Thursday, 21 June 2012

Euro 2012 roundtable #11: Scoring is a Good Way to Avoid Defeat

Euro 2012 Roundtables

Gav: I have discovered that I'm not very good at concentrating on two matches and Twitter and internet forums all at the same time. I think my senses went into overload during the last matches of the group stage. I seem to have left an important part of my brain somewhere, somewhere on a sofa in Estonia. I ended up watching one match, only to be distracted by the second match and miss most of the best action.


Jon: Big news pre-game was that Rosicky’s Achilles injury had kept him out of the game, greatly diminishing the Czech’s ability to control the game and perhaps draw the sting from the Poles. For the Poles Tyton was rewarded for his penalty heroics and his solid showing against Russia by retaining his place ahead of the returning Szczesny. 

Once again both sides looked to attack down the right hand side, little surprise given their attacking strengths lie down that side (the adventurous Gebre Selassie providing the width for the Czechs and the Borussia Dortmund duo of Piszczek and Blaszczykowski the main impetus for the Poles. As with their opening match the Poles made all the running early on but not testing Cech, hitting the side netting three times. Lewandowski’s overhead kick was the pick of the bunch but it's bloody difficult to score if you don't put the ball between those white sticks. Hit the target chaps, Cech’s had what’s best described as a nightmare so far. 

The second half was a story of Czech Republic pressure and desperate Polish resistance, a succession of free kicks around the area coming to nothing with only one fine, reflex save from Tyton to show for it. Inevitably the relentless Czech pressure subsided and the Poles began to tentatively venture forward. What followed was an illustration of the danger of the only marginally forward pass being intercepted your defence is likely to be caught flat with little time to react. Baros charged at the Poles but his lay off to Jiracek left him plenty to do. Wasilewski made the classic mistake of diving in, Jiracek danced inside and coolly slid the ball home. Heartbreaking for the Poles but the point remains that they had yet to muster anything that called Cech into more than routine action. And it stayed that way almost to the end, Baros blowing a good chance to kill the game. Wasilewski headed over for Poland, but was offside. The last few seconds demonstrated the importance of fine margins in knockout competitions, Blaszczykowski beating Cech but not Kadlec. His headed clearance off the line guaranteed him national hero status and with the ball cleared by any means necessary the Czechs were through. Knockout tournaments turn on the finest of margins and here the Czechs were through by a matter of mere inches. 

The Poles will go down as fine hosts, an obviously limited team endearing themselves to neutrals with enthusiasm and a willingness to attack and giving the tournament its outstanding moment so far with Blaszczykowski’s equaliser. My head says that their exit is a good thing as they’d struggle to compete in the knockout stages but my heart tells me otherwise and football is often more about the head than the heart. Smuda resigned in the aftermath of the game, he may not have been quite wily enough to outfox the opposition but will leave many more kindly disposed to his country.

Michael: Poland huffed and puffed throughout the tournament, but were unable to break teams down. It would take about six chances for one goal. They would also fail to build on a lead, and visibly tire out in the second half of matches. Added together, it was a recipe for disaster. The Polish team were a work in progress, there is flashes of brilliance all over the side, but they lacked that final touch between them to become really special. Though there is still time. The Czechs astounded me in qualifying for the tournament in the playoffs, having looked hideous in both games against Scotland. They’ve now bettered one of many peoples picks to be the dark horses for the Cup. In Pilar and Jiracek, they have two fine players that slipped under the radar of most, and without whom the Czechs would have gone home. Both have gone to Wolfsburg for next season, along with Mandzukic, for little over 12 million euros, in what is already shaping up to be the bargain buy of 2012. Pilar missed a chance in this game earlier on he should have done better from, which would have settled the Czechs, though to be fair to them, they never really looked unsettled in the match, and that is a big reason why they are in the Quarterfinals. The other stand out for the Czechs has been Selassie, pointed out in the Group A preview by Joao, who bombs down the wing like a young Dani Alves. 

Joao Diogo Reis: 

Poland was very offensive in the beginning of the first game: 4-2-3-1, with Lewandowski as striker and Blaszczykowski, Obraniak and Rybus behind him, and Polanski and Murawski as the central midfield duo.
Things started to go well for them, 1-0 at half time, and in numerical advantage.
But then it all started to fall apart, big mistake by Szczesny gave Greece the equalizer. And then he was sent off some minutes later and Poland lost the numerical advantage they had.
It came from where the people least expected it, Szczesny was supposed to be one of the team’s strongest links.
But with the fall of one hero, a new hero was born. Tyton saved the penalty kick and got 1 point for Poland.

In the second game, Poland was already “afraid”. Russia smashed the Czech Republic in the previous round, while Poland couldn’t defeat Greece.
An extra central midfielder was added (Dudka), Rybus was dropped and Obraniak was pushed to the left wing.
It “worked”, Poland managed to stop Russia, they couldn’t win yet, but a draw against what seemed the strongest team in the group looked like a good result.

But then, in the last game, the circumstances were completely different.
Poland wasn’t playing to stop “mighty Russia” anymore; they should be playing to defeat the Czech Republic.
But Smuda decided to use exactly the same strategy that “worked” against Russia. Only that this time, it didn’t worked.

Poland’s elimination is natural. This is the Euro Cup, not the African Nations Cup. I always saw Poland & Ukraine more like Austria & Switzerland 4 years ago, than as Equatorial Guinea & Gabon some months ago.

I was only disappointed that Sobiech hasn’t played a single minute, and that Smuda preferred veteran Pawel Brozek. He was a super sub for Hannover in the Europa League this season, perhaps he could have been the same for Poland.

With the expansion to 24 teams in 2016, Poland’s chances to qualify in the future, and also to progress from the group stages when they qualify, will rise.

The Czech Republic’s changes for the second game were very successful: Hubnik out, Kadlec from the left side of defense to the center, and Limbersky as left back… and in midfield, Hubschman for defensive midfielder, with Jiracek having a more offensive role and Rezek out.
So, congratulations to Michal Bilek for improving his team, congratulations for being the first Czech team since 2004 that progressed from the group stages (they haven’t even qualified to 2010!).

Pawel: Why have we lost? I find the reason in inabiliy of scoring goals. Either against Greece, or against the Czech Republic we had quite a lot of opportunities to score a few goals in the first half. Something lacked.
Well. we should have got accustomed.

However, I am not completely disappointed. All Polish games were interesting. The team was able to create quite a lot opportunities. It was not a drama to watch our team. It was something new in comparison to our performances in 2002, 2006 and 2008.

Now, the coach Smuda is going to quit. He has already declared it just after the match. He clearly failed in building a team that could win matches. In September the qualifications for World Cup 2014 will start. We will play against England this autumn (and Montenegro and Moldova). We'll see if a new coach will continue Smuda's work or will start to build a new team. My opinion is that the team has got a potential to be better. Though, I wouldn't expect good results in the coming matches. Maybe next year.

If we are disappointed, what must Russians feel? They were clearly considered as favourites at least after their victory over the Czechs. And the Czechs took tha first position in the group and Russians are out.


Jon: Oh, those Russians… 

You win that first game 4-1, making those of us who thought you were a decent bet for the tournament look good. And then the arrogance of heightening the atmosphere around the Poland game bites you on the backside. And then… 

If nothing else you have to give the Greeks immense credit for their resilience. A man and a goal down in the opening game they came back and should have won, then a frustrating defeat to the Czechs caused essentially by the absence of both first choice centre halves and yet they still found the resilience to secure qualification. 

I can’t comment on the story of the game properly – as is the way of things with the final group games I focus on one game and watch the other one on the highlights show later. You can get a rough idea of how a game went from highlights but, as with all abridgements, the impressions you get are subject to distortion. From the chunks I saw this seemed to be largely a story of missed chances for Russia, one early Malafeev save aside. Of course, football being football there tends to be a punishment for not taking chances. Zhirkov failed to deal with a through ball giving Karagounis the chance to slip the ball under Malafeev. The low shot close to the body is never easy for a keeper so I have some sympathy for the Russian keeper who may look something of a fool to the naked eye. 

Dick Advocaat made the change he should have a game and a half earlier and took Kerzhakov off at halftime. To say it hadn’t been his tournament was understating the case.

The game’s most contentious moment came when Karagounis danced through the Russian defence before going down as Ignasevich came in to challenge him. Karagounis was clearly upset by not being awarded a penalty – I prefer to praise the referee for not giving it. Ignasevich was foolish in putting in a challenge as Karagounis went past him but I’m equally not fond of the forward deliberately leaving their foot trailing to guarantee contact. To my mind the forward’s initiated the contact and while there’s a case that the defender’s clumsiness is worthy of equal punishment it’s clear gamesmanship. Can you tell that I’m a defender at heart? Still, as most referees will give the penalty you can understand Karagounis’ disappointment. It’s also doubly heartbreaking for him to be out of the first knockout game and possibly miss the opportunity of breaking Theo Zagorakis’ Greek appearance record. Sensibly, the still emotional Karagounis was substituted shortly afterwards.

Russia had more chances, but Dzagoev was amongst the culprits who missed their chances. Their campaign essentially falls into two halves around the halftime whistle in the Poland game, the first featuring five goals to one and some wonderful football, the second no goals for and two against. If I were Dick Advocaat I wouldn’t be heading back to Russia before going to PSV, that Mr Putin won’t be too happy!

As a coda, I hear Andrei Arshavin has told the fans that it’s their fault if the team didn’t meet their expectations. Charming chap who should probably remember that it might be fine saying that if they’d been in a group with the likes of Spain or the Portugese, but failing to qualify from a group where they’re the best pure football team is a moment for hubris rather than arrogance.

And so we reach the halfway point in the tournament with two teams already gone home. Well, the Poles were already at home but you know what I mean…

Joao Diogo Reis: Compared to the second games, lots of changes in Greece’s team: Sifakis on goal instead of Chalkias; Sokratis back to the center of defense, with Katsouranis back to the midfield and Fotakis relegated to the subs bench, Tzavellas was the left back instead of Holebas, and Gekas played instead of Fortounis.
Russia only changed one player compared to the first two games, Glushakov played instead of Zyrianov.

The Czech Republic only changed one player, Kolar instead of Rosicky.
And Poland played with the same team.

In the 45th minute, following a throw in, Ignashevich had a beginner’s mistake, headed the ball and opened a corridor to Karagounis, who promptly took the opportunity and scored Greece’s goal!

By doing so, it was his redemption from the missed penalty kick against Poland in the opening game, and placed Greece in a qualifying position to the quarter finals.
Russia, despite the defeat, was also in a qualifying position, as long as the other game remained tied.

The temporary table at half time was:
1. Russia 4 points
2. Greece 4
3. Czech Republic 4
4. Poland 3

In the top 3 mini-league, Russia had a goal difference of +2, Greece 0, and the Czech Republic -2.

With Greece defeating Russia, a draw against Poland no longer suited the Czech Republic’s interests, and in the 72nd minute, Murawski lost the ball in midfield to Hubschman, who launched a counter-attack, passed it to Baros who waited for Jiracek’s support and passed him the ball, he dribbled Wasilewski and then, with his right foot, shot into Tyton’s goal.

The Czech Republic jumped to Group A’s first place, and now Russia, leveled on points only with Greece, fell to the third place.

1. Czech Republic 6 points
2. Greece 4
3. Russia 4
4. Poland 2

In Greece vs. Russia, while in the other game there was a Czech goal that complicated Russia’s situation, a free kick by Tzavellas where the ball hit the post almost gave Greece the second goal.

The closest that Russia was from qualification was when a Blaszczykowski’s shot that would tie Czech Republic vs. Poland was intercepted close to the goal line by Kadlec.

