Euro Blog Part 4 (Final Group Games Round Up)

Euro Blog Part 4 (Final Group Games Round Up)
Quarter Finals
Thu 21st June: Czech Rep -v- Portugal
Fri  22nd June: Greece -v- Germany
Sat 23rd June: Spain -v- France
Sun 24th June: England -v- Italy


It’s the tournament that just keeps on giving us entertainment isn’t it and as the quarter finals loom it looks no different with some cracking matches being set up.

Italy-Croatia entertained and the Croats were undaunted after going behind to Pirlo’s superb free kick, they battled on and got back into it late on courtesy of Mandzukic’s neat finish, this was another match that unfortunately had the dark cloud of racism attached to it with a banana allegedly being chucked on the pitch and Mario Balotelli being subject to racial taunting by a section of mindless idiots. I’m not a fan of Balotelli by any stretch of the imagination but he deserves better than this.

Croatia have been fined but what deterrent is that to the mindless morons? FIFA and UEFA must impose tougher sanctions to combat this problem but then again Nicklas Bendtner sporting Paddy Power logos on his pants is apparently a bigger crime than this.

To Spain and Ireland then and if you have any sort of soft spot for the boys from the Emerald Isle it would have been painful to watch as they were utterly destroyed by a rampant Spain, some people have criticised the Spaniards “tippy-tappy” style of play but the 76-24 possession percentage shows that you can’t concede if your opponents don’t have the ball.

This match also showed how good Fernando Torres can be, he’s been derided a lot since his mega money move to Chelsea but if he’s in a team that plays to his strength he can be absolutely devastating.

I criticised Spain for being a bit arrogant when they played 6 midfielders against Italy and chided them for not having a focal point in their attack, they did so and would have shellacked a lot of teams playing like that……

After a slow start, they’ve made the statement that they’re not going to give up their European crown without a fight.

Ukraine-France saw “rain stop play” as thunder and lightning made conditions in Donetsk very dangerous, once the teams did get underway the superior quality of the French told as a quickfire double saw them overcome the hosts who appeared to lack ideas once they got to the danger area, France were efficient and no more in dispatching the Ukrainians, Les Bleus have more to offer than what I’ve seen so far.

Events in Donetsk led to England’s match being delayed but it didn’t seem to deter the Three Lions as a bullet header from Andy Carroll put them into the lead, the big Geordie may even be spared by the media for a few days given that he’s become the new Heskey, unfortunately like they did against the French they let Sweden back into it and even into the lead but the introduction of Theo Walcott saw them revitalised and started an uncharacteristic fightback as the Arsenal winger scored and then set up the winner.

To the final group games and these were tense affairs and threw up one or two surprises.

The Czech Republic defeated Poland in an organised if not entertaining fashion. Jiracek’s goal being one of the few moments of quality offered in a poor match, something that we haven’t seen often in this tournament. The BBC viewers were entertained in a fashion by Mick McCarthy’s commentary, a much,much better effort than Mark Lawrenson and his grumpy old man persona.

Poland had their poorest showing of the tournament after looking threatening early doors, their unfortunate record of never having won a game in the European Championship Finals continues until 2016 at least.

They should be disappointed they’re gone but in reality the Poles have passed up way too many goalscoring opportunities and any top quality team cannot afford to do that and hope to be successful.

The main shock was seeing the group A leaders going into this match getting knocked out by Greece with a lovely finish by Karagounis seeing them through. The Greeks should have had a penalty as well.

Greece have had a few unfortunate refereeing decisions go against them, thankfully from their point of view it wasn’t costly although the presence of Karagounis will be missed.

Russia too will be amazed they’re home before the postcards given how good they were against the Czech Republic but in the other two games they were average and flattered to deceive, the opening game set a standard, one that they did not live up to.

Holland bowed out of Euro 2012 without a point as Cristiano Ronaldo took centre stage with a virtuoso solo performance that saw Portugal victorious.

Holland’s awful tournament saw them crash out without a point and bottom of the group, a clearly talented bunch of players didn’t produce the goods. Was it a lack of balance to the side, poor tactics or the usual Dutch stereotype of egos coming into play or even a mixture of all three? Either way after reaching the World Cup final in 2010, this is a massive disappointment.

Denmark also left the tournament but unlike the Dutch Morten Olsen’s men can hold their heads high after giving the Germans a scare before ultimately losing, it’s unclear to see what the future holds for the Danes but they can take a lot of encouragement from Euro 2012 although it’s hard to see a few of their players taking stage in Brazil 2014 should they get there.

Group C saw Spain take on Croatia and for a long,long time the Croats flustered their more glamorous opposition before a special passage of play involving Fabregas and Iniesta finally saw Jesus Navas save Spain’s blushes. This wasn’t the free flowing Spain that we’ve seen in the past and had Croatia taken a couple of the good chances they created Spain could well have crashed out of this tournament.

Italy join Spain in the last eight as the Azzurri overcame the Irish, Mario Balotelli’s one notable moment of this tournament saw them 2-0 victors over the 10 men Irish who had Keith Andrews sent off but they salvaged a bit of pride by going more than 4 minutes without conceding.

