But politics aside, Serbia seems to be the strongest candidate for this year's edition of the Dispiriting Eastern European Run Deep Into The Tournament. In 1998, we had Divin' Davor Suker and Croatia; in 2002, we had thoroughly unmemorable Turkey (they made the SEMIS! Really!); in 2006, it was the obnoxiously lifeless Ukraine. I'm not against all Easterners -- I remember getting behind Hristo Stoichov and the Bulgarians in '94 -- but these Serbs are noted for the big Man U fullback, Nemanja Vidic, and a fearsome defense. I don't love them, but I fear them. Think a quarterfinal run with at least one 0-0 victory on penalties.
"Even as I sing, suffuse my face;
For what is left the poet here?
For Greeks a blush---for Greece a tear."
- Lord Byron, The Isles of Greece.
Beautiful, fascinating country; ugly, boring football. There seems to be a mild inverse relationship here -- the Netherlands and Denmark play among the most open games in all Europe, while Greece and Italy are relentlessly stern and negative. In 2004, their German coach Otto Rehhagel took Greece on what should have been a joyous, earth-swallowing, Olympian 150-1 (literally) victory in the European championships. But stifling, defensive-minded Greece was an even less likeable underdog than Russell Crowe in The Cinderella Man. Nobody outside of Athens cheered then, and nobody will cheer now. Look for opposing fans and neutrals to shed more than one Byronic tear over Greece's unlovely soccer this summer.