After the first round of games, 20 goals had been scored. Following another eight games, 26 goals have rustled in the back of the onion bag. 46 in total and some have been absolute crackers. Tonight Euro 2012 moves into the final round of group games with no country, as yet, securing their position in the last 16. Only two countries have been eliminated thus far, with Sweden and Ireland booking their flights home.
On a sour note, the anticipated and widely-publicised hooligan element reared its ugly head before the Russia vs Poland match. European football’s governing body has been criticised for allowing the game between the two nations to take place on Russia Day because of the special tension it would cause.
The game went ahead and Russia played out a highly entertaining 1-1 with Poland. Alan Dzagoev fired the Russians ahead before Jakub Błaszczykowski produced a sublime effort to equalise for the hosts. Poland, unbeaten on two points, must now beat the Czechs to progress out of Group A. Meanwhile, Greece’s hopes are all but dashed after they found themselves 2-0 down against the Czechs inside six minutes. Petr Jiráček and Václav Pilař provided the early inspiration following their humbling 4-1 defeat to Russia in their opening game of the tournament. Greece pulled one back through Fanis Gekas but could not level.
Amazingly the Greeks can still qualify should they beat Russia. In their current form, the Russians will be confident that they will avoid defeat plus they have history on their side as they beat the Greeks in both Euro 2004 and 2008.
What has happened to Holland? The World Cup runners-up have no points from two games in Group B. In Wednesday night’s ‘must-win’ game against the Germans, Robin Van Persie saw chances go begging before Mario Gomez showed off some fancy footwork in leading the way with two brilliantly taken goals. With the Germans 2-0 ahead and seemingly cruising, Van Persie unleashed a thunderbolt with his less favoured right boot to reduce arrears but the Germans held out for a highly satisfying win. Portugal and Denmark then played their part in the game of the tournament, so far, in a 3-2 thriller. Pepe and Helder Postiga scored to give Portugal a 2-0 lead. Back came the resilient Danes with two Nicklas Bendtner goals. Cristiano Ronaldo made a hash of several excellent chances before substitute Silvestre Varela scored an 87th-minute winner for the Portuguese. The players and fans went wild whilst Ronaldo showed his true colours by preferring to sulk in the penalty area, following another miss in the build up to Varela’s goal.
The Dutch could still qualify should they beat Portugal and Germany defeat Denmark. The Germans, sitting in pole position, only need a draw to guarantee qualification plus top spot in the group which would see them face the runners-up of Group A in the quarter-finals. Denmark will be playing for a win as they have to better Portugal’s result tomorrow night.
Fernando Torres showed Group C opponents, Republic of Ireland, that form is temporary and class is permanent with a brace in Spain’s 4-0 demolition of the Emerald Isle. Ireland just could not cope with Spain’s movement, passing ability and sheer class resulting in their heaviest loss under manager Giovanni Trapattoni. Spain, with an embarrassment of riches, kept players with the calibre of Juan Mata and Fernando Llorente on the bench. Even Cesc Fabregas was only offered a 15 minute cameo which did not stop him from adding to Spain’s goal tally on the night. Coach Vicente Del Bosque said, “I thought we played a complete game. We had the majority of possession tonight”. The remaining teams sat up and took notice that Spain are eager to defend their title and create history in winning their third, consecutive major. Elsewhere Italy and Croatia played out a 1-1 draw. Scudetto winning Juventus midfielder, Andrea Pirlo, curled in a free kick giving Italy a 1-0 lead. Mario Mandžukić equalised for the Croatians.
Next up, Spain face Croatia whilst Italy face their nemesis – Trapattoni. The Irish, backed by the best fans at Euro 2012, will be playing for pride so it will be stern test for Italy. Cesare Prandelli has downplayed talk of a conspiracy which could see Italy eliminated, regardless if they defeat Ireland. If Spain and Croatia draw and Italy win by a sole goal they will be packing their bags and Spain and Croatia would both go through. In Euro 2004, Italy were knocked out of the Euros after they finished level on points with Sweden and Denmark who themselves played out a 2-2 draw in their final group game (the only result which could eliminate Italy).
Last night in Group D, the French dented Andrei Shevchenko’s and the Ukraine’s quest of making the knock-out rounds with a 2-0 win in Donetsk. The game was suspended after five minutes due to adverse weather conditions which halted play for almost an hour. Once play resumed, Jeremy Menez and Yohan Cabaye were clinical in front of goal as the French produced a ruthless display underpinning their chances of being dark horses at this tournament.
In Kiev, Roy Hodgson’s England defeated Sweden 3-2. In an enthralling game, the lead changed hands three times. Andy Carroll, Liverpool’s £35m misfit, headed England into a lead from a delicious Steven Gerrard cross. Sweden equalised after England goal-keeper, Joe Hart, had pushed a goal-bound Olof Mellberg effort onto Glen Johnson’s chest, which bounced into the empty goal. Mellberg then did get onto the score sheet with an unmarked header inside the six-yard box. Cue the grumbles. But Hodgson brought on Theo Walcott and his decision provided instant dividends as a headed clearance from a corner found Walcott, who in turn, controlled and rifled a 20 yard effort straight down the middle of the goal which left Swedish goal-keeper, Andreas Isaksson, impersonating a tight-rope walker on his goal-line. Fourteen minutes later and Walcott caused more havoc as he glided into the penalty area, centering for Danny Welbeck, who scored with the most exquisite of touches.
France are in the Group D driving seat since their final game is against Sweden who are out of Euro 2012. The Swedes mood after the England game was eloquently described by their coach Erik Hamren, who said “We have a saying in Swedish, ‘The operation was really good but the patient died’. That’s how I feel”. England face a very tough assignment in Kiev against hosts Ukraine. The Ukrainians would qualify should they defeat England whilst a draw is good enough for Hodgson’s men. However, England must tighten up considerably as Joe Hart has been called into action 12 times in the first two games of Euro 2012, which is the second highest in the tournament (Shay Given leads the way with 13). They have a massive and timely boost with the return of Wayne Rooney. Hungry and fresh Rooney has his part to play in this tournament.
As we kick off with tonight’s Group A games we can expect tense and tough matches to be settled by the occasional moment of brilliance. So far, football-wise, the Euros have been a delight and I think it is about to get cranked up a notch.
Categories: Euro 2012