Extraordinary qualifications for the Czech Republic and Greece!
The Czech Republic started Euro 2012 losing 4-1 against Russia but ended up winning Group A.
Greece resisted to red cards, disallowed goals, missed penalty kicks, injuries… and got its first win in a Euro since Euro 2004 final.
Russia was the opposite of the Czech Republic, a great start, was also leading against Poland at half time but ended up drawing that game, and now lost the last one and was eliminated.
Poland, despite playing at home, just like in 2008 couldn’t win a single game.

Greece qualified. I expected them to qualify, but not like they did it. I expected them to win the first two games, and to qualify alongside Russia, not instead of Russia.

Fernando Santos took more time to correct the mistakes in his team, only for the third game he finally played without Holebas and with Tzavellas instead.
(A fellow former) also pointed out Chalkias (Mr. Bean lookalike) as a weak spot, and for this game Sifakis started.
And perhaps it’s no coincidence that this was the first win and the first clean sheet.
Karagounis’ suspension for the quarters is a problem, but Holebas’ suspension is a blessing. He is a strong candidate for the worst team of the tournament.

I thought I wrote in pre-tournament comments that Russia had the “best coach”… Now I check and I only wrote “the most experienced coach”. It isn’t the same thing. So now this won’t be a 180 degrees turn:
Russia had the worst coach, not only from Group A, but (perhaps) in the entire tournament.

Dick Advocaat is so stupid! Hidden behind Zenit’s UEFA Cup, there are 4 eliminations in the CL groups under 3 different teams, there’s also South Korea’s elimination in the 2006 WC groups (in the previous and in the following editions they were much better), and now this elimination with Russia.
He tried to take a ride in Spalletti’s work, and bring as much Zenit as he could to Russia.
He clearly brought way too much.
That isn’t even training, that’s stealing someone else’s job and present as his’.

Kerzhakov is a useless forward. He started the first game and was a disaster; Pavlyuchenko came in and was a lot better. Then he started again in the second game, this time Pavlyuchenko couldn’t save them anymore when he came in. And in the third game, again Kerzhakov starting, Pavlyuchenko only replaced him at half time.

Then there is Arshavin, the Russian Cristiano Ronaldo. He managed to spend the entire qualification plus the three group stage games without scoring a single goal… and without ever losing his place in the team.
He is the “assists guy”, some will say. Well, now he will assist the rest of the tournament sitting in a sofa.

With an attacking trio where two guys don’t score goals, only Dzagoev had a good performance. He scored 3 goals in 3 matches, and was one of the few Russian players to leave Euro 2012 with an enhanced reputation.

Once again Russia was a farce. They want everybody to think that Euro 2008, “semifinalist”, “top 4”, is their true place, but it’s not. Before that there are multiple failures to qualify to tournaments (2006, 2000, and 1998) or group stage eliminations when they get there (2004, 2002, 1996, and 1994). And after that, more of the same!

Michael: Since this result, people have been asking: why head to head? Why not use goal difference to separate sides? Well, they DID once upon a time, but a variety of teams used that to earn dodgy qualifications (Spain 12-1 Malta, Argentina 6-0 Peru, the Germany/Austria game, and shamed as I am to admit it, a 10-1 defeat for Thistle that kept their opponents up on goal difference.)

So head to head is seen as less likely to be fixed, as it depends directly on the results between the two opponents.

Greece nearly conceded within the first minute, but just about managed to fluff the chance clear. That set the tempo for what was to become an astonishingly exciting 90 minutes. We knew Greece were through with a win regardless, and they seemed to know also. Greece could have scored early on, Karagounis shot was going into the net but for a finger tip save from Malafeev. From the resulting corner, Russia had to clear the ball off the line, and for the first time in the tournament, you sensed an uneasiness about Russia’s coronation into the Quarterfinals. Greece were going for it.

Anyukov had to leave the pitch for a head injury, while in the other game Poland missed about a dozen chances in the opening ten minutes. Back in Warsaw, Kerzakhov had a shot and missed. No shock there. Mario Gomez was showing what confidence does for a player. The problem was, so was Kerzakhov! Russia broke with speed though, the ball peppering the Greek box like it was operated by a pinball wizard. Torosidis knocked it out for a corner, an inch to the right and he’d had scored an own goal. Greece had been all over Russia in the opening half hour, but Russia’s counter attacks were faster than lightning. There was no telling who could hit the first big punch. Arshavin missed a good chance, and Maniatis went down to a nasty challenge, but was up hobbling soon after and completed the match.

The pivotal moment came with the last kick of the first half. Karagounis swept past the defence, and curled a low shot past Malafeev. The Russian keeper ought to have done more, but couldn’t stop the shot. And to be fair, Greece deserved it.

I love groups like this. Every goal is fatal. It’s like Survival Sunday!

Russia piled on the pressure in the second half, shot after shot. Frantic defending: hoofs, last ditch tackles, diving forward to kick away the ball. It was Alamo stuff in the Greek penalty area. And then out of the blue, Greece had the best chance of the second half. Lovely work by Torosidis to get around the defenders on the edge of the touchline, and he floated a clever ball into the area. Gekas connected with a fine shot, only for a Russian defender to chip it over his own bar at the last moment.

Then came a moment of infamy. Karagounis, outstanding, swept past four players like it was nothing. He got into the box, was clear, and was taken down by the defender. The referee, who had a bad game, gave the Greek captain a yellow card. Karagounis was furious, yelling at everyone. He was still yelling when the game kicked off again. You could see him crying to the referee: “Why would I dive? I was CLEAN through!” Certainly, I don’t think he believed he dived, and the card had gotten to him mentally, as Santos wisely substituted him a few minutes later. Now I certainly don’t believe it was a dive. If anything, momentum catches up on both players, and the slightest knock sends you down. You don’t need a weak ankle like me to know that. I do believe that sometimes things happen in the box and it is neither a foul or a dive, that sometimes clumsiness or miscordination happens, but referees seem to think it is a black and white issue when there are shades of grey. Whilst I can agree there was no foul, I certainly don’t think there was dive either.

Karagounis got a massive ovation from the fans, and handshakes from everyone on the Greek bench. And rightfully so. After errors in the first match – missing the crucial penalty noteably – he had atoned by standing up to be counted and scoring the goal here. He had led a captains example.

The decisions that were going against Greece in this tournament were beginning to get me fully on their side. Which is something I never felt possible as recently as some dull World cup matches.

At this time, Jiracek scored in the other game, and you could tell Russia knew, as they raised their tempo immediately. Dzagoev missed a bag load of chances, picking the worst possible time to have his lesser match of the tournament. Zhirkov blatantly dived in the box, and the referee compounded his earlier error by merely scowling at the Russian.

The ball skived across the Russian goal, but no one was on the end of it, Russia broke forward but gave away a free kick. It was a hard game to take your eyes off, Russia threatened to lose their temper in a big way. From a corner, a Russian chance floated over the bar instead of in. A golden chance. Then Dzagoev got the header that he would have scored 100 times out of 100, and yet he missed it. It was beginning to seem like it was not to be for Russia. They still had a chance, not on their own merit, but Kadlec heading Blas’s 92nd minute drive off the line for the Czechs was a tournament saving lunge.

The final whistle went, and there was Greek derilium. And it was hard to begrudge them their joy. Everything that could go wrong in a tournament – red cards, serious injuries, refereeing decisions – had went against them. They’d lost almost half their defensive lineup to injury and suspension. They went behind in both their opening matches. The only thing left to do was to attack at will and see what happened. To qualify from that situation is beyond commendable. And they absolutely deserved it.

People will look at the result and mutter about boring Greece. Far from it. At the start of these Roundtables, I asked if Greece/Poland would rival the game we dare not mention. Instead, Greece have become the Czech Republic, and the Czech Republic have become Greece! The Greeks are full of talent: Torosidis, Salpingidis , Ninis, the ever green Karagounis, who can turn games. With better luck this could have ended a 3-0 or even 3-2 win for Greece. Well deserving.

Gav: I would love to do the groups in reverse order, but I can’t. I’ll start at the start, with group A. Lets try and remember what I said for the group A preview. What was it? Ah yes, there it is “Czech Republic will top the group with ease.” Yay! I was spot on with my prediction. Not that amazing really, presumably everyone knew the Czech’s would do it? Right?

Ok, so they didn’t quite top the group with ease, but that’s because they didn’t employ Pekhart nearly as much as they should have done.

Also, what the hell happened to Russia? After the first match it looked like they could’ve gone all the way. Some people were saying that beating the Czechs was hardly a benchmark of quality but considering the Czechs went on to top the group you have to wonder what happened to Russia.

Michael: I fully admit that with all my interest and knowledge in the European game, Group A just made me look a right fool 

But I'm glad it did.

Football is so wonderfully unpredictable, its part of the spirit and ethos of the game.


Gav: And the fool ended up looking a genius! 

Michael: And so, our Roundtables have become King Lear. 

Denmark 1-2 Germany 

Gav: I believe I said Portugal were most likely to go home but they defied all odds (well, the odds in my head) to make it through to the quarters. Not too shabby, I guess. I don’t particularly like Portugal, I have a similar level of dislike for them as I do for the Netherlands but I’m really pleased to see that Denmark actually finished above them. Kudos for anyone who predicted Netherlands would be going home with 0 points, I certainly didn’t see that one coming. 

Keld: It was another decent performance. After the first twenty minutes of German raids, we more or less kept them away for the remainder of the match. Of course that huge defensive performance meant that we had almost no power to initiate attacks ourselves, and Jakob Poulsen just missed our greatest chance of the game. Unfortunately the Germans scored just after we realized that we had to get a goal as no help was coming from the Dutch side. We lost the quarter final spot in the last five minutes against Portugal, but this was another encouraging game for us.

This team is rather young and will be able to play for several years to come. The only exception might be Dennis Rommedahl, who was, followed closely by Christian Eriksen, probably our worst player at this tournament. The core of the side: Agger, Kjær, Kvist, Zimling, Eriksen, and Bendtner will remain intact, and hopefully improve. The qualification for Brazil begins soon, ad we're in a rather tough group. EURO12 quarter finalists Italy and Czech Republic, and tricky teams Bulgaria and Armenia. We start out against the Czechs at home in September; possibly without the famous betting promoter Nicklas Bendtner.

Jon: I mentioned fine margins in the Group A musings, here was another demonstration. The table will tell you Germany won three games out of three and their qualification will look fairly assured in the record books. But how close were Germany to the precipice of elimination? Extremely close – they were dependent on the good graces of the referee. With quarter of an hour left Bendtner was clean through and whilst he managed to get a somewhat weak shot away it was evident that Badstuber had him off balance with an unsubtle tug of his shirt. A mere four minutes later the Germans effectively sealed their passage, Ozil sliding the ball to the back post for Bender to scuff a winner. And this German side is far too good not to see out a game from that point.

That aside, the Germans were largely comfortable and created far more than Denmark – they may not appear a dominant side to the naked eye but despite always leaving the door open for a moment of fortune for the Danes the number of chances they create and few that they allow suggest that they’re in fine shape heading into the knockout stages – as does the small factor of nine points from nine and knack of finding a way to win. Their quality in defence so far shouldn’t be underestimated – as we head into the knockout stages quality of defence will almost certainly become a major factor and very few teams so far have shown the solidity usually needed to win these tournaments. Add to that a good balance between defence and attack, a variety of attacking strategy and a crop of midfielders vying with the Italians as the second most likely team to control a game and I see little to dispel my impression that they’re capable of making a run to the final.

