The European Championships are well under way. The first round of games are over, and all have been eventful in their own way. With plenty to be decided, here is a little roundup of the games so far.
Poland 1-1 Greece
I though this was a really exciting game. Robert Lewandowski looks a really good prospect, and it would be bad if he decides to join Manchester United, because he looks the kind of striker, who can score a hatfull of goals for them. His goal gave the Polish the lead, and then Greece, despite being down to 10 men, thanks to a couple of harsh decisions, on Sokratis Papasthapoulos, fought back commendably, and got their deserved equalizer. I thought Wojciech Szczesny was not completely at fault for the red card he received. The defending on that ocassion was poor, and the goalkeeper was just doing his job. Unfortunately, Salpingidis came in his way, and Greece won a penalty and the PSV keeper Tyton made a fine save. It was good to see Szczesny enjoying the moment back in the tunnel.
Russia 4-1 Czech Republic
Russia is everyone’s second favorite team, now with their dominant performance, over a rather average Czech time. To have two Arsenal players shake hands as captains of their country in such a big match, is a good sight always. Czech started brightly I thought, for the first 10 minutes or so. Once, Russia broke away, with Andrei Arshavin, Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Alan Dzagoev, they looked menacing. Dzagoev’s opening strike was a peach, and there was nothing Cech or the defenders could do anything about it. Arshavin was vital to the Russians. He looks comfortable playing among his own countrymen, and since his loan move to Zenit in January, he looks sharp. His intelligent runs were central to everything good for the Russians. He assisted the second goal, which was supposed to be for Kerzhakov, but instead rolled to Shirokov, who had the easy job of chipping over Cech. Czech worked hard, but their positioning let them down far too often. Also, Russia’s defenders look real mean. Tomas Rosicky looked subdued, but that was more down to poor positioning from Milan Baros. Vaclav Pilar pulled one back, but Dzagoev scored another beauty to put the result beyond doubt. Roman Pavlyuchenko came late on, and scored what I think is an early contender for goal of the tournament.
Netherlands 0-1 Denmark
This was a very strange game to watch. The Danes looked content at scoring one, and then sitting back, absorbing pressure. But, come to think of it, they didn’t have much pressure to deal with, as the Dutch looked out of ideas, exhausted and lacking composure. There were no surprises in the starting line up for Netherlands. Their attack looks dangerous as always, with Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie being chosen ahead of Klaas Jan Huntelaar. In midfield, both Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong started, alongside the hardworking Ibrahim Afellay. The Dutch started well, but Denmark had the lead through Krohn-Dehli on 24 minutes. Niklas Bendtner, through the game, like the rest of his teammates, seemed content at just defending. Netherlands lacked incision, and van Persie, missed a couple of sitters, which really, you would expect him to score. Sneijder, Robben all look mentally tired, probably the effects of a grueling season. Netherlands next face Germany, and a draw or a loss means they are headed for an early exit.
Germany 1-0 Portugal
Germany, as hot favorites, came into this game, with 7 players from Bayern Munich, and displayed the kind of solidity, and efficiency that is expected from them. Per Mertesacker was replaced by Mats Hummels in defence. They controlled possession, and displayed calmness throughout, as they slowly went about unlocking Portugal’s defence. There were no outstanding individual performances, but rather a good collective effort, which saw them take the lead through a Mario Gomez header in the 72nd minute. Lukas Podolski was lively throughout, and linked up well with Philip Lahm. The German midfield, looks so exciting, and young, and I can see them dominate international football, for few years to come. Portugal on the other hand, look lack luster, and devoid of any freshness. They looked too reliant on the mercurial Cristiano Ronaldo, at times, who did get the better of his marker Jerome Boateng, but not Manuel Neuer. Too reliant on quick wing play, they were quickly closed down. It was an insipid performance, and they will have to raise it against Netherland’s slayers, Denmark.
Spain 1-1 Italy
The boring second day improved to quite an extent on the third day, with an exciting game between Spain and Italy. For the first 20 minutes, roles seemed to have reversed, and the Italians were giving the Spaniards a lesson at tiki-taka. Andrea Pirlo is a brilliant player and a fine footballing brain. His neat play, combined with the doggedness of Thiago Motta and Claudio Marchisio, helped the Azzuri win the early midfield battle. Spain, though got settled soon, and created chances of their own. It was an open game, with Cassano looking dangerous everytime he ventured forward. The enigmatic Balotelli, too spurned a couple of opportunities, none more wasteful than when he was on a one-on-one with Casillas. He was substituted soon after and his replacement Antonio di Natale scored a poacher’s goal, from a Pirlo through ball. It was a delightful finish, and left Casillas was left with no chance. Spain, strangely, playing with 6 midfielders, and no striker, got their equalizer soon afterwards, with Fabregas escaping the attentions of the Italian defenders, and slotting past Buffon. To be honest, I really miss that guy playing for Arsenal. Anyways, despite the best efforts of both sides, they settled for a draw.
Republic of Ireland 1-3 Croatia
This was always going to be a tough tournament for the Irish. Placed in a group comprising the recent most World Champions, and a talented Croatian team, they failed at the very first hurdle. It was a closely contested match though, I should say, and both sides worked tremendously hard. The Croats got kind of a flukey lead, when Mandzukic’s shot squirmed past Given. The Irish soon got their equalizer, from a Sean St. Ledger header, scored from a free-kick. Croatia took the lead on the stroke of half-time, through a goal from Everton’s Nikica Jelavic, which looked miles offside. Anyways, Mandzukic sealed the win 3 minutes into the second half. There was no coming back from there for the Irish. They, though look like a good hard-working unit, but not skillful enough as of yet on the international level. Croatia can cause an upset and make progress out of this group.
France 1-1 England
France’s heavily talented squad faced off a depleted England, in what was a disappointing game in Donetsk. France, left out Laurent Koscielny and kept faith in the Mexes-Rami central defensive pairing. England, suffering with a late spate of injuries, and suspensions, made a surprise inclusion in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Up front was Danny Welbeck, instead of Andy Carroll, and also James Milner and Ashley Young started. Chamberlain looked lively and created a couple of opportunities, and despite a good start from the French, England had the lead, when Lescott headed in from a free-kick. The lead wasn’t to last long, as Samir Nasri scored a beauty from just outside the box, 9 minutes later. What followed was a period of stubbornness from the English, and the French rarely made any dangerous forays. When they did, Joe Hart was at hand to prevent them, with a few fine saves. England could have grabbed it right at the end, but Mexes cleared the danger of a Milner cross. Theo Walcott came late on, as Karim Benzema’s long range attempts were both thwarted.
Ukraine 2-1 Sweden
After the poor game between England and France, Ukraine and Sweden at least provided some entertainment, with an open game. Both sides had a flurry of opportunities in the game, and Sweden took the lead, after a well worked move, in the 52nd minute, through their talismanic captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But, the Ukrainians hit back soon after, with two fine headers from their own talismanic captain Andriy Shevchenko. Sweden were a bit jaded, it seemed, as the Ukrainians clinched 3 points, which will be vital for them as they look to progress. For Sweden, however, it doesn’t get any easier, as they now face the ‘stronger’ teams in the group, England and France.
Hang around for more after the next round of games. 🙂