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Euro Cup 2012: Spain makes history

On Sunday afternoon, the Spanish national team broke records and cemented itself in history when it beat Italy 4-0 in the 2012 Euro Cup final in Kiev, Ukraine. Spain became the first team to ever win back-to-back-to-back major tournament titles, and the first team to win back-to-back European Championships.

David Silva scored the game winning goal off a cross from Cesc Fábregas in the 14th minute. Andrés Iniesta sent a through ball to Fabregas, who earned the start after being left out of the lineup for the semifinal. Fabregas dribbled toward the touch line and crossed the ball to Silva, one of the smallest men on the field, who headed the ball into the back of the net. The Italian goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon committed to a near post shot, and when Fabregas crossed the ball instead of taking the shot, it left an empty net for Silva.

Spain’s next goal came in the 41st minute when Xavi sent another beautiful through ball to the left back Jordi Alba who slipped the ball past Buffon. This was Jordi Alba’s first goal for Spain, and it happened on one of the biggest soccer stages. Spain went into halftime with a 2-0 lead.

In the second half, Italy’s luck turned from bad to worse. In the 57th minute Italy made its third and final substitute, Thiago Motta for Riccardo Montolivo. But less than 10 minutes later Thiago Motta hurt his hamstring, and Italy was forced to play nearly 30 minutes with 10 men. The comeback, which was already going to be difficult, turned nearly impossible.

In the 84th minute Fernando Torres, who came on in place of Fabregas, received another splendid through ball from the assist man Xavi and scored. This marked Torres third goal of the tournament. Moments later, Juan Mata, who was seeing his first minutes in the tournament, scored off an assist from Torres. Torres’ assist tied him with German Mario Gomez for the Golden Boot, but because Torres played fewer minutes during the tournament (a tiebreaker), he won the Golden Boot.

Italy held Spain to its lowest time of possession in the entire tournament: 52 percent–a surprising number considering Italy’s bad luck in the second half. When Italy went down to 10 men, it was almost too painful to watch. Spain passed the ball around the tired Italian side that barely held possession of the ball and, when it did get possession, almost immediately gave it away. Italy did have a couple chances to score, but Iker Casillas continued to perform at a high level in goal. Spain went 512 minutes without conceding a goal, the longest streak in Euro Cup history. Spain also only conceded one goal in the entire tournament, the fewest allowed since the Euro Cup adopted the group stage in 1980. The 4-0 victory is the largest margin of victory in a Euro Cup final, although its hard to say if Spain would have won by four goals if Italy had stayed healthy for the entire game.

The back-to-back-to-back major championship titles (2008 Euros, 2010 World Cup, 2012 Euros) and back-to-back Euro Championships makes Spain arguably one of the greatest teams in soccer history. And with Spain’s core starters only being in their late 20s and early 30s, its more than likely that we’ll see this same squad for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Only this team will be slightly stronger with the return of injured David Villa, and I’d hate to see what kind of damage that team can do.

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Euro Cup 2012: semifinals

Spain vs. Portugal

Portugal was seeking its first Euro Cup title; Spain was seeking its third major championship in a row. Both teams had played splendid soccer, but both teams needed to prove something more to themselves. Christiano Ronaldo hit his stride in the previous two games, scoring three goals in two matches. Spain has continued to thrive on its one-touch passing, quick movements around the box and its ability to get everyone involved. During the 90 minutes of play, neither team played at the level they were known for playing at. Spain had 57 percent of possession–its second lowest time of possession in the tournament. Spain’s passing was slopping, and it often gave the ball away in the last third of the field. Jordi Alba had another stellar game, making runs up the left side and crossing the ball into the box. However, Spain couldn’t capitalize and its last ball was lacking.

Spain opted to play a 4-5-1, but started Alvaro Negredo in place of Fernando Torres. Negredo, who only played a minute in the tournament prior to this start, did not provide a spark to the Spanish offense and remained static at the top of the pitch. In the 55th minute, Vicente del Bosque replaced Negredo with Cesc Fabregas, who provided Spain with the quick angled runs the team lacked in the first half. Portugal held its own during the game, taking 10 shots (2 on target) and holding 43 percent of possession. Spain was unable to break Portugal’s back line of Pepe and Bruno Alves, who had height and strength over the Spanish front line.

