anything to note so far. My only question is why is the Czech goalie wearing wrestling head gear?

GOAL RUSSIA AT 14:29. A centering ball gets headed into the post and the rebound is pounded in. 1-0 blowout so far. Yes that was sarcasm.

Aaaaaand someone throws a flare onto the field. Yes, a flare. A. How does someone get that into the stadium? B. Why the hell would you throw a flare onto the field? Are all soccer fans mindless idiots?

RUSSIA SCORES AGAIN IN THE 23RD MINUTE. Great through ball/centering pass and a quick kick past the goalie. 2-0 and the rout is on.

Czechs better do something. They are just getting out played…I think.

After seeing these giant stadiums filled to the brim, it’s hard not to give “futbol” some credit. This kind of popularity is unrivaled, even in American college football. People just love this stuff.

And the Czechs are back in the game, netting a GOAL in the 51st minute. A great move by the Czech player to get around the goalie and tuck it home. I’m pleased that both teams have scored in both games I’ve watched so far. Nothing turns me off about soccer worse than goose eggs on the board.

Small collision just occurred. Both players fell, then immediately got up and said nothing. THAT’S what I want to see. Play the sport, don’t run your mouth, don’t complain for penalties and don’t act as if you were taken down by sniper fire.

Another thing I have to give soccer, there are some smoking hot females at these matches and the camera operators aren’t afraid to show them. Kinda like watching an NBA game.

Noticed that I haven’t written nearly as much during this game as the first. Am I paying less attention? Maybe. But I also think that I’m starting to get used to the many things that initially caused me to pause.

Also, this game hasn’t been quite as interesting, I think?

RUSSIA EXTENDS THE LEAD TO TWO. Some player whose name I can’t pronounce or spell has his second of the game. He DRILLED it right past the goal keeper and with 10 minutes left, it doesn’t look like the Czechs can do much now.

RUSSIA PUTS THE NAIL IN THE COFFIN. Only minutes after the previous goal, the Russians strike again. Great ball handling and a superb individual effort to fire the ball past the goalie. Keeper got a hand on the ball, but it wasn’t enough to keep it out of the net. Out of the four teams I’ve watched today, the Russians seem to be the most dominant.

The Czechs play Greece in their next game. I anticipate that to be…ugly? Not very fun to watch? I’d take Greece over them right now, just based on the surge they were able to generate late in their game against Poland.

Game over. Russia takes it 4-1. Once they went up big, I lost a lot of interest, just like the 4-0 Kings win in the Stanley Cup final. Blowouts are boring once they happen and this one didn’t happen until late. Generally, was a pretty entertaining game. The more goals, the better as far as I’m concerned. But there weren’t any red cards in this game and the penalty shot in the Greece/Poland game added extra drama. Poland/Greece wins the day.

 

My Overall Take After Day One

Unfortunately, this just doesn’t feel as dramatic as the World Cup, and that was to be expected. But I feel that I was able to sit here and watch soccer without complaining for the most part. I still hate seeing players pretend they’re hurt and ties infuriate me. There was some drama in the first game with a penalty save and some strange calls, so I was pretty entertained. The Russia/Czech game wasn’t as good because it was one-sided, but still interesting. I like goals. The more the better. I don’t know how I’ll feel as I continue to watch group play, but I’m guessing that once the teams emerge from the groups, the soccer will be far more entertaining.

Pete’s Futbol Experiement: Watching the 2012 European Soccer Championships

I’ve never been a soccer fan. I played youth ball when I was a little kid, but beyond that I never gained much interest in the sport. In fact, I’ve come to criticize a lot about it – from the cheesy flopping to the annoying vuvuzelas to the injuries that seem to happen every two minutes.

But I can’t argue against the popularity of soccer abroad. There still isn’t much of a market for it here in the States, but it seems like the rest of the world is perpetually compelled by the sport. So, in the spirit of keeping an open mind and having nothing else to do during the day, I’ve decided to watch as many Euro matches as I can and give my own personal commentary.

I’m trying to understand the draw to this sport. I really do want to give it a chance, so that means I’ll have to watch it enough to know what’s going on in front of me. It may not prove to be all that much fun – I doubt I’ll come out of this experience as a soccer fan – but if nothing else, I’m broadening my horizons and learning another sport. In the quest to be a true sports writer someday, it certainly couldn’t hurt to know a bit about the world’s most popular game.

To help me get a little more into these matches, I’ve entered a pool with some folks that I’ve played fantasy football with. Some of them are die hard soccer fans and they follow the Premier League closely during the season. It might seem like I’m in over my head when it comes to picking winners against these guys, but I have a little trick up my sleeve.

It just so happens that I live with a pair of huge soccer fans — Conor and Rakesh. Since we live on Montrose Avenue, I’m going to refer to them as the Montrose Super Fans. Conor is from Dublin, Ireland and has lived with us for about a year now. He’s a staunch supporter of the Liverpool Premier team. Rakesh is from Chennai, India and he supports Arsenal.

