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What I Learned From Watching Day 9 of The Euros 2012

June 17, 2012

Group A’s final matchday produced the first real shock of the Euros (“alleged” upsets in a “Group of Death” don’t count in my book) as we received a reminder that not everything is as it seems in soccer.

  • Make no mistake:  Greece over Russia 1-0 is an upset. With only a point to show for its efforts through two games the question was which Greece would show up? Who knew it would be the 2004 Greece in all its antihero glory? Get a goal (a world class goal by the by from “The Dude” at the end of the 1st, who looks much more like a young De Niro than Jeff Lebowski), then bunker, frustrate, delay, gesticulate and remonstrate their way to victory.  A style that culminated in what I called the “Death of Soccer” at the Euro 2004 final, Greece showed that many of the players have changed, but their game remained the same, and against feckless opponents such as Poland and Russia, it still works. Good luck with that against Germany next Wednesday though. Nevertheless, a famous victory for a country who may be deciding its larger fate today.
  • Russia crapped the bed. No better way to say it.  They dazzled vs. the Czechs, and then progressively got worse throughout group play, giving more than credence to those who said before the tournament that Russia’s squad on the whole was too old to make it far in these Euros.  Even their breakout starlet Alan Dzagoev couldn’t save them in the 84th minute with a glancing header that this time (as opposed to his goal against Poland) went inches wide of the post. Depending on what stat source you believe, UEFA or FourFourTwo’s Stats Zone app, Russia had either 25 or 31 shots against Poland, and none of them went in; And so it went.  If indeed, “This Is Russia”, then Russia sucks based on yesterday’s display, and they have no one else to blame but themselves.
  • I love the fact that UEFA changed the tiebreaking procedure to favor head-to-head results over goal differential, which is the first tiebreaker for World Cup group stages.  Never made any sense to me when the loser of a head-to-head battle advanced over the winner because they had better results against the other two teams. Another benefit is it further incentivizes teams to win instead of tie games, which is always a good idea.
  • As for the resilient Czechs, who played without their midfield quarterback Tomas Rosicky due to an Achilles injury, if you had told me they would have won the group after losing 4-1 to Russia, I would have laughed in your face (and been sure to have eaten some garlic and onions before hand).  But it’s the Czechs who are laughing now, winning out against two limited teams with bursts of class play and save for one moment against Greece, the steely resolve of their goalkeeper Petr Cech.  The Czechs absorbed Poland’s early rushes in the first half of the 1st Half, then gradually began to take the game over, Petr Jiracek’s 72nd minute gamewinner the sum of a remainder of escalating pressure down the flanks (including runs by Vaclav Pilar, David Limbersky and my guy Theodor Gebre Selassie) and a grinding, counterattacking approach that managed to control possession 58-42% and create the same number of shots on goal (7 for both) from five less chances than Poland (11 shots overall to Poland’s 16). Put into check by Russia, they fought their way out and produced their own Czech-mate on the rest of Group A, and have at least a puncher’s chance against what is sure to be a battered and bruised Group B runner-up next Thursday.
  • In a do-or-die situation away from Warsaw for the first time this tournament, Poland died on a rainy night in Wroclaw.  The “Dortmund Trio” of Blaszczkowski, Piszczek & Lewandowski (how’s that for the name of a law firm?) was virtually non-existent yesterday, and nothing else Poland tried worked, from bringing on two offensive-minded subs in the last 20 minutes, or pushing numbers forward to create more chances; the Czech goal actually came off a turnover and the blitzing counterattack into space left open by onrushing Polish midfielders and wingbacks that resembled a 3-on-2 fast break in basketball, and despite Poland having most of the chances after that, it was all for naught. Sad that the best moment on the pitch this co-host country experienced in their tournament occurred 17 minutes into their first match, Lewandowski’s brilliant header against Greece that sent ripples across Poland, only to be followed by wasted opportunities and unfulfilled promise.  Hopefully the Poles embrace the remaining Euro games now that their heroes are out of the competition.

Up Next: Sunday June 17, Group B dies as Germany faces Denmark and Portugal battles Netherlands, both games 11:45AM PST. I’ll be watching what could be the last game for the Dutch in these Euros.  On that note, Happy Father’s Day!

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From → Soccer, Sports

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