After 90 minutes of play, the match ended 0-0 and was headed for 30 minutes of extra time–the second game of the tournament to go into extra time. In extra time, Spain began to play with an urgency we haven’t seen it play with thus far in the tournament. Spain worked the Portuguese defense, and had some great opportunities to score, including a shot by Andres Iniesta off a run and cross by Jordi Alba. But Rui Patricio made a beautiful stretching save to keep the score tied at 0-0.

Extra time ended and the game went into penalty kicks. Xabi Alonso went first for Spain. Alonso, who made a penalty kick in the game against France, went right instead of left and was stopped by Rui Patricio. João Moutinho had his PK blocked by Iker Casillas. Iniesta and Pepe both put their PK’s into the back of the net, keeping the PK score tied 1-1.  Gerard Piqué converted his PK to give Spain a 2-1 advantage. Central defensive player Alves was all set to take Portugal’s third PK, but was called back in place of Nani. Nani scored tying the PK’s at two apiece. Sergio Ramos, who ripped a PK 10 meters over the crossbar in the Champions League semifinal against Bayern Munich, stepped up to take Spain’s fourth PK. Ramos chipped the ball over a diving Rui Patricio–a PK that eerily resembled Andrea Pirlo’s PK in the quarterfinals against England.

In perhaps its most shocking move of the tournament, Portugal sent Alves up to take a must-make PK. The pressure was on the Portuguese central back, a player known more for his physical play than his goal scoring abilities. Alves hit the ball into the crossbar giving Spain a 3-2 advantage with Fabregas up next for Spain. Fabregas shot a low, driving ball to the right as Rui Patricio guessed left. Spain won 4-2. Ronaldo, who was set to take Portugal’s fifth penalty shot never got the chance. It’s still unknown whether it was Paulo Bento’s decision or Ronaldo’s decision for him to shoot last. Either way, Portugal will be hearing about this poor decision making for the next few months. And Ronaldo, who had begun to show the prowess he showed for Real Madrid, and finally began to show critics that this year could be his year for a major championship, has taken leaps backwards with this mistake.

Italy vs. Germany

Super Mario strikes again. Mario Balotelli scored two goals in the first half of the game and upset Euro Cup favorites, Germany, despite Germany holding 54 percent of the possession. In the 20th minute, Antonio Cassano sent a perfect floating cross into the box and Balotelli leaped in front of Holger Badstuber to head the ball past goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. In the 36th minute, Riccardo Montolivo sent a ball over the top of the defense to Balotelli who was making a run behind the defense. Balotelli fired a dipping shot from the edge of the box past Neuer to give Italy a 2-0 lead. Balotelli’s goals came after the striker received criticism for missed opportunities earlier in the tournament.

In the first 15 minutes Germany had plenty of opportunities. Gianluigi Buffon bobbled two easy saves, one which almost resulted in an own goal. Buffon initially looked nervous, as if this was his first Euro Cup game ever, but he looked like his usual self in the second half.

In the second half, Germany substituted in Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus to provide a more offensive lineup. Reus almost had an immediate impact when he took a free kick from a dangerous position right outside the box. The free kick went over the wall and dipped towards the goal. Buffon redeemed himself from his earlier mistakes and, in full stretch, blocked the free kick. Eventually, Germany placed three in the back, but could still not convert on opportunities.

In the 91st minute, Germany was awarded a penalty kick for a handball in Italy’s box. Mesut Özil converted the PK with three minutes left in stoppage time, but Italy held the Germans off, beating them 2-1.

Spain will play Italy in the Euro Cup Final, a rematch of the first game from Group C.

Euro Cup 2012: Quarterfinals

I always look forward to the quarterfinals because this is where we start to see who the real contenders for the title are. I also always love the prospect extra time and penalty kicks should the game come to that.