The Danes meanwhile can consider themselves unfortunate to go out. Bendtner has worked hard for the team and been clinical when presented with opportunities, Krohn-Delli was sharp going forward and Agger, despite the odd error against Portugal was generally excellent. Kjaer looked less steady than hoped but the major disappointment for the Danes has to be Erikson’s vanishing act. Perhaps, with his lack of experience and less muscular build, this was a tournament too early for him.

Portugal 2-1 Netherlands 

ESPN: "Portugal are the strongest team in the group, they deserve this. They could even be the surprise package of the tournament." (say what?) 

Michael: ESPN are my heroes of the tournament so far however. They’ve prevented me having to subject myself to ITV! It felt weird cheering on Holland here, a bit like cheering on Clyde really. Much like Clyde, they were hopeless. They were helped by Postiga, who was finishing efforts like he was back at Spurs.

Jon: Leo Messi would’ve had five you know. 

The story for the papers this morning will be of Ronaldo’s resurrection, of his scoring two goals in a vital game. He can do it on the big stage his admirers will cry. And Ronaldo, as is his way, will absorb the plaudits and continue in his self-adoring manner where flaws are down to misfortune but success is purely his responsibility.

This is, of course, nothing like the true story. The Dutch were hapless after Van der Vaart’s opener, his inclusion in their desperate search for goals introducing vulnerability – not simply as his inclusion came at the expense of a defensive midfielder but also due to his lack of interest in hard work without the ball. As a result Portugal looked comfortable in a way they hadn’t in either of their first two games and picked the Dutch off almost at will. Watching the Dutch was like watching a drowning man swimming for a distant life belt but going under twice when still far from it – you knew it was only so long before they were put out of their misery. The game was almost designed for Ronaldo’s particular talents to pick them off as they came forward, two games was almost a paltry return for the number of opportunities he had – eleven shots, more than any other player had attempted in any European Championship game before. That the win was so narrow was down to Ronaldo’s greed, his still having the attitude of the kid in the playground who thinks he’s the best and therefore is going to do it all himself. But score two goals and everything else will be forgotten; the cult of the individual messiah will persist.

Through go the pantomime villains though, to an eminently winnable match against an uninspiring but persevering Czech side. And for those of us who like our villains the equivalent of the moustache twirlers who used to tie helpless ladies to railroad tracks, we are guaranteed something to root against.

No one but Ronaldo could do this (thing we see every week in League One)!”
ITV paraphrased

Michael: I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m a bit worried Jon spends his weekends watching people drown now, like some kind of modern day Grim Reaper voiced by Donald Pleasance. He’ll be back...

That adds to the quota of injokes absolutely no one reading this will get. Know your audience, eh?

Jon: In other news it’s amusing to note that Harry Redknapp demonstrated his matchless knowledge of the European game once more with his declaration that he wouldn’t swap the England front six for any other in the tournament, including Spain’s. Rumours that the Spanish training session stopped so they could get a heavy session of belly laughing in are so far unconfirmed.

Michael: Harry Redknapp is the finest pundit since Kevin Keegan.

Jon: And so the final flourishes of Group of Art (and Ireland) 

Spain 1-0 Croatia 

Jon: So are Spain boring? 

After the game a few of us on a forum idly fell into a chat about the false nature of comparing Spain to Barcelona – both embrace the tiki taka philosophy but whereas Guardiola favoured an attacking approach where Barca spent long periods with the ball in the opposition half, Del Bosque has taken a safety first approach for shorter tournaments, eliminating risks as far as possible. This is the danger of blanketing a style of play with one name, you think of ‘tiki taka’ as one homogenous approach when, like any strategy, it can contain many philosophies. And with the approach favoured by Del Bosque this Spanish side can rarely hope to be as exciting as Guardiola’s team. But, as you’d expect with so many key players drawn from that team, the principle remains. Keep the ball, tire the opposition, look for spaces and work hard to win it back when lost. Spain play a somewhat slightly monotonous variation on what, for Barcelona, is a thrilling theme. But hey, it’s effective. 

Spain’s problem is, of course, that they lack a genius of the final third like Messi to make the system truly effective. Villa can just about make it work, but his broken leg in the Club World Championship ruled him out. Torres, despite his brace against Ireland, isn’t particularly well suited to a team embracing a slow build up, Llorente appears unfit and the bad news for Negredo is that Spain appear to regard a third choice striker in the same emergency category as third choice keeper.

And this wasn’t a vintage display by a Spanish side either. 62% possession may be regarded as outstanding by many, but by tiki taka standards it’s not particularly good. Croatia were tidy in possession and showed good technique, particularly Luka Modric who joins Wesley Sneijder in the category of two players whose efforts deserved better than their eventual fate. Modric’s intelligent passing troubled the Spanish in a way few other have in recent years – indeed, he produced probably the game’s outstanding moment, breaking away down the right, cutting inside before curling an inviting ball for Rakitic who headed far too close to Casillas. As results stood it would have left Spain in an awkward position, behind both Italy and Croatia in the group standings with half an hour left. Spain were having trouble breaking Croatia down with the scores level, if Croatia had held an advantage it would have been fascinating to see how this Spanish side reacted. They didn’t though, and late on, with Italy holding the slenderest of qualifying advantages – going through on coefficient when Balotelli’s late goal was accounted for – Spain took advantage of Croatia’s need to press forward with Iniesta and substitute Navas (Spain back to a no centre forward system) broke Croatia’s offside trap, Navas being left with a tap in. Still a goal would have been enough to send Croatia through at Italy’s expense but with the chasing they had to do, there was little threat left in their legs. It’s a genuine shame to see the Croatians depart, their display against Ireland and second half against Italy will linger in the memory longer than moments from many other sides, some of whom have gone further in the tournament. They can curse the luck of their draw, it’s difficult to see them not going through from Group A or D. Spain meanwhile march on as expected and even if they don’t provide the thrills of Barcelona their defence remains near impassable and they retain the knack of nicking a goal when needed. They remain the team to beat, though the question remains as to how they’d react to going a goal down in a knockout situation.

Gav: I must admit I thought the Italy squad were a little past it, but I’m glad to see they have made it through. I thought Croatia would manage it but they were quite totally dominated by Spain who by the way don’t play boring football. Spain are great to watch if you concentrate on the players that don’t have the ball, I find them totally fascinating. Maybe not that exciting if you want to see a lot of goals but thems the breaks.

Alan Kalder:
This is a tough one for me--I hadn't seen any such criticism--if indeed it can seriously be taken as criticism. It sounds like another way of saying that Del Bosque doesn't have Messi, so his team is less offensive than Barça--duh! In addition to the sin of not having Messi, Del Bosque foolishly lost his top scorer to a broken leg. In qualifying for this EuroCup, La Roja scored 26 times in eight games (10 of those vs Liechtenstein); Villa scored seven. In friendlies this year, La Roja scored 12 in four games. The tournament figured to be tougher, with no Liechtenstein; we still managed to be the top scorer in the group series, with an average of two goals per game, although four were against the worst defensive team in the tournament. Shot statistics show La Roja as being the most offensive team in the tournament overall. (Of course, you can show almost anything with statistics.) I tend to think the "criticism" of Del Bosque stems more from the (sub-par) performance vs Croatia than anything else. Iniesta pointed out the problems for La Roja in the third game in a three-game group series--to qualify, you simply have to avoid losing--a fact which is impossible for the players to ignore. This fact conditioned the game to a large extent--seems that La Roja reacted to the way Croatia chose to play. Croatia could easily assume an Italian victory over Ireland--they should have been going all out from the get-go (real easy for me to say in retrospect, huh!). The incredible percentage of possession for Spain in the early going suggests that Bilic (whose work I generally respect) really didn't prepare too well for this one. 

And then we get to who was available as a pure scorer for La Roja. Llorente has been questionable physically--I'm surprised he hasn't had any playing time, but I suspect there's a good reason for it. Negredo, a good player, is perhaps not up to the level of playing against world-class defenders. Del Bosque's idea was to rehabilitate Torres--and the jury is still out; I was taken to task for defending Del Bosque's choices by another Forumite. Don Vicente believes that Torres has more than earned a chance to play in big games, and he backed up his belief. Didn't work against Italy; worked great against Ireland; didn't work against Croatia. Note that he also experimented with the rehabilitation of Silva--and that has paid off big.
So--everybody is ready to explain why La Roja didn't win Euro 2012, and blame Del Bosque. And/or Torres. I'm as unhappy as anybody about the game vs Croatia, but look what happened against Switzerland at the Mundial, and what happened against the USA in the Confederations Cup. There are no guarantees, and there are Monday-morning quarterbacks everywhere to say woulda, coulda, shoulda.
Will we beat France? This could go either way; figures to be a tough one. If everybody is on their game, we'll wipe 'em out--but that's way too much to ask for. 

So is Del Bosque playing "more-defensive Barça" style? With no Messi and no Villa, of course he is. Hard for me to criticize him after he pushed all the right buttons at the Mundial.

Italy 2-0 Republic of Ireland

Michael: Bloody hell, my nerves. Hell of a goal by Balotelli at the end though. The Irish resorted to kicking Pirlo rather than try to play, and Keith Andrews was rightly sent off for fouling him. I’d like to point out however, that Pirlo stayed on his feet and almost shrugged off the player. Too many would have feigned injury. The Italian playmaker in that moment was a role model for fair play. Well done to him.

Jon: Football being a team game is a truism often forgot as TV companies find it easier to sell their set top boxes by highlighting the deeds of individuals. Winning and losing is rarely down to the deeds of one player – there are many bad decisions of misplaced passes which can change the course of a game. So generally my philosophy is rarely to put the weight of losses on one player’s shoulders. There are all sorts of reasons why individual performances may be poor, ranging from off field issues clouding thinking, through their trying as best they can to carry out a tactical instruction they may not be suited, to simply a lack of sleep the night before the game. I also believe that goalkeepers get overcriticised for their errors and strikers often undercriticised – if the Netherlands had somehow mustered a result to put Portugal out for instance, would the game be recalled for Ronaldo’s two goals or for the catalogue of failures to score (nine) in the game?

It therefore seems churlish of me to single out Shay Given as the player who’s had the worst tournament. I’ve never been a fan of his – whilst he was at his peak a fine shot stopper I felt he was always liable to gift the opposition space in which to play, either as the defence has to sit deep to protect him and prevent crosses from coming in, thereby allowing the opposition plenty of room for possession in front of him or, if the defence is pushed up, allowing the opposition room to pick his team off with balls over the top. Look at the infamous Henry handball goal against them in the World Cup playoffs – the cross was deep but to an area which wasn’t crowded. There was an opportunity to claim that ball and prevent the ball ever having the opportunity to reach Henry. But Given stayed on his line and what happened next will undoubtedly always remain infamous in Irish football history. But it needn’t have happened.

Against Croatia the first goal was preventable and the last, whilst unfortunate, came about as a result of Given diving at a shot he had no hope of reaching. Against Spain he made Torres’ mindup for him for the third and in this game he didn’t cover himself with glory when failing to keep Cassano’s header out. He bears less blame for Balotelli’s exquisite volley but it’s hard to avoid the fact that he’s contributed heavily to Ireland’s poor performances. It may have made little difference to their performance overall, but the margins of defeat may have been kinder to them. Nevertheless, a team already struggling to bridge a vast chasm in ability with the other three teams in the group cannot really hope to sneak a result with a badly off form keeper. The Azzuri advance then, but nervily and with fears of a repeat scenario of 2004 avoided.

Jon: And so the group stages draw to a close with the hosts hoping for one last big effort to upstage England.

