Friday, 8 June 2012

EURO 2012: Group A Review

Questionable refereeing, dodgy goal-keeping, but certainly a thrashing.

Match day 1: By Tom Smart

Robert Lewandowski opens the
EURO 2012 scoring

Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images Europe
The opening day of the European Championships without doubt sent messages of enthralling excitement to fans that have waited for football since the end of the domestic season. The day began with the early kick-off where co-hosts Poland took on a supposedly weaker Greek side including ex-City striker, Georgios Samaras.

The game burst into life with the hosts firing on all cylinders and certainly in the mood to impress the home crowd. A quick tempo took the Greeks by surprise and in the 17th minute a whipped cross in by Jakub Blaszczykowski found the soaring head of Robert Lewandowski to put the Poles in the lead.

The Greeks were stunned and hung on for the rest of the half despite being reduced to 10 men. Sokratis Papastathopoulos was initially booked for what seemed a fair challenge, before then being booked a second time for bringing down Polish attacker Ludovic Obraniak. A harsh decision on the Greek side who within minutes also had seen a debatable decision be ruled against them when the were shouts for a handball inside the area by a Polish defender.

The 2nd half began and Greece looked a different side altogether despite having the disadvantage. This didn't last for long as a disastrous mistake by Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny allowing Dimitris Salpingidis to prod the ball home from six yards. It was a fantastic return from the Greece side who had looked dead and buried in the first half.

In the 70th minute Szczesny was at fault again but this time it appeared twice as costly. As a delightful pass evaded the Polish defence, Szczesny jumped at the feet of Salpingidis who went tumbling as a result of the challenge. The referee was in no doubt about the penalty decision and showing the red card to the goalkeeper. Up-stepped Titan Tyton in the Poland goal to prevent Giorgos Karagounis' spot-kick from which he parried away in the bottom left of the goal. A fantastic save for his country that will no doubt earn him some plaudits over the next coming weeks and for the remainder of the campaign.

Europe turned to see what Russia and the Czech Republic could offer us as an audience. It wasn't disappointing. The Russians shot out of the blocks much like the Polish had in the previous game and within 15 minutes went 1-0 up thanks to the attacking sensation that is Alan Dzagoev after an effort had already hit the post.

The Russians looked even more dangerous and continued to pummel the Czech goal with 2nd goal by a Roman Shirokov chip following some neat work by Andrei Arshavin. However, The Czech's returned in the 2nd half with a sound response to that of their 1st half performance. Jaroslav Plasil played a sublime through ball that reached Vaclav Pilar, before Pilar rounded the Russian goalkeepper and slotted home comfortably. It appeared that it was game on again.

Man of the match: Dzagoev was on fire for Russia
Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images Europe
Russia refused to give up though and whilst the game petered out the Russians turned the screw once more. Roman Pavlyuchenko provided man of the match Dzagoev to strike powerfully at goal, beating the keeper and effectively killing off the Czech's. Matters became worse for the Czech's when minutes later, what appeared to be a selfish run by Pavlyuchenko, turned into a fantastic solo effort and goal that must have had Harry Redknapp wondering why he let such a talent go.

The day started with the host nation and Greece battling out a fiery contest before the Russian domination ended a superb opening day of European Championship football. Head back tomorrow for our coverage of the first matches in Group B!

Polish fightback ensures Group A still wide open, whilst Czech's end tie early as Greece fall to bottom of group.

Match day 2: By Tom Smart

The Czech Republic began the second game of their campaign in a fashion that set-out to rectify the thrashing by Russia they received four days earlier. The third minute saw an exquisite pass from Tomas Hubschman into the path of Petr Jiracek, whose effort at goal was good enough to beat Kostas Chalkias despite the Greek goalkeeper getting a hand to it.

Pilar doubles the scoring for the Czech's
Photo: Christof Koepsel/Getty Images Europe
Just three minutes later the Czech's broke again and a low driven ball across the area found Vaclav Pilar who managed to stumble the ball home, sending Czech fans into a state of disbelief. 

