• 10:19 AM ET  06.14
Still floored by Friday’s Dutch Hurricane, the Euro Blog is back for the weekend with two more opening-round games pitting first-game winners in one match and first-game losers in the other:

Spain-Sweden (noon ET, ESPN2). It’s all too rare anymore that we see four quality forwards starting in the same match, but today’s the day with Spain’s Fernando Torres and David Villa and Sweden’s Henrik Larsson and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Both duos showed a marvelous understanding in their opening-game wins by directly combining for goals, which is only one reason why I expect some fireworks in this one. The other? Both teams’ defenses looked disarmingly casual four days ago. What will make the difference here? The Spanish midfield is simply better—Andrés Iniesta was in top form the other day, while Cesc is a heck of a threat to bring off the bench—and the Swedes will be missing injured right-winger Christian Wilhelmsson. Spain 3, Sweden 1.

Russia-Greece (2:45 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Look who’s back: your defending Euro champions Greece! (Motto: We’re the anti-Holland). Nearly everyone is expecting a defensive struggle, but I think we’ll see more attacking than that; these teams need points, Russia likes to attack (thanks, Guus Hiddink) and the Greeks like to counter. (Plus, Russia’s defense is sort of miserable.) Keep an eye on the Russians as they bomb down the left side with Yuri Zhirkov (one of my favorite offensive-minded fullbacks in the tournament) and midfielder Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, who should have some tasty battles with Greek stalwart Giourkas Seitaridis. The Russians will be without injured goal-scorer Roman Pavlyuchenko and playmaker Andrei Arshavin (serving the last game of a suspension), but my guess is that Arshavin will get to play in a game that still matters on Wednesday. Russia 2, Greece 1.

Two things on my mind:

Welcome back, Andy Gray! The big Scot finally reappeared in the ESPN commentary booth for Netherlands-France after a multi-day absence (what was up with that anyway?), and he was a blast to listen to during Holland’s 4-1 victory. Why is Gray so good? Well, he’s critical (without being shrill), he’s insightful (pointing out details viewers might not have noticed), he’s almost entirely cliché-free (no gilt-edged chance, bit between the teeth, second bite of the cherry, etc.) and god bless him, he knows that when the game is on the game is the thing (not pre-fabricated storylines or some off-the-field nonsense). Here’s the biggest compliment I can give him: I normally start watching the Euro games 10 minutes after kickoff on my DVR and fast-forward through stoppages of play. With Gray I don’t do that because I want to hear what he has to say. (It’s the same thing with Jay Bilas on college basketball.)

In Search of the Heir to Roberto Carlos. I know Roberto Carlos isn’t European, but he might as well be an honorary Euro after spending so much time at Real Madrid over the years. And I know that RC had occasional defensive lapses, but he’s also one of my favorite players of all time. I just have a soft spot for outside backs who can motor up and down and the wings and deliver a sweet cross, and nobody was better than Roberto Carlos in his prime. (Plus, he also had an amazing cannonball/knuckleball style of taking free kicks. Does anyone do it the Roberto Carlos way anymore? Or is he the soccer version of old Washington Redskin Mark Moseley, the last toe-poke place-kicker in the NFL?)

Anyway, here are my 13 most impressive attacking outside backs of Euro 2008 so far. Keep in mind, I’m only taking into account performance on the field in this tournament, not during the club season:

1. Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Holland. An attacking menace against Italy, a bit less so against France. He’s always in the right place at the right time (and a great help defender too).

2. Danijel Pranjic, Croatia. A key cog in the astonishing 15-pass, 47-second buildup on Croatia’s museum-piece goal against Germany in which all 10 field players touched the ball (capped off by Pranjic’s pinpoint cross to Darijo Srna).

3. Yuri Zhirkov, Russia. Another left-sided defender with mad skills who unsettled the Spanish in Game 1.

4. Gianluca Zambrotta, Italy. The Ben Affleck look-alike would be higher if he hadn’t gifted Romania a goal on Friday. Served the cross on Luca Toni’s should-have-been goal, one of over a dozen balls he pumped into the box against Romania.

5. Sergio Ramos, Spain. Not his best performance against Russia—he had a couple criminal give-aways in the back—but he still got forward often. Figures to move up as the tournament goes on.

6. Fabio Grosso, Italy. The World Cup hero was a busy, busy man up and down the left side against Romania—until the second half started and he appeared to tire out.

7. Joan Capdevila, Spain. This guy has his share of doubters, but that was a splendid through-ball that he gave to Fernando Torres on the first Spanish goal.

8. Philipp Lahm, Germany. I was expecting more from Lahm to this point, but he’s had to play both right and left back and is managing to get forward without delivering the killer ball.

9. Willy Sagnol, France. He’s only this high because of the sweet goal he created for Thierry Henry down the right side against Holland. Let his team down with some poor defense, however.

10. Marek Jankulovski, Czech Republic. The Janky-man has been a little up-and-down on the left side, but at least he’s getting forward.

11. Hamit Altintop, Turkey. This probing right back was Turkey’s best player for parts of the Portugal game, but against the Swiss he sort of disappeared.

12. Ludovic Magnin, Switzerland. Granted, he’s been one the tournament’s most annoying players, squawking and embellishing in equal parts, and he lost his man on Turkey’s equalizing goal. But this is a ranking of attacking backs, and you can’t say that Magnin didn’t produce some good stuff on the left for the Swiss.

13. Bosingwa, Portugal. The Portuguese have so many good wide midfielders that they don’t ask all that much from their outside backs when it comes to the attack. But Bosingwa has shown some flashes of an ability to do so anyway.

What do you think of these rankings? Who do you like in today’s games? Post your comments below and come back for Blog updates after both games today ...


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