Euro Cup 2012: First round recap
Editor’s note: I apologize for the late post. Due to finals, I was unable to watch all the games when they were played and had to watch replays at later times.
If you haven’t realized by now, the 2012 Euro Cup started last week in Poland and Ukraine (and if you haven’t heard, you’ve probably been hibernating for the past few weeks). I would like to do a short recap of the first round of games, group by group.
Poland vs. Greece
Arguably the least exciting group of the tournament, Group A’s Poland versus Greece was the first game of the tournament. What I love most about the Euro Cup (and this goes for the World Cup, too) is that there are no safe bets. Greece is probably one of the worst teams in the tournament, so I was expecting a rather one-sided game. However, this proved to be one of the most exciting games of the first round. In the 44th minute, with Poland up 1-0, defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos was shown a second yellow, leaving Greece to play a man down the rest of the game. In the beginning of the second half, Dimitris Salpingidis comes in as a substitute for Greece and scores in the 50th minute despite being a man down. In the 69th minute, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny makes a challenge and clips Salpingidis, and he is given a red card and Greece is awarded a penalty kick. Back-up goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton is forced to come on cold and blocks the penalty kick. The game continues 10 v. 10 and ends in a 1-1 draw.
Czech Republic vs. Russia
On the opposite end of the excitement scale falls the Czech Republic versus Russia. Russia, the Group A favorite, ran away with this game 4-1. Russian striker Alan Dzagoev had two goals in the game as Russia showed its dominance as the No. 1 seed for Group A.
Netherlands vs. Denmark
In Group B, the Group of Death, first and second place is up for grabs. All four groups are ranked in the top 10 in the world. The Netherlands, who placed second in the 2010 World Cup, had a slight edge over the Danes. But as I mentioned, there are no safe bets in the Euros. Denmark stunned the Dutch with a goal in the 24th minute and held onto that lead to give the Danes three points in their group and showing the other teams that they were contenders.
Portugal vs. Germany
Despite my love for the Spanish national team, the Germans are heavy favorites for the Euros, and they’ve been playing with such dominance I’ve begun to believe they will win. Portugal’s defense held its line and fended off the Germans until German striker Mario Gomez headed in the game winner in the 72nd minute. Portugal fought hard to tie the game up but were unsuccessful. The Germans and Danes took the lead in the group.
Spain vs. Italy
Both teams have a lot to prove. Spain is looking to be the first “three-peat” champions (winning the Euros, the World Cup, and the following Euros), and Italy wanted to make up for its early exit from the World Cup in 2010. In a surprising move by the Spaniards, coach Vicente del Bosque opted to play a 4-6 lineup. By halftime, the move had not paid off and I prayed that del Bosque would substitute a forward in for the second half, but he didn’t. In the 61st minute, Italian sub Antonio Di Natale pushed the ball past Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas to put the Italian’s up 1-0. The lead did not last long and del Bosque’s risky move paid off; David Silva slips a pass through to Cesc Fabregas who puts the ball past goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. The game ended in a 1-1 draw.
Ireland vs. Croatia
Unfortunately, not all games can be like Spain vs. Italy or Germany vs. Portugal. The Ireland vs. Croatia game was less than exciting. Ireland let in a goal by Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic in the 3rd minute; Ireland dug themselves a hole and were fighting an uphill battle the rest of the game. Croatia capped off the night with two more goals, including another one by Mandzukic, and Croatia won 3-1.
France vs. England
France and England were also teams that needed to prove themselves. Both had early exits from the 2010 World Cup. France nearly had a mutiny during the World Cup with several players walking out on practices and receiving heavy suspensions. England, historically a good team, over the past few major tournaments has been unable to perform to the level its players are capable of. All eyes were on this game to see whether either team could prove the critical media wrong. Both teams started with a strong attack, but France soon took over the game, pounding the English defense. Despite their best efforts, the French could not break through. In the 30th minute on an English corner, defender Joleon Lescott headed a ball into the net to put England up 1-0. Nine minutes later, Samir Nasri, who was left out of the 2010 World Cup squad, slipped a ball past Joe Hart to tie the game. The game ended in a 1-1 draw.
Ukraine vs. Sweden
Ukraine, who has never played in the Euros before, was given an automatic bid for being a host country. They entered this game as the underdog against a tall and strong Swedish team, headed by European great Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Andriy Schevchenko, Ukraine’s leading scorer, announced he would be playing in his last major tournament. The 35-year-old made history by knocking in two headers, making him the oldest player to score two goals in a European Championship game. Ukraine won 2-1 and took the lead in the group.