The Czech Republic, who will play Portugal on Thursday, Germany, who will play Greece the following day, Spain, who come up against France on Saturday and England, who have Italy as their opponents on Sunday, are the group winners of Euro 2102. The 8 teams contest the quarter finals of the competition which has seen the two host nations, Poland and Ukraine, go out, as well as Holland and Russia, surprisingly, Sweden, put out by the French, Croatia, who have said goodbye, Ireland and Denmark. Let’s analyse how the groups ended and try to explain a few issues we saw right up to the end.
The surprise Greeks
Poland began their third and decisive match as they had the other games, playing at a high intensity, attacking with more success on the right and with the system they have been using in the Euros: 1-4-1-4-1.
Because of this attacking mentality, they won a few wide free kicks and were a threat to Petr Cech’s goal in the opening minutes. They didn’t have much intensity or co-ordination in their pressing but they did have desire and commitment to go forward when they got the ball back.
They were gradually losing control of the match, though and also losing confidence. Especially as news came through of the less than favourable scoreline between Russia and Greece. To finally extinguish all hope, the Czech goal was a blow they could not recover from.
Dudka was playing as a lone centre midfield player, and as time went on, they were becoming unable to stop penetrating passes to the Czech forwards
The Czech Republic, playing 1-4-2-3-1, were building up from the back and if they were pressed looking to play long behind the Polish defence. They weren’t too effective with this strategy. They looked as if they weren’t going to risk too much and wanted to run down the clock. Baros was isolated up front and was not much of a threat.
In the second half though, the score in the other match spurred them on and in a good counter attack from Baros in the 71st minute, Jirasek put his side ahead with a goal that in the end would see them through.
Straight after, the substitutions started and the attitude changed. Poland started to become anxious, got forward and left lots of space behind them which the Czechs used to counter.
To make the group even more exciting, Poland had a chance in the 94th minute which was cleared off the line. The home team had not gone through but the Russians, despite their excellent start to the tournament, had also gone out because of their own defensive errors.
And looking in to what happened to the Russians in the other game, Greece beat them to give us the first surprise of the tournament.
The Greeks went with a 1-4-2-3-1 and played Karagounis in front of the midfield to use his ability and save his energy.
For their part, the Russians used their normal 1-4-3-3 and tried to get at the opponent’s goal with one-twos through the middle and getting their full backs forward to give width while the Greeks were dropping off and defending aggressively in numbers. Without being expansive, but overcoming any problems with a good spirit, the Greeks went through to the next round.
Russia got their attacks going but their crosses, shots and finishes from distance were not enough to compensate for the massive defensive mistake by Ignashevich which cost them the game and ultimately elimination at a simple throw-in. It is common to see Russian teams following man to man in defence. This lack of covering and poor starting positions by the back line, depending more on the player in the zone, meant they could not regain position to stop Karagounis’s goal.
Dzagoev, Arshavin and Zhirkov again created danger in attack but they could not influence the game and they paid dearly.
Their superiority gave them confidence but the Greek goal in added time in the first half made things very difficult. They lost confidence and calmness to know how to play the second half.
Denisov could have scored form a long shot but even more dangerous was the Greek attack through Tzavelllas with a free kick which hit the woodwork.
Dzagoev almost scored in the last few minutes but he could change the score and the Greeks surprised us again in a Euros tournament, though, honestly, it doesn’t look as though it will be as great as last time.
The Portuguese challenge
On the last day of the so-called ‘group of death’, it certainly turned out that way for Holland, and it confirmed qualification for one of the big favourites, Germany, Portugal have put down a challenge in my opinion. When I wrote about the Portuguese in the blog, I said I liked the look of them. It only required Cristiano Ronaldo to show his true level and they could look real candidates. Against a weak Holland side he was able to do that and the truth is he made the difference.
The Portuguese went with a clear 1-4-3-3 whilst the Dutch looked to match up with their 1-4-2-3-1, trying to stifle their best players but with a system which didn’t look able to adapt to their characteristics much. I felt that this prevented them going further.
