The second round of matches is complete in the Euro 2012 group stages and we have had a look at the main issues of an interesting tournament which has now claimed a few victims. Two teams are definitely out and those remaining will have to wait for the last match and finish this stage in the best possible way. Ireland's defeat against Spain and yesterday Sweden's at the hands of England issued their return tickets. At the opposite end, Germany have almost qualified for the next stage and a few of the other candidates have almost done their jobs to think about the next level. Whatever, we are getting closer and we will evaluate what happened. Let's go.
Everything to play for
Host nation Poland came up against a brilliant Russia who had resoundedly beaten the Czech Republic and it ended with Poland’s second successive draw (1-1). The home team started with the intensity and tempo they had shown in their first match drawn with Greece. With a system of 1-4-1-4-1 they had less possession than the Russian side but they also used counter attack well. Especially on the right with Blaszczykowski as a threat which was shown in his excellent goal when he came inside from the wing. The Poles penetrated well in attacking with players from their second line, but showed some poor positioning in defence, especially at wide free kicks.
As for Russia, they began with 1-4-3-3 mainly relying on the quality of their attacking players. Namely, as we saw also in their first match of the Euros, their wide players Arshavin and Dzagoev (who scored their first goal making it three in all), and they were able to get overload in the middle with their co-ordinated movement inside. Also they had phases where kept the ball well patiently looking for the right option and came out well on the counter attack. Zhirkov again attacked often on the left, always looking dangerous and their main problems came stopping counter attacks. Especially centrally where their centre backs are not quick and their shortcomings were exposed. On a more positive note, they were good at set pieces and if they look at their defensive problems they could be one of the tournaments surprise teams. Maybe the winter break they have in their domestic league gives them a physical edge now and it could be an advantage in the next few games.
In the Greece-Czech Republic match, as they had done in the first match, Greece got better over the 90 minutes. They started with 1-4-3-3 but lacked concentration which resulted in them conceding a couple of goals in the first six minutes which had an impact on the rest of the game. Their players lacked tempo and intensity in defence, they couldn’t keep the ball in attack and really troubled the opposition. In the second half though, with the system now 1-4-4-2 and a much better attitude, they were more direct when they had to be and had more of the ball with better combination play as well as more intensity in pressing to regain the ball, always through their change of mentality rather than through tactics, and they had more of a chance to draw level something they couldn’t manage despite Gekas goal (53 minutes).
The Czechs, with 1-4-2-3-1, found themselves two goals up at the start as the opposition had allowed them to do and this made them much more comfortable until Cech’s mistake woke the Greeks up who then pressed the Czech goal to the end of the game.
Rosicky was key player in attack with good movement between the lines and showing to create triangles with his team mates. But his enforced departure through injury weakened their team play and meant that they had to suffer until the final whistle. The attacks by the full back G. Selassie created overload on the right and the players in their second line, Pilar, Jirasek and Rosicky were the foundations for most of their attacks. In defence, the centre backs and their centre midfield were steady and only at the end, against Greek pressure, did they have the problems we mentioned.
In summary, Group A has all to play for in the decisive and exciting last match. Better for the game and us as spectators.
Germany nearly have their passport
Holland came in to their second match feeling they had missed a great opportunity against Denmark when they had been the better team but had not been effective. However, after their game against Germany the reality they face is that they have not shown a balance between attack and defence at any time which you have to have in competitive and intense tournaments like this one.
Their starting system was 1-4-2-3-1, this time with Mathijsen in place of Vlaar as the left centre back and the same two midfield players, De Jong and Van Bommel who had played in their first game. Mario Gomez’s excellent movement and the poor defensive movement of the Dutch was absolutely key to the German win. Along with poor positioning at the back, Holland had difficulty with the ball. Van Bommel had to play higher, often between the lines, to link up with the forwards and that’s not his game. This made the transitions too slow, no clear passing lines in attack and also meant they were slow to regroup defensively allowing a German team to play simple, accurate combinations penetrating the Holland defence.
The Dutch coach reacted and the introduction of Huntelaar and Van der Vaart in the second half, and later on Kuyt, made them change their shape and become more attacking, having more of the ball and better penetration. With Van Persie’s goal they pressed more but the Germans were steady in defence and in the end they got the three points almost putting them through to the next stage.
Germany, with their 1-4-2-3-1 system, controlled the game with good possession and by taking their chances. The centre backs, Badstuber and Hummels, played out from the back, Lahm got forward often on the wing and Schweinsteiger controlled the play safely, supported by Ozil and the hardworking Khedira in midfield. If we add to this the assured finishing of Mario Gomez we are talking about one of the big favourites for the final. At least that’s what it they look like.
