Euro Cup 2012: 1st week Highlights

Vineet Ramakrishnan

A week has now gone by since the Euro 2012 started and after 14 fixtures the Group tables are taking shape. Russia are in a commanding position in Group A whereas an upset by the Danes have made the Group of Death (B) more deadlier with Germany virtually sealing their spot in the quarter-finals. Spain as expected are leading the table but the ‘Azzurri’ (Italy) are languishing in third without a win so far. Group D teams have played one less game than the others, but Ukraine with a win over Sweden are the surprise toppers of the group in the first week of Euro Cup 2012.

Here is a look back at Week 1 of Euro 2012:

Day 1

A Fiery start: After a glittering start to the championships, host Poland and 2004 winners Greece played out a rather fired up 1-1 draw with Polish star striker Robert Lewandowski netting one in to give Pols the lead. Greece’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos was later sent off for his second booking of the day, but the 10-men Greece got the equalizer courtesy Salpingidis. In the 69th minute Poland’s goalie Wojciech Szczesny was red carded but the subsequent penalty was missed by the Greek captain Giorgos Karagounis. Poland were bailed out in front of their home crowd and the match ended in 1-1 draw.

The Russian March: The second fixture of the day saw evenly matched sides Russia and Czech Republic battle it out for three points as a clinical display of dazzling football gave the eastern Europeans side a morale boosting 4-1 victory over the Czechs. Alan Dzagoev netted two goals on either side of the halves with Andrei Arshavin proving to be the mainstay of the Russian midfield. Under fire Czech striker Milan Baros failed to inspire his team missing the target on numerous occasions.

Day 2

A Danish Surprise: Heavy weights the Netherlands were stunned by Denmark as Michael Krohn-Dehli’s lone strike in the 24th minute gave the ‘Danes’ the crucial three points. It was a repeat of Chelsea-Bayern Munich Champions league final as the Dutch controlled the game for the whole 90 minutes only to squander umpteen chances to score. Persiein Van Perise was the main culprit as Danish goalkeeper Stephan Andersen kept sniffing out the Dutch attack. The Netherland had 27 shots on goal as opposed to Denmark’s 7, but the game ended 1-0 in favour of The Red and Whites.

Gomez to the rescue: No such upset was caused in the second game as title favourites Germany defeated Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Portugal courtesy a solitary goal by in-form Mario Gomez. Germany had nearly two-thirds of possession throughout the opening phase, but could not get a clear shot on the target. Podolski missed twice. Ronaldo had few chances at goal which were well saved by Nueuer. Gomez provided Germany with the lead in the 72 minutes right when it seemed Joachim Loew was preparing to substitute the striker with Klose, though the substitution never happened.

Day 3

Absorbing draw : It was an absorbing 1-1 draw on Sunday in Group C when Spain met Italy. It was a classic fixture with the Spanish attacking prowess going up against the ever astute Italian defense. As expected, Iniesta dazzled in the midfield along with Xavi Hernandez and and Xavi Alonso only to find the rocks of Italian defense, Giorgio Chiellini and make shift defender Daniele De Rossi. De Rossi put in defensive masterclass as Italy more than matched the champions. Antonio Cassano gave the Spaniards many a heart stopping moments shooting at the target at will and completing spectacular passes. But it was the precision pass of a certain Andrea Pirlo that gave Antonio Di Natale with a golden opportunity to give the Italians the lead in the 61st minute, and he converted. Minutes later, in the 64th minute, Fabregas equalised courtesy another master class pass by David Silva which split the Italian defense for Febregas to tap it past Buffon. Casillas and Buffon were subjected to much action as both pulled off rather difficult chances, but the chance of the day came for Mario Baletolli who ruined his own good effort of winning the ball from Ramos failing to take the strike at the right moment with only Casillas to beat. He picked up a yellow card in the match as well.

Croats put in three : In the second fixture of the day, Ireland defense came up short against Croatia as the ‘Vatreni’ scored three goals to take three points in their opening match. Mario Mandzukic scored twice as Luka Modric created a ruckus among the Irish fullbacks. After conceding an early goal in the 3rd minute, Ireland brought back parity with an Aiden McGeady free kick which was well connected by Sean St Ledger in the 19th minute. The Croats though got two more goals through Nikica Jelavic (43') and Mario Mandzukic (48') to pull the game away from Ireland.

Day 4

Lescott’s first and Nasri’s class: A pulsating 1-1 draw between France and England kicked off the Group D proceedings at Donetsk with France looking more aggressive. But Roy Hodgson’s defensive line impressed throughout the match sniffing out the French attack for most part of the game. Joleon Lescott headed a inch perfect free kick from Gerrard into the goal to give England the lead in the 30th minute, but the constant bombardment of attacking play by Nasri, Benzema and Ribery yielded an equalizer for Les Bleus as Nasri drove one past Hart with a low shot into the bottom left corner from just outside the area in the 39th minute. An evenly contested match which made the second Group D fixture even more interesting.