The ‘Orange’ defence could hardly deal with the pace and counter attacks of the Portuguese, and their attack, with a much more offensive team, didn’t have enough to get through a solid Portuguese defence. With the inclusion of Van der Vaart in the middle, with Sneijder, Van Persie, Huntelaar and Robben in attack, it was clearly a brave and risky gamble by the Dutch coach who laid all his cards on the table. It’s also clear that this would have an effect on the balance of the team dealing with loss of possession and the consequent counter attacks by Ronaldo, Nani and company were a constant problem for a relatively high line who are not the quickest or most co-ordinated unit.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, in attack they didn’t move the ball quick enough to surprise a well positioned Portuguese defence. Also the tendency of players like Sneijder, playing on the left, to come inside was leaving space for Pereira to go forward and accompanied by Nani or Meireles was able to create problems on that side. To make things even more difficult, Ronaldo and Coentrao, with contribution from Moutinho, were able to get through on the other side. The truth is that De Jong who was the lone defensive midfield player couldn’t cover these areas. When Cristiano Ronaldo, in the 27th minute, equalised a great Van der Vaart goal, you could see the Portuguese team controlling the match and they were very dangerous in possession.
In the second half, Bert Van Marwijk tried to adjust his system putting Robben on the left, Van Persie on the right and Sneijder in his favourite position just behind Huntelaar. Portugal, through Cristiano Ronaldo, began to get behind the defence and look like scoring. Although he had to wait for it, until the 74th minute. So, except for another good strike by Van der Vaart, this time with his right against the post, the Dutch team couldn’t get close.
As for the changes for both teams, the introduction of Afellay for Willems is an attacking gamble again by the Dutch coach. But honestly they didn’t have an impact offensively and were still having defensive problems as the team got stretched leaving too much space between the lines and on both wings.
Then came an excellent pass by Nani to Ronaldo in a counter attack and the lad from Madeira made it 2-1 extinguishing Dutch hopes.
At the end, on 88 minutes, there was time for a Dutch one touch move that stood out. But the final shot from Van Persie was weak and Cristiano with a shot against the post could have got the third goal for his team and himself in the tournament.
Something to note for the next game, Portugal defended corners with up to seven players in zones and at wide free kicks, including those near the box, they had a lot of players on the edge of the box not dropping off until the last second
In conclusion, some good feelings about the Portuguese who come up against the Czech Republic on Thursday, and if they play at the same level, they look to me as if they will be favourites to go through.
And so we come to Germany-Denmark in which the Germans started with 1-4-2-3-1 whilst the Danes kept their 1-4-1-4-1. With Boateng’s suspension, Joachim Low had to decide whether to move Howedes to full back, as he is a centre back who has played full back, or use Lars Bender. He chose the wide player from Bayer Leverkusen for his attacking play and the selection had a positive because the young player could use the ball better and could arrive late if there was space. As well as his regular attacks, he scored which was a bonus, the first for him and it will be an indelible memory for him and an enormous satisfaction for the coach. I am sure that his twin brother, Sven, a Borussia Dortmund player, also enjoyed the goal and Germany’s qualification.
With the 1-2 win against Denmark, Germany confirmed their status as candidates to be favourites to win the trophy. Portugal’s win in the other match meant that any mistake, just one goal, could have pushed Germany out. But the Germans kept their cool and their confidence to hold on for the win.
Khedira has become a very important player helping his team mates in midfield and at the same time playing well with enough freedom and this has given him confidence.
As for Denmark, they have been a good team, disciplined with clear ideas. But they have lacked daring or maybe quality to go through. Their full backs get forward frequently and provide good crosses for Bendtner, added to which they have midfielders arriving late and a solid defence in the middle but it wasn’t enough. Their coach, Morten Olsen, said after the game that they had played against a fantastic team, praising the Germans. But somehow this may mark a lack of confidence in their own chances.
Podolski’s goal in the 19th minute seemed to set the tone for the game but Dehli equalised on 24 minutes putting the Germans in a dangerous position as we said, thanks to Portugal’s scoreline. Bender got the winner and it only seemed right that one of the better teams went through.
In the second half, Neuer had little to do and the fatigue of Kvist and Zimling allowed Khedira and Ozil to control that area of the pitch. Schweinsteiger was deeper initiating play from midfield and allowed Ozil to move behind the striker and look for a key pass as he does best.
In conclusión, Germany is a real candidate to win the tournament as they are solid and have enormous trust in themselves but they also have quality in a lot of players and goalscoring from Mario Gomez or players coming from deep. His physique is another factor to take in to account if a game is tight so they have a lot of options to use. We will see what happens against Greece.
