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Euro 2012 Special: Matchday One- Portugal vs Germany

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Portugal vs Germany
June 9 2012
Arena Lviv

Arguably the biggest match of the Euro 2012 thus far, spectators were treated to the talents of Real Madrid superstars Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, but this time on opposing teams. Other very much notable names include Nani, Pepe, Khedira, Coentrao, Gomez, Podolski, Klose who has had a brilliant record in international competitions just to name a few. Portugal were dumped out of the Euros 4 years ago by Germany, with both of them being finalists in 2004 and 2008 respectively and thus, one can expect a clash of epic proportions; a clash of skill, finesse, defence, goals, pedigree and talent.

The Germans were marginal favourites in this one and showed just why by asserting their control over the ball and Gomez well nigh scored off a header in the first minute if not for Rui Patricio. Coentrao then embarked on a destructive run past the entire German defence to win a corner for Portugal. Germany stayed true to the attacking principles that rewarded them with an impressive international reputation over the past decade and ensured that Portugal played without the ball for most of the starting exchanges. Pepe's passes were found wanting as Portugal failed to make any sort of progress on the attack and Postiga was booked for a late challenge on Neuer, though there was an element of theatrics and drama. 

Ozil looked sharp on the ball, as did Germany on a whole and Portugal had yet to find a way into the game, though Cristiano Ronaldo produced a decent low cross. Germany then pressed far up into Portugal's half and though the ball was rolled into the net by Gomez, the whistle had gone for a foul by Meireles on Khedira with a roar of disapproval from the crowd. The Portuguese defence held strong and Nani came across the German defence to give the ball to Ronaldo, whose shot was closed down by two defenders. 

Ozil's pass to Podolski was met with a wild volley and Germany continued to attempt, unsuccessfully, to break the resolve of the Portuguese defence. Coentrao stood strong in defence in addition to providing an attacking option, as did Pepe whenever he was called into action. Bruno Alves knocked a cross to safety and later on, Muller missed by a considerable margin. Ozil displayed notable individual ability on the ball, such has been his meteoric growth at the Bernabeu.

Nani was fouled by Badstuber and the latter was penalised with a yellow card and the resultant free kick was sent straight down Neuer's throat. Pepe then curled a shot that went off the underside of the bar but barely ever crossed the line. The teams were stalemate at half-time, with Portugal taking comfort in having kept Germany at the gates and Germany visibly flustered by a staunch defensive showing by the Selaccao. 

Germany kicked us off in the second half and immediately forced Portugal into flurry of blocks, but Portugal made an attack of their own with Nani's quick feet sending him past his marker but it eventually came to nothing. Coentrao then embarked on another mazy run which culminated in a long-range shot by Ronaldo, saved by Neuer. Germany were still clueless in attack and Ronaldo sprinted towards a long ball by Pepe, ignoring Boeteng and sent a cross in which found a rising German header to safety. 

Ronaldo then sent a ball acrobatically out of his own box, while a dangerous Ozil cross evaded everybody. Germany yet again came knocking at the door, with Ozil yet again terrorising the Portuguese defence with his passing and ball control. Gomez skied his header and Portugal threatened to pull off a Denmark-esque strategy of containment. Coentrao was booked for a reckless foul as Germany consolidated their dominance with wave after wave of attacks. 

Ronaldo was then sent through by a brilliant pass but was denied by the flailing leg of Jerome Boeteng. Badstuber was perhaps lucky not to have a corner awarded against Germany as he came across to put himself between Nani and the ball. Another testing cross from Muller was snuffed out by Rui Patricio and his long pass into play was well-controlled by Ronaldo, who was fouled by Boeteng.

But Germany relentless persistence would soon pay off as Mario Gomez, a Champions League finalist, scored off a header which sent Rui Patricio in the wrong direction to put Germany deservedly in front. All the pressure exerting over much of the 70 minute period soon got its just reward with the header and Germany began to play with an extra spring in their step. 

Ronaldo then cut inside Boeteng and let rip with a shot which Neuer tipped clear. Portugal then went forward with a limited threat, with Nani eventually clipping the crossbar with a cross. Nani gradually started to pose more and more of a threat to the German backline in a Portuguese retaliation, twisting and turning to find space and fire a poor shot at Neuer's goal. 

Klose then wriggled his way free of two defenders only for Pepe to come across and put in a typicall robust challenge, but Varela, when faced with a golden opportunity to equalise, could only fire tamely at Neuer. 

A late Portuguese blitz was quite simply not enough as Bruno Alves' header glanced wide of the goal. Cristiano Ronaldo arguably made the most out of the service he got and couldn't have said to have played badly, as did Nani and company. Paulo Bento's negative tactics was perhaps baffling given the absolute abundance of attacking and defensive talent Portugal boasted, but it was Mario Gomez, possibly one of the best pure goalscorers of the game, whose goal won the day in a match where Portugal's attacking prowess came forth far too late in the game and Germany's youth, versatility and exuberant attacking philosophy shone through in their bid to usurp Spain as European Champions. 

