Well, the European Championship version 2012 got underway last night and it was a decent night of football. In some ways it was like watching Arsenal. There were despair, joy and then despair again. Wojciech Szczesny, Andrey Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky all played to that tune respectively.
The tournament kicked off with host nation, Poland faced off against 2004 champions, Greece. The Poles started brightly and snapped at the heels of their opposition. Greece were never allowed time on the ball in the first half and it was only a matter of time before the opening goal of the tournament was scored. Robert Lewandowski continued his rich vein of goal scoring form by notching the first goal. It was the Dortmund connection which worked for Poland as Kuba released Piszczcek on the right and the cross was inch perfect.
Roused by the opener, Poland played with confidence and created more goal scoring chances but their finishing from then on was abysmal. The half ended 1-0 to the home side and got worse for Greece when Sokratis Papastathopoulus was sent off for two yellow cards. The first of which was for nothing as he didn’t foul Lewandowski who made a meal of it clutching his face. Down with 10 men, I could not see how Greece could come back into the game but somehow they did.
The first tactical change was to make Georgios Samaras track Piszczek all the way. That negated Poland’s attack down the right and made them switch the play to the left or down the middle. Neither of which caused Greece too many trouble despite the numerical advantage. Greece found the equaliser when Szczesny came for a cross but failed to connect, Dimitrios Salpingidis gleefully tucked it into the empty net.
Worse was to come for Szczesny as his flat defence allowed Salpingidis to get through and the former clattered into the latter. Straight red and the Arsenal man had to see Przemyslaw Tyton become the hero by saving the ensuing spot kick, via a television screen in the tunnel. Szczesny relieved that his judgement was right. He took one for the team yesterday and now it’s up to his team mates to return the favour by qualifying through the group. The rest of the game petered out with neither side willing to overcommit and gratefully accepted the single point.
The following made for a better view. Less drama than the first game but much better quality of football was produced. Russia handed Czech a beating. The scoreline of 4-1 flattered the Russians but it was a well deserved victory all the same. The midfield battle was dominated by Igor Denisov, Konstantin Zyryanov and Roman Shirokov. The 3 dovetailed brilliantly, sharing the responsibilities in attack and in defence.
That provided that platform for Andrey Arshavin to do his thing. That was to roam free and concentrate on being the creative force in Russia’s attack without worrying about tracking players. It’s good to see the little man reminding us again why so many top clubs in Europe coveted his services after Euro 2008. While Alexander Kerzhakov was trying his hardest not to hit the target, Alan Dzagoev wasn’t playing the same mini game. Twice he allowed space and time to pull a shot and he did not disappoint.
On the other side, Czech looked devoid of ideas. Tomas Rosicky ploughed all the way but couldn’t influence the game. The only other Czech player who contributed was the goal scorer, Vaclav Pilar. He showed good touches playing on the left hand side and had a dribble or two in him. However just like Rosicky, most of the time both of them have to go at Russia all alone because the support just wasn’t there. Milan Baros up front offered nothing. Unless someone else step up, it will be hard to see Czech having a chance to play a fourth game at this tournament.
Tonight sees Holland taking on Denmark in the first match. One can classify it as Arsenal striker v Arsenal striker as Robin Van Persie sets to line up on one side as Nicklas Bendtner will assume his customary role as the spearhead of the Danish attack. The latter has not had the best of league seasons but he always seemed to raise his game when putting on the national kit. Against a makeshift Dutch defence shorn of Joris Mathijsen and Erik Pieters, Bendtner has the opportunity to shine provided he gets the right kind of service.
There’s a lot of interesting battle across the field as well. If Dirk Kuyt plays (very unlikely) he will come up against his former team mate in Daniel Agger. In terms of former Ajax playmakers, we have Cristian Eriksen on one side and Wesley Sneijder on the other. If the Dutch capitalise on their chances, they will win. There’s just too much attacking quality on the World Cup finalist’s side to ignore.
The later game sees Germany taking on Portugal. Weirdly for me, I don’t see how Portugal will be able to create an upset. This despite the pundits and the odds making giving Portugal every bit of chance of doing that. Star man is definitely Cristiano Ronaldo and we’ve seen how he easily gets frustrated if the service is not there and he can be mark out of the game by Phillip Lahm, who did that job in the Champions League semi final.
Germany plays the first game of the tournament hoping to go all the way and I not so secretly, think that they will. Earlier I touched on Holland’s attacking prowess and it’s even greater with Germany. This is because of the quality that they have on the bench if those who started couldn’t find the breakthrough. Bastian Schweinsteiger will be chomping at the bits to play and demolish the demons that have haunted him since the penalty miss in the Champions League final. Expect Mezut Ozil to have a big say should Germany win this as expected.
Enjoy tonight’s matches.