After four days of Euro 2012 all 16 teams have played their opening fixtures of the tournament and we have not been disappointed.
The tournament started on Friday with co-hosts Poland playing against surprise 2004 winners Greece in what was not expected to be a classic. However Euro 2012 got off to a flyer with an action packed game, Poland took a deserved lead through talismanic striker Robert Lewandowski but failed to add to their lead as they squandered a number of chances. Greece on the other hand rarely threatened and found it difficult maintaining possession. Their hopes were then dealt a huge blow as defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos picked up two yellow cards resulting in an early bath for the Greek centre half.
Many predicted the Greek floodgates to open, but instead they remained resilient and against the run of play found an equaliser as Poland keeper Wojciech Szczesny gifted Dimitris Salpingidis a tap in after misjudging Vassilis Torosidis’ cross. Things went from bad to worse for the Polish keeper as he was then sent off after bringing down Salpingidis as the Greek player was through on goal. There was added drama moments later as substitute goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton became a national hero and saved the resulting spot kick and the game ended with both teams taking a share of the points.
The excitement continued in the 2nd game as Russia ripped through a lacklustre Czech Republic side with a convincing 4-1 win in Wroclaw. The Russian’s were happy to sit back and hit the Czech’s on the break, and it proved effective as they went 2-0 up in the first half with Alan Dzagoev and Roman Shirokov finding the net.
After the interval the Czech’s responded as Vaclar Pilar pulled one back. But as they went in search of an equaliser Russia dented their hopes of a dramatic comeback as Dzagoev netted Russia’s third and his second to give them breathing space. As the clock ticked down there was still time for substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko to add a fourth, putting Russia in complete control of Group A.
On Saturday the Group of Death kicked off with Holland taking on Denmark in Kharkiv. Many predicted the Dutch to cruise to victory, but it was not to be as Denmark delivered the first shock of the tournament recording a much deserved 1-0 victory. Krohn-Dehli’s low drive gave the Dane’s the lead despite Holland dominating possession. The Dutch created a number of clear cut chances but could not find a way past Stephan Andersen as the Danes held on.
Germany began their campaign with a 1-0 victory over Portugal, in what was a dull affair. Joachim Low’s side are considered one of the tournaments favourites as they edged past Portugal thanks to a Mario Gomez goal in the second half. Portugal now face a tough test to qualify from the group and defeat to Denmark on Wednesday would end all hopes.
Sunday saw reigning Champions Spain begin their defence of the title they won four years ago against Italy, a nation plagued with football match fixing problems. Spain started the game adopting a rare ‘false number nine’ formation as they fielded six midfielders in absence of a natural striker. The game did not come to life until the second half as Italy deservedly took the lead through veteran striker Di Natale. But his effort was quickly cancelled out as Cesc Fabregas found the net with a well timed run and neat finish. Fernando Torres was introduced to the game late in the second half and had a number of glorious chances to secure three points for the Spaniards, but the Chelsea striker failed to hit the target meaning Del Bosque’s men had to settle for a point.
The Republic of Ireland went into their opening game with Croatia knowing defeat had to be avoided at all costs. But Trapattoni’s men were sloppy and unorganised as they suffered a 3-1 defeat. The game could not have started any worse for the Irish as they found themselves a goal down after just two minutes, Mandzukic’s header from 12 yards wrong footed Given to open the scoring. Characteristically Ireland regrouped and were level 15 minutes later as St Ledger headed home McGeady’s well delivered free-kick. As the interval drew close Ireland conceded a sloppy second, as Everton’s Jelavic restored Croatia’s lead going into the break.
After the interval Croatia scored a third, Mandzukic’s header hit the post before rebounding into the net off the head of Given. The defeat for Ireland means their chances of qualifying look bleak, with games against Spain and Italy their return to tournament football looks to be coming to a premature end.
Group D got underway with one of Europe’s biggest football rivalries, France verses England. The game started and ended with France dominating possession and England happy to sit back and hit France on the counter attack. Against the run of play England opened the scoring as Lescott rose highest to head home Gerrard’s free-kick after 30 minutes. But the French soon levelled as Samir Nasri’s low drive found its way through a group of players and past Hart in the England goal. After the interval France dominated but offered little in front of goal as England were content to play for the draw.
The final game of the opening fixtures saw co-hosts Ukraine take on Sweden in Kiev. Zlatan Ibrahimovic opened the scoring for Sweden but Ukraine soon levelled through Andriy Shevchenko’s header. The talisman then doubled his tally with another header at the near post sending a nation into ecstasy. Despite all Sweden’s late pressure, Ukraine held on for their fairytale start to Euro 2012.
So far the tournament has failed to disappoint, but there is still a lot of football to be played and many fantastic games await us in what is guaranteed to be an amazing tournament. But for this to happen the bigger nations in Holland, Spain and Germany have raise their games and the lesser nations have to continue with their impressive displays, and who knows there could be a shock on the cards.