Czech Republic vs. Portugal

Let’s be honest. Portugal was lucky to make it out of the Group of Death. Not that they weren’t playing well, but because any of those four great teams could have been knocked out during the group stages. Portuguese superstar, Christiano Ronaldo didn’t show up until the last game against the Netherlands, where he hit his stride and scored two beautiful goals to kill the Netherlands dreams of making it to the quarterfinals. Portugal, the No. 2 seed from Group B, was clearly the better side against the Czech Republic, the No. 1 seed from Group A. The Portuguese held 56 percent of the possession and took 20 shots on goal (five on target) to the Czech’s two shots on goal (0 on target). Ronaldo had some great opportunities to score, including a low driving shot off the side post in the 46th minute and a free kick that hit the post in the 49th minute. Finally, in the 79th minute, Joao Moutihno made a run to the corner, pushed the ball past the opposing Czech defender and sent a perfect cross into the box. Ronaldo glanced a diving header into the ground, which bounced into the goal. This goal marks Ronaldo’s third goal of the tournament and makes him a contender for the Euro Cup Golden Boot despite his slow start. Portugal moves on to the semifinals.

Germany vs. Greece

Germany’s starting lineup made it clear: the Germans did not think Greece was a threat. Germany rested playmakers Thomas Müller and Lukas Podolski, and the team’s leading goal scorer Mario Gomez. The only reason Germany would rest its starters is if it believed it would make it to the next round. But as Greece has proved time and time again in this tournament, don’t count them out. Michail Sifakis took over in goal for the injured Kostas Chalkias. Germany kept the ball on Greece’s end for almost the entire first half and had entirely too many second chance opportunities because Sifakis could not cleanly catch the ball. In the 39th minute, German defensive back and captain, Philipp Lahm fired a shot from 20 yards out past Sifakis to give Germany a 1-0 lead. The lead should have been much larger, but Germany was having trouble putting away opportunities, so Greece was able to capitalize on a counterattack in the 55th minute. Germany had a three on two advantage, but Dimitris Salpingidis, who had showed heroics in Greece’s earlier games and earned himself a spot in the starting lineup, took the ball down the sideline and sent a low driving cross into the path of Georgios Samaras. Greece tied the game 1-1. In the 60th minute, Sami Khedira sent a superb volley into the goal over the head of Sifakis to give the Germans a 2-1 lead. And that’s where Germany ran away with this game.  In the 67th minute, forward Miroslav Klose, who got the start in place of Gomez, scored a header goal off a free kick from the corner. In the 73rd minute, not to be outdone by Khedira’s beautiful volley, Marco Reus, in his first start at the Euros, fired a volley into the upper corner off a rebound to give the Germans a 4-1 lead. In the 88th minute, Jerome Boateng, whose defensive unawareness allowed Greece’s first goal, committed a handball inside his own box to give Greece a penalty kick. In the 89th minute, Salpingidis pushed the PK past Manuel Neuer. Despite it’s 4-2 win, Germany did not play with the finesse it has shown in the previous three games. Bastian Schweinsteiger gave away too many passes to Greece and there has been speculation that he has been playing through an injury. The German’s need him healthy for semifinals.

Spain vs. France

France made it out of the group stages, but it still had a lot to prove to the other teams and the media. Spain continued to play with the finesse and style that it has displayed since the last Euro Cup. But France disrupted Spain’s style like no team had thus far in the tournament. To start the game, Spain’s passing wasn’t as crisp. Spain held 55 percent of the possession, the lowest amount of possession it’s held all tournament. Despite its disrupted play, Spain broke through early in the game. In the 19th minute, Jordi Alba used his speed to make a run up the left side of the field, past the outstretched France defenders. Xabi Alonso, seeing Jordi Alba’s run, made his own run. Florent Malouda, the closest player to Alonso, did not pick him up. Jordi Alba floated in a cross and Alonso had a wide open header that he put into the ground back across the goal and in. The score remained 1-0 until the 90th minute when Anthony Reveillere ran into Pedro Rodriguez in France’s box. Cool, calm and collected, Alonso put the penalty kick into the back of the net. Alonso scored two goals in his 100th appearance for Spain, and Spain won 2-0. France only took four shots in the game (one on target). The one goal on target came off Yohan Cabaye’s free kick, which goalkeeper Iker Casillas tipped over the top bar. Casillas has hardly been tested during the Euros, but he has come up with the one or two big saves each game that his country needed. In the semifinals, we can bet that Casillas will tested more than he has in the first four games combined.