Ireland’s flaws were badly exposed in these Championships against three very good sides and their failure to do what got them to the dance mainly the disciplined defending and excellence on set pieces, the Irish defending was in parts woeful and it was almost painful to see opposition players dance through them time and time again and the fight and battle shown by previous Irish sides was nowhere to be seen. Shay Given had a stinker of a tournament too and perhaps the Irish should look to move on from the stalwart goalkeeper. Lessons need to be learned from this as far as the Irish are concerned.

Slaven Bilic’s era as Croatian coach came to an end and his second tournament ended in heartbreak but like Poland they too can look on missed opportunities particularly when they were in the ascendancy against Italy.

I liked what I saw from this Croatian side and if they can sort out their aversion to setpieces they can be a force to be reckoned with in coming years.

Already eliminated Sweden salvaged some pride from Euro 2012 as they deservedly beat highly fancied France 2-0, a moment of magic from Zlatan Ibrahimovic set them on the way to victory and an opportunity for England to top the group.

Something that Hodgson’s men achieved as they overcame the Ukraine in a nervy 1-0 victory. The returning Wayne Rooney put England ahead with a simple tap in early in the second half after missing a good chance in the first but the hosts pressed for an equaliser and England escaped as they had a chance which replays showed to be over the line before John Terry hooked it clear, it was offside in the build up however.

One thing it did do was reignite the goal line technology debate with FIFA president Sepp Blatter now saying it’s a necessity. Beleagured officials at the highest level have needed this for a long time but it still makes people wonder what is the meaning of the “5th official” if they have next to no impact or help for the refs.

As for the alleged decision Two wrongs don’t make a right and it shouldn’t be judged as “karma” or “Justice for 2010” or anything like that but yet another poor decision from the referees and assistants at this tournament, thankfully the quality of football has made up for the numerous shortfalls by UEFA’s team of match officials. Let’s just hope things will improve from here.

We look forward to the quarter finals now and four interesting match ups have been made. I’m going to have a little go at previewing and predicting here.

Czech Republic v. Portugal

The Czechs have shown a marked improvement since their opening game when they were on the recieving end of a shellacking by Russia. They got the job done against Greece and Poland in a dour but uninspired fashion with them putting together the odd passage of good football.

After a sloppy start against the Germans, Portugal came out of their shell and looked a lot more threatening against the Danes and showed great resiliency to get the win when Denmark fought back to level it.

Portugal to win this one 2-1.

Greece v. Germany

The Greeks have given their nation something to shout about by getting through to the last eight against the odds. They’ve been on the recieving end of some poor refereeing decisions with Papastathopoulos and Karagounis both receiving wrongful suspensions. The Greece way is to stifle opposition and nick a win with a setpiece – a tactic that Portugal adopted to a reasonable effect before eventually being broken down.

Germany have been their usual selves, winning in a confident,efficient fashion but did look a bit shaky against the Danes, defence is a weak spot and if the Greeks can score an early goal and frustrate the Germans a shock could be a possibility.

That being said it’d be a huge shock if Germany didn’t advance.

Spain v. France

Everyone’s been going on about how Spain dominate possession, pass the opposition to death and eventually win but barring a landslide win over the poorest team in the tournament haven’t really penetrated opposition defences and have even neglected to play a striker at times!

The Spaniards have really missed David Villa and the presence of Carles Puyol at the back but despite that they haven’t really been put under sustained pressure and the feeling I have is they can turn it up another notch.

France on the other hand have underwhelmed me and I’m really struggling to see why people have them down as outside bets, they’re through the groups I suppose but looked really poor against Sweden and will need to produce a special performance to see off Spain.

However the last time the two met in a knockout format a Zidane inspired France stunned Spain in the 2006 World Cup, Les Bleus need someone to inspire them to victory, something they’re unlikely to achieve.

Spain to win.

Italy v. England

Let’s be right, England have surprised a few people by even being in the last eight and stunned some by winning Group D. Whatever happens there are a lot of positives to be drawn out of this tournament and in Ashley Cole, England possess Europe’s premier left back.

The Three Lions have also been pretty clinical in finishing chances off in their rare forays forward. Hodgson has set them up to be organised and tough to break down and we have the defenders capable of playing that sort of game with Cole and Johnson’s speed also enabling quick counter attacks.

However at times our midfield has been overrun and the front men haven’t really held the ball up very well.

The key to this game is the centre of the park. Pirlo is one of the world’s best midfielders and is ably supported by Claudio Marchisio, if Parker and Gerrard can keep this pair quiet, who knows?

Italy will be favourites but the Azzurri’s style has never seen them be high scorers.

I know some say they’d prefer playing Italy over Spain but they will possess just as fierce a test. Good passers, defensively organised and quality between the sticks, the X-Factor of their side is the volatile Mario Balotelli, now people talk about gamesmanship and the dark arts but the Manchester City man is just as likely to get sent off as he is to produce a moment of brilliance…..I always get the feeling that the former’s more likely than the latter.

This could well go down to a penalty shoot out where both sides are notorious at failures.

The group stage is over and done with but we’ve seen it all – cracking football, goalkeeping gaffes, crap refereeing, great goals, the job lot and thankfully the football is being talked about more than the grim spectres of hooliganism and racism which still cannot be ignored.

We’re into the business end and each of the 8 teams will genuinely feel they now have a chance of lifting the trophy come July 1st. The favourites have looked vulnerable, a couple of the underdogs have pulled off shocks. It’s been unpredictable and long may it continue.

A Germany-Spain final is still on the cards but it’s nowhere near as certain as it was a few weeks ago.

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

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