Denmark went in to their second match with confidence. Their performance against Holland gave them a certain calmness for this game. Their system was again 1-4-2-3-1 and they looked optimistic about the outcome. Nevertheless, Bendtner’s good performance, scoring two goals, wasn’t enough to get the result. Defensive mistakes, not dealing with the second ball, were crucial in the analysis of the goals they let in. The build up play from the back wasn’t bad but it was a bit slow. The wide players didn’t get behind at all hardly and the team lacked accuracy in the final pass. With Zimling going off they were less organised and balanced and never controlled the game.
Portugal, with their customary 1-4-3-3 that they had used against Germany, were much more effective than Denmark in the final third. They used their set plays well and they had more individual quality than their opponents. Coentrao got forward often on the left and the wide players Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani went past players too often for the Danes in 1v1 situations. They dropped off in the second half and broke up the game with tactical free kicks when they looked as if they had a defensive problem. Despite the individual quality of many of their players, in Portugal they are much happier playing counter attack taking advantage of the space behind opposition defences.
Spain mark their territory
In Group C, Italy started their match with Croatia with the same system they had used in their match against Spain, a pragmatic 1-3-5-2. The difference here was in the way the Croats set up, starting with 1-4-4-2 which gave them numerically two against three Italian defenders and the ability to combine together leaving one defender free.
Slaven Bilic, the Croatian coach, knew the Italians were versatile because they could play ‘catenaccio’, could keep possession with five in midfield or be very direct with Balotelli and Cassano as the two strikers. Maybe he was right, because the system and characteristics of their players allow them to do this. In the first half, the Italians controlled the game and got forward more. They also showed their capabilities at set plays. Especially from the everlasting Pirlo at a free kick which gave the Italians a temporary advantage.
In attack, their full backs gave them width and were good physically to constantly get up and down the pitch. Their three centre midfield had quality to keep possession and look for a key pass or even finish depending on the situation or shoot from distance. And they did in the first half. Defensively they were aggressive and if necessary De Rossi could cut out a key pass. If that wasn’t enough, Buffon is an enormous goalie for opposition strikers to face and gives his teammates confidence with his experience.
In the second half, perhaps because they were a goal up or maybe because they were not physically fresh as their coach Cesar Prandelli had said, the Italians played a bit deeper and gave the initiative to Croatia who in the first half had tried to come out quickly on the counter attack but giving possession back to Italy, but in the second half decided to come out to get a draw at least and the attacks of the full backs, Strinic and Srna, plus more involvement from Modric gave them control of the game.Thanks to more occupation of the opponent’s half, they got the goal through Mandzukic, his third from a great cross by Strinic on one of his many forays with the Wolfsburg striker getting behind the defence.
From then on, the Croatians pressed and the Italians struggled to hold on which leaves both teams with a chance to go through.
To finish Group C, Spain and the Republic of Ireland played their usual systems. The 1-4-3-3 of Spain, this time with Fernando Torres as striker and the usual 1-4-4-2 of the Irish. Both showed their clear intentions from the outset. The Spanish as clear favourites and the Irish, with some trepidation, and without too much expectation of getting a positive result but with a’ nothing to lose’ mentality. Expectations were soon confirmed after four minutes, Torres putting Spain in front knocking what little confidence the Irish had.
Trapattoni’s men timidly showed their hand, direct play and trying to win the second ball with the hope of surprising the opposition at set plays with their physical strength. As for Spain they were showing their best play and repertoire of touches, passes, combinations and especially their pressing after losing possession. As in their better games, the Spanish used their wide players, with Alvaro Arbeloa and Jordi Alba getting forward a lot exploiting the space left by David Silva or Andres Iniesta with their intelligent, well-timed movement inside. The Irish had problems stopping the combination play in the middle by the little Spanish lads, Fernando Torres kept the centre backs busy with his runs and Alonso was free and had time to find the attacking full backs, especially Arbeloa, with his long diagonals to forward positions.
Robbie Keane was always closet o Sergio Busquets in defence but it wasnt enough to stop the circulation of the ball by the Spanish, with players like Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and David Silva being mobile and difficult to mark. The tremendous quality of the Spanish players allowed them to play precise, quick passes, combined with their pressing if they lost the ball, made it impossible for the Irish to stop them so 4-0 was a true reflection of the gap in quality on the day between the two teams.
The stats at the end showed possession to be 72% to 28% for the Spanish and the Irish respectively. This only serves to show the remarkable Spanish superiority shown also by the score.
