Out of wide array of matches being played and televised today (a bunch of international friendlies, a few South American World Cup qualifying matches, and the final four qualifying playoff matches for Euro 2012), the one to watch is a friendly in Hamburg:
Germany-Netherlands (2:30pmET, ESPN Classic, ESPN3.com): It’s not really a friendly between these two national sides. True, this match is worth watching based just on the fact that these two are among the top handful of national sides around right now, and will be the top challengers to unseat Spain as European champions next summer. But in addition to current form, there’s the history to consider.
It’s a history that on the pitch goes back to the famous 1974 match in Munich, which resulted in (then West) Germany’s
first second World Cup title, via a loss that still looms large in the Dutch national memory.
The Oranje got some revenge in 14 years later, beating Germany in the Euro 1988 semifinal, in a match which like today’s took place in Hamburg, on their way to their only major title. Those two matches got caught up, especially in the Dutch psyche, with a previous, darker history–that of Nazi Germany’s occupation of Holland during World War II.
Two chapters to read for much much more on the Holland-Germany rivalry, and in particular on the legendary 1974 and 1988 matches and their complicated historical context: Chapter 2 of Dutchman Simon Kuper’s Football Against the Enemy, titled “Football Is War”; and Chapter 13 of David Winner’s brilliant Brilliant Orange book, titled “football is not war.” (At least read them before next summer. If things go according to form, it’s entirely possible these two could meet in yet another Euro semifinal, or perhaps even in the final.)
Remarkably the entire Euro 1988 semifinal Hamburg match is on YouTube, in 10 parts. Though the last segment ends with the final whistle, and so doesn’t include Ronald Koeman infamously wiping his backside with German midfielder Olaf Thon’s jersey in front of the visiting Dutch fans after swapping shirts. The description of the YouTube videos does include this quote attributed to Koeman: “1988 didn’t erase 1974 from our memories. The bitterness is still there. Before the match Rinus Michels, who also coached the 1974 squad, told us about that lost final, in order to motivate us. I regret what I did after the match. It was an impulsive reaction, the kind of stupid reaction that follows you for the rest of your life. But for me that case is closed. As I never met Thon again after that, I never had the occasion to apologize.” Apparently, upon returning to Amsterdam as Euro champions after defeating the Soviet Union in the final and following a water-born parade thru the canals of the city, Michels said to the massive crowd gathered in Dam Square: “We won the tournament, but we all know that the semi-final was the real final.”
If instead of the Germany-Holland “friendly” you’d rather watch some matches that ostensibly “matter”, the four Euro playoff 2nd leg matches are all on ESPN3.com: Croatia-Turkey (2pmET; this one on also ESPN Deportes): The Croats shocked the Turkish squad and their fans by going into Istanbul last Friday and beating them 3-0. That result likely means peripatetic Dutch manager Guus Hiddink will lose his job (Hiddinks managed the Dutch national side in 1998, the South Koreans in 2002, the Australians in 2006, and the Russians in 2008)–but sounds like he may land quite comfortably with a job in Paris managing PSG.
Montenegro-Czech Republic (2:15pmET): The Montenegrin dream looks like it’s coming to a close, after losing 2-0 in Prague (with Arsenal man and Czech captain Tomas Rosicky apparently leading the way for the Czechs).
Ireland-Estonia 2:45pmET: Ireland crushed Estonia 4-0 in Talinn, so barring a collapse of epic proportions legendary Italian manager Giovanni Trappatoni will be leading the boys in green to Poland/Ukraine next summer. Though even with the 4 away goal advantage, “Il Trap” is not convinced the cat is in the sack:
Portugal-Bosnia 4pmET: The only one of the Euro matches where the outcome is up in the air, following a lackluster scoreless draw Friday on a “potato field” of a pitch Friday. Read Jonathan Wilson on Bosnia’s chances of getting a win today at the Estadio do Luz in Lisbon.
Finally, a few other international friendlies of interest:
Slovenia-USA, 12pmET (ESPN2, Galavision, ESPN3.com): Jurgen Klinsmann takes the USMNT to Ljublana for a rematch of last summer’s group stage game. That game ended 2-2, with the US coming back from a 2-goal deficit. Remarkably the US has scored only 2 goals in 6 matches under Klinsmann so far: They suffered yet another 1-0 loss on Friday, to France. A look at Slovenia’s current squad doesn’t reveal any familiar names (for the non-Slovenian at least), but does show that the Slovenians have found spots with a lot of decent clubs across the continent: Udinese, Palermo, Koln, Chievo, Palermo, PSV, Gent. One Slovenian to watch, especially if you, like us, would like to get a better handle on the Eredivisie, is 22-yo striker Tim Matavž who has already spent 4 years in Holland playing for Groningen before PSV brought him to Eindhoven, signing him to a 5-year contract.
Italy-Uruguay, 2:45pmET (unfortunately no US TV): Both teams coming off wins. Italy beat Poland 2-0, with Balotelli scoring for the Azzurri. Uruguay crushed Chile 4-0 in a World Cup qualifier–with Luis Suarez scoring all four!
England-Sweden 3pmET (Fox Soccer Plus): England coming off a big win over Spain–but in this match they’ll actually be expected to play football. Which it’s not clear they’re capable of doing. Sweden is a one-man team that may in fact be better without that one man: how do they solve a problem named Zlatan?
Costa Rica-Spain 3pmET (Fox Deportes): Spain’s players can’t be happy about getting shipped down to San Jose after that disappointing showing at Wembley.