UEFA 2012 European Championship: Day 6

Wednesday 13 June 2012

So with less than a week gone, how are the “alleged” racist and violence statistics stacking up? Well before a ball was kicked, there were ‘monkey’ chants aimed at the Dutch during an open training session from some Polish ‘fans’. The Russians then grabbed the headlines when in the opening game against the Czech Republic, there were “allegations” of right-wing banners being displayed, ‘monkey’ chants directed towards Czech fullback Gebre Selassie and they completed their evenings work by beating up some stewards. Spain got on the scoreboard with a section of ‘fans’ racially abusing Italian forward Mario Balotelli. The players have tried to do their bit as well, as Italy striker Antonio Cassano says sorry for comments he made about homosexuals in a news conference on Tuesday. But you can’t keep the Russians down can you and yesterday they upped the anti by marching to the stadium on ‘Russia Day’ and running battles ensued with Polish ‘fans’ and the police. Impressive stuff from the Russians – can’t wait for the World Cup in 2018. Still think that was a good decision FIFA?

Group A

Greece (0) 1 – 2 (2)  Czech Republic

Well the Greeks showed once again a distinct dislike for the first-half of a game in these Championships. Having barely had time to take a first of coffee and get myself comfy on the sofa, the Czech Republic were two goals up. Just three minutes into the game, Tomas Hubschman threaded a ball directly through the middle of the Greece defence and Petr Jiracek scored, despite Chalkias in the Greek goal getting a hand to it. With only six minutes gone, Tomas Rosicky played the ball wide to Theodor Gebre Selassie on the right side of the area, who crossed for Pilar to bundle home despite the attention of two defenders. Replays showed that once again Chalkias in the Greek goal got a hand to it. The day got worse for the veteran keeper when he had be substituted on twenty three minutes after an injury. The substitute keeper Sifakis was soon in action when he saved well from a long-range effort from Rosicky. The Czech Republic had dominated the first-half, but got a break just before half-time when a Fotakis header was ruled out for offside, which replays suggested was the wrong decision. As with the game against Poland, Greece were much better in the second-half and were given a lifeline on fifty three minutes when Petr Cech fumbled a shot as he tangled with his own defender Tomas Sivok, allowing Gekas an easy goal. However, for all their possession the Greeks didn’t create any golden opportunities and the Czech Republic held on to win 2-1.

Poland (0) 1 – 1 (1)  Russia

Russia knew that a win against Poland would take them through to the Quarter-Finals. In the white hot atmosphere of the National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland gave as good as they got and created some excellnet early opportunities. First up was a brilliant curling free-kick from Ludovic Obraniak which found the head of Sebastian Boenisch, but Russian keeper Malafeev’s reaction save kept it out. Then Lewandowski had a long range effort which drifted over and finally had an attempt from Polanski ruled out for offside. However, the Russians were always dangerous and on thirty seven minutes they struck. Arshavin swung in a free-kick and poor Polish marking allowed Dzagoev the chance to glance it in and give the Russians a 1-0 half-time lead. The second-half was a fantastically open affair with end-to-end action. From one of these breaks Poland scored one of the goals of the tournament as Blaszczykowski curled in an equaliser on fifty seven minutes. Malafeev made vital saves for Russia, whilst at the other end, their forwards sometimes over elaborated as chances were spurned. At ninety minutes the game was 1-1 and Poland had more than matched their neighbours.

Group A then goes to the final round of matches, with all four sides still able to qualify and the following permutations:

  • Russia need at least a point from their final game against Greece to qualify;
  • Russia will still qualify if they lose and the Czech Republic draw with Poland;
  • If Russia lose and either Poland or Czech Republic win then Russia are out;
  • Czech Rep need to defeat Poland to qualify;
  • The Czechs can also qualify if they draw against Poland and Russia win or draw;
  • Poland need to defeat Czech Rep to qualify;
  • Greece will qualify if they defeat Russia.


My irritations of the Finals so far? Firstly the ‘10…9…8’ etc countdown to kickoff and secondly Jamie Carragher on ITV. Having watched the Liverpool player forget that he was a guest and not the host in interrogating Patrick Vieira after the France v England game, last night he constantly went on about his family. Who wants to hear about ‘Ar Sharon’…?


UEFA 2012 European Championship: Day 5

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Group D

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.

