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Complete archive of Robert Wagman's It Seems to Me.

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It Seems To Me . . .

European Championship was quite a bargain, even at $145.

By Robert Wagman

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Monday, July 3, 2000) -- How convenient it was that Fathers Day came right in the midst of the European Championship. And to have four wonderful children with both the foresight and resources to chip in and get the Old Man the $145 Euro 2000 pay-per-view television package.

Twenty-three days and 31 matches later, the best team probably won the European Championship even if it did not deserve to escape victorious in the final match. But what was most impressive was the quality of the competition, start to finish, top to bottom.

Almost every match was at least interesting. Every one had moments of wonderful football, and some are among the best matches to be seen.

It will long be argued who had the best team in the competition. Was it France who needed Sylvain Wiltord's amazing extra-time goal to extend the final match, and then David Trezeguet's golden goal to win it. Was it Dino Zoff's Italians who cynically dismissed the host Netherlands by playing all defense all the time in order to get to penalty kicks in the semifinal, but then played wonderful attacking soccer in the final only to be cruelly denied 60 seconds from the end.

Or was it the Dutch, who beat the French in group play, who played one of the best matches in years by any national side when they blasted by Yugoslavia 6-1, only to be denied the final by their mysterious inability to make penalty kicks.

I personally am glad that France made its miraculous last minute comeback. I will be the first to admit their victory was scarcely deserved. But I think it was best for soccer. If the Italians had succeeded in holding onto the lead given to them by Marco Delvecchioís wonderful goal, the tournament would have stood as more proof that it is defense that wins championships. Forgotten would have been the wonderful attacking soccer played through much of the tournament by the Dutch and the Portuguese and others.

It would have been back to the drawing boards by coaches worldwide as they tried to figure out how they too can work five defenders and three central defenders into their line-up as Zoff did against the Netherlands.

But, in winning, the French did stop somewhat short of immortality. Many were saying this was one of the great sides ever to play the game. A very average Italian side showed this not to be true. French playmaker Zinedine Zidane was talked of as being the best since Pele. His very average performance against the Italians showed he is no Michel Platini, let alone a Pele.

Several things stood out over the final week of the tournament. Foremost is how much better a competition this was than the World Cup. From top to bottom, the field in the European Championship was much more talented and more evenly matched than at the World Cup. By general agreement, Euro 2000's weakest team was little Slovenia, but it was in most of its matches and at times played some very creative football.

At the World Cup, where qualifying is geographic in nature, there are always weak teams and the early stages often feature match after match with the good teams just hoping to advance with a minimum of effort and as few injuries as possible.

One way to look at Euro 2000 is to ask who among the world's best teams were not competing. Certainly Brazil and Argentina deserve to be among the top 16 in the world. But then who? Probably Mexico is better than some who played in this tournament. But then who? Maybe someone from Africa, although neither Nigeria nor Cameroon, arguably the continent's best, are playing very well right now.

What about the United States? I have gotten a lot of e-mails asking how I thought the U.S. would have done in Euro 2000. I think the Americans would not have been embarrassed, possibly could have beaten some teams and with a favorable preliminary group could have sneaked into the quarterfinals.

An amusing aside. In the current FIFA rankings, set to change Wednesday, the U.S. is ranked 19th, the Netherlands 21st. So much for the FIFA rankings.

Some other random thoughts:

I wonder who Alessandro Del Piero's agent is. He is said to be the highest-paid player in the world, but he does not even get the start from Zoff, and then not once, but twice, with the match clearly on the line, he can not beat French keeper Fabien Barthez one-on-one.

The competition showed the incredible depth of a number of club teams. A player who I came to admire immensely was the Netherlands' attacking winger Boudewijn Zenden. He was a huge factor in the Dutch success. Yet at Barcelona, while he is carried on the roster as a forward, he has been playing at left back in order to get playing time.

Speaking of the depth of various club teams, I was taken by the fact that of the 16 French players dressed for the final, only three played professionally last season in France, and all three are leaving French football to play next season in Spain or Italy. There is talk of Nicolas Anelka moving back to Paris Saint Germain next season. But if he does not, then there will not be any French internationals playing professionally in their home country.

The broadcasts in the U.S. were picked up from Englandís BBC and ITV who split the televising of matches back home. So these were the same broadcasts seen by the British public, same announcers and same analysts. The obvious is to compare the coverage with what is seen here in the U.S. in coverage of Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.

Stylistically it is as different as night and day. Producers of soccer broadcasts here believe that their audiences know relatively little about the game itself and almost nothing about those playing in it. So the announcers are required to constantly talk down to the audience and to relate every little detail, up close and personal, about every player.

In England the match is often left to speak for itself. In American broadcasting the ultimate sin seems to be even a second of dead air. In England, even when they are broadcasting an national-team match, if a player makes an error the announcers will say it was a bad pass or a bad shot. That would be something of a novelty in American coverage.

But things are changing. For reasons hard to understand, the British broadcasters gave distances in yards and feet and inches and not in meters. The BBC's main broadcast duo even used an American football analogy. "That was like a quarterback trying to hit a wide receiver well downfield," a broadcaster said of a failed long pass attempt. Did the audience back in Britain understand the comparison?

The next European Championship will be held in Portugal in 2004. It might just be worth the trip.

A British company, Opta Index Ltd, is the official player performance statistician for the English Premier League. It tabulates everything that happens on the field at every Premiership match: every goal, shot, pass, save, foul, etc. The results are run through computers to come up with a season-long match-by-match analysis of every player and every team.

The same was done for Euro 2000 for Sky Sports. Every player was given a numerical score based on a wide range of factors, different for each position. The overall results are fascinating.

Who, for instance was the top goalkeeper of Euro 2000? France's Barthez? No. Italy's young sensation Francesco Toldo? No. According to Opta, the top-ranked goalkeeper in Euro 200 was Turkey's Rustu Recber, with a ranking of 1316. He narrowly beat out Thomas Myhre of Norway (1312). Toldo was third with a 1204 ranking and Barthez fourth with 928.

Among defenders, not one of Italy's back four made it into the top 10. Opta thought the Netherlands's Frank De Boer (1284) was number one, despite his penalty misses. The other top five in order were Marinko Galic, Slovenia (1091), Laurent Blanc, France (1083), Eric Deflandre, Belgium (941), and tied for fifth. Abelardo, Spain and Sol Campbell, England (902).

Opta separately ranks "holding" (defensive) midfielders and attacking midfielders. Among the holding midfielders, Spain's Josep Guardiola (1285) was number one, followed by Marc Wilmots, Belgium (1122), Dorinel Munteanu, Romania and Patrick Vieira, France (tied with 915), Yves Vanderhaeghe, Belgium (840) and Edgar Davids, Netherlands, (838).

Portgual's Luis Figo, (1318), who many observers thought the tournament's most outstanding player, was the number one attacking midfielder. He was followed by teammate Rui Costa (1228), Zinedine Zidane, France, (1152), Boudewijn Zenden Netherlands (1046), Vladimir Smicer, Czech Republic, (938) and England's David Beckham (811).

Among forwards, the Netherlands' Patrick Kluivert (1483) was number one, followed by Savo Milosevic, Yugoslavia (1268), Zlatko Zahovic, Slovenia (1215), Dennis Bergkamp, Netherlands, (1177) and Filippo Inzaghi, Italy (1053).

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at

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