Euro Watch: Nani Almost Kicked Off The Park
England is not in a state of feverish excitement as Euro 2008 get underway but that's no reason to ignore the tournament. So here's the first part of Vital's entirely subjective take on the events.
Portugal, obviously, was under the most intense scrutiny but let's not get ahead of ourselves. After all, the shortest (and one of the dullest in my humble opinion) ever opening ceremony was followed not by Portugal v Turkey but Switzerland v Czech Republic.
It was quite difficult to pick any side to cheer on for the average United fan as neither Peter Cech nor Philip Senderos is a particular favourite of ours - though I hold no grudge against either. I liked the Czech's football in 1996 and 2004 so I chose them.
In this case I was lucky as they ultimately won the game but not as lucky as them: they simply did not deserve victory. It seems that Chelsea players are imbued with luck: when Petr Cech was beaten - by Johan Vonlanthen - the bar helped them and referee Rosetti missed an obvious handball in the box by Ujfalusi moments before the aforementioned incident.
And Switzerland were much the better team throughout: the Czechs had defensive resilience but no kind of spark that Pavel Nedved or Karel Poborsky - yep, he was quite good for them, only useless for United - used to provide. There was no player on the pitch who would keep you on the edge of your seat so it was a pretty poor start to the tournament.
Yet the Czechs can be happy: they won, no matter how undeserved it was. The Swiss side could not cope with the loss of Alexander Frei as Marco Streller was unnoticeable and Hakan Yakin could not act as a supersub.
Thank God it's over I said and got the beers ready for the Portugal v Turkey game. At this point I must make a statement: I don't like the Portugal national team. I never liked them: Ronaldo is often accused of being a cry-baby and a diver but it's obvious that most of his compatriots are similar.
It showed in the game and Herbert Fandel, one of the worst referees in Europe, perfectly suited them: he blew for every little niggly foul, every little touch on an opposing player. Add to this the fact that the Turkish team had little imagination: Colin Kazim-Richards battled on the right flank, Tuncay ran around like a headless chicken and Nihat was nowhere to be seen. Their midfield was simply in chaos without the presence of Basturk, sent home for discipline reasons and the defence looked very shaky with four unfamiliar names.
They held their own for a while but a Portugal goal looked inevitable. Pepe found the net but he was offside, You-Know-Who hit the post and a couple of half-chances went and the first half ended goalless. It is worthy of debate that why is it that Portugal produce so many outstanding players - but very few good strikers? They still have to rely on Nuno Gomes, star of Euro 2000 and though he hit the post a couple of times in the second half he looked like a little lost between the worse-than-average Turkish defenders at times.
It speaks volumes that Portugal needed a central defender for the breakthrough: Pepe broke upfield, played a neat one-two with Deco and with the aid of a defender's thigh slotted the ball home. Scolari soon brough on Nani who was deployed on the right and attacked his duties with zest.
He was as overenthusiastic as ever and once again showed he's blessed with great pace. But his leg was almost broken by Mehmet Aurelio of Fenerbahce who simply crashed into him from behind, studs first when Nani threatened to break clear on the right. Fortunately he was up on his feet in no time but it was a scare: a broken leg for Nani wouldn't come too handy now...
In the end, Portugal deservedly won and they added another, substitute Raul Meireles firing home from close range after good work from Ronaldo and Joao Moutinho. You may ask why I wrote so little about Ronaldo's performance: well, the truth is that with everything going on I find it a little difficult to consider him a Manchester United player. I feel Real Madrid fansites should analyse his performance, not me.
We'll be back tomorrow of course - and hopefully we'll see better games as the first was poor and the second was one-sided as Turkey were turkey.