Viva Los Muertos! (Friday Euro R)

(Title stolen from a Venture Brothers episode.)

I had very low hopes for Euro 2008, I'm now embarrassed to recall. You defending champion was Greece, your defending champion of the world was Italy, most of the other contenders were either old or unproven or Portugal.

And then you get games like today, which renew people's faith in the sport.

Holland is an ugly team. That shade of orange, those sky blue socks, the flag colors on the neck, the upside down Satanic pentagon holding the crest - fashion disaster. But holy cow, they can play a little. Holland's games haven't been very exciting - one-sided beatdowns usually aren't. But the way they play is just joyful. Marco van Basten is probably the best coach without knee cartilage in the world right now. There have been sexier Dutch teams, and this year's model hasn't won anything yet - but they're restoring people's faith in the beautiful game, and that's reason enough to watch. Shame about France, really, but Father Time is a mother. Stop me if I've told you that one.

It was with low hopes that I tuned into the early game, thumb poised on the fast-forward button like Chernenko listening to a Ronald Reagan soundcheck. What we saw, of course, was such a masterpiece that I didn't even mind Tommy Smyth's prattling. This was just a stirring, breathtaking, superlative match of heart and intensity - from two teams who might not even make it to the second round. Groups of Death for you...but also, this is the future of the international game.

I hope and assume the US national team was watching, because that's what they'll have to deal with. Not against Barbados, of course, but in South Africa. This is the problem that Mexico and the US have - the only teams in the region who can bring that level of intensity, with anywhere near that level of talent, are each other. But Romania was only Italy's third-most intense rival in the group.* This is the kind of speed, talent and pressure that has rejuvenated the European game, and if the rest of the world doesn't take care to increase its standards, we're going to get left behind like Rayford Steele.

Yeah, all of these teams got to scrimmage with the likes of Andorra and San Marino. They also sent home teams on the level of, to pick an example entirely at random, England. We simply don't have that kind of depth in CONCACAF - no other confederation comes remotely close - so we have to compensate for it.

One way to do that is to keep scheduling these high-power friendlies against European powers, in Europe, and take them more or less seriously. This is incredibly painful for me to admit, because it means Jamie Trecker was right all this time, and I was wrong.

Another way is to keep selling all of MLS' remotely acceptable players to European clubs as soon as we can (the cheap way) or bring something resembling the level of European clubs over to MLS (the LA Aztecs way).

A third way is to tell the Caribbean countries to compete with Oceania for 1/16 of a World Cup spot, and join CONMEBOL. Problem is, I think they'd take Mexico, but balk at the relative puniness of the US, Canada, and Central America. And if Mexico does decide they've had enough of Jack Warner and gimme qualifications, we're gonna be the kid who puts valedictorian, student council president and homecoming king on his college application after twelve years of homeschooling.

Yeah, I didn't describe much of the game. You should watch it yourself. If this isn't the game of the tournament, then MAN, are we in for a show.

....I'm sorry, Tommy Smyth, but if Buffon slapped the PK onto his boot, then kicked it to safety, in the blink of an eye, on purpose, then I'm Blind Lemon Jefferson.

...."Persie shows no mercy!" "It's a Dutch oven, and the French are toast!" Adrian Healey only pisses me off when he goes to the script, and that's because scripted commentary doesn't work in play by play. Someone please get him to stop.

*There's some disagreeable ethnic strife going on right now in Italy between Roma and, for want of a better term, mainstream Italians, and there's been some conflation between Roma and Romania...so there was a little extracurricular ugliness going on here that might have motivated one team or the other above and beyond the call. If so, I hope both teams are sensible enough to keep their yaps shut about it. Short of an outright war, though, you would think Italy's attention would have been more focused on Holland and France.