Euro 2012 Special: Matchday One- The Netherlands vs Denmark

Netherlands vs Denmark
June 9 2012
Metalist Stadium

The World Cup finalists started off the game the better with a star-studded squad including the likes of PFA Footballer of the Year Van Persie, Champions League finalist Robben and Barcelona winger Ibrahim Afellay. The latter looked bright and very much in the mood as he created space with two quickfire stepovers and curled a shot slightly above the bar. Van Persie then curled a testing ball into the box which Sneijder failed to control and direct an attempt on goal. The growing pressure soon told as Denmark's defence looked nervy and unsettled at times.

Robben was an constant threat, cutting in from the right flank and then combined well with van Persie to trouble the Danish defence. The pair then continued to prove to be a lethal combination time and time again. Sneijder too, despite a low-key performance, displayed intelligent positioning to hold the Dutch offensive together. Despite all the pressure from the Dutch it was Krohn-Delhi who netted to put the Danes one-up against the run of play with a piece of sublime skill both to deceive the defender and nutmeg the keeper, albeit with an undeniable pinch of fortune. Van Bommel failed to close him down well enough  The Netherlands then proceeded to reclaim possession and ping the ball about in search of loopholes in the Danish backline.

The 30th minute then saw a good attacking spell from the Danes, but a disastrous pass from Anderson handed the ball right back to Arjen Robben, who jinked about and rattled the post with a shot. Afellay then took on Agger and left him for dead, firing a shot above the target. Denmark, however, continued to grow in stature.

Van Persie was then let down by a first touch which afforded Anderson the chance to recover and Sneijder's follow up was wide of the mark. While the Dutch enjoyed a lion's share of possession and shooting chances, they simply couldn't finish them off and Denmark capitalised with a single goal to head into the dressing room one goal to the good.

The Dutch upped their tempo at the restart and nearly found a way through, with Robben then yet again coming on on his left to aim a shot narrowly above the crossbar. Van Persie then yet again fluffed his lines, but later producing a decent effort on goal. A thunderous volley from van Bommel was palmed away and Sneijder proved on many occasions to be the scourge of the Danes. Afellay then dragged a shot inches wide while Robben opted to attack from the opposite wing in a Oranje onslaught, which ended in a Heitinga header which beat both keeper and goal.

The Danes proceeded to expose their defensive deficiencies, only to provoke a Sneijder-led storm on their goal. Afellay was then stymied by some resolute Danish defending, while they continued to press on on the other end with the goalscorer prompting a brilliant reaction save from Stekelenburg. 

The ineffectual Christian Eriksen was replaced and Sneijder, imperious as he was tonight channelled a gorgeous through ball to put Klass Jan-Huntelaar on goal, only for Anderson to stand strong against him and later van Persie. A few more chances were fluffed by the Netherlands and while Sneijder continued to thread a variety of good, intelligent passes through the back four, they were unable to make full use of them. 

Denmark then shored up their defence and convincingly kept the Dutch, for all their neat passing and gusto, at bay. An enraged shout for handball in the 89th minute was waved away by the referee as the Dutch tried to salvage a draw from the match. The frustration was beginning to show on the faces of Sneijder and Robben as they registered their 28th attempt on goal, all of which with no end-product.

The Danes then held on to their single goal to ensure one of the biggest upsets of the competition was to be, with the Dutch only left to rue profligate finishing which did their control over the flow of the game absolutely no justice at all.

Euro 2012 Special: Matchday One- Russia vs Czech Republic

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Russia vs Czech Republic
June 8 2012
Municipal Stadium

This was a match that featured major characters in European football, with Arshavin and Rosicky notably both having once donned an Arsenal shirt and Cech proving to be Chelsea's saving grace in the Champions League. A quick foul little more than 2 seconds from kick-off added some drama to the match and the Czech Republic wasted little time in seizing the initiative, applying offensive pressure with 2 corners in quick succession. A competent delivery from a set piece saw Hubnik head just wide of the Russian goal and Jiracek produced a spark of brilliance to leave his markers trailing only to fail to produce a good final ball. The Czechs were obviously on the ascendency, with some nifty interplay and prolonged periods of possession pinning the Russians far back into their half. A galloping run from Kadlec followed by a cross was met with a powerful volley and Rosicky launched a shot which was always rising far above the target.

Russia's answer to the Czech salvo came in the form of Arshavin, who immediately posed as a thorn in the side of the defence and played an integral part in Russia's goal, taking full advantage of Kadlec's dismal position to produce a cross resulting in a headed deflection which in turn set up Dzagoev to drive the ball home past Petr Cech. The tide consequently swung in favour of the Russians, who then again engaged in a passing move that Dzagoev did no justice to by screwing well wide of the mark. The Czech Republic then pressed further up into Russian territory, with a corner snuffed out by the Russian goalkeeper. 

On the other hand, however, Russia's attacking flair once again came to the forefront as Arshavin's threaded pass tore the Czech defence wide open for Shirokov to add to Russia's advantage perhaps yet again punishment for Kadlec's sluggish man-marking. Arshavin then had a strong shout for a penalty when he was bundled over by a defender and then left his marker for dead to produce a dangerous pass that none of his teammates were in range to reach. 

