- Photo courtesy of Bronski Beat via Flickr Creative Commons
As I write this, all the groups have played their opening matches in the Euro Championships, and Groups A, B and C have played their second. Results have largely gone according to expectations, if you set aside the apparent anomaly of the Netherlands being at the bottom of their group. The matches have been exciting, with a least one goal per match. Just over halfway to the quarterfinal round, let's look at the tables.
- Union des Associations Européennes de Football (UEFA)
Group A is topped by Russia, after a commanding win over the Czech Republic and a draw with co-hosts Poland. The Czechs picked up a win against defensive-minded Greece, which is in last place with 1 point. The Poles are second-bottom with 2 points from a pair of draws. Russia will probably win the group comfortably, most likely leaving 2nd place to the winner of the match between the Poles and the Czechs. Greece has a small chance of coming 2nd if they beat Russia and the other teams draw. Whatever happens, Russia proved to be a formidable squad and will be a handful in the Quarterfinals.
In Group B – the so-called "Group of Death" for the strength of its teams — Germany rests comfortably at the top.They overcame Portugal in their first match and soundly defeated Holland in their second. Portugal and Denmark sit tied for 2nd place, with the Dutch propping up the table (i.e. in last place). Holland has a chance to survive the group, but must defeat Portugal, who also must win to progress. Could Denmark sneak into the quarterfinals with a win against the already-qualified Germans?
Group C is playfully called the "Group of Debt" for its inclusion of Spain, Italy and Ireland.But make no mistake; this group is just as competitive as Group B.Spain and Italy produced a fascinating 1-1 draw (yes, ties can be fascinating!) in their openers, while Croatia dispatched Ireland with ease. The luck of the Irish continued its absence as Ireland fell helplessly to Spain 4-0. So current champions Spain are top with 4 points and a large goal difference over Croatia, which also has four points after a cagey draw with Italy. Italy is third with only two points, but could leap into 2nd place with a win over the Irish.
Group D's first matches left co-hosts Ukraine at the top, Sweden at the bottom, and France & England in the middle. Ukraine's 35 year-old talisman, Andriy Shevchenko, rolled back the years to score two goals against the Swedes, whose own living legend, ZlatanIbrahimovic, could only muster one. Talented France allowed weaklings England to scrap out a draw. Friday's matches should go a long way to determining the winners of the group.
So what can we draw from the results up to now? First of all, we can see the two big favorites – Spain and Germany – in position to progress to the quarterfinals. To me, they provide a very interesting contrast.Spain's lineups have endeavored to include the very best 11 players from their highly-talented squad, whereas Germany's starting 11 is based upon the spine (and legs and an arm or two) of German mega-club Bayern Munich. I instinctively felt that Spain would succeed with their approach. But the Germans have also found success, despite coach Joachim Loew's decision to use a formation that relies upon the likes of Lukas Podolski — who has not played well at all so far — over such promising youngsters as Goetze, Reus and Kroos.Stay tuned to future updates for more analysis of these questions.
As already stated, the Russians look strong, defensively sound and capable of scoring a goal from several directions. The speedy midfielder Dzagoev already has two goals and should expect more with continued service from Arsenal's Andrey Arshavin. Roman Pavlyuchenko rarely starts for club or country but is always a threat to score. Don't be surprised if they win Group A and make a run to the semi-finals, or beyond.
Pity poor Netherlands... Runners-up in the World Cup four years ago, they have lost both their Euro 2012 matches. What's gone wrong? In my original preview report, I worried over their weak defense; those concerns were not unfounded. The Dutch defense has been broken down by every kind of attack in the opening matches — crosses from the wings, dribble penetration, and long kicks have all succeeded in creating chances against them. Meanwhile, their attack has been completely dependent upon Sneijder and Van Persie, but they have not delivered enough. The idea that they could simply score goals for fun due to their wealth of attacking talent was fatally flawed.
The fight for 2nd place in Group C appears to me to be the most interesting of them all. Italy's draw with Spain could have been a win but for the failure to keep Spain away from their goal.T hey played very well, producing their own kind of special football thanks largely to experienced playmaker Andrea Pirlo. He pulled the strings as the Italians frequently pinned Spain back in their own half. But control of the match seesawed back towards Spain in the immediate aftermath of Italy's opener, and that's how it ended. If Croatia and Spain advance at the expense of Italy, it will be the tournament's loss.
Finally, a brief word about England, France and the Ukraine in Group D. Ukraine is the surprise package at the moment, but I suspect their bid to progress has legs — literally. Tireless running by their midfielders, along with a stout defensive line and experienced forwards, make this team look a tricky test for France, not to mention England. The English actually didn't look awful against France, but they didn't look amazing either. France ran circles around them but could only break their thick defensive shield one time.
So far, so good in terms of an open and exciting tournament. Let's hope we can get all the way through with no 0-0 results.
Long may the goals continue to flow!