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What I Learned From Watching Day 12 of The Euros 2012, And A Look Forward

June 21, 2012

Group play came to a close in Ukraine on Tuesday, sending one last tremor across the Euro landscape before kicking into high gear Thursday with the Quarterfinals. Let’s look back before moving forward:

  • Could it be?  Could it actually be that joining the ranks of official darkhorses Portugal and Italy to win the Euros is Jolly Ol’ England?  The winners of Group D have fans’ hopes and expectations soaring after a gritty, fortunate 1-0 victory over a contentious Ukraine playing on home soil. A game that was really a one-sided affair for the 1st Half and much of the 2nd, the hosts dominating shots (16-9) possession (58-42%) and posing the larger threat.  “Return of the Roo” was better than the prequel “Don’ You Go Rounin’ Roun to Re Ro”, Wayne Rooney bringing the Three Lions into the match by getting to the right place at the right time in the 48th minute for the gamewinner, and otherwise looking spry if not a bit rusty. Roo probably should have had another goal in the 28th minute, an open header going wide of the goal (and no, I did not play “Rooney Bingo”). England’s defense was organized, if not too happy to let Ukraine send “wave after blue wave” towards Joe Hart (who for me was England’s Man of the Match). Then of course, John Terry did his part to keep England safe, but more on that later. For now, Italy looms on Sunday’s horizon, their prize for winning Group D avoiding Spain in the Quarters.
  • Like Poland, Ukraine sadly enjoyed its best moments of the tournament it co-hosted in their first match, one that should forever be known as “Sheva’s Swan Song”, Andriy Shevchencko’s two goals electrifying a nation and rolling back the years. Unlike Poland, Ukraine were capable of more it seemed, possessing some young quality in Andriy Yarmolenko, Yehven Konoplyanka, Denis Garmash and Yaroslav Rakitskiy (all 22 years old) that should ensure a smooth transition from the old guard of Sheva, Andriy Voronin, Anatoly Tymoshchuk and Serhiy Nazarenko, matched by an industriousness that posed constant threat to the teams they faced.  One can’t help but feel Ukraine were unlucky with the “goal that wasn’t” in the 62nd minute, Terry’s goalline save looking to be a foot late on replay (even if Artem Milevskiy was offsides), and while it would not have changed the end result alone, it would have changed the context of the remaining third of the match. Regardless, the other host country has now perished from Euro 2012.
  • As for France … What? Was? That?!? Losing 2-0 to the already eliminated Swedes is one thing, ending a 23-match unbeaten streak is another, but this performance was night compared to the day of their other two Group D matches. I don’t know what to make of France.  Calling them a darkhorse contender appears to both underestimate their collective talent and overestimate their performances at Euro 2012 so far. Yann M’Vila and Hatem Ben Arfa got the starts in the midfield that French fans have been clamoring for, and produced next to nothing before being substituted out. Firing 24 shots and having nothing to show for it was very “Russia vs. Poland” of them, while losing starting central defender Philippe Mexes to yellow card accumulation and a post-game “shouting match” that recalls French in-fighting at their 2010 World Cup collapse aren’t positive omens either. Advancing by the skin of their teeth through the back door, Les Bleus now have less than three days to find solutions against the World and European Champions (Not that Italy would have been Easy Street either).
  • Sweden has some tough questions to ask themselves as well, considering their about-face in form against the French. Zlatan Ibrahimovic showed his class once again, and Sweden’s other 10 players played up to his level, holding a lead for once and leaving their fans wondering where those efforts had been hiding. The game, much like England-Ukraine, didn’t take shape until the 2nd half when a star stepped forward, Ibra putting Sweden ahead in the 53rd minute with a wondrous sideways bicycle strike past a helpless Hugo Lloris that should end once and for all any questions regarding Ibra’s ability, with Sebastian Larsson’s goal in the 91st minute the cherry on top. If only Sweden could find similar talents at the other nine field positions, then they’d have something other than a middling European pretender.
  • With Ukraine and Sweden leaving the building, the Euro Quarterfinals are set.  Here’s a bracket setting out the schedule and structure, but to recap: On one side of the bracket, Czech Republic plays Portugal on Thursday and that winner will face the winner of Saturday’s Spain vs. France match.  On the other side, Germany faces Greece on Friday, and that winner plays Sunday’s England-Italy victor.  The winners of these two subsequent matches scheduled for Tuesday June 26 & Wednesday June 27 respectively, will play Sunday July 1 for all the marbles.  Only seven games left to decide who will be the Champion of Europe.
  • So who takes it all? Predictions while a tournament is ongoing are a funny thing. What is one to do? After all, I picked Netherlands to win it all beforehand and they didn’t win a game, much less make it to the knockout stage. I’m no computer, spitting out mathematical projections based on complex formulas (click the link if you want that kind of thing). I would like to think my analysis is much more educated than it was two weeks ago, but then again I thought it was educated then. Plus, doing a prediction bracket as I did, if you don’t get the right order of the group finish (I only got Group C exact, and none of the quarterfinals right), your predictions are all for naught. Best thing I can figure from here on is to just take each game as it comes. I like Portugal over the Czech Republic today, I think the Seleccao have too much quality in attack and represent a real step up in competition from the Czechs’ Group A opponents.  Petr Cech will have to be at his absolute best facing a likely barrage of shots from all angles to keep his side in the match. It’s a bridge too far for the Czechs against what I think has been among the Top 3 teams in these Euros, especially if Tomas Rosicky can’t go the full 90 minutes.

Up Next: Euro 2012 took a day off Wednesday after 12 straight matchdays to give all of us a pause to refresh. Thursday June 21 (today), Portugal vs. the Czech Republic kicks off at 11:45AM PST.

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From → Soccer, Sports

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