Still time for world powers

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

GENEVA -- There is a given when playing in a tournament like this.

The nature of the European championship offers teams great cruelty, despair and a quick death.

But what it takes, it can give back quickly -- redemption, joy and a life.

Euro 2008 has shown the nature of the beast. The first set of group matches finished Monday and after but two games in each group, the results have provided a multitude of fine games and controversial incidents.

It has also placed some world soccer powers on the rack.

Knowledgeable soccer pundits who witnessed the World Cup in 2006 have suggested there have already enough quality performances in this tournament to rival that event. As with almost every kick taken in soccer, it's all still open to debate.

What's not open to debate is the precarious situation that France, Italy and Greece have placed themselves.

Such are the vagaries of this tournament. When you play three games in nine days against the best teams in the world, it takes but 90 minutes of inconsistency to put your tournament in jeopardy and start an avalanche of criticism and re-evaluation that Italy, France and Greece are going through.

The fallout from Holland skewering Italy 3-0 in its opener is still being felt. It's a situation no one believed the Italians would be in.

It was never a case of certain victory for the Italians. A win by the Dutch would not have been unexpected, but what was unexpected was the severity of the spanking the Dutch delivered.

It will be either a wakeup call or a death knell for the Italians.

Take the wakeup.

Despite getting a valuable point in a 0-0 draw with Romania, the French didn't look as good as the Italians. The point, though, forces Italy to win both games to assure itself of advancing.

Even in the darkest of times for the Italians, there's always a prayer to say and the belief that someone will answer it.

Italians can take heart that France was so dreadful. France does not have the options the Italians have to get better.

French coach Raymond Domenech applauded his team as it walked off the pitch against Romania.

Why?

If he was applauding their play, one can't imagine the kind of celebration he would hold if they actually played like a world power.

He may be feeling better because he'll have Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera for the match against the Dutch.

Why? The pair haven't been great even when healthy.

Italy will go with a much quicker and probably younger lineup from the start in tomorrow's game against Romania.

The Italians will come forward because they must win.

This is the thrilling nature of this competition. If Italy wins and France loses, the Italians are in the driver's seat for the second qualifying spot.

Redemption, joy and resurrection. All are achievable in an hour and a half.

Greece has already been visited by the cruellest teacher of all . . . reality. The defending champions have spent the last four years listening to those who denigrated their win.

They so wanted to throw it back in the faces of their critics with a strong performance against Sweden.

Instead, it took but 90 minutes for the I-told-you-so's to begin. Greece was defeated 2-0.

Reality teaches that perfection is difficult to replicate. Otto Rehhagel's team won't be able to shut the door on everyone. He'll have to find another way to win.

The tournament is not particularly easy on winners, either, no matter how impressive the win is.

Spain gained an offensively stylish 4-1 win over Russia in its first game. Already one of the favourites, Spain's gifted strikers Fernando Torres and David Villa, who scored three goals, were majestic.

But with the mountains of praise heaped on the Spanish, there came as much restraint.

In the 2006 World Cup, Spain won 4-0 in the first game and 3-1 in their second. Still, the Spanish were eliminated by France in the knockout stage.

The reason for this temperance has come a lesson learned the hard way.

It takes but 90 minutes to go from euphoria to desperation.


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