The match then turned into a see-saw affair that swung more in Russia's favour than it did the Czechs, though Jiracek's bursting runs did much to help the Czech cause. Milan Baros nearly got to a header but Russia then again terrorised the back four with a rapidly advancing triumvirate, only for Kerzhakov to send the ball rocketing into the stands. Arshavin looked absolutely imperious tonight for his country, his jinking runs imbued with slick close control combining with his eye for a pass to catalyse fluid attacking combinations. 

A tame Czech riposte was answered by long periods of Russian monopoly of the ball, with Tomas Rosicky in particular having his influence exponentially reduced by watertight marking from the Russian defence. Cech was placed under unnecessary pressure by his defenders with a risky backpass and Jiracek, at times leading the attack on his own, shot from long range with disappointing results. 

The difference between the teams thus far would have been Russia being able to translate their superior spells of possession into a final product in the form of two goals and link up with one another well in attack, while the Czech Republic quite simply failing to do so being faced with a well-drilled Russian defence. 

After the break, Arshavin sent yet another quality ball across the face of the goal which was too out of the range of the forward men. Russia showed no fear of working the ball in tight spaces and this served as the foundation of some fabulous undulating football. However, Pilar's goal, which was wrought with cool composure, was a bolt in the blue of the Russian sunshine as he rounded the keeper to slot the ball home. It sparked an immediate Russian response as Selassie registered a beauty of a volley and Kerzhakov sending at least 4 chances wide of the mark with Arshavin once again at the heart of Russia's attacking. Pavlyuchenko then came on in a sensational performance to supply Dzagoev and in turn turned scorer with an incredible piece of skill to turn the defender inside out and cannon the ball into the top of the net. The game was now officially over as a contest.

A brief retaliation from the Czechs ensued but it was too little, too late as Russia, playing some top-class stylish football with star man Dzagoev serving as an effective outlet for the mercurial creativity of Arshavin with a clinical double, all but confirmed their status as potential contenders and dark horses of Euro 2012. 

Euro 2012 Special: Matchday One- Poland vs Greece

Poland vs Greece 
June 8 2012
Stadion Narodowy

Poland versus Greece offered up a interesting clash in styles; Greece fell back on the pragmatic, defence-orientated play that won them the European Championship four years ago, while Poland were daring and adventurous in attack. Lewandowski enjoyed good service from the midfielders and some suicidal defending from Greece, coming inches away from putting Poland ahead after diving to meet a waist-level pass from Piszczek. The crowd was treated to some delightfully crisp passing from Poland and the Greek defence crumbled under pressure, the two of which eventually combining to culminate in a headed goal from Lewandowski in the 17th minute.

They immediately looked much more reassured after a slightly scrappy start to the curtain-raiser, with Polanski in particular heavily involved, doing well to keep the Greeks very much uninvolved in proceedings. Chalkias looked vulnerable on a number of occasions and his team's attempt to stifle the waves of Polish attacks was found wanting. A controversial decision by the referee to award Sokratis Papastathopoulos with a yellow card and consequently a red before half-time for two soft challenges added to the tension as Greece saw a rare spell in attack which bore no fruition. 

The second half, however provided an interesting twist to the tale as the Greeks emerged from their defensive shell and a goalkeeping blunder, perhaps caused by obstruction from one of the defenders, resulted in a virtual open net chance being presented to Dimitris Salpingidis who made no mistake and scored the equaliser in the 51st minute. This immediately provided the impetus for a period of pressure from the Greeks and Celtic attacker Samaras pulled a shot well wide of the goal after a tantalising ball sent through by Katsouranis. 

The game immediately heated up as Wojciech Szczesny stuck out a foot to impede Salpingiditis, which the referee treated as a straight red card offence. Off went the Arsenal goalkeeper and on stepped the gangly Przemyslaw Tyton in the place of Rybus, who pulled of an absolutely heroic save to deny Karagounis from the penalty spot. Szczesny's reaction in the tunnel was one of much relief while the dejected expression of Fernando Santos told the whole story as Greece continued to attempt to break out of their defensive shell in the face of growing Polish pressure. 

Salpingditis was then caught offside after tapping home the ball from close range and Samaras sent a wild shot far into the stands. Greece were attacking but were mostly restricted to speculative shots from distance. On the Polish side of things, however, playmaker Obraniak grew more and more involved in dictating the tempo of his side's attacks and after yet another poor attempt from Greece to find the net, Lewandowski latched on to a through ball to volley into the side-netting. Poland's German-based players combined well to produce some flowing attacking moves that the Greek backline frantically threw bodies forth to snuff out. Jakub Blaszczykowski tore down the wing and whipped a good ball in but that was as far as things went. 

Greece often lacked creativity and ideas in attack but largely held firm in the defensive department, endeavouring to contain Poland and eventually did as the match finished in a 1-1 draw. However, the match was a thoroughly entertaining one, set the tone for Euro 2012 and far exceeded expectations with an unprecedented penalty save from a substitute goalkeeper, some wonderfully exuberant attacking football from Poland which was matched by a display of Greek endeavour.