It's June. Chicago's dismal winter has evaporated into the splendor of sunshine, beaches and avenue canyons that is the Windy City in summer. In spite of the weather and largely thanks to Derrick Rose's treacherous left leg, the Bears training camp still being weeks away, (yet another) first-round exit by the Blackhawks, the Cubs being in last and you not even knowing that the White Sox are in first in the AL Central, you probably are feeling a bit betrayed and dissatisfied with Chicago sports spectating. Walk with us to the dark side, wherein we implore you to shed your civic pride and fall head first into the nationalistic scrum that is watching (and rooting for) the madness of the EuroCup. Today? We preview Group B, aka "The Group of Death," "Gates of Mordor," "Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter," aka: The Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, and Denmark.
"The Simpsons' seasons 4-8 was an entire run of spot-on, pitch perfect, satire," is one of those indelible and tough to parse things. Debate all you want about when the show jumped-the-shark, that midway through season 3 was really when things started to get incredibly funny, or even that the "Pax SImpsona" extends out to beyond season 8. But most fans/sane people will agree that the show was unimpeachable in that run between 4 and 8. Determining the exact golden moment in that run? Therein lies the rub. The same can, with few exceptions, "HAI UKRAINE AND POLAND," be said about the EuroCup and determining which pool is the mythical "Group/Pod/Pool of Death." [cue minor key, villainous laughter] But with Group B in this year's EuroCup we do have a strong contender for "Group of Death"
What You Need to Know
- Germany is the presumptive favorite of Group B (if not the entire tourney), which is saying something considering the whole "Holland, Portugal, or Denmark could make a legitimate run for the crown." For years pre and post-Berlin Mauer, zee Germans had a reputation as one of the most disciplined, mechanical, methodical squads --just like most DDR (even though the national football team was always West Germany) cliches: "Sup, Hans Gruber!" yes, stereotypes are sometimes true.Squadron after squadron of granite-faced Huns have donned the red, black, and gold kits. Taciturn and punctuating their bad-assedness with two missed penalty kicks total in international play since 1976 (yes, really), Germany is consistently the favorite in any tournament through sheer force of will and iron resolve. Still even the most calculating and coldhearted of machines wants to be loved and Germany is no different. Short of finding true love, Germany would be thrilled to add another EuroCup title to their trophy case. And if the victory comes against Spain to avenge a 2010 World Cup loss? All the better.
- "But with a twist!" The German side has for decades been pigeonholed as the stable, consistent, calculating dread naught of international tourneys; yet for all the hype, they've not had too much recent success to sing about. Like the flawed Siegfried of Wagnerian-fame, Germany is continually crippled with *something* be it injuries (2000), yellow cards (2010), or this cycle's lack of defensive continuity. Germany's dominating offensive performances could easily be waylaid --or"GASP!" halted entirely-- by faulty defense.
- Robin Van Persie is playing like a man possessed over the course of the past 10 months. He came two goals short of setting a new EPL single season scoring record and has continued apace for his national team work. Note of interest? RVP wears the number 10. Sporting "10" on ones jersey is indicative of being the squad's playmaker #TheMoreYouKnow Opposing sides will be keen on stopping Van Persie and striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar from getting too free and open in the middle of the field. Interestingly enough Van Persie serves as more of an enabling playmaker around Klaas which speaks to the former's skills and adaptibility as well as his deference to the latter's impressive scoring ability.
- The Dutch national teams are famed for sporting primarily orange kits. Orange is associated with Dutch royalty and the House of Orange. It's thanks to Dutch traders who bred carrots to be orange that makes all of us Westerners think carrots are orange. Carrots can be a lot of different colors: purple, white, red. Again, #TheMoreYouKnow
- Ronaldo's lithe shoulders and model looks aside, he carries the strain and weight of all of Portugal on his back. At times he's the greatest soccer player in the world (along with the devastating Messi), and at other times Ronaldo can (and has) become a ghost, affecting the game's outcome as much as a shadow could have. Like the LeBron-era Cleveland Cavaliers, the fortunes of Portugal rest squarely with Ronaldo.
- Portugal's defense is not capable of stopping Holland, Germany, and Denmark, they need Ronaldo to be Ronaldo to advance.
- Motto may as well be: "Danish Darkhorses Doing Work and Doffing a Hard Hat." [ed: What?!] Denmark is 10th according to FIFA's rankings --yes, Group B consists entirely of squads in FIFA's top-ten. "Group of Death," et cetera.
- Christian Eriksen's 20-year-old frame is the key. Denmark's offense will go as far as he and Nicklas Bendtner carry it. If either hesitate, hope is lost and Danes can resort to carrying a grudge against Sweden and Finland and bemoan the fact that Henrik Ibsen isn't their nation's literary treasure.