Sunday, June 22, 2008


NOT an American in sight. Nor an Englishman. Yet ESPN, to the delight of all lovers of The Beautiful Game, is showing wall-to-wall coverage of Euro 2008.

Sadly, my beloved England is not involved in the finals of the European Football Championship, held every four years in the even-numbered year between World Cups.

England failed to make it out of a qualifying group containing such soccer super powers as Andorra, Estonia, Israel and Macedonia. Russia and Croatia were the two qualifiers from Group E.

Perhaps it wasn’t such an easy group after all. Both countries made it through to the quarter-finals and Russia, under Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, is still going strong.

Russia plays Spain in the second semi-final on Thursday while on Wednesday, Germany faces Turkey.

Like all tournaments, some of the games have been mundane, others – notably Turkey’s 3-2 win over the Czech Republic – dramatic and thrilling.

Having gone out of three major championships (the World Cups of 1986 and 2002, and Euro 96) in the quarter-finals on penalties, Spain deserved a change of luck.

The Spanish dominated possession in today’s game with Italy, who were lucky to scrape through the group stage, but couldn’t find the cutting edge to score during the regular 90 minutes, or 30 minutes of extra-time.

Spain deserved penalty shoot-out win over Italy

You had the feeling that this was going to be another classic Italian job; that they would sneak through in the penalty shoot-out, despite a less than stellar team or performance.

But goalkeeper Iker Casillas saved spot kicks from Daniele de Rossi and Antonio di Natale. That gave Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas (yes, there is some English interest after all) the opportunity to win it for Spain. He kept his cool to beat Italian keeper Gianlugi Buffon.

Spain will start favorite to beat Russia, winners of the first European Championships back in 1960, having already beaten them 4-1 in the group stage. But it’s worth noting the Russians were without the inspirational Andrei Arshavin that day.

They also boast Spartak Moscow striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, scorer of three goals and one of the stars of Euro 2008 so far. He looks sure to move to one of the top clubs when the tournament is over.

Germany will also be favored to overcome Turkey, but we could be in for another surprise after unconsidered outsiders Greece shocked the world – or Europe, at least – by lifting the trophy in 2004.

Whatever happens, thanks to ESPN we will be able to see events unfold. ESPN is showing every game live to US viewers across its networks.

There’s no David Beckham - and it probably won’t make soccer more popular than baseball. But it has certainly brought a smile to the face of one expat missing his “footie.”

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