Sunday, 10 June 2012

Opening Day of Euro 2012: Group A

by Ben Willcocks

Roman Pavlyuchenko
In arguably the ‘easiest’ group of the four, Poland, Greece, Czech Republic and Russia started proceedings at the Euros yesterday. Before the very first match of Poland versus Greece, most of the pre-match hype was focused on the commentators rather than the teams and how well they would manage to cope with the various Polish names such as Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszcek. This Borussia Dortmund duo gave the visitors early problems down the right hand side and an overlap from Blaszczykowski made enough room to pick out an inch-perfect cross to target man Lewandowski, who gave the Poles a deserved 1-0 lead in the 17th minute.

This goal relaxed the hosts who began to flourish in a period of complete dominance. In this spell of Polish possession, the Greek giant, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, was unjustly booked for climbing over Lewandowski in an attempt to win a header. He then foolishly fouled Murawski in the 44th minute, receiving a second caution and leaving Greece a man down and a goal down at half time.

Fernando Santos will be praised for his half time substitution of striker Salpingidis, who became a Greek god in the second half, sliding a shot past the shell-shocked Poles and into the bottom left-hand corner.

The young Arsenal goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny saw a straight red in the 69th minute, which gave substitute Przemyslaw Tyton the important task of saving the penalty. A majestic dive to his left saw Tyton become Szczesny’s new best friend, as his save kept the game in the balance. Although the Greeks battled on for the victory, their party was spoilt by the linesman, who correctly disallowed a 75th minute tap-in. The points were therefore shared equally, despite it being open game throughout.

In the second game of the night, Russia faced the Czech Republic. Tomas Rosicky was a breath of fresh air for the Czechs in the first 10 minutes, showing a lot of attacking intent and creativity, however, despite his best efforts, he couldn’t equalise for his team, squandering numerous chances from outside the penalty area.

Dzagoev broke the deadlock early on, after a header from Kerzhakov hit the far post and fell to the Russian’s feet, who buried it into Petr Cech’s bottom right hand corner. He had another chance in front of goal, when he broke free of the defence, but his shot could only find the side-netting.

The Arsenal winger, Andrei Arshavin, who struggled this season in the Premier League, was an inspiration down the left hand side. He answered his critics well, assisting Shirokov with a perfect pass opening up their defence. The big Russian defender took his chance well, doubling Russia’s lead.

Kerzhakov, Russia’s most reliable player in front of goal was experiencing a lot of problems in the first half, which was a worry for the men in white. The target man had a golden opportunity to put his name on the score sheet, but he lost his balance and his shot fired over the bar. He was then given another chance to extend the lead but once again he lacked composure.

The Czech Republic somehow grabbed a goal back through Vaclav Pilar, who took it round the Russian goalkeeper and passed it into an empty net, which gave the quiet fans something to cheer about.

The Czechs managed to maintain possession and began to play with confidence. However, during this spell, Kerzhakov broke free of the defence twice, with opportunities to seal the victory, only to find both of his shots blazing wide of the goal. Tomas Rosisky almost managed to rescue a point for the trailing side, but a fantastic save from Malafeev kept the score at 2-1, as the game turned into the final 10 minutes.

Some one-touch, fluid passing from the Russians gave Dzagoev enough room to grab his second of the game, as he converted the opportunity with a powerful effort, which gave Cech no chance. Roman Pavlyuchenko, minutes after coming off the bench for the exhausted Kerzhakov, fired a shot into the roof of the net, putting the Czechs out of their misery.

So what does this mean in Group A? Russia is in a commanding position now as they are two points clear at the top with a three-goal cushion. On the other hand, there are a few worries for the Russian fans, as their key striker, Kerzhakov, is lacking composure in front of goal, and against better teams they will surely be punished if they don’t take their opportunities. With Pavlyuchenko scoring emphatically after just a few minutes on the field, the manager will have an extremely difficult decision next game, as there is healthy competition upfront.

The Czech Republic is evidently in the worst position and is now favourite to finish bottom of the group. Their attack held its own thanks to Tomas Rosisky’s creativity and flair, but the defence looked out of shape and completely disorganised. Despite the Czechs having the world class Champions League winner, Petr Cech, in goal, Russia still managed to slip four past him.

Greece, although scraping a point, were looking far from comfortable. In my opinion they couldn’t keep up with the pace of the game, especially against Poland, who looked sharp on the counter. Former Portsmouth keeper Chalkias was flapping for Greece in a very similar manner as he was when he was keeping down at the south coast, which better teams such as Russia should look to exploit.

Finally, the reaction of Polish keeper Wojech Szczesny after Tyton saved the penalty was one of complete elation, which many thought was surprising as he could lose his place to the substitute goalkeeper. Szczensny, however, showed his selflessness by jumping up and down backstage and hugging a random cleaner who walked past, highlighting that the name on the front of the shirt is far more important than the name on the back. The striker Lewandowksi, who has been in inspired form in the Bundesliga this season, helping Dortmund climb over rivals FC Schalke and Bayern Munich by scoring the most goals in the division, looks to have carried on his good form into the Euros.

See George Kimber-Sweatman's report on England's 3-2 victory over Sweden:

1 comment:

  1. Mr Jordan comments:

    "As Euro 2012 has got going it has been amusing to hear pupils talk about how dour and defensive England have become. Well fear not children as those of us with very longer memories will recall the excitement when the “boring” England of Gazza, Waddle and Lineker made it to the semi-finals of Italia 90 on the back of just 5 goals (in normal time) in 6 games and were only denied a place in the final by several missed penalties. So lets go for another dour game tonight with as few goals as possible. 1-0 to the Engerland is all we need!" --- Mr. Jordan


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