The first round of games has been played in all the groups, four, in the finals of Euro 2012 and it’s a good time to analyse, dissect and take stock of what’s gone on so far which we will try to do here as we usually do with your helpful contribution. As always, we will look at the issues, listen to your open and varied opinions which make for good reading. Let’s go.
Russia set a standard
To demonstrate the unwritten rule that most opening games in major championships end in a draw, Poland and Greece were level at the end of the first match. The home team, as per the script, played 1-4-2-3-1 with Lewandowsky scoring the first goal of the tournament. The striker gave us the impression that he was not as influential as we expected nor as is usual in his matches. In the first half of the opening match in the Euros, the home team had a good tempo which could have been influenced by the fact that they were at home. Whatever it was, they played well in the first half but seemd to pay for it in the second half as their game tempo dropped.
Especially as the match seemed to be going in their favour after the sending off of Papastathopoulos for two yellows before the break. They started the half with an extra man and the score in their favour. But they couldn’t take advantage and, I must say, Greece came back well overcoming adversity to equalise. Then up popped Dimitris Salpingidis. After the red card for Szczesny of Poland, they had the chance to do it but the penalty was missed by Karagounis. So we were left to speculate. What did stand out was the attacking play on the right by the Polish full back Piszczek and his combination play and understanding with Blaszczykowski for the home side. For the visitors, there was good reading of the game by Karagounis and the introduction of Salpingidis in the second half attacking from deep.
In the other game in Group A, Russia set the standard and disposed of the Czech Replublic with authority top ut them top of the group. In all honesty, we have to say that Dick Advocaat’s players were much more effective, set up in a 1-4-3-3 from the start, but with interesting movement inside from out by Arshavin and Dzagoev, who got behind the opposition defence, presenting an additional problem as this allowed the full backs to attack dangerously. It should be noted here that Yuri Zhirkov showed his real quality and the reason that someone like Roman Abramovich took him to Chelsea. The remarkable contribution of Alan Dzagoev who showed his repertoire of quality which can at times be intermittent.
As for the opposition, the Czech players only came in to it after 50 minutes, already 2-0 down in the Wroclaw stadium, having shown defensive weaknesses in positioning which ended up losing them the game. The obvious ability of Tomas Rosciky and the notable movement of Vaclav Pilar on the left, scorer of the goal for Michal Bilek’s side.
Although Holland started as favourites in their encounter with Denmark, and with their squad, rightly so, but it was the Danes who managed to win and get three points which was unexpected. They managed to do it against the script because we could see that Bert Van Marwijk’s team had more possession and better movement of the ball. They had more shots on goal, but accuracy and threat was another thing, and they were surprised by a Danish side with very clear ideas. At least in my opinion. They were very compact and ready to defend, set up in 1-4-2-3-1 to cancel out Holland’s system, strong in the middle, with excellent performances by Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer, and they were able to play the game on their terms and ended up winning thanks to the only goal scored by Michael Krohn-Dehli. You have to emphasise their team work, counter attacking and playing simply, and above all, pragmatically, with the best placed team mate, without taking risks and with some threat waiting patiently against a team like the Dutch. I was impressed by the organisation of Morten Olsen’s team in a game like this.
As for Holland, they did have more possession but as we said little penetration. They didn’t take the chances they had, and the truth is that it was not Robbie Van Persie’s night, a player with great potential. One last detail. As the game went on, the Dutch team became more stretched and made things easier for the Danes.
In the other match of the so-called ‘Group of Death’, Germany beat Portugal thanks to the devastating and irrefutable efficiency of Mario Gomez. It’s a bit strange that he is criticised for his lack of involvement in a game where he does his job which is scoring goals. This is the nature of football and all its trappings...
The Germans started with the forecast 1-4-2-3-1, giving an almost perfect mix of work rate and physcial strength with Samir Khedira and the quality and creativity of Mesut Ozil. They were the better team in large parts of encounter, and strangely when they scored the goal was just as the Portuguese started to counter attack and be more of a threat. Portugal, with their 1-4-3-3 and Ronaldo on the left, took too long from my point of view in getting involved in the game. Honestly I believe they have a good balance between quality in attack and strength in defence, and if they have confidence, they can go further in a competition like this. Another important fact which may be relevant. In the chances they had, their players with ability were involved which shows their potential and now all they’ve got to do is use them.
