UEFA 2012 European Championship: Day 5
Tuesday 12 June 2012
France (1) 1 – 1 (1) England
I said yesterday that I wasn’t nervous before the game and to be honest it stayed that way during the ninety minutes. Was it lack of expectation? Or was it that being a Fulham fan and from the evidence of the two England friendly games to date, that I knew Roy Hodgson would make England an organised and functional unit? Whatever it was, yesterday was rather a pleasant watching experience – something I’ve not felt or said about England games in tournament play over the years. I’m not saying the Three Lions are going to stride imperiously to taking the 2012 title, but it was an encouraging display. There will be critics and for my part, I worry that that style of play where the team has to work so hard in that heat may catch-up with players. However, it was a real ‘team’ performance and players looked like they understood their role. Wednesday will be no easy task, but England must go and look to expose the Swedish defence as Ukraine did. Finally, besides the performance on the pitch, a real bonus for me yesterday was that the England ‘band’ was not allowed to play after stadium officials confiscated their instruments. Long may it continue!
Ukraine (0) 2 – 1 (0) Sweden
This game was ultimately about two forwards, for Sweden Zlatan Ibrahimovic and for the Ukraine, Andriy Shevchenko. In a goal-less first-half, the two best chances feel to these famous protagonists. Shevchenko was played into the box after a lovely move, but when clear dragged his shot wide. Ibrahimovic came even closer when a cross found him unmarked just outside the six-yard box, but could only guide his header against the post. Into the second-half Sweden made the breakthrough on fifty two minutes. Ukraine never dealt well with a Larsson cross, which was played back in by Kallstrom where Ibrahimovic calmly steered in from close range. However, within ten minutes the game was turned on its head – quite literally. On fifty five minutes Yarmolenko crossed and Shevchenko showed more determination than his marker to head in the equaliser. Then on sixty two minutes from a corner, the Ukrainian striker was more alert than the Swedish defence to flick in another header at the near post. Sweden though continued to press with three good chances falling to Ibrahimovic, substitute Elmander and Mellberg, but the co-hosts hung on and France next travel to the cauldron in Kiev on Wednesday knowing they are in an emotionally charged encounter. On a final note, sitting at home, he noise levels at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev were quite unbelievable at times – it must have been incredible to be in the ground.
The competition starts today in terms of the second round of matches and when the fates of teams takes more shape. In the first game tonight, Greece play the Czech Republic at the Municipal Stadium in Wroclaw. A draw wouldn’t eliminate either team, but the Czech Republic will be desperate after their dismal showing against Russia, to get back on track. If Greece play the way they did in the second-half against Poland it could be interesting.
The later kick-off at the National Stadium in Warsaw will see Poland take on Russia. In the BBC preview to the game they detailed the historical significance of the fixture. “…In Warsaw you could be forgiven for thinking that Poland’s army is going into battle with near neighbours Russia. Local papers have gone to town with references to their victorious 1920 battle against the Bolshevik Army, fuelling simmering nationalist sentiments ahead of this ‘eastern European derby’…The highly-charged match also falls on Russia Day, a national holiday, and some Russian fans plan to march from the city centre to the stadium – potentially provocative…” Russia know that a victory tonight would all but guarantee progress to the knock-out stages of the competition. Poland seemed to struggle under the pressure of being co-hosts and meeting the expectation of the home fans. If Russia get the first goal, it could be a very difficult night indeed for Poland.
The opening round of Euro 2012 has been open and entertaining, the second round of games brings more pressure so fingers crossed the drama and excitement continues.