Euro 2012 has begun and we have witnessed an eventful last four days. Here are some brief thoughts on each Group so far.
Poland started brightly against Greece and right sided midfielder ‘Kuba’ Blaszczykowski crossed from the right for star striker Robert Lewandowski to head home in the 17th minute. Poland passed the ball around beautifully and most of their attacks came down the right with the tandem of Kuba Blaszczykowski and rightback Piszczek being very active. Lewandowski was a constant threat in the first half and Ludovic Obraniak was also influential with his mazy runs and useful set piece deliveries. Greek stopper Sokratis Papastathopoulos was red carded at the end of the first half and the Greeks were forced to regroup. In the 51st minute of the 2nd half Poland goalkeeper Szczesny was sent off for a challenge on substitute Salpingidis evening up numbers to 10 v 10. A penalty was given and Karagounis’ shot was saved by reserve keeper Tyton. Salpingidis had a great 2nd half for Greece as he scored the equaliser and also was fouled for the penalty. Generally,the Greeks improved in the 2nd half and maintained their shape of two banks of four. The Poles regressed in the 2nd half and were not able to maintain the slick passing movements of the 1st half. Lewandowski was also out of the game due to lack of service from the midfield. This game petered out into a draw as the 2nd half lacked the quality of play of the 1st period.
RIBSPORT MAN OF THE MATCH: Salpingidis of Greece
Russia put a licking on the Czechs! The Russians put on the best display of football I have seen so far in the tournament and cruised to a 4-1 victory. Admittedly the Czechs were shown up as having a soft centre and a slow defence but the Russians were simply breathtaking on the counter attack. Their ability to convert defence into attack was fantastic and they are a good footballing example of how to build play. The wingers Arshavin and Dzagoev were very dangerous with their runs infield and they combined well with striker Kerzahkov and playmaker Shirokov. Roman Pavlyuchenko came on late and scored and assisted. Goals were scored by Dzagoev(2), Arshavin, Shirokov and Pavlyuchenko.
RIBSPORT MAN OF THE MATCH: Alan Dzagoev
The Germans eked out a one nil victory over Portugal in a fairly quiet game. Portugal were content to stay deep and spring forward via their two wingers Nani and Ronaldo. The Germans played a patient game, not committing as much players in attack as they usually would. They eventually scored via a deflected cross which hung in the air for Mario Gomez to head home. I felt sorry for Ronaldo as he is not surrounded by an array of talent with Portugal as he is with Real Madrid. He fought hard but only really threatened in spurts. Portugal are a bit limited in the final third as they do not have an established class striker and this places a burden on the wingers to create and score. Germany were solid but not spectacular and look like they can up their play a few gears when it is required. The Borussia Dortmund centreback Hummels was outstanding in his reading of the game, tackling and initiating attacks. In the last 15 minutes Portugal took the game to Germany and Hummels was key in repelling these attacks.
RIBSPORT MAN OF THE MATCH: Mats Hummels
The big shocker of the tournament so far was Denmark’s defeat of Holland by one goal to nil with the goal being scored by Michael Krohn-Dehli. Holland have dug a big hole for themselves as they still have to play Germany and Portugal and it will be very difficult for them to get out of the group. Denmark were content to sit back and allow Holland the majority of the possession. Holland were still able to carve out chances and it is their wastefulness that was the main reason for the eventual result. The Danes deserve some credit as they defended well and frustrated Holland. Defenders Kjaer and Agger were immense and deserve mention. Wesley Sneijder was magnificent for Holland and his performance surely deserved a better outcome. Arjen Robben was often wasteful when cutting in from the right and Afellay who was on the left was lively in spurts. Ultimately Holland had themselves to blame and several chances especially via Robin Van Persie were wasted. Proof yet again in this match that the better team does not always win.
RIBSPORT MAN OF THE MATCH: Daniel Agger
Spain and Italy both used formations that are rarely used in international football. Coach Vicente Del Bosque sprung a surprise by naming a team without a striker. Italian coach Prandelli lined up his side with three defenders in a 3-5-2 formation. Ace Roma midfielder Danielle De Rossi operated as a sweeper among the back three. This game finished all square at 1 and it was one of the best games of the tournament so far. Prandelli will be the happier of the two managers as Italy were more threatening in the first half and held on in the 2nd half in the face of increasing pressure from the Spaniards. Did Spain’s setup without a recognized striker work? Well they did score through Fabregas after going behind to substitute Di Natale. Striker Fernando Torres was only introduced in the 74th minute and spurned two golden opportunities. The problem with this system is that it requires midfielders to make runs past the defensive line and this rarely happened. Spain shot too often against the Italian defenders and there was a lack of width in their play also. The Italians were disciplined but did not just sit deep. They created a fair amount of opportunities though they tired towards the end of the game. Its a tough choice to choose between the excellent Iniesta and the crafty Pirlo for man of the match but I have gone for the Italian. He controlled the game in the middle and set up Di Natale for Italy’s goal.
RIBSPORT MAN OF THE MATCH: Andrea Pirlo
Croatia thumped Ireland by 3 goals to one and were lively in attack with Mario Mandzukic (2) and Nikica Jelavic (1) on the scoresheet. This front pair along with the crafty Luka Modric created panic in the Ireland defence. Modric dictated play and was well supported by Rakitic and Perisic in midfield. Ireland were sloppy in defence and this was surprising considering their defensive solidity in qualifying for Euro 2012. Croatia are one of the most impressive teams so far and their clashes with Spain and Italy should be interesting.
RIBSPORT MAN OF THE MATCH: Mario Mandzukic
England vs France was easily the most boring game in the tournament thus far. This game ended in a 1 all draw. The English, as has been the case since Roy Hodgson assumed coaching duties, were content to sit back and absorb pressure. Possession was conceded to the French for long periods and the English remained organised and disciplined for the most part. France were positive and showed attacking intent but their attacks were too slow to trouble England. England were poor in possession and ultra defensive. Welbeck lead the forward line admirably but received little support from Ashley Young who was out of the game. England were not fluent going forward and are depending on set pieces and sporadic attacks to score. There were some flashes of brilliance from young Oxlade-Chamberlain but clearly not enough to seriously trouble the French defence. Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery probed but could not get past the ‘two banks of four’ setup by England. Nasri’s goal was not surprisingly a shot from distance. England scored not surprisingly from a set piece, a Lescott header from a Gerrard free kick.
Verdict: Boring stalemate
RIBSPORT MAN OF THE MATCH: Samir Nasri
Ukraine v Sweden was a contender for game of the tournament with the hosts winning by 2 goals to 1. Ukraine were clearly up to it backed by their 45,000 home crowd. Both sides showed willingness to get forward early on. Sweden used star player Ibrahimovic as a #10 playing off of striker Markus Rosenberg and he oozed class throughout the game. He scored the opener via a deft flick from a cross from Kallstrom. Sweden employed the long ball primarily and played a lot through the centre. Ukraine built their attacks through the wingers Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka. The star of the show was veteran striker Shevchenko with two brilliant headers and he was the difference in the game showing yet again that class is permanent. Ukraine are a quick side and are very dangerous on the counter attack. Konoplyanka especially caught my eye with his directness, speed and crossing ability. Sweden were generally disappointing and I cannot see them advancing from the group stage with France and England to face.
RIBSPORT MAN OF THE MATCH: Andriy Shevchenko
EURO MEMORY LANE
A great goal from the great Dutch striker Marco Van Basten in the 1988 Euro final: Holland v Russia.