Euro 2012: The Big Round One Round-up, by Big Round Richard Pye
So the first round of games are over. Gone. No more. This tournament is slipping away from us desperately insatiable football fans, quicker than Greece is from the Eurozone.
Talking of Greece, how they came back from a goal and a man down with Giorgios Samaras on the pitch no-one will ever know. Someone needs to sit him down and have a real heart to heart with the poor hairy dope. “This football thing’s not really worked out, has it big man? Have you ever thought of running for Parliament?”
Their first opponents Poland will be kicking themselves (or just Wojciech Szczęsny perhaps) after throwing away a game in which they comfortably dominated the first period against woefully inept opposition. But for the grace of Szczęsny’s replacement, Przemysław Tyton, the co-hosts would have been facing down the barrel of defeat to the worst Greek team since… 2004.
In the first truly one-sided game of the Championships, group-mates Czech Republic and Russia rolled back the years. The Czechs to the time before they were actually a football team, and the Russians to the time when captain Andrei Arshavin used to play well in a red shirt. With a 4-1 victory in the bag, Russian fans must be hoping and praying that their skipper doesn’t think that’s his point proven.
As Group B (AKA The Group of Death, Pestilence, Pain, Torture and Anguish™) kicked off, World Cup finalists Holland looked set to stroll past the group’s supposed whipping boys Denmark. After all, they have Robin van Persie who, as any Arsenal fan will tell you, scores when he wants. Sadly for the Dutch, van Persie really didn’t want to on Saturday. No matter how many times he was fed sumptuous through balls by his probing midfield cohorts, he was having none of it.
Against the run of play, the Danish had slotted their winner with a nutmeg under Maarten Stekelenburg by Michael Krohn-Dehli. This tickling of the Dutch ‘keeper’s crackers couldn’t disguise the ultimately vulnerable Dutch display, epitomised best by the hapless John Heitinga, whose luscious good looks more often resembled a bamboozled pug on the night.
So to Germany. Ah, Germany. That sexy, attacking, swaggering bundle of a Nationalmannschaft. Versus Portugal, that sexy, attacking swaggering bundle of, erm… Well they’ve got Ronaldo, who’s pretty good apparently. This was going to be a corker, a thrusting rapier dual between two cavalier exponents of the beautiful game. Well nearly.
As many a commentator has delighted in reminding us, no-one likes to lose their first game, which is nearly as true as it is revelatory. So the Portuguese sat deep and narrow, inviting their opponents on to them and then trying for a one man counter-attack. Ronaldo couldn’t do it on his tod though bless him, floundering against the banks of organised and disciplined German players.
What? We hear you cry. An organised and disciplined German team? But we were told this one would be different. Weren’t they supposed to be the new Spain, but, you know, from Germany. And counter-attacking. Well sort of.
Indeed the Germans patiently waited out the game, retaining possession before striking late on through a clinical Mario Gomez goal. 1-0 to the Germany then, but don’t go yelling for your money back. They’re up and running now, it won’t be long until we have the new Spanish replacement kicking up the German-engineered gears.
So to old Spain – or current Spain as it were – and their opening game against Italy. Winners of the last two World Cups, facing off in the first game of a European Championships group? Thank you and yes please. What was served up was nothing short of a tactical and technical battle for the ages. Which apparently bored the shit out of half of twitter, with the other half unable to type two characters of their allotted 140, through the curtains of tears being shed at the masterclass on offer.
As Mario ‘don’t call me batshit mental’ Balotelli was subbed and replaced by the diminutive (polite for ‘short arsed’) and prolific (polite for ‘scores a lot of goals’) Antonio Di Natale, the game took a twist, the Udinese man scoring with one of his first meaningful touches. Spain struck straight back however, with Cesc Fabregas – a bloody nuisance to the Spanish system in the first half, and more of a false-footballer than a false-nine until his substitution – slotting past Gigi Buffon for the equaliser. And so it remained. A stalemate in the best of senses, and game of the tournament thus far, but with much work to be done by the reigning European Champions.
Easily forgettable after such an experience, was that there were two other teams in Group C. Croatia and the Republic of Ireland faced off in what was certain to be a tight and uneventful affair, the Republic after all having conceded only three goals in their 14 match unbeaten run, and with the Croats hardly being blessed with the best of strikers. A real little gem of a match emerged however, with Croatia looking impressive in a 3-1 demolition job.
The Irish will of course quite rightly point to the penalty that never was, which could have brought the score back to 3-2 late on in the game, but in truth, they looked about as out of place in this match as Giovanni Trappatoni at a youth club.
And so to the final group games. In the early kick-off, England faced off against the old foe, their Channel sharing neighbours, France. Suddenly the world was awash with good omens.
In the first good omen, I realised I’d lost my England shirt when moving house. In the second good omen, Roy Hodgson decided to inject a bit of youthful exuberance and pace into the line up, with the inclusion of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (from now on, known solely as Ox). In the third, and most crucial omen of them all, Ox’s inclusion came at the expense of Stewart Downing.
The dark skies are never too far from English football’s horizons however, and in the warm up before the game, we suffered a crucial injury blow.
Ray Clemence is now set to miss the entire Championships, following an Achilles tendon injury.
In the match that followed such fevered build-up, France dominated the possession and provided more creative and expressive passages of play. Time and again however, they crashed against resilient English defences. England, for the first time since Wayne Rooney burst on to the scene in 2004, were playing admirably well. We were organised, disciplined and, most mind-boggling of all, Steven Gerrard was passing the ball five and ten yards.
Five. And Ten. Yards. Progress.
As Manchester City secured a point for both teams, a swell of pride, relief and shock settled on England fans. Roy’s Boys remain undefeated.
In the final match of the opening round, co-hosts Ukraine faced up against Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and some other blokes from Sweden. Ibrahimovic, who divides opinion, started the brighter and took the lead, through Ibrahimovic. Opinion was divided however, as to whether Ibrahimovic should have set up Ibrahimovic, or if such divisions should simply be opined. Undoubtedly now, Ibrahimovic was a good player, but was he a great one? Despite winning so many domestic leagues. And scoring so many goals. For the best clubs in Europe. Sadly no consensus could be reached by British pundits and journalists alike.
Ukraine though weren’t about to stand for any such beating at their own party. Arise Andrei Shevchenko. Prince of Milan. Pauper of Hammersmith. King of Kiev. The veteran Ukrainian talisman dusted off his faltering, weary knees, powering headers, not once, but twice, past Ibrahimovic’s mate in the Sweden goal.
Twice to restore the pride of the Ukrainians.
Twice, to move them top of a pretty tough group.
And twice, to really stick two fingers up at Poland, who they never really liked anyway.
Posted on 12/06/2012, in 1. Latest and tagged Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, england, Euro 2012, France, Germany, Greece, Holand, Italy, Poland, Portugal, ROI, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.