Both of these guys know what they’re talking about when it comes to soccer. They get up early on the weekends and watch matches, commonly waking me up. But instead of annoying me during the Euros, they’re helping me to first place in the pool and also helping me understand the sport and culture I know so little about. Last night, we had a group discussion about who will escape their groups and who will eventually win the Euro Cup.

The following are the basics that I took away from the discussion. I asked only for a brief breakdown of the two teams my roommates believed would emerge from each group. I want winners and I don’t want to get my head fogged up with the details of the supposedly weaker teams. Based on their explanations, I’m trying to compare the teams and groups to American sports teams that I am familiar with. I may be correct in these comparisons, or I may be way off. It’s not science, just opinion based on a small amount of information. This is my breakdown of the Euro 2012 field.

 GROUP A

CZECH REPUBLIC

GREECE

POLAND

RUSSIA

When discussing this group, the words “weak” and “wild card group” came up quite a bit. So I easily deemed this the weakest group of the tournament. It contains Poland, one of the host nations. As one would guess, host nations usually do well in tournaments like this. The local support helps their team on the pitch. But apparently, Poland is a pretty weak host nation. The Super Fans did pick the Polish to advance out of the group, but only because the group itself is extremely weak and it’s basically a crap shoot.

TOP TWO TEAMS TO ADVANCE

1. Russia– They are the favorites to advance from the group. The Super Fans tell me that they consistently deliver in major tournaments. There are no outright stars on this team, but the team itself is organized and they work well as a cohesive unit. There are no huge stars, but they’re good enough to get out of a bad group. I’m comparing this team to the Phoenix Coyotes. No huge stars, but good cohesive play that helped them advance in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

2. Poland– Like I mentioned before, the Super Fans picked Poland to advance because they are a host nation and host nations usually over perform. With the help of their home crowd, Poland is hoping to intimidate their opponents enough to earn the right to advance past the group stage. I don’t know how much home field advantage plays into soccer, but I’m going to compare this team to the Seattle Seahawks. Not a great team overall, but Quest Field certainly is a loud and difficult stadium to play in.

 GROUP B

DENMARK

GERMANY

NETHERLANDS

PORTUGAL

This group generated the most lively conversation out of any of them. This was described to me as the “Dream Group.” Apparently, every team in this group is pretty good. Ultimately, Denmark gets screwed because they have a good club, but everyone else is better. It’s difficult to look past Germany and Holland.

 TOP TWO TEAMS TO ADVANCE

1. Germany– They are a hot team right now. They’re a well-oiled machine and they have star power. The Germans are considered the second-best team in this tournament by the Super Fans. They have young stars that are maturing from the 2010 World Cup. Their players play for outstanding Premier teams. They should be fun to watch. I’m comparing them to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

2. Holland– This is another hot team. They made the last World Cup final but lost to Spain. They have a pair of super stars and they play a sound, technical game. This team plays by the book and is damn good at it. I’m comparing them to the Detroit Redwings.

GROUP C

CROATIA

IRELAND

ITALY

SPAIN

This group is arguable the second strongest in the tournament. They should challenge the best group and their group winner should lay claim to runner-up for the tournament. This group contains the previous World Cup winners, Spain. And according to the Super Fans, the Spaniards are the favorites to advance as the best team from the group. Aside from Spain, the second team to advance from this group is tough to call, it’ll be a struggle.

 TOP TWO TEAMS TO ADVANCE

1. Spain– The Super Fans say that Spain “plays soccer the way it is supposed to be played.” They teach lessons on the field. They have the best goalie and the best centermen in the group and maybe in the entire tournament. This team has both style and substance and they are the favorites for the tournament. Everyone else will have to go through Spain to win the cup because they have the stars of the Spanish Premier Division backing them up. I’m going to compare the Spanish team to the Miami Heat.

2. Ireland– Super Fan Conor may be hurting me with this pick by being a homer, but I figured I’d give it to him. The Irish have an average team,  but they play with heart and passion. They are tough to break down. They play a defensive-style game and they are good at winning tight matches. They reach deep down for their efforts and have a terrific coach behind the bench. I’m going to compare them to the San Antonio Spurs, good coach, they get the job done but are boring to watch.

GROUP D

ENGLAND

FRANCE

SWEDEN

UKRAINE

This is the second weakest group in the tournament. There are a lot of questions regarding these teams, so it’ll be tough to tell who emerges. One note that is worth mentioning: The Super Fans disagreed on the second team to advance in this group. Rakesh picked England and Conor picked Sweden. I picked Sweden ultimately because Conor’s argument was more convincing. According to Conor, England is over-hyped and has underachieved.

TOP TWO TEAMS TO ADVANCE

1. France– This team gets results.  They are reemerging after a miserable in World Cup. That team didn’t gel because of their coach. But things are a little different now. This talent will gel and come together better. They have a good mix of younger and veteran players. The French may even have an outside shot at the finals. I’m comparing this team to the Los Angeles Kings (but don’t expect France to dominate like the Kings have.)

2. Sweden– This is the controversial pick in the apartment, but I feel good taking Sweden. They might not be a better team than England, but there is less pressure on them to perform compared to the English. According to Conor, “England promises more than they should.” I’m comparing this team to the Nashville Predators — a good, solid team that people like, but not expected to escape a tough division.

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