Sunday, 22 June 2008

Mind Games

Every couple of years there's this phenomenon that takes me on a bit of an adventure ride and also shows me just how disconnected I really am from mainstream Australian culture.
Every couple of years the world goes through one of its major national football tournaments: either the World Cup or the Euro. Currently, we're right in the business end of Euro 2008, and although my humble opinion is that national teams' football is significantly inferior to top club football, there can be no denying the addictive nature of the Euro: for three weeks or so you're injected with an overdose of football. Football is with you all the time, and if you're not watching it then you're dosing off in front of your PC at the office because you got up at 4:30am to watch a game.
Thing is, this adventure ride I'm going through is a solo adventure. Given that I live in Australia, hardly anyone here cares about football.
Sharing the experience and my fascination with the events taking place is next to impossible with everyone around talking exclusively about the local sports. That includes the mainstream media, who seems to fear football making all of its reporters redundant if it's to rise in popularity. Thus all you hear about is still the business as usual: AFL, cricket and even rugby, hockey and golf take precedent over my favorite sport. To me, watching the local news with its lengthy sports coverage and the two seconds they allocate to football shows just how subdued I am with sports during most of the two years between major tournaments.

I will therefore share my fascination with the football action here and now.
Personally, I derive most of my joy from observing the trends taking place in the tournament rather than the individual elements that make it up. For example, while there can be some magnificent goals of the stuff you remember watching for years to come, I find the results of the three quarter final matches that took place so far much more fascinating.
In all three games the favorites have lost: Portugal conceded to Germany, Croatia was ten seconds away from victory but managed to capitulate to Turkey, and the most impressive and my beloved Dutch managed to lost to a surprising Russia.
First of all, it goes to show the nature of football: because it's a low scoring game, the inferior team has a much higher chance of winning than in a high scoring match. Football can therefore be really cruel.
Second, it goes to show the value of preparing for each individual match. That is exactly how Russia beat Holland and how Germany surprised Portugal: Portugal and Holland came playing their regular game and lost, whereas Germany and Russia had tailor made plans for their respective opponents.
Third, we get to witness the difference between a league based competition and a cup based competition. Given what we have seen so far in the Euro, I don't think there could be much doubt that the Netherlands offered the strongest team out there with Portugal being a close second but for its measely defense; yet because of the cup format they're both out after losing once at the wrong time.
It's the timing that's the key to it all. All the A grade teams that lost their way in the quarter finals were teams that won the first two matches of their group stage, thus securing the first spot in their groups and their places in the quarter finals. When the time came for them to play the third and last match of the group stage they went through an anti climax, the pressure was down and they had nothing to play for, really; but then when the real thing - the quarter finals - came along they did not have the mental capacity to put the metal on the pedal again. So they lost.
My conclusion? It's better to start at the bottom and work yourself up then start at the top and falter as you try to maintain your supremacy amongst mediocre colleagues. And the fact this lesson applies to life in general rather than football alone is exactly why I love the game so much.

This is all bad news for Spain as it's about to play the last of the quarter finals tonight against the mediocre but experienced Italian team.
Given my opinion on the way the Italians play and their tactics, I will shower and go to bed tonight singing one song:
Viva Espana!

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