Club or country? With some nations you can't tell much of a difference
Plenty of teams at Euro 2012 are relying heavily on players from the same club
Russia has seven starters who play for domestic champion Zenit Saint Petersburg
Concern in Warsaw over the possibility of clashes between Polish and Russian fans
WARSAW, Poland -- It makes sense when you think about it: If you take the players from a thriving club team and put them together on your national team, more success may be on the way. Quality-wise, club soccer has never been farther ahead of national-team play than it is today, owing to a variety of reasons. Club teammates know each other's tendencies, work together well and are familiar with how to coexist off the field, too.
By contrast, national teams only get together sporadically, which offers little chance to develop a rhythm and understanding with your teammates. (It would be a different story if the international calendar were changed to allow national teams to be together for two straight months every year, as some have suggested, but that's a pipe dream, unfortunately.)
This isn't exactly a new idea, and it's not limited to soccer. The 1952 U.S. Olympic basketball team had seven players from that year's NCAA champion Kansas Jayhawks and went on to win the gold medal. But success isn't always guaranteed. One only need look at the ill-fated but unintentionally hilarious Team America of the NASL in 1983, a name that worked better in a movie by the South Park guys.
Designed as a club version of the U.S. national team, Team America was unable to land some of the top U.S. stars (like Ricky Davis and Juli Veee) for its games in Washington D.C., and it ended up hemorrhaging money and finishing in last place before the plug was pulled after just one season. Nor did Team America help the U.S. national team, which failed to qualify for World Cup '86. Trust me, Team America: World Police was far more entertaining, if only for the America: F--- Yeah! song that would be the official song for the U.S. national teams if I ran things.
But if you take a look around Euro 2012, plenty of teams are relying heavily on players from the same club. The most impressive single performance so far in Euro 2012 came from Russia, which thumped the Czechs 4-1 thanks to a thrilling attack led by seven starters who play for Russian champion Zenit Saint Petersburg (Vyacheslav Malafeev, Alexander Anyukov, Roman Shirokov, Igor Denisov, Konstantin Zyryanov, Andrey Arshavin and Aleksandar Kerzhakov). On Tuesday, the Russians will take on co-host Poland, whose offensive stars are a trio from German champ Borussia Dortmund: Robert Lewandowski, Lukasz Piszczek and Kuba Blaszczykowski.
Arshavin, in particular, was up to his old Euro tricks in the opener, providing consistent danger in a central role that's different from the wide position he often struggled with at Arsenal. Nor does it hurt that Arshavin has an exquisitely developed understanding with the half-dozen Zenit teammates alongside him. "They know each other well," says Russia coach Dick Advocaat of his Zenit brigade. "They've played together for a few years, and they're quite successful in Europe as well, so that helps."
A similar pattern appears with other contenders. Germany started seven Bayern Munich players in its 1-0 opening win against Portugal (Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Holger Badstuber, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Müller, Mario Gómez and Jérôme Boateng). While the Bayern players were spread all over the field, Italy's six starters from Serie A winner Juventus were located primarily on the defensive end (Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Pirlo, Leonardo Bonucci, Emanuele Giaccherini and Claudio Marchisio).
Reigning world and European champ Spain has built its success on the back of Barcelona, which might have provided seven Spanish starters had David Villa and Carles Puyol not been hurt. Still, Barça had five of the Spanish starting XI on Sunday (Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Cesc Fàbregas, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Piqué).
It's worth pointing out that not every national team here has a large concentration of players from one club side. The reasons include not having a strong domestic league (e.g., Croatia), having a diaspora of top players in elite leagues all over Europe (France) and having a better-balanced top domestic league (England). In fact, England counts more players on its squad from Liverpool than from any other team, even though the Reds finished eighth in the Premier League last season. (Liverpool has made a point of going after English players recently, which partially explains it.)
There's concern here in Warsaw over the possibility of clashes between Polish fans and the 5,000 Russian fans that plan to march through the city to the game on Tuesday. A Polish security official said they'd be keeping a close eye on the proceedings, not least because of the bitter history between Poland and Russia during much of the 20th century. Over the past 24 hours, more than a few Poles have brought up the Battle of Warsaw (1920) and the Katyn massacre (1940), in which the Soviet secret police killed more than 20,000 Polish military and social leaders.
We drove five hours from Gdansk to Warsaw this morning after yesterday's Spain-Italy game. Northern Poland is striking, full of green fields and dense forests, and the roads are pretty good (albeit two-laners for part of the way). Near the port in Gdansk we drove by an Ikea superstore, which seems to be everywhere. There was one next to Newark airport when I took off on Saturday, and I remember seeing one next to the Beijing airport when I arrived at the Olympics in 2008. Let's hear it for Swedish global domination!
Thanks for everyone's concerns (including my parents') over my epic failure to pack any additional pants for my trip. I think I'll go ahead and buy some here in Warsaw, but it does provide the occasion to mention that my heavy-denim jeans came with the instruction not to wash them for at least six months after purchase. Some people find this disgusting, but the jeans maker says they need to "get used to" the owner. Part of me wants to wear the same pair of Baldwin jeans for the entire Euro, whereupon I'll have them bronzed to commemorate the achievement. (Then again, wearing them for 24 straight days might achieve the same result.)
Big tournaments are always better the longer the host(s) stay involved, so for that reason alone I'm hoping Poland gets at least a tie against Russia. About half the cars in Poland have red-and-white Polish flags attached to the driver's-side window, and billboards all over the country are extolling Polska pride.
Our terrific fixer/driver Chris informs me that the last name of Polish goalkeeper Przemeslaw Tyton is Polish for "tobacco." I'm hoping Polish tabloid headline writers make the most of that, especially after he came on to save a penalty in the tie against Greece.
See you tomorrow from Poland!