This win marked Spain’s first win against France in seven competitive games. Although France took another early exit from a major tournament, it started to redeem itself from its first round exit in the World Cup. In the next few tournaments, France will re-emerge as a soccer power.

England vs. Italy

This was the most exciting and most frustrating game of the quarterfinals. Italy should have won in normal time, and it should have won by a few goals. Italy pounded England’s defense, keeping the ball in England’s third for almost the entire game. Italy held 64 percent of the possession (although it really seemed like 90 percent). Italy took an astounding 35 shots (20 on target)! However, Italy was unable to score. It had numerous opportunities right in front of goal but were unable to finish the job. England’s defense seemed desperate as players threw themselves in front of shots, sacrificing every part of their body to prevent a goal from going in. England had a solid 10 minutes of play where it looked dangerous. Glen Johnson couldn’t get the ball out from under his feet and chipped the ball right into Gianluigi Buffon’s hands. Shortly after, Wayne Rooney headed the ball over the bar. After these 10 minutes of danger, England fell back into a defensive stance.

After 90 minutes (and a lot of hair pulling by myself), the game ended 0-0. I’m not complaining too much because I love the thought of an extra half hour of soccer being played, but it was extremely frustrating to watch Italy do everything right except score a goal. The 30 minutes of extra time played out the same way that normal time did: Italy continued to push the ball and strike shots from all distances and angles, testing goalkeeper Joe Hart, but still England wouldn’t break. Extra time ended and the game was headed for penalty kicks.

I love and hate penalty kicks at the same time. On the one hand, I feel it’s unfair to leave the fate of a team to penalty kicks. Italy should have won the game, but now it was at risk of losing the game because of PK’s. On the other hand, PK’s really show you who the clutch players are, and what players can stay mentally strong. Playing soccer for 12 years, I learned the PK’s are not all about power, it’s all about placement. But PK’s are easy to over think, and while I watch so many professionals take PK’s and think to myself, “How can you miss that?!” I completely understand how it feels.

Mario Balotelli made Italy’s first PK, and Steven Gerrard equalized. Riccardo Montolivo put his PK well wide of the goal.  Rooney put his PK in and gave England a 2-1 advantage. Andrea Pirlo chipped in a shot over a diving Hart; a shot which Ian Darke and Bob Ley called “cheeky.” Ashley Young tried to go for power and his PK hit the crossbar evening the score at two apiece. Antonio Nocerino put his PK in leaving it up to Ashley Cole to tie the game. Cole, who converted his PK in the Champions League final, sent a low driving ball right into the arms of a diving Buffon. Alessandro Diamanti put the game away with his PK giving Italy a 4-2 victory in PK’s; a well-deserved win for the way it played.

I have one gripe with how UEFA scheduled this tournament. Germany will play Italy, who will have two days less rest after playing 120 minutes of soccer. UEFA should have scheduled the games on the same day or one day apart, rather than giving Portugal and Germany two days extra rest each. Fatigue will definitely play a part in the semifinals.

SEMIFINAL GAMES

Portugal vs. Spain

Germany vs. Italy

Euro Cup 2012: third round recap

Editors note: Once again, this post comes rather late because I fell behind in the previous rounds due to finals, graduation and work. 

Unfortunately, my dream of watching every game of the Euro Cup came to end this round because UEFA scheduled each day’s games at the same time to prevent any sort of advantage. An asterisk (*) will indicate which games I watched.

GROUP A

Czech Republic vs. Poland*

I decided that this game would be more exciting than the Greece vs. Russia game (boy, was I wrong). Statistically, this game was more exciting in that it was evenly matched. Czech Republic held 58 percent of the possession, and both teams had seven shots on target (16 total for Poland and 11 total for Czech Republic). Poland stuck with its backup goalkeeper, Przemyslaw Tyton, who came in and blocked a penalty kick after starting goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was given a red card for a bad tackle. After more than two-thirds of the game gone, the Czechs finally broke through. Petr Jiracek scored his second goal of the tournament in the 72nd minute. Co-host Poland was knocked out of the Euros.

