EURO 2012 – Review of First Round Games of the Group Stage
The first set of matches in the Euro 2012 group stage is complete. The tournament has included an amazing game between Italy and Spain, a surprising upset of Denmark over the Netherlands, and a heroic individual performance from thirty-five-year-old Ukraine striker Andriy Shevchenko.
Shevchenko, Russia midfielder Alan Dzagoev, and Croatia forward Mario Mandzukic lead the race for the Golden Boot, which is the trophy given to the most prolific goal scorer of the tournament, with two goals each.
Italy v. Spain on Sunday provided perhaps the most interesting and entertaining game so far. Spain started with a false nine, or a withdrawn center forward that creates space for others to run into, and no striker. Italy played with three defenders, which included makeshift central defender Daniele De Rossi, five midfielders and two powerful strikers in a 3-5-2 that was quite popular in the Italian Serie A this last season. The game featured fantastic passing, intelligent runs, and two memorable goals.
Denmark provided the upset of the tournament so far when they defeated the heavily favored Dutch 1-0 on Saturday. Perhaps the Danes played well – and they were organized on defense in the second half, but the Netherlands certainly squandered many chances in front of the goal. Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder provided terrific service to strikers Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, who were unable to finish properly.
Co-host Ukraine beat Sweden in the final game of the first set of matches. Shevchenko graciously stunned the home crowd and almost single-handedly won the game. Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic also showed his power, but Ukraine prevailed after Sweden missed many chances to score.
Germany and Russia looked like the strongest teams in the tournament. Germany played patiently against Portugal and won 1-0. Russia defeated a much weaker Czech Republic 4-1 through the counter attack. Russia relied on player chemistry, and five of their six attackers played together at FC Zenit St. Petersburg under coach Luciano Spalletti, who is also known for a counter-attacking style.
But not everything has been fantastic so far. Ireland turned in the most disappointing team performance of the tournament against Croatia. While Croatia is a much stronger team on paper and dominated the game, Ireland gave up soft goals and played miserably at the back, which was one of their strongest aspects during qualifying. England v France provided the dullest game so far. Neither team seemed willing to win. England appeared to only want to defend and looked bad trying to move forward. France had the majority of possession and chances to score, but many of these chances were from long range that never really tested the England goalkeeper.
Looking forward, Russia can advance to the quarterfinals with a win over Poland today. Poland will be without their goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who is suspended after picking up a red card against Greece. Reserve ‘keeper Przemyslaw Tryton seems more than up for the task after an impressive performance in the first game. Russia should expect Poland to attack from the right side again with Borussia Dortmund players Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek feeding Robert Lewandowski. It also remains to be seen whether Poland’s second half letdown against Greece in the first game was a result of overtraining, as Lewandowski complained prior to the tournament.
In the other game today, Greece will play the Czech Republic. Greece played poorly in the first half against Poland, but played well after making adjustments to the front three attackers. Greece will be without their preferred center backs Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who is suspended after receiving a red, and Avraam Papadopoulos, who is now out of the tournament due to a knee injury. The Czech Republic will hope Tomas Rosicky and Milan Baros are able to find each other and create more chances than in the first game.