Euro 2012: Day 9

Whodathunkit? Greece 1 – 0 Russia

Having spent much of the first week gloating about how they used to own most of Eastern Europe while playing easily the best football of the tournament, the Russians must have felt somewhat confident about moving into week 3. While the Greeks, armed only with a legendary pigheadedness and the kind of financial and moral bankruptcy that the rest of the world can only dream of, must have thought that there was no chance of their getting through. How wrong they were.

The great thing about this tournament, in comparison with previous Euros and 2010’s World Cup, is that every match in every round has seemed to matter and that, despite many teams buying wholeheartedly into the Mourinho Doctrine, attacking play has reaped rewards. And while we still haven’t seen really classic games, we’ve seen some attractive, exciting and occasionally mind boggling football, not least tonight’s activities.

Russia must just be cursing their footballing gods. For pretty much every permutation of results except this one saw them going through. No one expected the Greeks, who were brutally spanked by the Czechs (the Czechs for god’s sake) and outplayed for large periods by the profligate Poles, to do anything against the Russians other than provide a brick wall defence. Still it was all in the Russian’s hands and they both let in a soft goal and failed to do any damage themselves.

As if we needed reminding, tournament football is a very different beast from either league or cup football.  Teams generally grow into the tournament (as the Spanish did in the World Cup) rather than being uniformly brilliant. The Russians came out all guns blazing and ended up firing blanks, the Greeks started tediously and have improved a little, making the most of the very few chances they had.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Get: Poland 0 – 1 Czech Republic

This was a strange, often tedious game, which was bizarre in the extreme. Both sides knew that a win would see them through yet neither side seemed even remotely interested in attacking. You could forgive the Czechs, as they knew that a draw would see them through, so there was no need for them to risk everything, but the Poles? What were they thinking? Apparently overawed by the weight of expectation of their audience in their opening match, they seemed to be rendered impotent after around 15 minutes.

Certainly there’s no excuse for the craven display they put on in the second half. If you thought Engerland’s ball retention was abysmal, you only had to watch Poland in the second half to realise that this was a whole new level of ball incompetence. Not only did they rarely get out of their half (I think their key man Lewandowski had at most a couple of touches during the second period), but they were barely able to string one pass together (let alone two or more). True they weren’t as diabolically shambolic as the Irish, but they illustrate the dangers of awarding tournaments like this to sides who otherwise almost certainly wouldn’t qualify.  Or the danger of opening the tournament up to more teams of this low grade quality.

Still, if there are crumbs of comfort to take for the Poles, it’s that their best moment, the goal against Russia from Blaszczykowski, was instrumental in sending the Russians packing.  Whodathunkit eh?

Euro 2012: Day 5

Is That All That There Is To A Fire? Greece 1 – 2 Czech Republic

Now, aside from one nice chip over the Polish defence, the Greeks have come bearing the same gifts as usual. Sheer bloody minded obduracy and precious little else. And you know what? That’s been better than good for them since 2004. Here it lasted all of 6 minutes and it was effectively game over.

Two sweet strikes and the Greeks were, to all intents and purposes, back on the beach. 3 minutes in bash! the Czechs, no super threats themselves, were one up. 6 minutes in and it was 2. And the Greeks had no answer. As always they were a frustrating mass of carefully organised defence (two easy goals conceded aside), a vague midfield and Georgio Samaras up front. Now Samaras has played at numerous clubs, but essentially he’s a poor man’s Nicklas Bendtner, for him six goals a season for a midtable Prem side would be a massive step up. And he never looked like a threat, much less a goalscoring one here.

The only other moment of note was provided by Petr Cech, who attempted to give both Szczesny and Given a run for their money as the most gaff-prone keeper at the tournament. It’s saying a lot that he actually came close to eclipsing both of them with his ill-fated rush and finger fumble, which presented Gekas with the easiest of easy tap ins (the kind not even Milner could miss). Fortunately for Cech, who appears to have used up all his luck in the Champions League final, it wasn’t fatal. Sadly for the rest of us the Greeks could still miraculously qualify from this group.

