Sunday 15 June 2008

Late goals keep on coming

Spectators at UEFA EURO 2008™ would be wise not to leave their seats in the stadiums too early given the fashion for late goals witnessed so far at the finals.

Last gasp
David Villa's last-gasp winner for Spain against Sweden on Saturday means there have now been seven goals scored after the 90-minute mark in the 16 first-round matches played to date. Raul Meireles started the trend on the tournament's opening day with his 93rd-minute strike in Portugal's 2-0 victory over Turkey and since then six more players have got in on the act.

Significant strikes
While the goals of Cesc Fŕbregas (Spain v Russia) and Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands v France) merely iced the cake in their teams' 4-1 wins, every other strike has proved significant. Switzerland fans will be forgiven recurring nightmares about Arda Turan's 92nd-minute effort that spelt elimination for Köbi Kuhn's men in Turkey's 2-1 triumph in Basel last Wednesday. By contrast, the Ernst-Happel-Stadion exploded with relief 24 hours later when Ivica Vastic's 93rd-minute penalty saved Austria from defeat by Poland in Vienna, keeping their hopes alive until Monday's Group B decider against neighbours Germany.

Ricardo Quaresma's 91st-minute goal in Portugal's 3-1 success over the Czech Republic, meanwhile, did more than just embellish his side's victory: it meant the Czechs could no longer secure qualification with a draw against Turkey in their concluding Group A game. According to Gérard Houllier, the former France, Liverpool FC and Olympique Lyonnais coach, who is watching these finals as a member of the UEFA Technical Team, there are two obvious factors at play.

Speed merchants
"Towards the end of the game there is always a bit of fatigue and tiredness which also brings a lack of concentration. But also the fact that some teams have to give everything to try to score and change the result plays a major part," he told On this second point it is telling that four of the goals have come against teams chasing a deficit. Telling too that five of the seven have come from three sides – Portugal, Spain and Netherlands – with noted speed merchants. Houllier, now technical director of the French Football Federation, added: "It looks as if the final minutes are more crucial than ever in this tournament."

Spanish example
Citing Spain's 4-1 defeat of Russia, he continued: "Take for instance the Russians when they tried hard to come back into the game against Spain. They were 2-1 down and started committing too many players forward and they lost two late goals and ended up on the wrong end of a 4-1 scoreline." With France suffering in similar circumstances against the jet-heeled Dutch on Friday and Villa's pace shattering the Swedes on Saturday, it would be no surprise to see more of the same.