Holland v. France

I spend a lot of time playing Football Manager. One might call me an addict. My addiction started about 5 years ago with Championship Manager 4 which, unbeknownst to me, was a bad version of the game. Two years ago, I upgraded to Football Manager 2007 and I’ve been playing that ever since. In the fake world of FM, my teams are usually very good. But I can only dream of making my charges play like Marco van Basten’s Dutch National Team in Euro 2008.

After demolishing Italy in their first game, Holland took on France today in Group C’s second matchday. A win would clinch first place in the Group of Death. A loss would be tragic but not devastating. But, despite brief flashes of brilliance, France was never really in this game. Holland controlled the game with its precision passing and fluid shape. That is, they played like the old Dutch Total Football teams. Van Basten’s charges are truly a beautiful thing to watch.

I suppose there’s a certain amount of heresy to comparing anything to Total Football. But I’m going to do it anyway. The way the Dutch team is playing is flat-out gorgeous. The key is that they keep their shape while using precision passing to create an effective counter-attack. Witness their goals today: both van Persie’s and Robben’s goals came on counter-attacks. What makes the system work so well is each player’s wilingness to move into space and do what is necessary to win. A prime example is Ruud van Nistelrooy, who is playing inspired soccer. On van Persie’s goal, he was he catalyst, getting the play started with a beautiful pass to Robben, who later fed van Persie. Another example is Giovani van Bronckhorst, who is all over the field, from attacking back, to left back, to center back. To a man, this team is committed to the cause of winning Euro 2008.

Now, I haven’t seen every game in the tournament. I have been impressed by Spain and Portugal as well as Holland. Right now, my favorites are Spain (the team I’ve been rooting for the entire time) and Holland. There are similarities between the two, the most obvious being that both are famous for choking in big games. I think one of those teams gets the monkey of its back and wins.

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