England 1-0 Ukraine

Michael: Ukraine had seven players under twenty five out there. From their performance, most of them should have started the tournament much earlier.

“The ball crossed the line” said Pierluigi Collina. Well, that’s good enough for me.

Shevchenko announced his retirement from international football after the game to much praise in his homeland, he has been a fine player for them. Voronin did the same, much to peoples surprise he was still playing. Ahem.

Jon: There’s a Hodgson bandwagon going by but I’m resisting the temptation to jump on it yet.

It’d be churlish to not give him some credit for his achievement in doing what no England manager has done since 1996 and qualify top of the group and undefeated. No matter how it’s been achieved, he’s already exceeded expectations and managed to raise hopes that they may go further. For the state England was in a month before the European Championships, no manager and no apparent direction that has to constitute a successful tournament already and obviously there’s the potential to go further.

But then you get to the process used to get there. Hodgson’s methodology actually seems ideal for a manager parachuted into the post at short notice, installing a basic 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 system (a default formation in which English players tend to be comfortable) and then ensuring that system works by getting the players to practice drills repetitively. It may not be pretty but in a knockout tournament it’s sound thinking – the players know their job, the manager knows what he’s going to get from them. It’s certainly resulted in what seems a more harmonious England camp, unbedevilled by the internecine warfare of the Dutch.

But is it a viable long term strategy? The Spanish manager Juanma Lillo, a great thinker about the game, talked in the first issue of The Blizzard about the importance of not confusing process with results - that the result of a game can often be affected by forces beyond managerial control so ascribing each event to a tactical masterplan in the wake of a result may lead to a false analysis. That effect can be exaggerated in tournament play where one mistake can see you going out so minimisation of risk is often rewarded – see the Greeks of 2004 or even del Bosque’s Spain of 2010 as examples (though wildly differing in their method of achieving that). Implementing Hodgson’s policy long term might be a different story – England won the 1966 World Cup when 4-4-2 with no wingers was a tactical innovation and reaped a reward. Hodgson, for all his merits, is not a tactical innovator so imposing his favoured method may well result in short term gains at this tournament but his attachment to his favoured methods may retard the development of the English game in general, continuing their inability to control the midfield in international games that’s often resulted in their downfall. And in football the team that controls the midfield almost invariably creates the most chances and therefore has a better approach of winning the game.

That’s all for the future though. In the immediate short term results have been good and Hodgson has yet to lose in five games, even if the way they ensured topping the group was unimpressive.

All that you need to know about the game was encapsulated in Wayne Rooney’s performance. From the way the English media has been going on about it you’d think that the entire tournament to date’s merely been a prelude to his return tonight, with enough fanfare attached that it’d make any possible hoopla surrounding Jesus’ return seem understated. Rooney though is not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.

On the face of it the job was done, he returned in triumph as the matchwinner. The result was there. But this wasn’t Rooney’s best game by a long chalk. He missed a fairly simple header in the first half to settle England nerves, continuing a match long demonstration as to why heading the ball isn’t his strength. His first touch was off, and he’d visibly tired long before Hodgson substituted him late on. Yet he was on hand for a simple open goal finish after Gerrard’s doubly deflected cross span to the back post so all the deficiencies were forgotten, the foolishness that meant he missed the first two games forgiven. Fair mindedness compels me to mention that he’s cleaned up his disciplinary act over the last six months, managing to avoid so much as a yellow card so in this case forgiving the prodigal son might be merited.

Look deeper though and the credit to England’s win lies more with Gerrard’s excellence in midfield, perhaps not coincidentally after Lampard’s late injury had finally settled a ten year old problem in Gerrard’s favour. Gerrard has set up three of England’s five goals here and has been remarkably disciplined in midfield in tandem with Parker. Lescott and Terry also put in creditable displays to provide England with at least a solid base. But still England had far less of the ball, less chances and generally less threat than an opposition that any measure you care to use suggests are inferior, even if they were at home. And then there’s the one moment of controversy, where Devic’s shot beat Hart and crossed the line before Terry cleared – but not in the eyes of officials. Was that down to which advice the referee wants from his assistants or simply that the official couldn’t be certain if the ball had crossed the line? It mattered more for the Ukraine, who needed the goal to advance, but fortune smiled no England and despite the pressure Joe Hart didn’t need to be exceptional. So England managed to avoid the Spanish passing machine and condemned the French to exquisite torture at their hands.

England v Italy games at tournaments are rare beasts indeed – the last time we saw one was the third place play-off in the 1990 World Cup when a flurry of late goals saw Toto Schillaci cap his Golden Boot campaign with the winning penalty. If Hodgson can provide a match for an Italian side who, from their games so far, appear to be superior to any side England have yet faced, then maybe I’ll start to believe. Italy, then probably Germany and Spain to go... if England are to win this tournament they’re going to have to do it the hard way.

Michael: Italy/England? Oh dear god. I fear a thumping for the beloved Azzurri. This was England’s third time out of the group stage at the Euros, rivalling 1996 and 2004.

France 0-2 Sweden

Jon: Anyone want to tell Sweden they started playing eight days too late?

Michael: *sob* Toivonen didn’t play too good here either.

Jon: Don’t worry, he’s not the only one who underperformed this tournament.

Michael: I know. Several others I mentioned did too.

Jon: I confess to seeing none of this bar the brief clips of the goals ITV crammed in to their deifying of England. So I can only marvel at Zlatan demonstrating again why he’s one of the finest strikers in the world with an acrobatic volley that seems designed to be preceded by the world ‘sumptuous’ and Larsson’s excellent volley when the ball rebounded to him off the bar. I once scored a goal like that you know…

Michael posed a question to us at the start of these roundtables as to whether there would be more or less than 60 goals in the tournament – joyfully, with seven games now left we can be fairly assured that there will be more as Larsson’s late goal put the total for the tournament at a round 60. That prediction of 75 of mine may still be a tad generous though – after 20 goals in the first round of group games and 26 in the second the total plummeted to 14 in the last, suggesting things will tighten up now progression in the tournament is on the line. On the other hand, there is also the happy statistic that we’ve yet to see a goalless draw in the tournament. Let’s hope that the decline in the number of goals from the first to the last round of matches isn’t continued.

Gav: Yay go England! Quite a crappy group really. No team really managed to assert themselves as the best team in the group, despite England flattering themselves with first place. I got a lot of mixed messages about whether Hodgson has shut up his critics or not. I’m mostly impressed that he managed to get an England team playing together nicely. Terry seems to be a bit of a liability. I would never have taken him to the Euros (nor Ferdinand if I’m honest).

DAY 13

Jon: Whaddaya mean there’s no football? What am I supposed to do now? 

Michael: *rocks back and forth* All play and no work makes Michael a good boy...

Jon: *hides*

Michael: It should be mentioned that we might not see much of Gav from this point on. The reason is that he is getting married this week, and is expecting his first child in early July. Congrates to both the Mills, we all hope they will be very happy!

Predictions for next matches: Czech Republic, Spain, Germany, England.

I’ll be getting married tomorrow (Friday 22nd) so the Germany Greece match will probably be the first match of the tournament I will be missing in full. Oh well, no big shame. I’ll be quite upset though if Greece manage to beat Germany while I’m not watching. Though I can’t see that happening, thank god.

And that was the Group Stage that Was.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Euro 2012 roundtable #10 The Imminent Goalless Draw

So, only a few days behind schedule - blame relatives dying, computers nomming peoples work and one of our lot getting married and expecting a child within the next fortnight. That'll be Gav, incidentally. Just the marriage and child bit mind you.

Today we have the fight back that nearly was, the Germans acting like the Dutch, a slight massacre, an appearance from a long forgotten God, and wonderful predictions mixed in with great moments of hat eating. 

Plus, the return of our Polish and Danish correspondents, and the man never afraid to call a spade a shovel, Joao Diogo Reis. 

It's a bit long, this one, so the intro ends here. To the action!

Denmark v Portugal

"We deserved the victory, but we suffered too much, considering what we did [in the first half].”

“The only thing we were thinking about was the victory and we had to fight for it until the last minute. That is what I tried to transmit to my team-mates and then everyone showed a good reaction. Fortunately, we were able to score.

Michael: A sting in the tale often depends on your definition. A hard working Denmark were undone by two clinical goals early on by the Portuguese, only to fight right back in the tie, seeing Ronaldo miss a sitter, before Varela produced the heart breaker. The Portuguese squad have rallied around Ronaldo, yet even I could have scored from his great chance.

Daniel Agger made some foolish errors in his play, which was saddening after his brilliant performance against Holland. His fellow in defence, Poulsen (Simon), was unable to deal with Portugal bombing forward. Lars Jacobsen, who did well against the Dutch, produced another fine individual performance as he shackled all attacks in his area. I don’t remember him playing for West Ham or Blackburn, but his performances at these Euros have been fine for a defender in his thirties. Kvist continued to impress in the centre of the pitch, and tracking back, and but for a better slice of luck could have scored. Nicolas Bendtner managed to score two goals, neither impressive but he did well to finish off his team mates work, and he scored two more goals than a certain Cristiano did. And finally Krohn Delhi, who scored the winner against the Dutch, managed to impress with his ability to create chances for his team mates.

Ronaldo on the other hand was really dreadful. One of his worst performances in years, both in missing passes and chances that lesser talents would have put away with ease. Pepe continues to be the most annoying man in football. Nani produced an improved performance after his Round one flop, with some nice crosses. And the much maligned during his England stay, Postiga, scored again. Portugal looked far more attack minded than they had against Germany, and it proved to be the making of them.

Danish fans managed to rile Ronaldo chanting MEssi at him.

"You know where he was at this time [last year]? Do you know? He was being eliminated in the Copa America, in his own country.I think that's worse, no?" Ronaldo, with a classy response to those chants.


I don’t tend to bear too many grudges against international teams – I’ve forgiven Scotland for Joe Jordan’s handball in 1977, Romania for breaking my heart in 1994 and even Russia for cruelly toying with us during the Euro 2004 playoffs. Instead I’ll be utterly inconsistent and dislike teams based on their current modus operandi or personnel – I’m still not overly forgiving of the Greeks for denying the Czechs in the 2004 Euros for instance, and their methods haven’t changed that much. My current pantomime villains fail on both their modus operandi in major competitions (defence, defence and more defence unless they can bully the opposition) and personnel (I maintain that a dislike of Ronaldo’s preening and Pepe’s gamesmanship is not only the right but the duty of all sentient human beings).

Portugal came in to the game knowing that a defeat would leave their qualifying hopes almost non-existent. They’ve the proud record of never failing to get out of the group stages when qualifying for a major tournament to maintain and whilst losing to one of the best teams in the tournament was a setback, it’s far from an insurmountable one. The Danes finished ahead of them in qualifying, though they split the games so this promised to be an intriguing contest between two evenly matched teams.

Portugal’s positive approach was pleasantly surprising, the possibility of elimination bringing a positive intent though the first twenty minutes saw t hem restricted to long shots including Ronaldo’s usual attempts from ludicrous situations where might have been better served by passing. They were rewarded when Pepe met a corner with a clever run to the near post. Given his header which hit the bar against Germany he’s been an impressive threat in the opposition penalty area in a tournament where set piece delivery has generally been poor. I’ll try not to dole out any more praise given I said good things about him in the first game too.

Raul Meireles proceeded to break up a promising Danish attack with his hand –t could’ve been a red card given it almost certainly prevented a goalscoring opportunity. But still we’d seen little of Denmark in attack, and for those of us who love a bit of schadenfreude there was further disappointment when the rarely better than adequate at this level Postiga lost Kjaer to head in at the near post. The questions were now all for the Danes – did they have the resilience?

