Murphy's Law: "Recapping Euro 2008

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MURPHY'S LAW
This edition: "Recapping Euro 2008"

"Hello everyone I'm back with another issue of 'Murphy's Law'!
The summer is certainly heating up soccer-wise this year in the Denver area. We have so much soccer coming our way with the Rapids in full swing as well as Tigres Everton and the US and Brazilian Women's National Teams coming to Dick's Sporting Goods Park and that's just in the next few weeks.
World Cup qualifying begins in August and of course local colleges will be in full swing in September.
With that in mind the 2008 Euro Championships have just concluded yesterday with Spain beating Germany 1-0 in a grand finale to an outstanding tournament. The month long event co-hosted by Switzerland and Austria was a great showcase for our sport as the majority of the games highlighted fast-paced attacking soccer.

As part of my new role with the Rapids organization and for my UEFA coaching badge requirement I attended three Euro matches in Austria last month and got a chance to experience the atmosphere passion and energy firsthand.
As with most enjoyable undertakings in life the worst part was the travel: ten hours to Frankfurt Germany a three hour layover then an hour flight to Munich followed by a train ride to Austria. But once I settled in it was all soccer as the country was gripped by this tournament.

I know what you are thinking: cushy gig loading up on wienerschnitzel and watching players that we could never hope to sign unless we broke the bank – right? Not the case my friends as the benefits of such a trip are multi-faceted on both a personal but also and more importantly a club level for the Rapids as we grow as an organization.

I not only caught three Euro 2008 matches but also a closed door match between Austrian and Russian First Division clubs and got the chance to meet several professional coaches from all over the world as well as a few scouts and agents.
As MLS expands and grows we must embrace the different areas that can benefit us in regards to not only player identification but technical development of players and coaches. Keeping in regular contact with these individuals clubs or organizations will benefit our club and certainly our league.
Contacts are only valuable to your club if you are willing to use them with the team in mind. I’m sure there are plenty of individuals in our league that have a more substantial rolodex than I have but I promise you that few will put their contacts to work for their club the way I will.

I was based in Salzburg which is centrally located in Austria for seven days. Each game required a bit of a drive (Vienna 3 hrs Innsbruck 1 ½ hrs and Klagenfurt 2 hrs) but as you can imagine the scenery was amazing. Our group of ten coaches all of whom are going for the UEFA coaching badge was split into groups of five so that we could travel in 8-passenger minivans.
The schedule was pretty straightforward: on gamedays we would meet for classroom sessions in the morning travel around noontime to our destination grab some lunch and atmosphere and get into the stadium for 6pm kickoff. We would then work in pairs focusing on one of the two teams and gathering information on everything from warm-ups to substitution patterns.
One of us was always manned with a camera to take "tactical photos" to show the team’s shape on set pieces or during the run of play. The next morning we would work on cleaning up our notes get everything in a Powerpoint format and present to the group later in the afternoon.
This group has been together for about a year and a half so we have grown to know each other very well. It is an excellent group that has developed a collective spirit of assisting each other and sharing information.
The discussions during these presentations were always lively and helped us to come to pretty clear conclusions about the Euro tournament including some of the following:
- The need for balancing build-up to the tournament: when the domestic season ended when the national team reported for training the rhythm of the training as a build-up to the first match (rest/recover team building basic tactics/shape)
- the importance of scoring the first goal
- use of a back four: very rare to see a back three in the modern game
- the position of the 2nd striker dropping into the midfield to assist the team defensively
- use of defensive set pieces as a springboard for counterattacks
- position of defensive block (team shape) exposing tactics and/or weak players
- the need for players that can consistently run beyond the opponent’s back line to stretch their shape
-when teams are in the ascendancy and gaining momentum (example: Turkey vs. Czech Republic) or descending and losing momentum at key moments (example: Poland vs. Austria)
My first match was Austria vs. Croatia in Vienna on June 8th which Croatia won 1-0. It was a game that Croatia was in full control of from minute one and should have put the game away with a second goal but were sloppy or unnecessarily extravagant at the final moment.
Austria came out with a 3-5-2 obviously looking to score an early goal and get the home crowd behind them but this plan backfired after conceding a 3rd minute penalty. Their confidence dropped the passing was fragmented and they could not break down the Croats. It was only in the 2nd half when Croatia wilted under the heat that Austria pushed the issue and could have equalized undeservedly.
The Croats were an excellent group with Spurs-bound Luka Modric as the main link and offensive catalyst. Here was proof again that you don’t have to be 6’2" to absolutely dominate a high level match. No one could get near him while he was in possession as he rides tackles and plays quick one-two’s; it was absolutely fantastic to watch.

The second match was Spain vs. Russia in Innsbruck on June 10th. This was the best game I witnessed as Spain dismantled a very good Russian team 4-1. The movement and passing of Spain was world-class on the day and the score line could have been higher.
Russia started the match brightly but one mistake in the back was punished and the entire complexion of the game changed. Fernando Torres was very quiet in this game and was subbed out in the 2nd half but it didn't matter as the strength of Spain was their collective effort. They had top players running non-stop for each other with so many options in attack and good numbers in defense.
Cesc Fabregas was regularly coming off the bench until the final and changed each game with his link play and his ability to deliver the killer pass. I was very pleased to see them win the tournament as it was well deserved. Unfortunately in our sport sometimes the best team doesn’t win and it was great to see Spain get their just rewards.

My final match was Germany vs. Croatia in Klagenfurt on June 12. It was a story of two contrasting teams: Germany with their discipline and history and Croatia with pure flowing talent and the desire to develop a more substantial history of their own. The difference could even be seen in the warm-ups with the German’s drill-like exercises and the Croats' easy-going ball-dominated work. Croatia honestly looked like they were going to play a game in the park with keep-aways juggling and lots of messing around! (Perhaps warm-ups are overrated….)
The Germans were off on the day and I personally feel they underestimated the Croatians. They could not get a kick of the ball for most of the first half and looked very put out by that fact. They were pulled out of key defensive areas and Croatia toyed with them like a cat with a mouse and pulled out the 2-1 win. It was fascinating to watch.

As was proven later in the tournament Croatia could be broken down late in matches as fatigue from their possession style and a lack of depth exposed their weaknesses. I felt for Croatia because they played some great stuff and imposed themselves on their opponents for 90 minutes. Losing Eduardo to a broken leg in the Spring during his play with the Rapids' partrner club Arsenal proved to be a huge loss as they could not find a striker with that cutting edge. My personal opinion was that they were capable of winning the tournament regardless and have to be considered a dark horse for World Cup 2010.

In conclusion it was a fantastic tournament held in two countries built perfectly for such an event. Excellent middle capacity grounds accessible public transport and spacious fan zones made for a great experience for all the fans.
Special note to the Croatian fans who could always be seen en masse both in and outside the stadiums in full voice. They have to be some of the loudest supporters on Earth and it is my personal hope they are rewarded in the future with a major international prize. Their players and supporters both deserve it."
-John Murphy
Director of Player Development Colorado Rapids
Rapids Director of Player Development John Murphy writes his "Murphy's Law" column exclusively for ColoradoRapids.com. Check back to the website for future installments!