UEFA 2012 European Championship: Day 3

Sunday 10 June 2012

The Ukraine got its first games underway on Saturday in Group B and with it the first shock of the tournament. 

Netherlands                   (0) 0 – 1 (1)  Denmark

Prior to kick-off in Kharkiv, the BBC showed a feature about the Danes unexpected triumph at Euro 1992. Surely history doesn’t repeat itself? Well, for the first twenty minutes, the Netherlands looked at ease stroking the ball around as Robben, Van Persie and Afellay all had chances for the Dutch. Then completely against the run of play, Denmark attacked down the left, the move looked to have broken down, but a ricochet saw the ball fall to Krohn-Delhi who cut inside a less than tight Dutch back four to fire through the legs of keeper Stekelenburg and give the Danes the lead on twenty three minutes. The Dutch continued to attack and create chance after chance, but a combination of good goal-keeping from Andersen, dogged defence and a bit of luck – Robben hitting the post, meant Denmark went in at half-time with a 1-0 lead. The second-half followed a similar pattern to the first as the Dutch dominated and created numerous chances, even a double substitution with the introduction of Huntelaar and Van der Vaart with just under twenty minutes remaining couldn’t change the fortunes of the Netherlands. The Dutch knew their luck was out when late on a good shout for handball in the area was turned down. Should the ‘new’ goal-line officials have seen it? Well if they didn’t, what is their role? In a season when we have seen teams dominate possession and chances but not win (like the Barcelona v Chelsea Champions League games), here was another example. The stats told us that the Netherlands has 29 attempts on goal, but only six on target, the Danes had 8 efforts on goal with 4 on target. The most important figure of course was the final score-line and now Group B has become a real dog-fight.

Germany              (0) 1 – 0 (0)  Portugal

In Lviv, Germany emerged winners over Portugal. Germany created their best chances in the first-half when getting down the flanks with Gomez the main German threat. However, Pepe had an excellent chance for Portugal when his shot hit the bar before bouncing down on the goal-line. Germany just shaded the first-half, but the teams went in at 0-0 at the break. The deadlock was broken on seventy two minutes when a cross from Sami Khedira was headed in by Gomez, who had lost his marker Pepe. Portugal did respond with Nani clipping the crossbar with a cross-come-shot and Neuer making good saves from Ronaldo and substitute Varela late-on. However, Germany held on for the win and now look forward to Wednesday and the game against bitter rivals in the form of the Dutch.

Tomorrow the last of the first round of games comes to an end as Group D begins. In the opening game France take on England, with Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine later. The French have been European Champions on two occasions, the first on home soil in 1984 when beating Spain and in 2000 when overcoming Italy 2-1 in dramatic fashion. However, apart from that their record is very mixed. France did not qualify for any tournaments between 1964 and 1980 as well as 1988. In 1992 and 2008 Les Bleus did not make it out of the Group stage. In 1996 France did make the Semi-Finals but lost out 6-5 to the Czech Republic. 2004 saw France fall to Champions elect Greece 1-0 in the Quarter-Finals. More recently, France have quietly and confidently been going about their football business and racked up friendly wins in 2012 against Germany, Iceland, Serbia and Estonia. They could be the dark horses of the competition.

England…well yes, we know we haven’t won anything since 1966 and yes we blow it on penalties more often that not. So unsurprisingly our European Championship record is to be blunt, very poor. In 1960 England didn’t enter and didn’t qualify for 1964. In 1968 England qualified for the Finals after the results of the 1967 and 1968 Home Internationals series were combined and saw them through a point ahead of Scotland. In the Semi-Final against Yugoslavia England lost 1-0, but finished third in the tournament after beating the Soviet Union 2-0. In 1972 and 1976 England failed to qualify for the Finals but did make it to Italy for Euro 1980. However, a draw with Belgium, a loss to Italy and a win over Spain were not enough to see the Three Lions progress. 1984 passed England by, but England made it to Germany in 1988 and probably wished they hadn’t as they lost all three Group games (against the Republic of Ireland, the Netherlands and the Soviet Union) to finish rock bottom. 1992 in Sweden was again another tournament to forget. England drew their opening two games 0-0 (against Denmark and France) and could have qualified for the knock-out phase if they had beaten Sweden. David Platt gave England an early lead and they lead 1-0 at half-time, however two second-half goals send the hosts through and left England bottom of their group for a second successive tournament. 1996 is well documented and we fell to those old foes Germany and penalties in the Semi-Finals. In 2000 England self-destructed in spectacular fashion on two occasions. Firstly, in the opening Group game against Portugal, England had a 2-0 lead after eighteen minutes, which by fifty nine minutes had turned into a 3-2 deficit. Secondly, in the final Group game needing only a point to progress, with the score at 2-2 in the last minute, Phil Neville needlessly conceded a penalty and Romania scored to progress at England’s expense. In Portugal four years later, England came through their Group and faced the hosts in the Quarter-Finals. In a see-saw game that ended 2-2, England once again blew it on penalties 6-5. 2008 and England didn’t qualify after the calamitous defeat at Wembley to Croatia in their last qualification game. Who knows what to expect in 2012? As Roy Hodgson rather wonderfully put it, it will be the “…most terrific or torrid three weeks…” of his career.

Sweden’s involvement in the European Championships only really starts from 1992. In 1960, the Swedes did not enter, and between 1964 and 1988 didn’t qualify for the Finals. As hosts in 1992, Sweden drew with France, before victories over Denmark and Sweden took them through to a Semi-Final against Germany. The Swedes were always behind in the game and eventually bowed out 3-2. The Blagult (The Blue-Yellow) didn’t make it to England in 1996, but have qualified for all the tournaments since. At Euro 2000, Sweden finished bottom of their Group with just a point from a 0-0 draw with Turkey. Four years later in Portugal, the Swedes topped the Group where the first three all finished on five points, but their superior goal difference took them through, courtesy of a 5-0 win over Bulgaria. In the Quarter-Finals, Sweden exited to the Netherlands 5-4 on penalties. In 2008 an opening Group win over Greece was their only joy as successive losses to Spain and Russia meant no further progress for Sweden. Qualification for Euro 2012 was achieved as best runners-up after collecting 24 points just behind Group winners the Dutch. Sweden won every home qualifier including a 3-2 victory over the Netherlands. However away defeats in Hungary and the Dutch meant the Swedes missed out on top spot. Coming into this competition, Sweden beat Serbia and Iceland in friendly internationals. The Swedes will be awkward customers and will make things difficult for Ukraine in the opening game.

Co-hosts Ukraine only come into existence in 1992 (after the Soviet Union break-up) and have not qualified for any European Championships to date. They of course will be urged on by their home fans in these Finals, but as Poland found in their opening game, the weight of expectation can have a paralysing effect. Indeed, Sweden are the type of team who could indeed ruin the Ukrainian party. It could be some start to the week!

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Posted June 10, 2012 by Editor in category "UEFA 2012 Euro Championship

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