If there was a vote for best player in the world Niklas Bendtner would receive precisely one vote – his own. Even if he was banned for voting for himself he’d still put his own name forward. He wasn’t left with much to do after a beautifully unselfish header from Krohn Delli but it’s never unpleasant to see this Portugal side concede.

The first twenty minutes of the second half was a story of Portugese dominance, those of us who enjoy the ego of pampered posturers being pricked having much to enjoy when Ronaldo made a mess of a one on one early in the half and another when he dragged a shot wide with twelve minutes left that would surely have settled the match in Portugal’s favour. I’m still of the opinion that Ronaldo’s game lacks the subtlety and intelligence of Messi’s ahead of power – he doesn’t seem to have the ability to outthink an opponent when he can’t simply overwhelm them with his pace and power. Ronaldo protested after the game, in the face of Danish chants of ‘Messi!’ that comparisons with the Argentinian don’t bother him, that’s the sound of someone who protesteth too much though. 

Serendipity was favouring Denmark though. Dennis Rommendahl’s international career (well over 100 caps for a pacy winger is probably some sort of record), his replacement Mikkelsen had brought a threat to the Danish attacks that hadn’t been there before. And the lovers of schadenfreude had their hopes raised when the World’s Greatest Player In His Own Head lost Pepe far too easily to nod an equaliser in. Not only were Portugal sinking, we’d get to see Ronaldo trying to excuse how he missed those relatively simple opportunities to put the game away. 


Unfortunately sometimes luck favours the utter bastards. Varela, brought on mere seconds earlier, made a complete hash of a shot, Poulsen, in direct contradiction of the laws of defending made himself as small a target as possible when the ball fell fortunately straight back to Varela, and the ball was lasered past Andersen into the corner. The joy of the Polish goal last night? This was the exact opposite. 


Portugal then perhaps not quite all out defensive bandits but questions remain over their approach to playing teams they perceive as equals or betters. The Danes? Well that prediction of their going through looks far less secure now, they face a formidable task to get a result against a good German side.



And which eejits were speculating the night before on this being a fine candidate for the first 0-0 of the tournament? I’m saying nothing, but those same eejits say England-Sweden’s nailed on to be goalless .

Oh, and that Ronaldo? Not a patch on that Messi…

After we went behind 2-0, we started playing really well and we found spaces really well, especially behind Ronaldo. He's better going towards the goal than going backwards.” Krohn-Dehli, damning with faint praise and pointing out flaws in the Real Madrid mans game.

"It was a heroic performance. We showed a fantastic attitude in the second half. We must try to recover as fast as possible and then we must go for at least one point on Sunday. Perhaps we were lucky against Netherlands, but today we were unlucky not to get at least a point. But that’s football for you." Morten Olsen

Keld: I saw the game outside at a giant screen, and the atmosphere was amazing in the second half as people could sense that we were beginning to push back Portugal. The whole thing of course culminated with Bendtner's second goal, and there were Roman candles and beers all over the place. Unfortunately things died down quite dramatically shortly after. 

It was a great comeback, and yet another fine performance from the Danish team, although we yet again had to rely on a superstar firing nothing but blanks. Varela's decisive goal must have been quite a relief for Ronaldo, who would have faced quite a grilling in the media if those two terrible finished had cost Portugal two points.

Our defensive play was generally not much worse than in the game against Holland, but this time our opponents took advantage of the chances. Agger and Kjær both missed a crucial marking at respectively the first and the second goal, while Simon Poulsen's passive attitude at the second and third goal should be criticized as well.

Zimling's injury unfortunately re-occurred early in the match, and he was replaced by Jakob Poulsen, who is a less reliable passer but makes great forward runs. Combined with the fact that Christian Eriksen had another poor game, which is understandable as he was man marked again, it meant that we barely created anything through the middle. Thankfully, the flanks were quite open as Ronaldo did not bother defending, which really does not make his performance look better. Jacobsen took advantage of this at the second goal when he had all the time in the world to hit a fine cross for Bendtner. Hitting crosses while the ball is moving has, painfully obvious to FC København fans, never been Jacobsen's finest quality, but this time he even had enough time to stop the ball completely.

A fantastic performance by Big Ben up front that might have raised the amount that Arsenal can make from his departure. Krohn-Dehli didn't have much of an impact, but the header at the first goal was clever. Dennis Rommedahl might have played his last game for Denmark; the 34-year old winger had to withdraw from his 118th cap with an injury, and has already been ruled out for the Germany game. If he retires after this tournament, then it has unfortunately not been a pretty ending to a fine career on the national team. He has neither created any dangerous situations nor been tracking back to shelter the fullback.

The hopes diminished somewhat with the Portugal defeat, but we are still fairly confident. A draw against Germany, and a Dutch win is probably the most realistic scenario we can hope for. However, there have been talks of a repeat of the 2-2 game against Sweden eight years ago. A 3-2 win for Denmark would put both teams through, and yet again result in exit for a team from Southern Europe. It does not look as "likely" as it did eight years ago, and will probably at least require that Russia finishes second in their group so 2nd place in the group would be acceptable to the Germans

"I do not think that Portugal are one of the top two or three teams in the competition. But these are small tournaments and we will soon enter the knockout stages. In 90 minutes - sometimes there is extra time or penalty shootout - everything is settled. As such, if Portugal reach the quarter-finals, anything can happen." Jose Mourinho

Germany v Holland


Last weekend in Group B... the Dutch forget to put the ball in the net, the Danes remember how to, the Portugese forget to attack until they’re behind and the Germans remember their lost knack of overcoming obdurate resistance. And those of us who tipped Germany and Denmark to go through show a glimmer of smugness.

There’s little in football more fragile than Kieron Dyer, but one of those things is the harmony of a Dutch squad. And under the pressure of an opening day defeat to a side they were supposed to beat the harmony cracked with van der Vaart moaning about sitting on the bench and Sneijder denouncing ‘pathetic egos’. The two complaints may not entirely be unrelated.

Once again the Dutch started well, once again van Persie missed chances, once again they were punished. We were treated to the rare phenomenon of the Germans allowing the opposition more possession but aside from the opening flurry and a late van Persie goal they did very little threatening with it. In a short tournament you’re always liable to be punished for passing up your opportunities, particularly when your opponents are famed for their knack of taking their opportunities. The latest in the line of German goalscorers who relentlessly punish the opposition, from Muller through Rumenigge to Voller and Ballack is Mario Gomez and twice he demonstrated to the wasteful Van Persie how to seize the day. Firstly he pirouetted onto a Schweinsteiger through ball before beating Steklenberg, then, after the Germans had continued their torment of the young left back Jetro Willems, raced on to another well weighted Schweinsteiger pass to lash a shot across the keeper and effectively settle the game. Willems is the youngest player ever to play at a European Championship, and his inexperience was repeatedly exposed by Muller, Schweinsteiger and Gomez. It was a practical demonstration of why most managers prefer older heads in defence.

You can always tell if a manager’s desperate by his substitutions and a double substitution at halftime is a pretty good indicator that Van Marwijk was a desperate man indeed. Chasing the game meant Van Bommel would have been a redundant presence and Afellay had been rendered ineffective rather than energised by his enforced injury lay off. Adding Van der Vaart and Huntelaar merely allowed the Germans to hog the ball, Muller, Ozil and Schweinsteiger controlling the game comfortably. The Germans were closer to 3-0 than the Dutch were to getting back into the game, Hummels allowed to wander forward to the edge of the Dutch box unchallenged before drawing a fine double save. For those of us brought up on the legends of total football it was a wonderful thing to see, even if it was executed against the originators of the concept.

The Dutch did pull one back with some beautifully intricate passing releasing Van Persie to cut in from the left and power a shot past Neuer. The German response to that? Spoil the Dutch party, keep the ball and watch their opponents become frustrated – Robben’s reaction to being substituted showed how the Germans had once again got inside the Dutch heads and left them looking the bunch of gifted individuals they are in the face of the master exponents of team play. The Dutch were flattered by a single goal defeat, in much the same way Mike Tyson was flattered by lasting eight rounds when on the receiving end of a masterclass from Lennox Lewis.

And yet, despite the disunity the Dutch still have a chance of qualification. James Lawton of the Independent described their chance as a mathematical improbabibity, but the prospect of a German victory over the Danes combined with a two goal Dutch win is hardly unthinkable. It’s far more unlikely that the Germans would go out by losing to the Danes and Portugal winning, but again that’s possible. Germany and Portugal look the favourites to progress, maintaining the Portugese record of always qualifying from the group stage when at a tournament finals. With the Dutch in a fractured, frustrated mood the real question from the last group games is how many cards will be issued in that game. The Germans? Quietly in gear and the question is who can stop them aside from Spain.

Michael: It’s never been a 0-0 between these two sides, and it wasn’t going to be once Mario Gomez had his say. Gomez made many of his critics look foolish, scoring his second and third goals of the tournament so far. A late Van Persie goal was too little too late, and at times during the second it was one way traffic towards the Dutch goal. Late on, Klose even had a chance for 3-1 but the keeper held firm despite an earlier error in the same move.

This game is usually people’s second favourite team against their least favourite side in Britain, and I am no exception. Only, I like the Germans. At the last World Cup, this German side looked like an exciting prospect for the future, but when their backs were up against the wall, they suffered, as shown in games against Serbia and fatally Spain. Here, they have had two tougher games in the Spain ilk, and come away with two vital wins in a group that doesn’t allow any hiccups. It speaks of a growing maturity within this group of players, which bodes well for the future, and talks ominously for their opponents. They might not win Euro 2012, but it will take a strong performance to see them out.

For Holland, poor Jetro Willems seemed like he was being sent to the wolves out there. Especially in the second half, when shamefully his team mates send to just leave him and dry to deal with several attackers. That he managed to keep calm most of the time was of great credit to the teenager. This did not seem a Dutch side that was playing for the team, more a collection of sulking individuals. The Germans played as a team, Kloses cheering of Gomez being a stand out moment on the first match day, and their key top class players like Schweinsteiger, Ozil and Muller produced brilliant but selfless performances. That was the difference between the two sides. Muller had shown signs of petulance in the first game, but they were gone here, as he worked effortlessly to create chances for his team mates. Ozil did everything but score, and it is wonderful to see, when the German chancellor bemoans multiculturalism in the recent past, that millions of young Germans are idolising a practicing Muslim of Turkish decent, who prays before every match. A side of young talents from all backgrounds, fighting for each other, and thrilling in the process: as much as Spain are, Germany are also the blueprint for the future of the European game. And it’s a very exciting future.

As for Holland, they look to be heading home in disgrace very soon, be it in the group stage or an early knock out round. They only have themselves to blame.

"We simply defended very poorly. And the cooperation between the defence and the two holding midfielders was disappointing.We put in a good performance in the opening 20 minutes and got some decent chances. But you have to be at your very best if you want to beat Germany. Some of the players are struggling with their form.” Bert van Marwijk

Van Marwijk’s position is to be “reviewed” once the tournament is over. You may begin playing the Jaws theme, or Dvorak, same thing, in your head. 