Russia vs. Greece

Admittedly, I thought Russia would blow Greece out of the water and capture the No. 1 spot in Group A. However, Greece has pulled off some incredible comebacks and goals in the past few games. Russia held 62 percent of the possession and had 25 shots (10 on target), but as I’ve come to see time and time again, it only takes one counterattack, and that’s all Greece needed. Greece only had five shots on goal (two on target). One of its two shots on target went in and Greece got the three points it needed to be the No. 2 seed from Group A and move on to the quarterfinals. Greece has had the most dramatic road to the Euro Cup finals–coming back from one goal down with 10 men to tie Poland, almost coming back against the Czechs, and beating group favorite Russia.

The Czech Republic advances in the No. 1 spot; Greece advances in the No. 2 spot.

GROUP B

Portugal vs. Netherlands*

My brother is a Netherlands fan, and we chose to watch this game. The Netherlands needed to win this game by two goals if it had any hope of moving on after two disappointing losses. The Netherlands also needed Germany to win its game against Denmark to ensure the Netherlands a spot in the quarterfinals. The Netherlands started forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and attacking midfielder Rafael Van der Vaart. In previous games, the Netherlands had taken a more defensive stance, but knew it needed to attack the Portuguese back line to get the win. Van der Vaart gave the Netherlands the lead in the 11th minute off the assist from Arjen Robben. But Portugal struck back in the 28th mine and Christiano Ronaldo got his first goal of the tournament. The Netherlands already hard task was seeming more and more impossible. Portugal looked the best it has in the tournament thus far, and Ronaldo finally looked up to his usual form. Ronaldo put the Netherlands away for good with another goal in the 74th minute.

Germany vs. Denmark

As Denmark had shown in the previous two games, it was not to be underestimated or cast aside in the Group of Death. It had upset the Netherlands, who placed 2nd in the 2010 World Cup, and gave Portugal a run for its money, only losing in the final three minutes of regular time. German midfielder Lukas Podolski scored in the 19th minute, and Michael Krohn-Dehli evened things up five minutes later. In the 80th minute, defender Lars Bender added another goal for the Germans. Germany is the only team to win each of its group games and get the most points possible.

Germany advances in No. 1 spot; Portugal advances in No. 2 spot.

GROUP C

Croatia vs. Spain

Seeing as I am an avid Spain fan and have been rooting for it the entire tournament, it was a no brainer that I’d watch this game. With Ireland already out, the final three teams in Group C were fighting for the top two spots. Croatia did one of the best jobs defensively with Spain. Spain held 65 percent of the possession and took 14 shots against Croatia, but Croatia did not sit back defensively against Spain and interrupted its flow of play by stepping to 50-50 balls and challenging the Spanish midfielders. Finally, Spain’s quick passing and intricate passing broke through the Croatian defense, and substitute Jesús Navas became the hero of the game scoring the game winning goal in the 88th minute.

Ireland vs. Italy

Ireland was already out of the tournament, but it didn’t mean it had given up. Italy still needed a win to move on. However, Italy dominated Ireland holding 60 percent of possession and had 27 shots (17 on target). In the 35th minute, Antonio Cassano put one in the back of the net. In the 90th minute, controversial forward Mario Balotelli scored an acrobatic goal in the 90th minute.

Spain advances in No. 1 spot; Italy advances in No. 2 spot.

GROUP D

England vs. Ukraine*

Wayne Rooney returned to the starting lineup for England. After a slightly rusty start, Rooney broke through and scored his first goal of the tournament in the 48th minute. Rooney became the first player to ever score five goals in his first five games of the Euros (this is a streak that was started in the 2008 Euros). England held off co-host Ukraine and won 1-0.

