• 10:19 AM ET  06.11
Here’s what’s on my mind as we head into Day 5 of Euro 2008, featuring Czech Republic-Portugal (noon ET, ESPN 2) and Switzerland-Turkey (2:45 ET, ESPN2):

For some reason it only really hit me on Tuesday night: all 16 teams have now played a game in Euro 2008, and not one of them has been England.

Talk about strange scenes: there was David Beckham, newly minted Los Angeles Lakers fan, appearing on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live last night instead of taking the field for The Three Lions in Innsbruck or Basel. Kimmel asked Becks about driving in L.A. and his new BFF Kobe Bryant, but Euro 2008? The subject never came up.

Maybe it was just as well. At Beckham’s press conference following the L.A. Galaxy’s win over Colorado on Saturday, the guy sitting next me asked Beckham if he’d been watching all the Euro 2008 games. Beckham’s neatly stubbled face fell like a soufflé. “I haven’t watched a game,” he said. “I saw the highlights of Portugal. I can’t really bring myself to watch a game at the moment. I’m still devastated not to actually be there. But I’m sure I’ll watch a game at some point ...”

“... when I’m not playing basketball with the kids.” (Zing!)

(The jury’s still out, by the way, on whether Beckham will convert American sports fans to soccer as thoroughly as the Yank sports have converted him. These days Becks is as constant a presence courtside at the Staples Center as Jack Nicholson, and he filmed a commercial in American football gear with Reggie Bush last year. Why, even Victoria Beckham threw out the first pitch at an L.A. Dodgers baseball game--and, it should be said, did a slightly better job than, say, Mariah Carey. If we see David banging the glass maniacally at an L.A. Kings hockey game next season, then his transformation will be complete.)

Anyway, Beckham is the last guy to blame for England’s failure to qualify for the Euro. Ex-manager Steve McClaren refused to call him up during the first awful stretch of qualifying games, and England only started showing signs of life after Goldenballs was brought back into the team last summer. Then Beckham’s body broke down on him, and things fell apart. England, needing only a tie at home in its final Euro qualifying game against Croatia to advance, somehow lost.

Pity. It’s always fun to have England in a major tournament, not so much for the scintillating soccer (thanks, Sven) but for the traveling circus, the tabs and the WAGS and the shirtless sunburned fans with names like Five Bellies. (And those are just the women.)

But cold reality says that England simply didn’t deserve to make it. Nor has the so-far underwhelming performance by Russia and Croatia, its qualifying conquerors, made things look any better. And so the world’s most famous soccer player will be performing this Saturday against ... the San Jose Earthquakes. Euro 2008 is the poorer for it.

Some quick thoughts on today’s matches:

Czech Republic-Portugal. The Czechs got outplayed in their opener against the Swiss, but they picked up three points anyway by converting their only shot on goal. Portugal, meanwhile, was quality in its 2-0 win against Turkey--though not quite Holland- or Spain-level quality. Call me crazy, but Portugal has such a wealth of wingers (Cristiano Ronaldo, Simão, Nani, Ricardo Quaresma) and a dearth of strikers (Nuno Gomes? Yuck. He's nearly as bad as Pauleta) that I’d put Ronaldo up top and stick Nani or Quaresma in there as a starter. Up-and-coming midfielder João Moutinho made a good impression against Turkey, but I think he’ll be even better in this game against the Czechs’ declining midfield. Part of me is hoping Portugal will pour on the attack to make a statement to Holland and Spain. Portugal 3, Czechs 1.

Switzerland-Turkey. These two opening-game losers need three points in the worst way. Even better, there’s a great side-plot: the two sides engaged in one of the uglier soccer brawls in recent years in 2005 after the Swiss eliminated the Turks from qualifying for the World Cup in Istanbul. But there’s more: with all-time leading scorer Alexander Frei out of the tournament with a knee injury, the Swiss will be relying heavily on Turkish-descended attackers Hakan Yakin and Eren Derdiyok. Turkey has its own injury issues—creative midfielder Emre won’t play--which is why I like the Swiss in a chippy battle. If Turkey gets eliminated, watch out for more fireworks after the final whistle; in some ways the Turks are the Argentines of Europe: really good players from a rich soccer culture who don’t lose well at all. Switzerland 2, Turkey 1.

Through-balls: Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic followed his amazing goal on Tuesday with the lamest goal celebration we’ve seen yet in Euro 2008. I half-expected an ABBA soundtrack to start playing. Save it for the discotheque, pal ... We’re still amused that London-born Colin Richards is now playing as Turkey’s Kazim Kazim. Maybe it’s time he sponsored a Turkish soccer name-generator like the one on the Internet for Brazil ... Speaking of Brazil, even with all the naturalized Brazilians playing in this tournament, the biggest  Brazilian influence is probably coming from the guy who’s still carrying a Brazilian passport: Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. (Who do you think has a better nickname, “Big Phil" Scolari or Phil "Big Chief Triangle" Jackson?) ... Several readers wanted to know my take on Andy Gray’s performance at ESPN, which can be found here.

Who do you like to win today? Post your comments below, and come back after each game for the latest Euro 2008 blog update ...


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