"We have still a chance when we win 2-0 and Germany helps us. We simply have to believe in our chance." Van der Vaart 

"I do apologise to everyone for everything.This is very hard. We didn't see this coming. There is a real sense that we let the Germans win." Sneijder

"They achieved something at the 2010 World cup, and then started to believe that they're a great team. However, even though we still have a lot of the same players, things have changed since. Everybody is thinking about their own interest rather than about the team. They are really going to regret that they threw away the chance at European glory later on. If only the team were as united as the players claim they are." Willem van Hanegem 

"Mario was always a fighter. He laid on the ground so often & now he's stood up again. He has good confidence after this great season he had"
Joachim Low 

“We seem to have seen the demise of Dutch football, beaten in both their opening games, with even – or especially – Robin Van Persie firing blanks, until he scored that spectacular late but futile goal against Germany, with his right rather than his favoured left foot. The Dutch attack, despite all the good busy work of Inter’s Wesley Sneijder, and the presence of Arjen Robben and his deadly left foot, has lost so much of its menace, while the defence has been liable to costly mistakes.” Brian Glanville 

Glanville gets the final word here as, quite simply, he is the finest living British sports writer. Even in his 81st year, and with sixty years of writing about the game in all forms, few have his insight. Or his tangents, humour and uncompromising tendency to speak out. You can read his weekly columns on the World Soccer website.

Italy v Croatia

"Prandelli has completely changed Italy, they score more goals now and are no longer considered defensive.Regardless of the likes of Balotelli, Cassano and Di Natale in attack, the key to Italy's game is in their midfield. Marchisio is doing a phenomenal job and even more attention needs to be paid to Pirlo. We must not allow him too much time on the ball.”
Robert Jarni

Michael: Italy had never beaten Croatia, bar one moment during the Second World War. So the pressure was on for Prandellis men after their morale boosting draw with the World Champions. It was all Italy from the kick off, with continued pressing, and they could have taken the lead early on, but for some wayward shooting from Balotelli. In game one he didn’t shot, in game two he overshot, law of averages say he’ll get it just right against the Irish. Just as the pundits were saying “How can Italy score?” Pirlo scored with a belter of a direct free kick, which had me jumping out of my seat. 1-0 Italy at the break, but with Croatia you always sense 1-0 is never enough, and so it was to be proved. A rare lapse from Buffon allowed Mandukic to slide it in from close range. After that, both sides had great chances to take the lead, despite the unfortunate actions of some Croatian fans who kept throwing flares on the pitch. Despite all the action, no more goals were scored, and it was a drawn game.

Pirlo was majestic, not a single pass astray. Mandzukic continued to impress for the Croatians, as someone I pointed out before the tournament started, it is nice to see him break out under the spotlight.

Italy look an exciting work in progress. The job Prandelli has done in little under two years has been nothing short of marvellous. The team have two 1-1 draws, same as in 2010, but the difference in team spirit and effort is like comparing Dickens with Jeffrey Archer. They are just a few missing touches off a brilliant final product: the forwards just a little rusty, the back line thrown off balance by injuries. Di Natale will need replaced before the next World Cup. Pirlo and Buffon might be able to keep going till then – both still seem evergreen – and if the Italian FA keep faith with Prandelli, and with the plaudits the team are getting for their efforts, why shouldn’t they, then they will be a genuine threat to the other nations in Brazil.

Now, if Spain win v Ireland, a 2-2 draw between Spain and Croatia in the last group game could KO Italy regardless. Now where have I heard that one before?

"We wasted some opportunities in the first half. After the restart, we did not press as much, but we showed a good balance. We are here and we will fight until the end. We must continue to believe."
Cesar Prandelli

Alan Kalder: Good observation by Adrian (fellow forum member on Bert Kassies’ site), with which my wife and I concur: Spain got better and better as the game progressed, ending on a high note. Torres did everything hoped of him; Del Bosque will look like an absolute genius if he rehabilitates Torres after so many wrote him off. Silva has been nothing short of great, and Iniesta could be the player of the tournament.

So with all the conspiracy theories flying about . . . Spain doesn't go in for that sort of thing; they could consider playing with six midfielders if they want to go for a tie, but this sort of thing can easily bite one on the butt--we've seen it happen before, when Spain qualified after two rounds and "took it easy" in the third game, only to be KO'd shortly thereafter.

I think we'll play our normal game, with no compromises, on Monday.

"Pirlo makes the difference but I have to say that the real surprise has been the quality and the confidence with which the Italy midfielders have been playing. Largely [Thiago] Motta and [Claudio] Marchisio but more so Pirlo because he is the player who has a lot of the ball and every time he starts a move it's a move which will be dangerous for the opposition." Fabio Capello


I confess my attention was divided during this game between keeping a four year old happy and watching the game I’d tipped as the crucial match in the group. It didn’t let me down. The first half was an Italian symphony conducted by Pirlo and crescendoing with a masterpiece from his free kick repertoire. They dominated the Croatians, Balotelli looking lively but not testing Pletikosa and having more than three times as many shots as their opponents. 

Unfortunately for Italy Pirlo’s baton was snatched by Modric at halftime. Bilic moved him forward and he began to manipulate proceedings, giving the Italians a couple of warning shots. Italy were supine, as recalcitrant in the second half as they had been dominant in the first. With twenty minutes left they were punished, Chiellini mistiming his leap at Strinic’s cross and Mandzukic forcing home a shot off Buffon’s near post. Both sides produced some fine build up play in the final stages but none of it was matched by the quality required to break down two well organised defences. Croatia proved that their display against Ireland wasn’t just a good day against a bad side, Italy showed that they’re a talented side but still a work in progress. I’d still hate to call who’s going through from these two – Croatia are good enough to test the Spanish while Italy are surely going to enjoy a field day against the Irish.

“The first half was one of the best Italy played in their history. The defence was great and the attacking style had so much pressure on the opponent." Arrigo Sacchi

"Perhaps I am not going to be objective, but there was a penalty on Nikica Jelavic, while the foul which preceded Pirlo's free-kick goal did not exist. I do not want to stir up controversy, but the referee favoured Italy." Slaven Bilic, not wanting to stir up controversy (heaven help us if he does then)

“Spain are human beings, out of flesh and blood, as we are, and we'll fight them. We have a huge confidence, this is a hard group, and I think we can go through.” Darijo Srna

"I made the mistake for Croatia's goal. I gave too much space to Mandzukic. He did well to control the ball and score, but I had to be closer to him.” Chiellini

Spain v Ireland 

"We can be proud to have seen our best game against an opponent who refused to give up.” Del Bosque

Gav: Spain vs Euro 2012 Gatecrashers

After their 1-1 draw with Italy, Spain continued to disappoint with a lacklustre performance against the Republic of Ireland. Spain looked great on the ball, but never really capitalised on their excellent amount of possession – able to only accrue four goals against arguably the worst team in the tournament.

The press have tried to paper over the cracks, speaking of the wonderful possession football that Spain played but it’s fairly obvious that there will be unrest in the Spanish camp this week. They should have done a lot more, they’ve really let their fans down, themselves down, and most importantly they’ve let me down.

I think we can all agree that Spain have a lot of potential. The way they react from this performance is crucial. If they manage to pick themselves up, learn from the mistakes they made yesterday, perhaps they might even go on to win the tournament.

Jon: I hear some belly laughs from an Estonian direction.

This was the obvious mismatch of the tournament, the World and European champions against a collection of lower half of the Premier League talent. Trapattoni v tiki taka. A master exponent of the old arts against the masters of the present and future of the game. And what we got? The most predictable match of the tournament,

Ireland actually stunned the world by having the game’s first shot – stunning as one shot was more than many observers expected them to have all game. That sliver of hope didn’t last long though, a lunging tackle on Silva from Dunne won the ball but comprehensively demonstrated the folly of leaving your feet. Dunne rose as quickly as he could but before he had control Torres had stolen in, nicked the ball and beaten Given. It was a predatory strike reminiscent of his salad days at Anfield under Benitez, his finishing finally matching the quality of the rest of his game again. The rest of the half was Ali v Foreman, rope a dope stuff. In case you’re unfamiliar with that fight, Ali danced around the ring, letting the big brute punch himself to exhaustion before delivering sublimely executed knockout blows. The Spanish danced round immobile Irish midfielders, Alonso and Iniesta making Whelan and Andrews dance to their tune as if they had them on strings. The Spanish passed it round, searching for the inevitable chinks, the Irish got the ball and gave it straight back to the Spanish, as if they were enjoying a ringside seat watching the best side in the game and wanted to see more of it while they had the best seats in the house. Normally it’s Xavi who completes more passes than the opposition, here it was Madrid’s Xabi, Alonso, who outpassed the collective might of the Irish. Arbeloa seemed to be spending more time in the opposition half in the first 45 minutes than he had in his entire Liverpool career.

What followed was inevitable as Ireland’s legs tired from the chasing they were having to do. Silva’s goal that killed any misplaced lingering hopes was playground stuff, inducing two Irish defenders to rush in and try to block before calmly slotting it between their legs and tantalisingly out of Given’s reach. Torres was the very definition of clinical for the third and his replacement Fabregas completed the rout. But as ever with Spain the goals are almost mere details, what mattered was the control and possession of the ball, football as a combination of geometry and high art. Ireland lacked the players to force Spain to play in front of them and to be tight and compact enough at the back to keep them out. If you’d put the entirety of the Irish population on the field Spain would probably still have beaten them. Spain effortlessly assumed command of the group, Ireland effortfully assured themselves of an early flight home. If you ever want to know why the British and Irish talk of passion and hard work being all you need is so much hot air, the Spanish demonstrated that you need a touch of talent too.

Michael: You had a bad feeling about this one before kick off. Like, if you were in a swimming pool and suddenly saw four crocodiles in the pool. That level of bad feeling. Ireland were the worried swimmer against the tide of the crocodiles possession in the first half, with Spain snapping at shots like they were going to be rationed by the government shortly after. The Irish didn’t want another goal conceded after three minutes, and this time they lasted a full four before Torres finished. It was the Torres of 2009, but just like the Torres of now, he went on to miss four easier chances. Spain kept possession for all bar one minute of the half, when Ireland sprung a few passes together to a great cheer from the Irish fans. But, be it Shay Givens saves or Spains love to pass into the beautiful goal, it was still 1-0 at the break. Though it was 1-0, going on 30-0. It was like the siege at Rorke’s Drift, if the Welsh there had been incompetent defenders. So, not at all, basically.

Into the second half, and seemingly the first time the Irish got a touch of the ball was when Shay Given had to pull it out of his own net. Attempt, attempt, attempt, and Silva put it away on the fourth effort. This wasn’t even me v Kasparov. This was me trying to take on Rafa NAdal in the French Open!

Given produced great saves to deny Iniesta but Spain kept the ball. On the hour, Casillas even gets to touc the ball for the first time that half. Trappatoni looked lost, like an old dear who was once the main Stag. It was a sad sight to see. Even as someone as was not fond of his footballing philosophy. Ireland began to tire out. It was a more technical version of Croatia/Ireland. You could sense Spain could finish them off quite emphathically if they felt like it. Ireland had their chances, but they were moped up easily. It was a continual game of good news, bad news for Ireland. Good news, Xabi Alonso is off the pitch. Bad news, Javi Martinez is on. And so on.

For the first seventy minutes, this was the most one sided 2-0 you’ll have seen in some time. Then Torres decided he was bored of the nice passing and scored again, to make it 3-0. If it wasn’t already, now it was goodbye, farewall, auf wierdshen, goodnight for the Irish. At 3-0 though, the worry of a 3-1 win for Spain and memories of a certain 2-2 from 2004 began to flash before my eyes. McClean got a shot in the last fifteen minutes, but the next goal was still Spanish as they took an effort straight out of the Argentina v Serbia book. Twenty or so passes before a shot forced a save from Given, and as we came back from the replay, Fabregas was smashing the ball into the net. The Irish were a bad team with a terrible draw, and it was beginning to show.