France vs. Sweden

Sweden, after losing its first two games, was already knocked out of the Euros. But like the Ireland vs. Italy game, France needed the win and Sweden wanted to prove itself. In the 54th minute, Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored his second goal of the tournament. Despite France holding 57 percent of the possession and taking twice as many shots on goal (24 to 12), Sweden added another goal in the 91st minute. Despite France losing to Sweden, it still moved on to the quarterfinals.

England advances in No. 1 spot; France advances in No. 2 spot.

QUARTERFINAL MATCHUPS

Portugal vs. Czech Republic

Germany vs. Greece

Spain vs. France

England vs. Italy

Euro Cup 2012: second round recap

In the second round of group play, some teams saw their Euro Cup dreams vanish, while others made their mark on the tournament.

GROUP A

Greece vs. Czech Republic

The Czech Republic was coming off a 4-1 loss to Russia and needed to redeem itself. Greece had pulled off a 1-1 tie with Poland after a roller coaster of a game. Both teams were looking for a win to give them three points and boost them into the top two in the group. The Czech Republic came out firing and took a quick 2-0 lead in the first six minutes of the game. In the 53rd minute, Theofanis Gekas brought Greece to within one. However, the Czechs held Greece off for the remainder of the game, and the final score remained 2-1.

Russia vs. Poland

Group favorites, Russia, was leading the group and was running off a high scoring win against the Czechs. In the 37th minute, Russian youngster Alan Dzagoev scored his third goal of the tournament to put Russia up 1-0. Poland’s captain, Jakub Blaszczykowski, equalized in the 57th minute with a beautiful goal from 20 yards out into the upper left corner; the goal of the tournament thus far. Blaszczykowski’s goal dashed Russia’s hopes of becoming the first team guaranteed a spot in the final eight.

GROUP B

Portugal vs. Denmark

The first round of games in the Group of Death were far from disappointing. Denmark upset the Netherlands in the first round, and Portugal was seeking a win to give them any hope of reaching the final eight. Portugal took a 2-0 lead in the first half of the game, while Christiano Ronaldo continued to struggling during important matches. In the 41st minute, Nikolas Bendtner continued his scoring streak against Portugal with his fifth goal in five matches. In the 80th minute, Bendtner struck again scoring what would seem to be the game saving goal and tying the game 2-2. However, in the 87th minute, Portugal substitute Valera, who came on in the 83rd minute, scored the game winning goal to put Portugal ahead 3-2 and preventing Denmark from becoming the first team to clinch a spot in the final eight.

Netherlands vs. Germany

Germany has been very impressive and seem to have no weaknesses in its game. The Netherlands were coming off an upset and needed the points to give it a chance of moving on in the tournament. Germany striker Mario Gomez has been having an outstanding tournament and added two more goals to his score sheet to put Germany up 2-0 at halftime. In the 73rd minute, Robin Van Persie gave the Netherlands a glimmer of hope with a goal, but ultimately it was unable to capitalize and Germany won 2-1.

GROUP C

Italy vs. Croatia

Andrea Pirlo gave Italy a halftime lead off a beautiful free kick from 20 yards away. However, in the second half, Italy lost its attacking drive and Croatia took advantage of the small lead Italy had. Mario Mandzukic scored his third goal in two matches and tied the game 1-1. Going into the final round of games, neither team is safe from elimination.

Spain vs. Italy

In this game, Spain showed why it was world champions and Euro defending champions. Spain opted to go with its usual 4-5-1 starting Fernando Torres up top. Torres has been in a slump during the past two tournaments, but Vicente del Bosque has continued to put faith in Torres, and this game it paid off. Torres scored two goals in a 4-0 blowout against Ireland making Ireland the first casualty of the Euro Cup. The two spots from Group A are up for grabs between Spain, Italy and Croatia.

GROUP D

Sweden vs. England

England coach Roy Hodgson, still without starting forward Wayne Rooney, started Andy Carroll in his spot, and it paid off. Carroll scored in the 23rd minute to give England a 1-0. In the 49th minute, Glen Johnson scored an own goal to keep Sweden in the game. Sweden then took the lead after a goal from Olof Mellberg. England sub Theo Walcott picked up a cleared ball and fired a shot from 30 yards out passed Andreas Isaksson, whose reaction to the shot looked as though he had an obstructed view. In the 78th minute, Danny Welbeck put the game away from England and dashed Sweden’s hopes of a Euro Cup championship. Sweden became the second casualty of group play.

