You know the happiest guy in the world right now? Well, it's not Antonios Nikopolidis, but he's a lot happier than he was Saturday night. The most awful, horrifying, soul-buggering goalkeeping mistake of the year was upstaged twenty-four hours later.
Saturday was "What the hell was that?" day in the nets, granted. Sweden isn't out of the tournament, but they learned it's a very short trip from beating Greece to being Greece. I might as well get this out of the way, so hand me my soapbox. Defensive soccer works, sure. But you have to be absolutely perfect, since you not only hand over the majority of possession to the opponent, you allow them to dictate how the game is played. And you allow the other teams to make mistakes all over the place, since after all it's in the other team's third. Bunkerball is tempting fate, and fate resists temptation about as well as Oscar Wilde did.
Anyway. Spain amply deserved to win, Russia not so much but more than Greece. Nikopolidis was blamed for the loss, but Greece weren't going to no second round this time nohow, and Nikopolidis was a huge part in winning his nation a trophy. Unlike, to pick an example entirely at random, Petr Cech.
Sure, Nikopolidis could have queued up the MLS highlights, and shown the Kevin Hartman and Brad Guzan errors on Saturday. (Probably Guzan was just as horrible on Sunday, but for a goalkeeper to make a mistake, you pretty much have to have a shot on goal, so we'll never know for sure.) But it wasn't until the next day when we saw how horrible it could get.
This has been a pretty awful few weeks for Cech, who seems to be an admirable enough guy. Especially for a player whose injury history would make even Brian McBride wince. You could say that the Nikopolidis mistake was objectively worse than Cech's, because Nikopolidis chose to leave the six yard box to go walkabout, and had ample opportunity to say to himself, "Hm, maybe I should get back to where I'm supposed to be." Cech had no time to recover.
I've almost certainly spent too much time on Cech's mistake, and not enough time praising the Turkish team, who have been inspiring so far this tournament. I've been sort of dismissing Turkish football, club and country, and in my defense I'm not the only one who did so - but even if they go nipples-north against Croatia, it's been a pretty legendary tournament for them. I realize they were World Cup 2002 semifinalists, but I wouldn't be surprised if this team's performance isn't remembered at least as fondly. Maybe I'm just a sucker for 90th minute-plus comebacks.