When you are facing the likes of Xavi and Iniesta, who would both easily enter any World XI, a Fernando Torres with something to prove, and players like Silva, Fabregas and Alba capable of creating chances in the tightest spots, then you must have great players working to the peak of their talents. Ireland do not have great players, and their best players let them down. Given was too sloppy in goal at crucial moments, Richard Dunne not the towering figure in defence he had been in key qualifying games, Aiden McGeady wandered out of games like he was in a daze, and Robbie Keane was effortlessly out classed by a strong Spanish defence. It has been the lesser names that dazzled for them, and I want to single out Simon Cox, who tried to ask questions of the Spanish defence all night, and produced one or two fine saves out of Casillas, who had little else to do all night. He played with effort and determination beyond the meagre capabilities of the team and himself, if some of his “star” team mates had put half as much work rate they might have given a better fight of it. As it is, they are on the plane home after the Italy game.

"It's a reality check for a lot of the Irish players. I think a lot of them think they're top players, and it goes to show that they're so far behind a lot of these players." Roy Keane

"The Football Association of Ireland would like pay tribute to our fans who have once again proven that they are amongst the very best in the world. The atmosphere that our supporters generated in the stadium was phenomenal and has brought great pride to our country. Our players and management are disappointed that they could not get the result tonight that would have kept us in contention to qualify for the knockout stages and give the fans what they are hoping for."
FAI statement

“Ireland are so bad, might as well have Scotland in.” Brentford Chris

Jon: And all the Irish have left to face is an Italian team that need to score a few goals to try and ensure their participation in the knockout stages. It never rains but it pours. Talking of which…

Ukraine v France 

Jon: The conditions which suspended play for an hour were so bad that Noah was heard to opine that it was too wet for him to take the boat out. Lightning storms so spectacular that Frankenstein must have cursed that he hadn’t got his monster ready for resurrection will be the abiding memory, leaving a lot of British fans grateful that they could do their working day and still get all but five minutes of both games.

The first half was largely uneventful, enlivened mostly by Jeremy Menez doing his singlehanded best to keep the hosts in the tournament by missing two chances which fall into the category generally described as ‘gilt edged’, collecting a soft yellow then somehow escaping a second yellow when leaving a foot in on Selin. This was mainly a re-run of the England-France game, France hogging the ball but lacking an edge around the box and the Ukraine content to try and hit them on the counter attack. As with much of the tournament it was the tale of a proactive team trying to control the game and a reactive one seeking to limit them and strike if they overcommitted themselves. It also exposed that Ukraine were as limited a team as might have been thought from much of their play against Sweden. And maybe, just maybe, it told us that Sweden’s qualifiers had them flattering to deceive everyone.

Ten minutes into the second half it was all over. Ironically France were the ones who found an effective counter attack, Ribery and Benzema combining to play Menez in, Menez finally taking his chance at the third time of asking. Benzema then played in Cabaye to effectively kill the game. As it sounds from all of that it was a hugely impressive display from the Madrid forward, demonstrating his knack of knowing when to shoot and when a teammate is better placed – he may well be the perfect modern forward. The home crowd, so raucous and inspirational against Sweden, were flattened and couldn’t lift their team. France were closer to a third than Ukraine were to getting back in the game, Cabaye cracking a shot against the post. Ukraine’s well of ideas had long run dry and the last half hour saw the game wind gently down . This might actually have been the least entertaining game of the tournament so far, simply for its one sided nature.

Good news for England is that Shevchenko was forced to play the full 90 minutes on a heavy pitch so it’s unlikely that he’ll be at his best for the final group game. Ukraine will be happy to go into their last group games knowing a win will still see them through though.

Michael: Thunder bolts and lightning – very very frightening - during the anthems suggested bad omens (credit Rober Thomas. And in a first I’ve seen, the game was suspended after four minutes after a torrent of rain. It was a lot of rain. Looks like we could put this game down to a win for Zeus! (credit Charles Daniels) Two gags in the opening paragraph of the match, and both stolen off other people. Oh dear.

ITV apparently took the time to chat about England. Quelle surprise. ESPN spent it talking to Michael Ballack about Germanys chances, and the possibilities in Group A. ITV, not even second best this tournament. UEFA decided the match must continue though, much like they did in 2008 during the Switzerland/Turkey game in similar circumstances. 

"Does the referee or the UEFA officials decide if the match goes on?" said the ESPN pundit.
"The referee must agree with the officials" replied Ballack in a notably barbed reply.

The game did kick off, and France got the ball in the net, but it was offside. There was no flow or tactics to the game, it was anarchy football. You have a shot, I’ll have a shot. And so on. I wouldn’t like to have been betting on it. You could sense the French would be in the ascendency though, as the pitch made it harder for the older men of Ukraine to have a foothold in the game. Yarmolenko had a chance midway through the first half, but it eased past the post. 

At the break though, despite the best efforts of Menez who missed a bagful of chances and then got a yellow card, it was 0-0, and seemed destined to become the first game to finish that way.

UEFA have banned Ukraine from football for life due to adverse weather conditions. Platini said a thunder storm was against the spirit of the game, and would not be tolerated...

Sorry, daydreaming there.

Suddenly, Menez finally scored. So my prediction of 0-0 was slightly off, in that it was wrong. And that was a big one for the group. Ukraine of course could still qualify with a win, though it meant if England lost they would almost be out for sure. France then scored a second, as the Ukrainian players were tiring out. So with France almost certainly going to win at this point, a loss for England later would see them on 1 point compared to 3 for Sweden and Ukraine and 4 for France. Then, a draw between France and Sweden would KO England regardless. The group was still very much up in the air. And if England win, France play a Sweden with nothing to play for, and England have to take on the hosts. Difficult.

Ukraine had a few chances, but little to show for their efforts. Shevchenko continued to toil like a man twice his age, but his legs caught up with towards the end. Voronin by contrast never got going on the heavy pitch. Yarmolenko looked very bright, and is one to watch for the future. France seemed more like to make it 3-0. Cabaye smashed it off the bar, and then Ukraine went racing up field. Credit to the co-hosts, they never gave up this one. The game started to peter out. It was a good win for France in hard circumstances, all things said.

Gav: I got home a little late because we were in Tartu picking up a pram. I spent most of the match admiring our new pram. France scored one or two.

Michael: All together now: Awwwwwwwwwwww.

England v Sweden 

“Once or twice, especially in the first half, there were some very promising counter-attacks that broke down because we tried a one-touch pass to finish it off rather than taking that extra touch. I thought there were quite a few other attacks which floundered, I suppose, on the fact we didn't quite get the last pass right.” Roy Hodgson on the France game 

“They’re a good side, but they’re not France. If we reach the same level of performance, it should be enough for a victory. I’m really happy with the start we’ve made to this tournament. I’m confident we can get to four points after this game.” Steven Gerrard. (What is that hubris thing again?) 

"I just don't think England maybe have the same respect for us as they do for countries like France or Brazil. Maybe they shouldn't, but I think England are a great team, although Sweden are not far behind and haven't been for the last 10 or 15 years.” Anders Svensson 

Michael: England had never beaten Sweden in a competitive match, but had beaten them in a limp friendly a few months prior. It was a massive game for both teams though. Would Ibrahimovic deal with the English defence? Would Toivonen improve on his disappointing first match? Would England make a big step to the last eight, or a big step to the plane home? A lot was riding on the game. The answer for Toivonen was no, as he was left out. He can’t argue with that one. 

Not much was on for the first seven minutes, then suddenly Welbecks shot forced a good save out of Isaksson. Sweden had some crosses in, but too far for Larsson to make use of them. It seemed like both sides knew how important a result would be, and had come out looking for it. It did seem like the first goal would be crucial, and the referee was giving free kicks out like candy. The English defence had to good to block Ibrahimovic once or twice. Then, Andy Caroll heads in a goal from a nothing cross, and England were 1-0 up. 

The arguing going on in the Sweden camp, seemingly determined to wipe away a good chance, if true, was staggering, and seemed to sabotage their efforts. It was worthy of a Scotland failure. All the good play in the season, and the attacking style, was all for nowt when Mellberg comes out and says there are tensions in the squad to the press, and accusations of bullying fly about. It is beyond disappointing, as they had not played within their abilities at all.

The game for the minutes after the goal seemed to have an England win written all over it. Despite John Terrys best efforts, Ibrahimovic was able to continue after a knock, and Young hit into the side netting after finding himself through. Sweden had several chances but gave the ball away on the final pass on all of them. There was similarities between how Sweden played and the Dutch problems, and I found myself infuriated by the very issues I was smiling over before. Football karma. 

John Terry got booed by the Swedish fans, showing they had some taste. England were looking dangerous for a second though. Sweden couldn’t complain about Ibrahimovic’s efforts though, he was giving it his all for the cause, but the rest of the team had trouble latching onto his ideas at times. He effortlessly outsmarted Lescott on the wing trying to get the ball in. You sensed Hart need to be on top of his game all night as the English defence were being asked questions. Of the eight goals Sweden have conceded in 2012, seven were headers incidentally. 

Sweden came out for the second half like they knew a defeat would eliminate them, and levelled straight off from a free kick when Hart failed to save. Mellberg of all people scoring. I’d said three minutes before to Jon that the only way Sweden would score was if they got over the English defence once more and Hart failed to clear it that one time, and thats exactly what happened. Sometimes I even impress myself! Sweden had their tails, and could have had a 2nd soon after but missed. Their play still gave away too many free kicks to England though. England still looked the more dangerous side on the break, but the Swedish seemed to have a new found belief in themselves. Despite being at fault for the equaliser, Glen Johnson saved the English bacon on several occasions, incuding one tackle from behind which he had to get spot on and did. When Sweden were bombing forward though, England were tackling and giving away fouls. It seemed like whoever scored the third would win, and whoever conceded the third would snap. Then from a free kick, Mellberg scored again! 

There’s the sexy Swedish football! 

Glen Johnson is a good defender though. He gets a bad press, due to highlights packages, but whenever I see him play he comes across as a strong defender who saves his team more often than not, and when he does make errors his head rarely goes down. 

Milner came off before he got a red card, and Walcott came on. The speed demon. Ibrahimovic then nearly scored from a run from Englands own corner! Then Isaksson made a wonder save from Terry. You felt like this was the sort of the game where the winner could breed confidence in a nation for years to come. Then Walcott scored from outside the area. 

Twenty five minutes to go, and this could be anyones. Chances at both ends, defenders getting in the way for last ditch saves, this was turning into a great match. Not had many of those for England in recent tournaments. Not since Portugal/England at Euro 2004, if I am brutally honest. Hart tried to keep the ball in play but didn’t, much to the English fans yelling at the referees disproval. It was getting a bit bitty, with more fouls all over the place. Olsson swept past Walcott and Johnson in the corner and his pass met Kallstrom who missed the chance. Then Hart had to produce a great save to prevent Ibrahimovic scoring his second of the tournament. Welbeck then tapped it in from a Walcott cross, and Roy’s substitution was looking very good. 

So England led again, and they were looking for the kill. Sweden did keep going though, and on came Wilhelmsson (for Elm) and Rosenborg (for Elmander), neither of whom looked likely to score. Parker blazed it over the bar in a great break away that would have rubber stamped Swedens elimination. Sweden were heading out, but at least they’d headed out with a bit of fire in their bellies. Sweden had one more free kick, like their earlier goals, but this time it was defended with ease. A similar corner was punched away with authority by Hart. 

And that was that. Roy Hodgson had masterminded Englands first competitive win over Sweden, and Sweden were out despite a second half effort which showed all the talent pundits had pointed out before the tournament but which seemed to disappear for large parts of their first match. It wasn’t to be for them though, and its now 2 from 3 in Group D. 