Ukraine vs. France

The host nation was coming off an upset over Sweden, and France was in need of points to ensure it would make it out of the group. Ukraine was not as successful this time. Jérémy Menez and Yohan Cabaye scored goals in the 53rd and 56th minute, respectively, to give the French three points and tying with England after two matches.

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.

GROUP A

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.

GROUP B

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.

GROUP C

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.

GROUP D

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.

 

Man City wins Premier League title in dramatic fashion

Editor’s note: Due to a graduation ceremony I attended and Mother’s Day, I had to watch a recording of the Manchester City vs. QPR game late last night, which is why this story came out one day later.

Manchester City hadn’t won a Premier League title since 1968. It’s cross-town rivals, Manchester United, have won 12 titles in the past 20 years. This year’s title was between the two Manchester teams; they were tied at 86 points apiece, but City had an eight goal lead, which means with a win, City would hold the title. And yesterday, as the final games of the season were played, Manchester United hoped that City would falter as it had earlier in the season.

Man City, the team with the best home record, played Queens Park Rangers, the team with the worst away record, at the Etihad Stadium. Man City was the clear favorite; QPR was fighting to stay out of the bottom three to avoid relegation. If Man City won, they would win the title; if Man City tied with QPR and Manchester United lost or tied its game, Man City would win; but a loss would guarantee ManU another league title.

Man City held most of the possession for the first half. The team used its quick foot work and intricate passing to attack QPR around the box. QPR’s clear tactic was to play a defensive game. After nearly a whole half of wearing QPR down, Man City defender Pablo Zabaleta struck the ball at QPR goal keeper Patrick Kenny. It was an easy stop that should have been caught or pushed over the top of the goal, but instead Kenny popped the ball over his head and into his goal. Man City took a 1-0 lead into half time.

At the start of the second half, Man City was pounding QPR again, but a miscue by Man City defender left the ball in the path of QPR forward Djibril Cisse, who put the ball in past goalkeeper Joe Hart in the 48th minute. QPR was fighting to avoid relegation and putting up a fight. The game continued in dramatic fashion. In the 55th minute, QPR midfielder Joey Barton elbowed Carlos Tevez in the face after the two were fighting for position. The referee presented Barton with a red card, and in the scuffle following the card, Barton kneed Man City striker Sergio Aguero in the back. Barton has since been charged with two acts of violent conduct.

The red card was a blessing for Man City, who now only needed one goal to win the title. QPR substituted defender Armand Traore in for striker Cisse to protect the tie. Again Man City attacked the QPR goal trying to find an opening or final ball that would lead to that final goal. But QPR struck again in the 66th minute on a header from Jamie Mackie. Now Man City found themselves in a hole: they needed two goals to win the game, and ManU was beating Sutherland 1-0 in a game that it had complete control of.

In the 90th minute, QPR still lead the game 2-1. The title was slipping away from Man City, and you could see it on their faces. Manager Roberto Mancini was yelling on the sidelines, and the Man City players were sending desperate crosses into the box. The ManU game had ended and the title was almost theirs. But City would not be foiled. In the 92nd minute, Edin Dzeko headed the ball off a corner kick to tie the game at 2-2. Two minutes later, in a final act of desperation, striker Mario Balotelli fought to get a pass to striker Aguero who had been quiet most of the game. Aguero pushed the ball past the defense and struck a ball low under the reach of goalkeeper Kenny.

It was a stunning finish, reminiscent of the game against Sunderland in March, in which Man City scored two goals in stoppage time to tie the game and keep Man City in the title hunt. A shocked ManU team saw the title slip through their fingers because of the goal differential. It was a glorious win for Man City, who played like a championship caliber team for a majority of the season. It was Man City’s first title in 44 years – recognition for the hard work Man City had put in all season – and a message to the other teams that Man City was on top.

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