The two goals for the Czech's were enough to win them the game despite Greece having a header chalked off for offside, before Petr Cech clumsily fumbled the ball in the second half and allowed Theofanis Gekas to bag from close range. The goal however, only proved to be a consolation goal for the Greeks.

Ultimately a comfortable performance from a Czech side that needed to illustrate some form of reaction after the 4-1 drubbing to Russia and suitably responded.

Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images Europe

The second game of the day saw co-host nation Poland take on rivals Russia in a game that was always going to be a fiery and passionate affair.

Russia took the lead within the first half with a fine free-kick that was whipped in by Andrey Arshavin before the young prodigy Alan Dzagoev got on to the end of the cross and shouldered the ball in from just outside the six yard box. 

The late stages of the first half saw Poland creep back in to the game and put pressure on to the Russians. But it wasn't until the 57th minute that saw Jakub Blaszczykowski score a quite fantastic goal by taking a remarkable first touch to shake off Yuri Zhirkov, before then hitting a scorching effort that rifled into the top corner beyond Vyacheslav Malafeev.

Jakub Blaszczykowski levels the score line at the National Stadium
Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images Europe

The Poles continued to press the Russians but to little avail as the game finished 1-1. The hosts will have to be content with a point that saw them fight back against a strong Russian side.

Favourites Russia and co-hosts Poland crash out as surprise package Greece advance to the last 8

Match day 3: By Patrick Woodward-Massey

Expectations were high all around Poland as Group A came to a close for the tournament co-hosts on an atmospheric night at the Polish national stadium. Poland needed a win to cement a place in the Quarter-Finals so everything was to play for in the most important match in Poland’s footballing history. Two draws in a row for Poland was simply not good enough, so anything less than a win would be a disaster and would see Poland come crashing out of the competition.

In the other game in Group A, Russia met Greece in a game where nearly everyone predicted an easy win for the threatening Russian team, who had exciting names in their team such as Yuri Zhirkov, Alan Dzagoev, Aleksandr Kerzhakov and of course Arsenal’s out of favour winger Andrey Arshavin who were all in awesome form coming in to the game. Greece simply had no chance in many people’s minds as a strong Russia wanted to make it two wins and a top of the group placed finish.

The Poland game started brightly as an overhead kick from Poland’s Dariusz Dudka hit the side netting, leading to most of the fans in the stadium thinking they had witnessed the first goal of the game at the 2nd minute.

In the other Group A game, Russia gained control of the early possession and saw a few missed chances from the likes of Arshavin who scuffed a shot from the outside of the area.

Ex-Manchester City striker Georgios Samaras looked to be only one of Greece’s two player threats along with Theofanis Gekas who had scored earlier in the tournament in the first game against Poland.

One of the Polish attacking duo Robert Lewandowski (and arguably Poland’s best player ), squandered a chance from inside the box in the 9th minute of the game.

Shortly after in the other game, Russia’s keeper Malafeev was forced into a save from a Georgios Karagounis corner.  In the 13th minute a powerful shot from Russia’s Kerzhakov from 18 yards came close, just breezing past the Greek keepers post.

As the first half went on it was clear to see that Poland were becoming increasingly more confident attackingly, with their large number of home fans in red and white behind them, but they could not find a way into the Czech’s goal and were becoming more frustrated as the minutes passed.

Petr Cech was forced into a save from a dipping Sebastian Boenisch shot in the 20th minute which was turned just passed the post by the Chelsea champions’ league winning shot-stopper.

Russia maintained a good passing rhythm in their midfield as it was still goalless in the game between the two sides.

By the 30th minute in the Poland v. Czech Republic game, it became less exciting and almost dull, as the rain fell heavily and both teams clearly did not want to lose.

For the Czech Republic, Milan Baros failed to capitalise on an onside chance which would have gifted the Czechs the lead after 36 minutes but instead he couldn’t make contact with the ball. After this the Czech Republic kept good possession for a period of 5 minutes which saw some lovely passing moves but still no goal. This frustrated the Polish fans and players as heavy boos ringed around the stadium.