Spain do it their way
And so we get to Group C and the game with a lot of speculation but came to little. Spain paid no attention to the pre-match talking and went their own way against Croatia. Just win the game, get three points and finish top.
Croatia started with a 1-4-2-3-1 system in attack converting to 1-4-5-1 in defence. Spain, for their part, began with their customary 1-4-3-3. The Croat team knew that Spain would have the possession, so they concentrated more on defending well, reducing space between the lines, getting men behind the ball and helping defenders on the wing to control 1v1 situations with a lot of hard work. This is a plan for not losing. But this leaves out an important issue, you have to devise a plan to win. And in trying to do that, and they didn’t do it badly, they had to counter attack. When Modric held on to the ball to the last second and passed to Rakitic, they created the Croatians’ best chance and the plan and the hard work could have borne fruit. But the Spanish team have great players in each part of the team and in goal they have Casillas, who has as one of his assets great concentration to act on the few occasions he has to intervene. This is the quality of a great goalkeeper in a great team and Casillas is definitely that.
The other ploy Croatia could use was set pieces using their height. This strategy didn’t provide much though as the replays showed, there were debatable incidents in both boxes which could have changed things.
The most notable Croatian success came through the attacks on the right by Srna, assisted by Rakitic, and the performance of Modric, showing the ability he is renowned for in the Premier League, good control of the ball and movement between lines. To sum up, the Croatians did well against a team they showed respect and this maybe shows they lacked ambition although it is always difficult to know what would have happened if they had attacked more and left spaces behind and between lines which the Spanish may have exploited.
As for Spain, certainly they were not comfortable throughout the match. The numbers the Croatians got in defence and their hard work made the Spanish play difficult and they couldn’t find the final pass to create a chance. They had possession, the full backs were open and high to give width but often they made the wrong decision. The three midfield players, Hernandez, Busquets and Alonso were available and switched positions but the transitions were too slow and mistakes on penetrating passes gave encouragement to the Croat defenders who saw their effort being rewarded. The sporadic involvement of Iniesta and Silva were not enough to get the ball to a willing Fernando Torres who was looking for space which wasn’t there due to the deep Croatian defence.
The introduction of Navas gave them a bit more width and the chance to unbalance the defence wide. Along with this, Fabregas coming on was important, not just because it was him but also because he would come short to receive and allow Iniesta and Navas to get in from deep. His excellent pass, under no pressure, found space behind the centre backs and Iniesta and Navas did the rest. 1-0 to Spain, taking them to the top of the group with Italy also going through. France, in the case of Spain, and England in the case of Italy await them.
And talking of Italy, their last match in the group phase was a decaffeinated affair against Ireland which we had to look at later as we saw the Spain-Croatia match first. The Italians won 2-0 against the Republic of Ireland though the other game may have been of more interest to some of them as they almost forgot about their own game. The Irish as usual had desire but little threat.
The good news for Italy is that they went through. The bad news is the injury to Chiellini. At the start of the competition, there was a lot said about the Italian camp, of Barzagli having to leave through injury and Prandelli being forced to play three at the back with De Rossi as one of them in the first two matches. For this one Prandelli opted to play a back four with Abate on the right, Barzagli and Chiellini as centre backs and Balzaretti on the left. Chiellini could be missing for the next match but at least Barzagli is fit. In midfield Pirlo kept his place and Marchisio came in on the right but he and Motta and De Rossi can swap position in different parts of the game if necessary. Up front, Cassano and Di Natale.
The last match of the group has little to analyse. The Italians were better and knew it, not putting in the intensity you would expect in a game at this level, but it was enough to control the game as Ireland wanted to counter attack and try to get something from a set play. The beginning of the match showed Ireland’s intensity once again, with direct play looking for the second ball.
The goal by Cassano, who was with Di Natale, the most notable players in the Italian side, made Prandelli’s players unconsciously start to think more about the other game between Spain and Croatia than their own.
Ireland relied on a corner, a wide free kick, a shot from distance and a rebound but didn’t really cause a problem for the Italians. Bonucci came on for the injured Chiellini and nothing changed. Nor with Diamanti coming on for Cassano. But that wasn’t the case with Balotelli for Di Natale. It was the first time the Manchester City player had come off the bench, and when he got Italy’s second goal he didn’t look very happy. Prandelli, who is very competent, played down the incident and Bonucci tried to keep his team mate quiet and this may have prevented worse happening. If everything remains in the dressing room, the striker can be a threat to opponents, and England who are next.
