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What I Learned Watching Day 1 of The Euros 2012

June 9, 2012

Group A took shape yesterday with Russia emerging as the clear favorite, while the other three squads put their mixed bag of assets and liabilities on display.  If you missed any of the games, you can watch or DVR replays nightly on the ESPN family of networks (check local listings) or stream the games live or in replay at WatchESPN.com.  Here’s what I learned:

  • At the risk of reinforcing some terrible cultural stereotypes, Poland did not play the smartest game today against Greece.  They spent the first 17 minutes marauding down the right flank, culminating in their superbly headed goal by Robert Lewandowski, and then abandoned that plan altogether.  What?  Especially after Greece went a man down – on the second of two soft yellow cards for Sokratis Papastathopoulos (or “Pasta” for short) by overmatched Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo – and had to extend in order to equalize thereby setting up even more opportunities on the counter?  Once they got the lead, Poland relaxed and became complacent, starting the second half in a completely opposite tenor to the frenzied charge of the first half, and couldn’t ramp it back up after Greece tied the match.  An observation further evinced by the ESPN announcers referencing Poland Manager Franciszek Smuda’s comments the day before about being less aggressive if the game was tied with 15-20 minutes left. Maybe Poland is feeling the home nation pressure to succeed as host; Of course this is what happened, the game and their play a self-fulfilling prophecy indeed. With Russia next and their fate now resting in part on feet other than their own, there’s no time for the co-hosts to be bashful.
  • Greece’s captain, Giorgos Karagounis, is apparently called “The Dude” by his teammates (thanks for that one Ian Darke!). Too bad “The Dude” flubbed what would have been a winning penalty kick, earned in the second half when Poland’s back line was caught in a poorly executed offside trap and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny took down Greek hero (no, not gyro) and goalscoring super sub Dimitrios Salpingidis inside the box. Szczesny’s red card was deserved – one of the few calls Carballo got right – but maybe Salpingidis should have taken the spot kick as well, as later he had another winning goal disallowed due to a proper offsides call. I’m guessing he starts against the Czechs. As it was, substitute Polish keeper Przemyslaw Tyton saved the hosts’ bacon and may have single-handedly kept their advancement dreams alive, while Greece just keeps doing what it’s done over the last decade; in sum, so much drama for a game I told y’all to skip.
  • Not to toot my own horn, but in yesterday’s preview I identified Russia’s Alan Dzagoev as the Player To Watch in Group A, suggesting he was ready for his star turn on the European stage, and boy howdy!  Two well-taken goals in their 4-1 avalanche of a tepid Czech team, becoming the second youngest player (behind an 18-year old Wayne Rooney in 2004) to score two goals in one game at the Euros; I can’t wait for his encore.  Meanwhile, maybe Roman Pavlyuchenko should start instead of the man he replaced in the 74th minute, Alexander Kerzhakov.  According to ESPN, Kerzhakov became “the first striker in European Championship history to have 7 shots off target in a single game,” while Roman scored 1 goal and assisted another in 19 minutes of duty.  Despite a slow start, Russia showed the verve and flow necessary to pose a threat beyond the group stage.
  • Speaking of the Czechs, the four goals conceded might have flattered to deceive (if that’s possible) as to how vulnerable they are in the back, especially considering how off target Kerzhakov was. Petr Cech couldn’t do much but plug two thumbs into a dyke sporting several leaks. Lucky for them Poland and Greece weren’t exactly sterling today, and I was impressed by Ethiopian-born Theodor Gebre Selassie providing attacking support and pace from the back down the wings; he and Michal Kadlec need to do more of that in my opinion to create goal scoring opportunities, even as it may leave their defense more vulnerable. Advancement to the knockout stage is still within the Czech’s reach (as well as it is for Poland and Greece), but I’m already penciling in Russia as the Group A winner.

Up Next: Saturday June 9, Group B begins with Netherlands vs. Denmark, 9:00AM PST, followed by Germany vs. Portugal, 11:45AM PST.

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From → Soccer, Sports

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