Let’s be honest: we’ve been spoiled by this tournament. But after seven straight days of madness the last two have been pretty ho-hum, so let’s hope Russia and Sweden can get things going again. It’s pretty simple: if the Russians win, they’re in. If the Swedes win or tie, they’ll go on to meet the Netherlands in Saturday’s quarterfinal instead.
Sweden vs. Russia. (2:45 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Call me crazy, but I think this should be a rip-roaring affair. Why? The Russians know they need to win, and Guus Hiddink isn’t one of those coaches who’ll play for 0-0 and only try to score in the final minutes. The big unknown in this game is Zenit St. Petersburg star Andrei Arshavin, Russia’s best attacking player, who’s finally available after serving a two-game suspension. Will Arshavin be in form if Hiddink decides to play him? Russia will get its chances here, not least because Sweden’s central defense has been unimpressive. (What exactly did Juventus see in new signing Olof Mellberg anyway?) But there’s a big difference between creating chances and converting them, and in a tight game I’ll go with the better finishers. Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrik Larsson > Russia’s Roman Pavlyuchenko. Sweden 2, Russia 1.
Spain vs. Greece. (2:45 p.m. ET, ESPN). The only folks tuning into this meaningless game will be clueless American sports-bar owners who simply don’t know any better. Kind of funny that David Villa says he’d like to play anyway so that he can keep his edge. (Translation: I’d like to keep my edge in the Golden Boot standings and raise my transfer value even higher.) Spain 2, Greece 0.
Through-balls: Odd thing: When the Dutch went out in Euro 2000, coach Frank Rijkaard resigned about 10 seconds after the game. When France went out in Euro 2008 (in the first round, no less) Crazy Ray Domenech took the occasion to propose to his girlfriend on national TV. We’ve actually come around on Crazy Ray. He’s a terrible coach, but he provides so much unintentional comedy that I’d love for him to stick around through the World Cup ... Blog pal Joel Samuels has come up with something called the Anthem-Singing Theory, which states that players who sing their national anthems (no matter how poorly) will be rewarded by the Soccer Gods on the field. His latest evidence: France’s Eric Abidal, who was stone-cold silent during La Marseillaise on Tuesday and drew a game-changing red card in the first half. Lilian Thuram would have belted that sucker out ... Now that soccer-loving point guard Steve Nash is organizing charity fútbol games in New York City, I’d like to see him on the field for the hapless New York Red Bulls. If former
90210 Melrose Place star Andrew Shue could play for the Los Angeles Galaxy, then Steve Nash can hack it for RBNY ... Most soccer junkies view the Euro as the World Cup minus Brazil and Argentina, and sure enough, Blog pal Andreas Lorenz points out that in the last 10 World Cups only two teams outside Europe other than Argentina and Brazil have reached the semifinals (South Korea 2002 and Uruguay 1970). So you might as well take a break from the Euro tonight for the South American World Cup qualifying superclásico between Brazil and Argentina. I happen to love both countries, which I’ll commemorate by drinking a caipirinha in the first half and a glass of Achával-Ferrer Malbec in the second. (Maybe then I'll tell you about the first time I had a caipirinha, when a former SI swimsuit cover model drank me under the table. Long story.)
Who do you like in the Sweden-Russia game? Will either one of them give the Netherlands any resistance in the quarters? And who do you think will end up winning the Golden Boot? Please post your comments below, and check back after the game for the latest edition of the Euro Blog ...