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?

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