UEFA 2012 European Championship: Day 2
Saturday 09 June 2012 – Day 2
Yesterday saw the tournament get off to an entertaining and possibly unexpected bright start. However, some sections of the media were quick to point out that Group A was the weakest. Now whilst this may or may not be true, the fact is that both the games in Poland were for me as a neutral good to watch. Yes you can argue about the technical deficiencies, poor marking, bad judgement and the rest, but does it mean that the ‘better’ teams will provide even more accomplished viewing for fans? Well today there is a chance to assess that as Group B (seen as ‘the group of death’ by many) gets underway later, as the 1988 European Champions (the Netherlands) take on the 1992 winners (Denmark), followed by Die Mannschaft (otherwise known as the German ‘machine’) against Os Navegadores (‘the Navigators’ of Portugal). Perhaps the 2012 competition is destined to be open, full of goals and some surprises? I’m just an old cynic, but surely tonight these two games will be more cagey?
On Sunday, Group C begins as heavyweights Spain take on Italy at the PGE Arena in Gdansk and then later the Republic of Ireland start their campaign against Croatia in the Municipal Stadium in Poznan. Spain are the current European Champions having overcome Germany in the 2008 Final. Spain took part and qualified for the Finals in 1960, but refused to travel to the Soviet Union for their Quarter-Final due to a political dispute and so the Soviet Union were awarded a walkover victory. Four years later, Spain hosted the Finals and emerged victorious over the Soviet Union in Madrid. It was sixteen years before Spain made the Finals again (Italy 1980), but finished bottom of their Group with just a single point. In 1984 it was a much better performance from the Spaniards and after topping their Group, made it to the Final after a penalty shoot-out win over Denmark. However, the hosts France took the title 2-0 as Spain finished runners-up. In the 1988 and 2004 tournaments Spain did not make it past the Group stages, whilst in 1996 and 2000 exited at the Quarter-Finals to England and France, respectively. Spain have warmed up for this tournament with three wins, having beaten Serbia (2-0), South Korea (4-1) and China (1-0). Can they become the first country to win back-to-back titles?
Italy, despite having won the World Cup on four occasions, have surprisingly only been European Champions once, that being back in 1968 when they hosted the Finals. Indeed it would not be unfair to state that the Azzurri (The Blues) have underachieved in the European competition. Italy did not enter in 1960 and did not make it to the Finals in 1964. For the 1968 Finals, Italy came through a Group containing Romania, Switzerland and Cyprus, before beating Bulgaria over two-legs in the Quarter-Finals. In the Semi-Final against the Soviet Union, Italy emerged after winning the coin toss, after the game finished 0-0 after extra-time. Strange to think that this was the ruling before penalties! In the Final the game against Yugoslavia ended 1-1, but in the replay Italy emerged 2-0 winners. Having failed to qualify in 1972 and 1976, it was 1980 and back on home soil when the Italians next appeared in the Finals. They finished fourth after losing to Czechoslovakia in the Third/Fourth place play-off on penalties. In 1984 Italy failed to qualify for the Finals in France, but in 1988 made it to the Semi-Finals, going down 2-0 to the Soviet Union. 1992 took place in Sweden but Italy didn’t qualify. The Italians have qualified for all the tournaments since 1996 and came mighty close to taking the title in 2000. Leading 1-0 in the Final, France equalised deep into time added on with a goal from Sylvain Wiltord. The French comeback was completed when David Trezeguet netted to break Italians hearts and seal a 2-1 win for France. Coming into the 2012 tournament, Italy have lost their last two games, going down 1-0 to the USA and then 3-0 to Russia. Will this be another tournament of disappointment for Italy?
The Republic of Ireland have only previously qualified for the Finals on one occasion, back in 1988. The Irish started with a win against England and then a draw with the Soviet Union. Going into their last game against the Netherlands, a draw would have been enough to see Ireland through to the knock-out stages. The Dutch left it late, but a goal from Wim Kieft with eight minutes remaining shattered the Irish dream. In qualifying for the 2012 competition, the Republic of Ireland defeated Estonia 5-1 in the play-offs. In their final warm-up games, Ireland had a 1-0 home win over Bosnia and Herzegovina and then drew 0-0 in Hungary. Ireland are in a tough Group in 2012, but they will make it difficult for whoever they play and maybe, just maybe cause an upset.
Croatia emerged out of the split (sorry no pun intended) of Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s and since qualified for the Finals in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012. In England in 1996, Croatia finished second in their Group to Portugal, going out to Germany 2-1 in the Quarter-Finals. It was a less successful experience for the Croats in 2004, where two draw (against Switzerland and France) and defeat by England, meant they didn’t progress from the Group stages. In 2008, Croatia topped their Group with three wins (over Germany , Austria and Poland) but exited in a dramatic fashion against Turkey in the Semi-Finals. The match was 0-0 and in the last minute of extra-time when Ivan Klasnic scored what looked like a winner for Croatia. However, in time added-on Semih Senturk brought the Turks level and sent the game to penalties. Croatia stunned by this late goal, buckled under the pressure and missed three out of four penalties to crash out 3-1. Croatia had some revenge recently as they beat Turkey 3-0 on aggregate to qualify for this years competition. In their last two friendlies before the 2012 tournament, Croatia beat Estonia 3-1 and drew 1-1 with Norway. Personally I can’t see Croatia making much impression this time around and are can see then finishing bottom of the Group.