Euro 2012 Kickoff : A Review
Adam Hurrey's crusade to analyse, in excruciating depth, the unique language of football.
Euro 2012 has begun with a couple of matches that exceeded expectations of a traditionally conservative opening day. On the blog today, our Euro 2012 correspondent Adam Hurrey delivers his thoughts on the first day of play.
Nobody was sure what Group A would provide on the opening day, but two high-tempo and high-drama games meant that Euro 2012 was off to a perfect start. Here's how it unfolded on day 1...
A mercifully brief affair, the opening ceremony still managed to fit in a few classics - the reassuring presence of giant footballs that opened up, for example. Before millions of Europe-wide clock-watching office workers could collectively say "get on with it", the pitch was cleared and ready for the opener.
Poland v Greece
Goals, red cards, a missed penalty - this game had it all. Obviously, that's nonsense - there's loads of things it didn't have - but it was a stunning curtain-raiser for the tournament.
Robert Lewandowski, the Euro 2012 bandwagon de jour, opened the scoring after Greek goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias crossed the border from the corridor of uncertainty into no man's land. Poland erupted, as Lewandowski skipped gleefully away to celebrate. Greece's task was made even more mountainous when Sokratis Papastathopoulos inexplicably saw red after two rather innocuous fouls, with Spanish official Carlos Velasco Carballo quite emphatically living up to his card-happy reputation.
Half-time saw Greece coach Fernando Santos reshuffle his pack and it was substitute Dimitris Salpingidis who stabbed home the equaliser after Wojciech Szczesny failed to deal with a Vasilios Torosidis cross. Worse was to come for the Arsenal goalkeeper when he tripped Salpingidis in the area, a penalty decision that was comfortably both cast-iron AND stonewall, and he received his marching orders. The proverbial script was hastily rewritten, though, as substitute keeper Przemyslaw Tyton made himself an instant hero by keeping out Giorgos Karagounis's side-footed effort.
The spirited Greeks may well rue two dropped points in Warsaw, but it would have been an unlikely-looking draw when Papastathopoulos trudged down the tunnel in the first half. Poland, described by coach Franciszek Smuda as being "paralysed by the pressure", must regroup for their second game against the Czechs.
Russia v Czech Republic
Widely-declared dark horses Russia sent out a message to the tournament favourites with a demolition of the Czech Republic in Wroclaw. A performance full of vim (and indeed its frequent bedfellow, vigour) was led by the free-spirited Alan Dzagoev and Andrey Arshavin.
The movement and precision of the Russian attacks saw the Czech defence sliced apart on a number of occasions, with only some wayward finishing preventing Dick Advocaat's side from moving out of sight. The close-up of a rueful, profligate Aleksandr Kerzhakov initially threatened to be the definitive image of the night, so often it seemed to come up on the screen.
However, it was Kerzhakov's header that rebounded off the post into the path of Dzagoev to make it 1-0 after a quarter of an hour. Within ten minutes, that lead had been doubled as one of Roman Shirokov's countless forays from midfield was rewarded with a simple finish.
As in the first game of the day, though, half-time served to stem the tide. Seven minutes into the second half, Vaclav Pilar latched onto a slide-rule pass to round Vyacheslav Malafeev and make it 2-1. This was a test of Russian nerves, but their midfield regained their control of the game and waited for the Czechs to leave spaces in behind for their forward line to exploit. Kerzhakov's evening was over and his replacement, Roman Pavlyuchenko, coolly set up Dzagoev to put Russia back in command.
Pavlyuchenko, appropriately enough in the homeland of Chopin, waltzed through the Czech defence with alarming ease for the fourth with eight minutes remaining. The scoreline did not flatter his side, and the disjointed Czechs (who had thrilled Europe in similar fashion in 2004) looked on with envy at their dynamic, imaginative conquerors.
Adam will be covering Euro 2012 for the BettingExpert blog with thanks to our friends at Betfair.
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Looking forward to your next analysis. The ESPN pundits were all over "Denmark came literally off the beach in 1992. One player was even painting his kitchen..." In general, US pundits seem way worse than they European counterparts. In the Denmark - Holland break they were seriously discussing "What is wrong with Holland during this tournament", as if a team that plays one decent half is totally off.