Ireland had problems with the ball and they could only use their passion and combative nature in the game. David Silva’s goal, with a bit of luck as he said, but showing immaculate and amazing control inside the box, Cesc Fabregas’s, from a quickly taken short corner, and the two Fernando Torres goals, like he was at his best, with power and superiority, beating the defenders, all show the variety of the abilities at the World Champion’s disposal, led by Del Bosque. After this exhibition, they will be favourites, big favourites and rightly so.
On a strictly personal level, allow me to publicly say that I am pleased to see David Silva in the World Champions starting line-up as I remember well his debut, at only 17, for Valencia CF in a friendly with Castellon, and Fernando Torres, Arbeloa and Alonso who developed so much in the Premier League.
France and England look to go through
Out of expectation and because they were at home, the Ukrainians started their match against France with high intensity, a good application and motivation. Founded on a 1-4-4-2 system and cheered on by their fans, they pressed in numbers all over the pitch and in the first few minutes they got forward taking risks in defence. France, for their part, were 1-4-2-3-1 and stretching play through Ribery and Menez to make the pressing difficult and to move the ball more easily. What looked like a good start had to be postponed because of torrential rain although some fans looked as though it wasn’t bothering them.
Nazarenk in midfield was running to both sides of the pitch pressing players and, while it was helping to defend, it was also causing problems for the team as he was constantly losing position and left lots of space for the French to get through.
From the beginning you could see that Ribery was up for the game, heavily involved and therefore much more dangerous in attack. Clichy came in to replace Evra for this game and he was getting forward on the wing. There were chances for France, especially at set plays, and a clear one for Ukraine falling to Shevchenko which was saved by Lloris during the first half. The French had the possession and Ukraine were counter attacking dangerously.
In the second half, the French went in front early and this made the Ukrainians gradually take more risks and leave more gaps in the defence. They didn’t create much of a threat in attack and were much more vulnerable in defence.
The French team continued to control play with their full backs, Debuchy and Clichy, getting forward and Cabaye in the middle supporting well and getting in to the box as was the case for their second goal, and their attacking players, Ribery and Menez wide and coming inside when necessary or Nasri and Benzema supporting between the lines.
Benzema’s supporting movements were much more effective this time, because they had penetration wide since Ribery was much more active and Menez also was getting through. In the end, France won easily and deserved to.
And we finished with the intense and passionate England-Sweden game. Both teams started 1-4-4-2 with both having the same idea, drop off. Near the goal, when they didn’t have the ball, in the case of the Swedes and slightly higher were the English. With this plan, England could impose their quality on the game initially and bothered the Swedes who were defending efficiently near their box. The presence of Carroll allowed them to play high balls and Wellbeck was moving well round him looking for second balls.
Milner was in the game a lot on the right but it was Gerrard from that position who, with an excellent cross, put the ball in the box for Carroll to make it 1-0 with a good header.
In the first half, Sweden had a few shots from outside the box but little else. England were not too much of a threat and couldn’t really get through the Swedish defence. They were two organised and disciplined sides without a lot of intensity in defence and low tempo when they had the ball.
At the start of the second half the equaliser came at a play where the English defence, after a shot by Ibrahimovic, should have pushed out quicker to press the ball and also leave the Sweden strikers in an offside position.
The two teams kept their shape and were compact so the second goal came in the only way it could, through a set piece. It was a foul taken from the left by Larsson and Mellberg, completely unmarked, headed it in to the back of the net to make it 2-1. On 60 minutes, Walcott came on for Milner. A few moments later, after a corner, he got the second goal from outside the box surprising Isakson, maybe with the flight of the ball, and with all the players in front of him he couldn’t see it.
The rest of the match didn’t offer much more. Few goal chances, occasional dangerous shots from distance and both teams cancelling each other out with a lot of players behind the ball when they lost it. We had to wait until the 77th minute to see anything different. It was a cross by Walcott, who with his pace ran in to the box and it was finished well by Wellbeck to make it 3-2 and give the win and the three points to England with the added bonus of only needing a draw with Ukraine in the last match.
Needing to get up the pitch, Sweden pushed up and left space behind which resulted in a couple of dangerous counters by England. The remainder of the game was Sweden attacking Hart’s goal with crosses which the defence and the goalkeeper dealt with easily. As they say in England, Hodgson team depends on him as he is sitting in the conductor’s seat.
So with all this, without a break, we are ready for the third and final round of matches when the placings and the future of some will be sorted. For those who will stay in the competition and those who will be packing their bags. Here we will keep updating you and look for your contributions.