England only need a draw to progress, but I am wary of that still: memories of 2000, and 2007 come to mind!

“The operation went well but the patient is dead.” Eric Hamren.

He also went on to say “hang me, not the players”. A man of rare integrity that the tournament will miss.

So... there is still 10 minutes left of this match, right now I want to say “Wow! What a match” but that’s on the assumption that England will hold this 3-2 lead.

We had a pretty good first half, mostly thanks to Sweden being crap. I gave my biggest cheer of the tournament so far when Carroll scored. I must admit, I love the chap. I think he has a great future ahead of him so I was really pleased when he got the goal.

The second half started badly for England, with two goals in 10 minutes for Sweden from the wonderfully bearded Olaf Mellberg. It seemed quite typical really. I can’t say I was too annoyed because I’m quite used to England having spells of being crap.

Hodgson had obviously got his eye on the excellent Southampton legend Anders Svensson as it gave him the brainwave that he should bring on an ex-Southampton player. Walcott beat Oxo at “rock, paper, scissors” and so was the one to come on. He made an instant impact with a goal. 14 minutes later he made an almost-instant impact with an assist. What a goal from Welbeck too. I don’t know if he meant it but I think he did. Oh, I also need to say that Young is rubbish. I'd drop him against Ukraine and play Oxo in his place.

England won! Lovely stuff from England! As usual they had frustrating spells but actually they are looking better than usual. I actually feel like all the players want to play for the team. Today I’m a happy England fan.

All in all a great two days of football, though I really do wish Spain had done the job against Ireland.

Jon: I don’t own a hat, or I’d have been eating it after this game. As it is I settled for a slice of humble pie. Nailed on 0-0 this, Hodgson’s team creating and conceding very little against a Sweden team showing a Dutch propensity for disharmony. You can understand Zlatan’s frustrations with his teammates spending posing for photos with friends and relatives rather than professionally warming down after the game – they might be wide eyed and enjoying the experience of a major championship but Zlatan’s medal haul will tell you he’s a winner. Disharmony in the Swedish camp at a major tournament seems rare, but then England coming into a major tournament with low expectations is equally unusual. Not quite as unusual as England beating Sweden in a competitive game though – it’s never happened.

But this was a day of surprises. England looked far friskier than they had against France. Gerrard and Parker were far more exuberant in getting forward, more bodies appeared in the box in attack and England pressed high up the pitch. It was Milner forcing a desperate clearance that set up the first goal, Gerrard picking up the loose ball and swinging in a cross which positively invited Andy Carroll’s booming header that might well have put a hole in Isaaksson if he’d got in the way. Sweden looked like they’d be going home, carelessly misplacing passes and creating very little.

England capitulated though, quarter of an hour into the second half it was Beard 2 Ponytail (English variety) 1. First Ashley Cole lost his man from a free kick, then Glen Johnson stayed a yard deeper than anyone else, playing Mellberg onside when the rebound was played back in over the top of the wall and he couldn’t stop Mellberg’s shot with a desperate attempt to clear off the line. Then Mellberg, in glorious isolation thundered a header home to put the Swedes in control. History looked like repeating itself, England being past masters in blowing 1-0 leads to Sweden in the second half. 

Credit then to Roy Hodgson for excellent use of substitutes, something which had been a major failing of his when at Anfield. Walcott came on for Milner and his pace made an instant difference, Walcott equalised with a speculative shot through a ruck of players after a corner then, after a foray from the excellent Johnson played in Welbeck for an insouciant backheel into the far corner. Again the game had turned and while the quality of passing football was nowhere near that demonstrated by Russia or and team in Group B and C not directly west of the British mainland, the game was proving one of the highlights of the tournament so far. Sweden still out then, but with far more fight than it looked at halftime and the strange experience for Liverpool fans of watching an attack minded, entertaining Hodgson side. A strange night indeed!

France and England left needing draws to qualify then, although neither will want the, ahem, privilege of going out to playing Spain in the quarter finals. 


Pawel: It was a good result. The optimism in Poland is now huge. People clearly expect a victory today. To be honest I also think Poland should win the match. Of course, it wouldn't be wise to be sure of it. Both teams are probably equal in their level of play.
What makes me think we should win:

1. We were able to stop Russian attacks. The Czechs shouldn't be better in attacking than our previous opponent.
2. Robert Lewandowski makes a constant threat to any defensive line. Even if he doesn't score there are always at least two defenders close to him. And this makes place for others.
3. Our defensive line played really well against Russia. It was their best match ever.
4. The players proved they were physically strong enough - till the last minute of a match. The Czechs don't seem to me so. Their performances in second halves were clearly worse than in first ones.
5. The support of fans will be huge.
However, I have to admit that Rossicly, Pilar and Jiracek (and maybe Plasil) are top-class players.
In the second match Russia is expected to secure a place in a quarterfinal. I am not sure if it will take place. I wouldn't be surprised if Greece wins.

Joao Diogo Reis on Group C, D and A

The key moment of Spain vs. Italy was when Balotelli won a ball against Sergio Ramos, found himself in a great position to score, but took all the time in the world and allowed Sergio Ramos to recover it.
I thought “Di Natale wouldn’t miss this”, Cesare Prandelli probably thought exactly the same.
After that, Di Natale replaced Balotelli.

And a few minutes later, a long pass by Pirlo found Di Natale and he scored Italy’s goal!

This goal also woke up Spain, who equalized through Fabregas.
Fabregas was later replaced by Fernando Torres, who had some opportunities to score, but missed them.
It’s a bad sign that the “improvised” striker Fabregas scored, while the “real” striker couldn’t. Now Vicente Del Bosque will be tempted to repeat this strategy in the following games – too many midfielders and no striker.
I don’t like this tactic; to me it’s not any different from having too many defenders (or having too many forwards). It is still “parking the bus”, although they are parking it in an unusual place.

Will Italy keep their tactic in the following games? The best way to face this Spain isn’t necessarily the best way to face Croatia (and then Ireland).
Will Di Natale start and Balotelli warm bench?

Expected win for Croatia against Ireland.

The first goal was early (quickest goal in the tournament?): Srna crossed the ball, Mandzukic slipped by still had time to get up and head the ball into Given’s goal.

Ireland equalized from a free kick (typical…): McGeady’s cross and St Ledger’s header. says (but not for sure) “probably the first ever goal in a Euro Cup scored by a player from a secondary division”

Before half time, Croatia scored again: Modric’s shot ends up in Ward, and he is terrible clearing the ball, putting it right where Jelavic was, and he scored. Jelavic would have been offside but the pass was from an Irish player, so legal goal.

But Ireland’s misfortune wasn’t over.
In the beginning of the second half, again a Mandzukic’s header, this time after a cross from the left by Perisic, the ball hits the post, but then rebounds in Given’s head and crosses the line.

Ireland shouldn’t be so sad. The simple fact that they’re back to a major tournament 10 years later is already a big success for them.
Croatia was very offensive in this game; let’s see if they’ll be as offensive against Italy or if they’ll be more cautious.

In England vs. France, the first goal opportunity was England’s:
Milner has a 1-on-1 against Lloris, dribbles him, but then misses the shot with an open goal.

It reminded me of Lloris’ first conceded goal in the 2010 World Cup: Javier Hernández dribbled him and then scored. Fortunately for him, this time Milner missed.

Some minutes later England actually scored: free kick taken by Gerrard and Lescott won the air duel with Alou Diarra and scored. Alou Diarra had a great game but in this situation he is to blame for England’s goal.

This was the first (and also the last) shot on goal for England during the entire game.

France equalized by Nasri some minutes later. The Manchester City players were in the spotlight in this game: Milner, Lescott, Nasri, also Hart.

France kept trying to score more goals but couldn’t do it.
They can’t win a game in a major tournament since the 2006 World Cup semifinals, 1-0 against Portugal.

Sweden had the best goal opportunity in the first half; Ibrahimovic’s shot hit the post.

And in the second half, Ibrahimovic scored!

With this goal, he became Sweden’s all-time top scorer in the European Championships history, with 5 goals, ahead of Henrik Larsson with 4.

Ukraine’s reaction was quick, 3 minutes later they equalized, by Shevchenko.
And a few minutes later, Shevchenko scored again, after a corner kick taken by Konoplyanka.
In this second goal, there’s a big Lustig’s flaw. He should be covering the first post, but the ball passes right between him and the first post.

With this result, Sweden is almost eliminated. They couldn’t even win the supposed easiest game, and now they’ll face England and France.
Ukraine is leading Group D, and now they’ll face France, who doesn’t win a game at a major tournament since the 2006 World Cup semis.

Compared to the first games, some changes in Greece and the Czech Republic’s lineups:
Greece’s central defenders duo was Kyriakos and Katsouranis (Sokratis was suspended and Avraam is injured), Fotakis played in midfield (since Katsouranis retreated to defense), Salpingidis was the right winger, Samaras the striker and Fortounis the left winger.
The Czech Republic played with Kadlec as central defender and Limbersky as left defender (relegating Hubnik to the subs bench), and Hubschman as central midfielder, with Jiracek going to the right wing.

Overwhelming start by the Czech Republic, they were already winning 2-0 after 6 minutes.

By the way, congratulations to Wolfsburg! In January they signed Jiracek for only 4 million €, now they’ll sign Pilar for only 1 million. Croatian goal scorer Mandzukic also plays for them, they signed him for only 7 million €.
Three Euro 2012 stars, that they got for only 12 million €! There are others that pay a lot more than that for alleged stars, that don’t even have the quality to clean these guys’ boots.

Three goals conceded by Greece, all from Greece’s left flank, where “Holes” is being humiliated by everybody – Piszczek, Blaszczykowski, now Jiracek, Gebre Selassie…
I’m already feeling sorry for this guy today, against Dzagoev and Anyukov!

Greece scored a (fair) goal in the end of the first half. It was (wrongly) disallowed for offside.

But, while the referees have been Greece’s enemies, the opponents’ goalkeeper have been Greece’s allies!
In the first game it was a Szczesny’s gift that caused Greece’s equalizer, and now it was a Cech’s gift that caused Gekas’ goal.

Awful tournament for Cech so far, with 5 goals conceded and beginner’s mistakes like this.
Let’s see if he can improve his level against Poland today, otherwise the Czech Republic will be in big trouble.

Compared to the first games, Russia played with the same team, while Poland played with Tyton on goal (Szczesny is suspended), and Dudka as an extra central midfielder, pushing Obraniak to the left wing and relegating Rybus to the subs bench.

Dzagoev scored Russia’s goal, his third in the tournament. It was also Arshavin’s 3rd assist.

Poland equalized by Blaszczykowski in the second half. It was one of the best goals of the tournament (so far my favourite is Welbeck’s against Sweden).

Russia tried the same substitution that worked so well against the Czech Republic: Pavlyuchenko replacing Kerzhakov. But this time it wasn’t effective, and the final result was 1-1.

Russia is almost qualified. Only a defeat against Greece and a win in the other game (either for Poland or the Czech Republic) can prevent it. There’s also the theoretical possibility of a draw in the other game and Greece defeating Russia by at least 6 goals. But that’s not going to happen.
Poland must defeat the Czech Republic, otherwise they’ll be eliminated.

Jon:  Tiki Taka is going to be the most overused phrase in football since Catenaccio.

Michael: Shame Zone Mista never caught on as a buzz word. I like it.
 So at the end of all of this, who is going to win? Haven’t a clue. I guess we should have a séance and ask Paul the Octopus...

What, too soon? I'll get my coat.

(All quotes from, except Brain Glanvilles which can be found in his weekly column at World Soccer)