June 18, 2008 |

This Euro Cup has shaped up to be one of the best in recent memory – even surpassing a largely unappetizing 2006 World Cup.

After watching almost every minute of every game in the opening round, I will say you are doing yourself a gross injustice by missing even a single minute of what has been the the Orange Crush.

The return to form of the men in Nassau orange under the direction of coach Marco van Basten has been a joy and a privilege to watch. Sublime is not the word. They emerged from the Group ‘C’ – aka the Group of Death – unscathed and with the full complement of points. Nine to be exact. With nine goals. All the while conceding a single goal.

They have very much lived up to their handle. The Orange Crush it is. Having dismantled a largely unchanged World Cup-winning Italian defense with some of the most beautiful counter-attacking football you will ever see, they then turned the 1998 World Cup winning French team into so much Gallic goo, trouncing them 4-1. Even in the final outing of the opening stage fielding a vastly “diminished” squad they put two on a Romanian team that battled the French and Italians to a deadlock.

But this wasn’t always the case. For a team that is perennially loaded with some of the best talent in the world, they often fail to impress. With only one European Football Championship to their name (in 1988, lead by van Basten’s 9 goal haul) and a fairly lackluster string of World Cup outings (barring the two unsuccessful attempts in the finals of the ’74 and ’78 World Cup), many believe that they have not lived up anywhere close to their potential.

This is largely attributed to infighting caused by large egos, conflicting expectations and just flat refusals to play together — ala Ruud van Nistelrooy, Real Madrid and Holland marksman, said he would never play for Marco van Basten again. Fortunately for all involved, differences were laid aside and he scored perhaps the most controversial goal of the tournament to date and beautifully setting one up against France.

And so it is the Russians that will face an Oranje team that seems to have recaptured the spirit of 70’s Total Football pioneered by the genius of Johan Cruyff in the heyday of Dutch football. Poor buggers.

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It must be said, the officiating has been horrendous. Again. Actually, the term egregious comes to mind.

The van Nistelrooy goal against the Italians in the opening match of Group C was inexplicable, confounding and unbelievable. And to compound the glaring incongruity between what should have happened and what transpired, a UEFA official came out stating that ruling was indeed legitimate and it was because most players do not know the rules. To that tally they can add the millions of fans and a bewildered ex-professional announcer, too. Apparently making the rules doesn’t involve sharing them with anyone. Kinda like the Baltimore Parking Authority.

As much as it pains me to admit, it has been the Italians that have suffered most with these phantasmal judgments and missed calls. Poor guys. Perhaps they are being punished by a cosmic power that would like to see teams win on the back of a performance that doesn’t rely on spoiler ball and/or jammy penalty kicks. Just a thought.

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And finally, Tommy Smyth with a ‘Y’ (reads “why won’t he shut the hell up”) absolutely has got to find a nice pasture. Fornicating felines being put through a meat grinder are a welcome change to the strident and mostly incorrect musings that spill from this man’ maw. Thank you Andy Gray for adding some class – and informed opinions – to otherwise worthless proceedings