The favourites draw
A lot had been said about the whys and wherefores of the game between Spain and Italy in Group C. Spain, the big favourite for everybody, showed two distinct sides of their play in both halves of the game and you have to give them credit but also, I would say, to Italy. The Spanish took to the field with a 1-4-3-3 in theory, though Cesc Fabregas wasn’t playing as a striker and that gave them a few problems in finishing. But Del Bosque’s reaction was good, bringing on Torres and Navas, rearranging the team which could have looked like they had not got it right but would make everyone take notice in future games. This Vicente del Bosque is the same man who brilliantly took Spain to being World Champions not so long ago, the only time Spain have done it.
The Italians did well, you can’t deny it. Prandelli’s team went in to the game with clear ideas, prepared well, worked hard and thanks to the good work by their coach made things very difficult for Del Bosque’s team. Lots of people had talked about how to play Spain and the Itallians did several things, very interesting in my opinion, to do themselves justice. The back three to nullify the theoretical front three of Spain may have looked risky. But because Spain didn’t have a true centre forward, the defence was fairly comfortable for the whole game closing down any danger through the middle almost perfectly. Interesting. An important fact was that the pressure they tried to put on Pirlo to stop him playing wasn’t effective, because De Rossi, an excellent and versatile midfielder, was playing as a central defender, always controlling the play with no real pressure so he could play long avoiding the pressure on Pirlo and being able to create rpoblems for the Spanish defence. Another aspect. With Italy playing two strikers, there was always the chance for one of them to do something, especially with the introduction of Di Natale. The wide players confronted the Spanish full backs and defended their zones well and with Italy having three centre midfield, getting through the middle became difficult.
Del Bosque saw the problem and changed the shape of the team. Spain then had a striker plus width and ability on the wing with Navas, and they were notably better and chances came. Although it is true they lacked accuracy. At least they looked more dangerous.
Having said that, what is obvious, is that the two favourites in the group drew, as the ball always has the final word, and everything is equal with one less game to play.
Meanwhile, Croatia showed their talent and were superior to Ireland who couldn’t react after they conceded but did show what we all knew, that they have a good work ethic and desire and they are some way behind the others in the group. What stood out was the occasional show of quality they have with Duff and McGeady along with their threat at set plays which we previewed here.
Returning to Slaven Bilic’s Croatia, they had better possession and always had width mixing this up with movement inside by players like Perisic and Rakitic. Luka Modric played to his level, orchestrating play, and catalyst for the team playing well between the lines. Generally they are a balanced team and can adapt well to the game at any time.
Another draw for the classic teams
To finish, talking about Group D, France and England met in the stand out game which gave us an idea of what both teams think of themselves. The quotes after the match reflect what they thought before the match. The French though they were better with their quality and control of the game, and according to them, they deserved better. The English, who at worst were too regimented in a lot of what they did, talked about pride, defending quite deep and going in to the game trying to gain time against a difficult opponent to prepare for their next match and await the arrival of Rooney who seems to be the answer to all problems.
England, with two shapes of 1-4-4-2 defending and 1-4-2-3-1 attacking, began causing a few threats on the counter attack and after scoring a precios goal, defending near their goal to reduce space in the centre for the talented and technically gifted French players, who always found themselves up against two banks of four, compact and leaving no space for Frank Ribery and Samir Nasri to work. The supporting movements (always deep) of Karim Benzema made it even easier for the English defence, who had any problem when the French realised they could also shoot from distance against the system they were facing.
Lescott’s goalfrom a set piece also signals another of the English strengths and if they up the tempo and support from deep they will be a threat for anyone. As for France, they have potential as we have seen, but need to penetrate more and organise their defence better if they are to be realistic candidates to get to the final.
Lastly, the other of the host teams, as happened with Poland, had a special motivation on top of appearing in the finals of the Euros.
Ukraine had a good attitude and work rate, playing 1-4-4-2 with good movement and reading of the game between lines by Voronin and the experience and intelligence of Shevchenko to score giving them a great win, and an advantage with an added boost of confidence. In midfield they had good balance with Tymoshchuk and Nazarenko and wide players Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka showing their ability and dribbling. One problem may be tactically in defence but which they compensate for with attitude and aggression.
The Swedish team, for their part, played with their usual 1-4-4-2 and their dependence on their star, Ibrahimovic. The goal he scored and the constant threat he poses when he has the ball were more evidence of his quality. The team is ordered and has good work rate but it possibly lacks tempo and needs to get more support to Ibrahimovic.