Wednesday, June 11, 2008

First Round of Group Games

Summary of First Round of Pool Play

Group A

Czech Republic 1-0 Switzerland

Switzerland were the better side, the Czech Reupublic were very lucky. The Swiss created many chances that they just couldn't finish. Frei had a couple of chances before the talismanic influential skipper was injured and had to come off. Subsequently he has been ruled out of the tournament which should prove to be a knock-out blow to them. Yakin put a free header wide and the Swiss generally played with enthusiasm and inventiveness. The Czechs took the lead against the run of play as Sverkos scored with a clinical finish. And the Swiss still pressed: Barnetta having a good shot blocked by Cech and Vonlanthen hitting the follow up onto the crossbar. Really disappointing start to the tournament, as Swiss manager Kobi Kuhn said: "football is not about justice". Frei's injury was heart-wrenching and the result was undeserved and gut wrenching. And this merely to add to Kuhn's trauma of his wife being ill in hospital...

Portugal 2-0 Turkey

Very comfortable win for the talented Portugese side. It could so easily have been more. Ronaldo showed his class, the Portugese hit the woodwork on more than one occasion and whilst Turkey were willing participants in a vibrant match, they never managed to demonstrate a cutting edge. Emre has since been ruled out of the next match with the Swiss due to injury and thus both teams key men will be missing.

Group B

Croatia 1-0 Austria

Croatia can also count themselves lucky as the unheralded Austrian side picked to do so badly at Euro 2008 showed a lot of pluck and would have been worthy recipients of a point against a Croatian side who largely disappointed. Croatia had to hold on in the second half and never quite lived up to their billing as a potential tournament winner. But they got the points!

Germany 2-0 Poland

Germany looked dangerous throughout and played a generally good game with Frings operating well down the wing and Podolski scoring a double. His second was a smashed volley highlighting his class. Boruc in goal for the Poles proved solid as usual, helping to keep the score down. The Germans showed why they are one of the favourites for Euro 2008

Group C

France 0-0 Romania

Whilst many have argued that Romania played well, contained France, and showed themselves to be a useful side I was personally disappointed. I felt they never attacked with much gumption and were too prone to giving the ball away. I admit I was expecting big things from the Romanians who proved in qualifying how good they are, instead they came across as a team willing to simply soak up French pressure and hold on for a hopes they show more attacking flair in later games. France did OK without Henry and Vieira but ultimately lacked spark, Benzema never really showing quite what he was capable of. Hence the match was a much more drab affair than was surely expected.

Netherlands 3-0 Italy

The Dutch were scintillating on the counter attack. The Italians missed Cannavaro, especially as Materazzi had a poor game. Zambrotta was useful for the Italians, and Pirlo showed off his beautiful passing skills as usual (I absolutely love watching his sweeping crossfield passes that fall so accurately at his team-mates feet) but the Italians had little else to write home about. Holland were pretty electric on the break, and this without the injured Arjen Robben. The first goal appeared offside although later as UEFA clarified the offside rules, was apparently not. The second was sumptuous, crossfield ball from Van Bronckhurst, delightfully flicked on by Kuyt and beautifully finished by Sneijder and the third was a straightforward header which killed off the tie. Prior to the third goal going in Van Der Sar pulled off a couple of stunning saves, none more so than the tremendous save from a Pirlo free kick that looked destined for the goal. Great to see the Dutch humble the Italians as I'll never forget the Euro 2000 semi-final when Holland were clearly deserving, missed two penalties in the game, and were ultimately eliminated.

Group D

Spain 4-1 Russia

Spain were sublime, and looked like scoring all day long. Villa notched the tournament's first hat-trick and Fabregas scored his first international goal (with a scrappy effort resulting from some shoddy defending). Russia were a little lax in defence but looked like a good hard-working team overall, and indeed both hit the post and scored what proved to be a deserved consolation. Strangely the tournament's seventh game was the first one in which both teams scored!

Sweden 2-0 Greece

Greece were disappointing and their defensive tactics that worked wonders at Euro 2004 were undone by a scintillating Ibrahimovic strike. If you haven't seen it just watch it, it's potentially the goal of the tournament. The second goal was very scrappy but a 2-0 victory was a fair result. Unfortunately Wilhelmsson suffered a leg injury which will rule him out for at least the next game. The next two games in this group (Spain - Sweden and Russia - Greece) will be crucial as both victors play each other as do both victors, thereby providing the opportunity for one team to guarantee a quarter-final spot and another to be completely eliminated. Such a situation also has the potential to develop in Group A's next two matches.

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