Your Euro 2012 Starts Here. Poland 1 – 1 Russia

Does this man look happy or what?

Pity the poor Poles. Unkindly done in by the Greeks thanks in part to the weight of expectation bearing down on them in the opening match, they had to watch the Ukrainian fairy tale unfold in Matchday 4. Now facing the team of the tournament so far, Russia, they couldn’t afford to lose. Politics, both real world and footballing, demanded some kind of a result. Talk about a pressure game.

And having gone a goal down to the Russians, things looked a bit black. If this had been Engerland, you’d have heard all sorts of commentary about Captain Marvel, Terry Butcher etc. Instead we got the story of the tournament so far. A fabulous cracking volley from outside the area from Polish captain and scrabble winning hand Blaszczykowski. The sort of goal that didn’t just get you up from the couch going, “What a goal!”, but lifted up an entire country. Finally, the Poles had found some kind of self-belief and they then turned the tables on the previously dominant Russians and spent the rest of the match attacking their goal.

Despite the storybook nature of the Sheva show in Ukraine, this was the best match of the tournament so far, featuring the only team that has played really inspiring (as opposed to effective, efficient or just plain awful) football and a team that needed their own kind of fairytale. With the result of the Czech Greek match, the Poles now have their future in their hands. Beat the Czechs and they’re into the next round. On this evidence they’ve got every chance of joining Russia in the knockout stages.

Euro 2012: Day 1

Welcome To The Machine. Poland 1 – 1 Greece

The three testicalled scrtotum that is the Uefa Euro 2012 logo

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times and it was all of them at the same time. Co-hosts and comfortably the lowest ranked side in the tournament, Poland, played the poorest (in every sense), Greece. And while there was incident aplenty, there wasn’t much quality football on display. Indeed, if dog years are seven times real person years, then this game was played at giant hound pace. It felt like I’d aged two or three years in the space of the 90 minutes and change that this game lasted.

Just as in World Cup 2010, the hosts had all the neutral support and, if we weren’t actively willing Poland to success, we were very definitely gunning for Greek failure, the least their hugely negative tactical viewpoint deserves. And, like the South Africans, the home side scored first. And, at that point they looked firmly in control, their Borussia Dortmund spine looking effective and assured, but they were unable to capitalise on their initial possession. Even when the Greeks had a man sent off they couldn’t make the Greeks squeal.

Amazingly, in the second half the Greeks actually began to play as the Polish defence began to show its flaws. You’d have thought that a keeper like Szczesny would be used to operating behind a shaky defence after the season he’s had at Arsenal, but apparently the Polish defence is a whole new heap of rubbish. Twice Szczessa came out and both times it was a disaster, the first conceding an easy goal to the Greeks and the second bringing down Salpingidis after a delightful chip over the defence set him free on goal. It was the turning point in the game Szczessa getting the early bath and substitute keeper Przemyslaw Tyton coming on and saving the subsequent penalty.

After that it was tedium ahoy as neither side managed to make any real headway. Indeed after a few minutes it became clear that both were happy to settle for a draw and the remaining 20 minutes or so were frankly difficult to watch. Let’s hope this marks the low point in the competition.

Meanwhile Over In Some Other Part Of Poland. Russia 4 – 1 Czech Republic

Things could not have been more different. This was a fast, pacy match where the speed was due not to sides hoofing the ball over the midfield, or crazily rushing at each other in a burst of chaotic attacking play, but to two sides playing direct, on the floor passing games and running into the spaces behind each defence.

Russia were one of the surprises of Euro 2008, although they tanked it at the end and they were very impressive here. After absorbing the initial pressing of the Czechs, Russia began to assert control, dominating the midfield and ruling the wings.  Amazingly they had a fabulous new player, one Arshavin, who was continually sprightly, always looking for the ball and playing some great defence splitting passes. Surely this can’t be the same sour grumpface who sulked his way out of Arsenal earlier this year (although apparently they are one and the same).

And while the Czechs did come back to make it 2 – 1, the Russians quietly reasserted their dominance and it was game over.