A chance for Russia came from the threat Kerzhakov who wasted it in the 38th minute as he miss-hit the ball and proceeded to fall over after a lovely chip from the captain Arshavin. This was preceded shortly after in the 40th minute as the Ex-Chelsea, long range shot meister, Zhrikov, Tried his luck from nearly 40 yards out and wasn’t far from finding the back of the net, but his effort crept past the Greek crossbar.

The first break in both games came as Greece took a surprise and maybe undeserved lead just before half time through a brace inside the area through Karagounis, who was part of the Greece team to win the European championships in 2004.

As things stood at half time in Group A after both games were stopped, Russia and Greece were both going through with 4 points and Poland and the Czech Republic were heading out with the Czechs on 4 pts but with -2 goal difference and Poland finishing bottom of the group on 3 pts. Poland definitely needed a spirited and helpful half-time team talk from their manager.

Knowing that both teams needed a result in the Poland game, the game started considerably brighter in the second half.  In the other game, Spurs striker Roman Pavyluchenko replaced the free scoring Kerzhakov in the Russian team.

The Poland game became tense again short after as both teams were unable to keep the ball for a long enough period of time to threaten the opposing team. A series of Czech Republic attacks came to nothing. The tense atmosphere could be seen in the stadium as both sets of fans became quieter and more nervous.
Greece, looking to add to their lead after the second half began, saw two driving runs forward by Samaras which resulted in a weak shot from distance.

Czech Republic and Poland especially were showing a lack of creativity and only had around 30 minutes to win and progress to the next round. This looked unlikely. Poland were looking for their first win ever in the European championships and couldn’t look further away from doing so.

Petr Jiracek celebrates for the Czech's
Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images Europe
In the 61st minute, Greece appeared to have a penalty claim but when goal scorer Karagounis was tripped by Russia defender Sergei Ignashevic, the Greek player was shown a yellow card for diving, which sent Karagounis fuming as he would miss the quarter-final if Greece were to progress.

Poland’s hopes were crushed further as Jiracek for the Czech Republic managed to get inside the Poland box and creep the ball passed the hopeless Polish keeper. Poland were sent into despair. They needed two goals in less than 20 minutes, an impossible task. As it stood, the Czech Republic were going through as group winners with Russia being knocked out in third place and Poland finishing in a depressing 4th place in the group. Not what the co-hosts wanted.

A lack of chances for Lewandowski for Poland was the main reason they were losing. He was the main threat but he was not getting any service from his teammates.

In the 84th minute, Russia had a chance to put the ball in the back of the net and change their fate through a Dzagoev from a perfect Arshavin cross, but it glanced just wide.

When the 90th minute came, Poland and Czech Republic found out there was 4 minutes of stoppage time in which they could get a goal, but that did not happen and it finished 1-0 to the Czech Republic which left Poland desperately unhappy in bottom place and Czech Republic into euphoria as they topped the group.
All eyes were on the Greece vs. Russia game which was into the last minutes with Greece still 1 -0 up.  

Greece shock Europe as they knock Russia out of the European Championships
Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images Europe

Greece went on to win the game and against the odds knocked the Group A favourites out of the tournament and progressed surprisingly into the quarter-finals which sent them back to the happy days of 2004.
Russia and Co-hosts Poland were left packing for home and thinking of what could have been, just as Ireland had, after playing the world champions Spain.

Group A finished:
1.       Czech Republic – 6pts (GD -1)
2.       Greece – 4pts (GD 0)
3.       Russia – 4pts (GD 2)
4.       Poland – 2 pts (GD -1)      (Greece go through on less goal difference but on head to heads)

Czech Republic 1-0 Poland (Jiracek 72)
Greece 1-0 Russia (Karagounis 45)

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You can also follow Patrick on Twitter: @MasseyPatrick

(c) The Sky Blue View 2012

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