As for Ireland, they say goodbye to the Euros with a feeling of ‘we tried but couldn’t. A good attitude on the pitch and in the crowd but few real chances to go further. When someone gives everything they have you can’t ask for more. Congratulations for getting there and good luck for the next competition.
England top the group
So we finish with Group D. It finished with England on top, second place going to France and goodbye to Sweden and the hosts Ukraine. Let’s look first at the England win against the team playing at home.
The systems were similar, 1-4-4-2 in both cases, with high lines but without intense pressing on either part, and the game had two distinct halves. A first half in which it looked as though Ukraine had been the better side, with clear ideas from the start as to how they would play. With long diagonal balls looking to get their wide players open for them to dribble inside, look for a wall pass or shot, leaving space for the full backs to get involved if they couldn’t get through.
Milner and Young had to help the defence going very deep and England’s threat was at set plays and a couple of long diagonals for Young who put in a good cross for Rooney or through use of some timid counter attacks.
One stat which I use with caution as usual. In the 24th minute, Ukraine had had 9 shots to noe for England. And so England were getting deeper and ended up defending the edge of the box.
In the second half, when everyone seemed to be questioning Hodgson’s decision to play Rooney he got the goal. Football does that and makes people go quiet. Gerrard, with a good cross from the right after a corner found Rooney alone at the back post where he only had to make a simple header after the ball had deflected off three players. It was 1-0 and the game was going how England wanted: the Ukrainians had to attack to try to equalise and the English, dropped off, compact and disciplined could defend with intensity to come out on the counter to finish the game off.
In the 53rd minute, a corner taken poorly by Ukraine gave way to a counter attack in which Yarmolenko showed he is quicker than Rooney and got the ball just as he was about to get in on goal.
The Ukrainians continued to play well but had problems in defence from crosses andkept leaving space behind and between lines. As for England, their game was based on what Gerrard could do when he had the ball at his feet and on counter attacks. Then they produced the match’s key moment. The home team tried to play out from the back with England pressing high with their back four pushed up. It produced a 2v2 counter attack and Devic managed to shoot and under the bar but inside the goal, Terry cleared. The assistant, perfectly placed, didn’t give the goal. Play continued and Parker was brought down on the edge of the box in a dangerous counter attack for England.
From then on, the game was continuous attacking by the Ukrainians, with shots from outside the box and wasteful attacks with sporadic counter attacks from England, some dangerous. England won their second match and the 7 points put them top of the group.
And France had to settle for second place and a contest with Spain. It was something of a surprise in their match with Sweden. The Swedes went with a 1-4-4-2 system with Toivonen alongside Ibrahimovic to use his runs in to the box and it didn’t look bad. The Scandinavian team was always organised, though France had more possession , but with clear ideas from the outset, trusting in team effort and using their play in the final third to take advantage of counter attacks. They got better, improving their transition defence-attack with players like Kallstrom who was passing accurately. Ibrahimovic was moving well on the edge of the final third and arriving from deep to get behind the defence. Larsson on the right was clever and was involved with his side’s first goal and scoring the second. They were also quite dangerous at set pieces and with their solid defence, good performances by their centre backs and midfield, we could start to expect a favourable result for them with their departure already confirmed and against one of the tournament favourites.
France played 1-4-2-3-1, changing to 1-4-4-2 in the second half with the introduction of Giroud. The French showed signs occasionally of their quality in midfield and attack but were not good as a team. They had more shots on goal, 17, but only 4 on target. Their position in the table maybe due to a lack of intensity. The combination of Diarra and M’Vila in midfield does not give them pace and the clear ideas of build up play which the forwards need. If Debuchy gives them options in attack, the full getting forward on the right and using Ben Arfa’s movement as he comes inside. Along with Ben Arfa, the central and between lines play of Ribery and Nasri will be one of the key areas for the French. Benzema tends to receive in the hole but France have a lot of players like that so it’s more dangerous if he tries to run behind the centre backs.
Finally, as we have seen before, the main problem for the French is their defensive co-ordination. They have good players but they do not cover well. The motivation and concentration they will need in the next game will be fundamental to improving their defending.
So now a short breather of only a day and we will be in the quarter-finals which promise to be intense and attractive as a lot of games have been up to now. The Czech Republic and Portugal start proceedings and then with no breaks, the rest follow. We look at them here and will ask for your contribution.