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armchair centre back :: ultraviolence and underdogs

riot, the unbeatable high
so, ten days in, and we have a sense of how euro 2016 is unfolding. or unravelling, as the case may be. the entire event has been marred by some of the worst displays of fandom in recent memory, including bloodletting in marseille and a steward nearly getting his hand blown off while trying to clear the pitch of firecrackers. i'm not sure what this is supposed to accomplish, but it's more or less amounted to several teams getting sanctioned by uefa and threatened with outright disqualification if there's another incident in any of the stadiums with their fans. of course, it also raises questions as to how, amidst all the supposed security, fans have been able to smuggle in explosives, especially in light of the fact that both uefa and the french police have been bragging about foiling a terrorist attack aimed for the belgium v. ireland game. [you know, it wasn't all that long ago that the terrorists in that equation would have been from ireland.]

[side note :: the people responsible for the violence are a class of fans known as "ultras". they're more akin to hardcore nationalists than sports fans, although they support local teams as well as national ones. they revel in the adrenaline and violence of a sporting event in ways that most people find frightening, often hiding their identities in anticipation of being involved in illegal activities. you can read what they say about themselves here. if france was caught off-guard by the presence of ultras at the euro, they have no one to blame but themselves. russian authorities apparently passed on the names of known troublemakers among their fans and german border police turned back a group of balaclava-wearing travelers, warning their french neighbours that others who were smart enough to take their fucking masks off before reaching the border could have slipped through. watch a chilling but fascinating documentary on the mix of sport and politics that make up ultra culture in serbia right here.] 

irish and swedish fans sang abba and partied together
thus far, the list of countries under threat of sanction includes england, russia, turkey hungary and croatia, the latter being the ones who almost blew off a steward's hand. the croatian violence was actually intended to get the country's detested, corrupt football association in trouble and to get them fined, however it arguably cost the national team a win in a game they were leading until minutes after the disturbance was quelled. meaning that croatia missed the opportunity to qualify for the tournament knock out round with a game to spare. i still think the troublemakers should have been returned to the stadium to face the wrath of the rest of the croatian fans. [you can now add albania to the list of bad fans. when they scored their only goal of the tournament this afternoon, there was a visible flare launched in the crowd. very safety. much dumb. wow.]

all that looks bad for the fans, but it looks terrible for france and uefa, especially in marseille, where police seemed surprised to find out there was a major international tournament going on. the fact that authorities seem to have been reactive rather than proactive has meant that fans have more or less been operating on the honour system. some fans, notably sweden, ireland and wales [who received a twitter high five from the tourist bureau in bordeaux], have shown themselves to be very capable at adulting, even while enjoying sport. others have ended up with a face full of tear gas. it's all rather unseamly, especially since the tournament itself has been a lot of fun when people weren't getting burned and bludgeoned.

none of the teams have been embarrassingly bad, something that was a concern because more teams were included this year. there have been a shocking number of goals scored within the last ten minutes of games, which makes for excitement. there have been upsets [i'm looking at you, hungary]. the most lopsided matches were 3-0 wins for spain and belgium. everything else has been pretty tight. [3-0 might sound like a substantial victory for this sport, until you consider that, in the copa america that is taking place right now in the u.s., chile defeated tournament favourites mexico 7-0 last night. that, friends, is a shellacking.]

suck it, england. people like having us around.
looking briefly at what dom and i predicted, we're doing fairly well. we're still pretty convinced that germany is going to prevail. [i was disappointed both the mannschaft and poland seemed to hold back playing against each other, probably understanding that they both had a good chance of winning their third games, having both already won their first. decent strategy, but not the most entertaining thing for viewers.] spain have been at the top of their game and do look go far in the tournament. france have cruised to victory twice, although it's been less a team effort and more the dimitri payet show. at 29, payet may be a late bloomer [for club and country], but it seems like he can't stop blooming.

we are both feeling smug about the fact that portugal have fulfilled our expectations as the most overhyped quantity of the tournament. anticristiano ronaldo missing a penalty shot is already one of my highlights of the summer. my secondary prediction that belgium would fail to find their rhythm is a split result, with them getting humbled by lowly hungary and their trackpant-wearing keeper, then spinning things around for one of the tournament's most dominant displays. i swear that there are body doubles of the entire team and they're alternating which ones get on the pitch. [which raises the question of what french authorities are doing to protect everyone from a possible invasion of pod people disguised as the belgian national team.]

most journalists seemed to have italy pegged as the most likely to disappoint this year and while i will say that i probably underestimated them a little, my predictions for them have been less wrong than those of the professionals. behold, i am better at this than people who know what they're talking about. my choice for tournament "dark horse", poland, do look set to advance, despite the rather tepid game against germany. count on them grinding out results rather than dazzling.

and, in honour of some of the surprising results thus far [still looking at you, hungary, but you can throw in albania, iceland and northern ireland as well], i figured i should share some of the surprised morsels of mancandy i've spotted after carefully reviewing each team's offering.

adil rami :: france




french by nationality, corsican by birth, moroccan by parentage and stunning by any stretch, rami caught my attention during the very first euro game. apparently, he's been with the national team since 2010, but an injury to national teammate raphaël varane has seen him bumped up to the a-team. makes for nice viewing during france's games now that olivier giroud is sporting that despicable hair mask. free the face!!

granit xhaka :: switzerland




arsenal snapped him up before the tournament even got started, which isn't surprising since the team seems to have a hotness quotient much higher than their premier league rivals. he has this kind of adorable, clean-cut boy next door quality that i don't normally go for, but i'd happily have him living next door. he also has the most perfect eyebrows i think i've ever seen, which means i have both lust and jealousy in my heart. two deadly sins for the price of one!! [oh, and if you were watching the game this afternoon, xhaka went through no fewer than three shirts during the match. even opposing players want to tear his clothes off.]

emre can :: germany




one of my favourite things about any liverpool game is getting to see emre can [pronounced "chan"] hustle around the field. of course, it's also nice just to sit back and look at him when he's not hustling, when you can appreciate those penetrating eyes and beestung lips. and he's now old enough that it's not illegal to do so.

aaron ramsey :: wales




teammate gareth bale might get all the attention as a player, but let's face facts, the man looks like he's barely out of the trees. aaron, on the other hand, is legitimately a male model when he's not playing for club [arsenal again!] or country and it's pretty easy to see why. unlike the rest of the world, i actually like his new platinum 'do, but i think he could wear a wasp nest on his head and still look good. oh, and he's also a huge advocate for animal rights, because being hot, rich, young and successful didn't make him attractive enough.

tl;dr: here's what i'd like to see happen going forward at the euro

less violence from fans of all nationalities
continue with late goals
continue with surprises from underdogs
more ripping of shirts and feel free to start on pants

gorau chwarae cyd chwarae

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