A Legend on the prowl: Andriy Shevchenko scored two goals in a span of six minutes to help Ukraine, the co-hosts to register a 2-1 win from being a goal down against the unpredictable Sweden side. Zlatan Ibrahimovic gave Sweden the lead shortly after the break, scoring from close range while Ukraine had a player down injured in the 52nd minute. Ukraine retaliated through Shevchenko. Yarmolenko played in a superb cross from the right, and Shevchenko rose in front of the defender to power a header inside Isaksson’s near post in the 55th minute. Six minutes later, Shevchenko send the fans into raptures with another header, as he raced to the near post to meet Konoplankya’s corner and headed low into the net for the lead.

Day 5

Quick-fire Czechs down Greece: A pummeling 4-1 defeat at the hands of Russia had left Czech Republic a lot to do, and that is exactly what they did in the first 6 minutes of the game, scoring two goals, becoming the first nation in European championships to achieve the feat, as they went on to defeat a lacklustre Greece 2-1 in their second Group A fixture at Wroclaw. The Czechs setup a blistering pace in the first 10 minutes - an evident ploy to unsettle the makeshift Greek backline of Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Kostas Katsouranis, and the they reaped the results instantaneously as Tomas Hubschman executed a pass between the two central defenders as Jiracek netted the ball in the 3rd minute. In the sixth minute, Pilar doubled the advantage.

In the 53rd min another Greek substitute Fanis Gekas scored courtesy a blunder by Petr Cech. Petr Cech, the Czech goalkeeper spilled a simple gather, a cross from Giorgos Samaras into the path of Fanis Gekas, who put the ball into the empty net.

Intense clash at Warsaw: The second fixture of the day was between Poland and Russia. The high octane match ended in a 1-1 draw but it was the off-field ruckus that hogged the limelight as Polish and Russian fans clashed with each other with more than 100 being arrested by the riot police. Eugen Polanski (Poland) netted the ball in through a well crafted forward play, but that was ruled offside. Alan Dzagoev (Russia) though scored the goal in the 37th minute to give Russians the lead. In the second half, Jakub Blaszczykowski scored a stunner to make the scores level as in a counter attack move, Lukasz Piszczek put a precision pass to Blaszczykowski, who after controlling the ball beautifully with his first touch launched a thunderous left-footer past Malafeev. The scores remained 1-1 till the end.

Day 6

Varela to the rescue: Silvestre Varela scored a late goal in the 87th minute, the 3rd for Portugal to keep his side’s hope of advancing to the knockout stages alive after the Danes had equalised courtesy two headers from Bendtner. Portugal played the aggressor in the first half as Pepe (24') and Hélder Postiga (36') scored for the Cristiano Ronaldo led side. After the Danes got an array of corner kicks early on, an inch perfect delivery from João Moutinho through a corner for Portugal to the near post was well received by Pepe as he rose high and headed the ball past Denmark goalkeeper, Anderson after which Postiga had doubled the advantage in the 36th minute. Denmark retaliated in style as Niklas Bendtner scored his first of two goals five minutes later from close range after Michael Krohn-Dehli had done all the hard work to present the Arsenal FC striker with the simplest of chances, and he obliged. It seemed that the game was heading for a draw, but substitute Silvestre Varela scored the winner in the 87th minute with practically his first touch of the match. A cross by Coentrao from left wing, Varela missed the volley first up but recovered well and on the second occasion shot it on half-volley with his right foot into the back of the net to give Portugal a 3-2 victory.

Dutch slump further: Germany earned 3 more points as they topped Group B with 6 points as Netherlands were left on the verge of elimination in the second fixture of the day. 2-1 victory by the German side mean that they are virtually through to the quarters and only a miracle would help the Dutch stay in the competition. Mario Gomez grabbed the first goal for Germany in the 24th minute courtesy a sublime pass by Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Germans were on the ascendancy throughout the match as Mario Gomez again found the net in the 38th minute when he lofted the ball over the goalie Stekelenburg’s head. Van Persie pulled on back for the Dutch in the 73rd minute, but that was not enough to avoid defeat.

Day 7

Pirlo’s master class and Cheillini’s mistake: Italy played out yet another draw in their second match against Croatia as the ‘Balkans’ held on to a unique record of not losing to their much fancied neighbours since their independence. 1-1 it ended at Pozan with Mario Mandzukic cancelling out a superb goal by Andrea Pirlo (39th minute ) in 72nd minute. Italy played the aggressor in the match but the midfield of Croats created a lot of chances courtesy good ball control by Luka Modric and some innovative passes from the wings by captain Srna and winger Rakitic. Italy had taken the lead six minutes before half time when veteran Andrea Pirlo curled in the ball from the edge of the box on the left side just over the defensive wall, and into the bottom corner past a diving Croat goalie Pletikosa. But a misjudged jump by Italian fullback Giorgio Chiellini in the 72nd minute gave Mario Mandzukic with an opportunity to score and he obliged. A good long cross in by Ivan Strinic from deep left had Chiellini in trouble who mistimed his jump, but Mandzukic who was just behind the defender, got a touch before blasting it in off the post for the equaliser.

A lesson in football for the Irish: 4-0 read the scoreline for Spain against Republic of Ireland as the defending Euro champions displayed an impeccable brand of flowing football with Fernando Torres leading the goal feast with two goals (4’ and 70’), David Silva (49’) and Cesc Fabregas (83’) also scored one goal each. With this defeat Giovanni Trapattoni’s men have been eliminated from the competition as Spain took the lead in Group C over Croatia owing to a superior goal difference.