Euro Blog Part 2 (Groups C and D)

Euro Blog Part 2 (Groups C and D)
Group C
Spain 1 – 1 Italy
Rep Ireland 1 – 3 Croatia
Group D
England 1 – 1 France
Ukraine 2 – 1 Sweden


We’ve seen each team play at least once now but the strange thing about this tournament is none of the favourites have jumped out and made a statement of intent as of yet.

Looking back to Ireland’s return to the European Championships against Croatia, Shay Given earned a nomination for the “Euro 2012 goalkeeping gaffe awards” as Mandzukic’s weak header saw the Croats lead in a matter of minutes. Under Trapattoni the Irish have played better when behind as his usual defensive tact has to make way for a bit of flair but they exploited the Croatian vulnerability. A set piece opened up the Croatian defence and St. Ledger won the race with his marker to nod home.

Luck deserted the Irish when Jelavic poked the Croatians ahead just before half-time from what looked an offside position and it makes you wonder if things would have been different had the two teams gone into half time at 1-1.

Mandzukic scored again with a stronger header with Given being desperately unlucky to concede with the header clipping the post and deflecting in off him.

With Keane having a very good penalty claim turned down, the Irish can claim their fair share of misfortune.

The thing is though over the 90 minutes Croatia were the better team and in open play they pressed the Irish when they were in possession and made the most of their own and although the Irish can point to a few things going against them,they really can’t argue that Croatia were on the night superior.

Ireland now face a real uphill struggle to reach the knockout stages, if they can beat Spain or Italy no-one can argue that they don’t deserve to be there, it won’t happen though especially if they play as sloppily as they did against the Croats.

Croatia on the other hand will think if they can get a result against either Italy or Spain that the quarter finals are a real possibility, with Croatia having never lost a competitive game against the Azzurri, they’ll see them as the better bet but it’s still nowhere near a certainty especially as they still look vulnerable against set pieces and pace.

In Group C’s other game reigning European and World Champions Spain took on the 2006 World Champions Italy.

I enjoyed this contest with both sides playing quality football, Andrea Pirlo the classiest of a bunch of classy players.

It was clear to see the Spaniards lacked a spearhead in attack, for all the qualities Cesc Fabregas has, he is in no way a natural striker, Fernando Llorente is, Fernando Torres is – either of them could have done a superior job upfront, maybe it was Vicente del Bosque’s way of showing off what quality he has in midfield that he can use Fabregas as a striker and still have excellence available. Either way it nearly backfired as Antonio Di Natale, himself a replacement for Mario Balotelli who himself should have scored before he inexplicably tried to stroll it into the net finished with aplomb to put the Azzurri ahead.

Prandelli changed his tactical approach for this one with midfielder De Rossi being tried at centre back and perhaps the Roma general should have played in his natural midfield role.

Spain as hot favourites didn’t impress but ominously they were slow starters in South Africa 2010 losing their opening game and they still have to be seen as real contenders.

Italy put aside the crisis they’ve been in pre-tournament and looked like a side capable of making an impact in this tournament. I’d like Di Natale to start over Balotelli in the future though, the Manchester City man is a liability.

The sore point from this one was seeing Spain complain about the quality of the pitch, it was the same for the Italians too. Champions overcome many mitigating circumstances, a bad pitch should not be used as an excuse for their inability to beat a spirited Italian side.

To England then and compared to the 1-1 draw with the USA in the opening game of South Africa 2010, Roy Hodgson’s men can look back at the 1-1 with France and feel positive about it, had it not been for James Milner passing up a glorious chance the Three Lions could even have beaten Les Bleus.

After a classic set piece goal courtesy of a beautiful Steven Gerrard cross and a bullet Joleon Lescott header, England let their Gallic opponents back into it, the pressure culminating in a Samir Nasri goal that caught Joe Hart unsighted.

A battling display not seen in a long time from England saw them earn a point with several players running themselves into the ground for the cause. Let’s not distort things and get carried away, there are a lot of things England can do better, they really should have looked to press their advantage rather than sit back and let the French back into it but given that the Three Lions are apparently utterly hopeless and the French are a lot of people’s choices to win it this is a good result.

The quarter-finals that many people wrote off are a real possibility for England.

In the evening’s other game Sweden took on the other host nation Ukraine. The hosts overcame the Swedes despite Ibrahimovic firing them into the lead after poor defensive work from Yarmolenko, the hot Ukrainian prospect had a stinker in all honesty.

The enjoyable thing was seeing Andriy Shevchenko roll back the years with a brace, from what I saw though if England do their homework and utilise their talents to maximum effect both sides are beatable.

Tuesday sees Greece take on the Czech Republic, defeat for the Czechs will see them be the first side eliminated from Euro 2012. The Greeks lack the attacking flair of the Russians but do have an organisation and discipline that the Czechs will find tough to break down, this one won’t be a classic.

The other Group A game sees Poland host Russia. The Russians looked impressive in destroying the hapless Czechs, Alan Dzagoev in particular looking impressive. Poland also had their moments although their defence will face a far more severe test than they did against a 10 man Greek side. The Russians can secure a quarter final berth with a win and a Polish win will see them needing to beat the Czech Republic to secure a last 8 place, this one could be a cracker.

As I started off with every team has played now yet no teams stand out for me. A 1-0 win for Germany looked ominous but it’s hard to write off Spain and Italy’s performance will have found them some believers.

England have a lot more cause for optimism too after their display with France’s stock dropping. Russia are dark horses and my pre-tournament claim that Denmark can reach the last four will gain credence if they can beat Portugal.

The downside to this tournament so far has been the poor standard of refereeing, it seemed the Poland-Greece game set an unfortunate precedent and several matches have been marred by it, I can only hope that it improves.

The football so far has been so-so but has thrown up one or two good games, Italy-Spain’s been my favourite so far but there’s a lot more football to go and plenty of time to change my view.

Until the next time…….

Danny (D-Good)
Owls Alive
TWITTER: @OwlsAlive or @DGood83

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