UEFA 2012 European Championship: Day 4

Monday 11 June 2012

Sometimes life gets in the way of a football and so it proved last night as I was out having a few drinks and a meal. Therefore my watching of the fixtures yesterday was restricted to glimpses, in between eating, fetching drinks or whilst sat chatting, of a very small television perched above the bar. It would make for an alternative if not quite convincing reporting of the games.

At bar…game not yet kicked off…return to seat…blue shirts against red shirts, must be Italy and Spain…Italian player clutches head at missing chance…Spanish player clutches head at missing a chance…return to bar…half-time, 0-0…return to seat… Balotelli substituted…man in blue shirt runs round frantically waving arms – Italy 1-0…man in red hugs ball and runs towards half-way line, Spain 1, Italy1…red and blue men stand in a huddle and mock fight…end of game…eat…Salmon, Smoked Haddock & Lobster Croquettes with a yoghurt and caper dressing…Wild Boar Burger with a lime and chilli mayonnaise, fried onions, house ketchup and crisp seasoned chips…return to bar…Half-time – Croatia 2, Republic of Ireland 1…return to seat…man in shirt resembling tablecloth shots hit post and goalkeeper and goes in…Croatia 3, Republic of Ireland 1…end of match…Adrian Chiles and Irishman with sad face…

Group C

Spain                             (0) 1 – 1 (0)  Italy

So what did the BBC highlights on the internet offer? Well, 3 minutes and 9 seconds, of which the first half was three efforts on goal from Italy (Pirlo, Cassano and Motta) and the second-half  started with a Spanish efforts from Andrés Iniesta. Next was shown a glorious chance for Balotelli which he wasted after allowing the defender to get back and make a tackle. ‘Super’ Mario was then substituted and replaced by Di Natale, who minutes later latches onto a ball from Pirlo to superbly finish and put Italy ahead. The Spanish equaliser is shown next with a lovely intricate move finished by Fabregas. The next clip has Torres through on goal but being stopped by Italian keeper Buffon, followed by a glorious chance for Di Natale to claim a second. The highlights close with another Torres chance, which he clips over. Both sides were probably happy to settle for a point and look to seal qualification from the Group against Croatia and the Republic of Ireland.

Republic of Ireland        (1) 1 – 3 (2)  Croatia

2 minutes 57 were offered for the highlights of this game. It opens with a Croatia corner which is never really cleared and a looping header from Mario Mandzukic somehow beat Given in the Irish goal. The action switches to a free-kick from Aiden McGeady which is headed home by Sean St Ledger to bring the game level. Croatia are then seen back on the attack and Given is forced into a full length save from Mandzukic. The highlights of the first-half end with Jelavic scoring from close range and the Irish claiming offside. Into the second-half and Shay Given’s miserable day is complete when a second Mandzukic header found the back off the net, this time via the head of the Irish keeper as the ball bounced back off the post. A penalty shout for the Irish is shown when Robbie Keane is brought down. The clip closes with an effort from Croatian Rakitic, and two from Andrews for the Republic, one a header and the other a shot. No luck for the Irish today and with Italy and Spain to come, it’s not looking good for them.

Today closes the first round of games with Group D and France against England, followed by Ukraine versus Sweden. With less that five hours to go, I can honestly say that I’m not nervous…Que Sera Sera

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!

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.

UEFA European 2012 Championship: Day 1

Friday 08 June 2012 – Day 1

Unfortunately before a ball is kicked, the first racist incident of the tournament has been reported, as a section of Poles attending a Netherlands open training session are heard making monkey chants at the black Dutch players. Presumably UEFA will be keen to play down the incident, whilst the Polish football authorities will simply ignore it. I maybe wrong and this might turn out to be an isolated incident, but let’s wait and see shall we…

Meanwhile on the pitch, the opening games took place in Group A:

Poland        (1) 1 – 1 (0)  Greece

The was a classic ‘game of two halves’. Roared on by a home crowd, Poland were dangerous from the start and having exposed the Greek defence on the right on a couple occasions, it was no surprise when the Poles took the lead. On seventeen minutes Jakub Blaszczykowski crossed and Robert Lewandowski headed in for the home team. His cause was helped by Greek keeper Chalkias who came for a cross he was never going to get. Poland looked in full flow and had a number of chances to increase their lead. The game looked over before half-time when Papaststhopoulos was sent off for two yellow card offences, neither of which were worthy of a booking and the Greeks went in at half-time fuming at the errors of Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo. However, it seemed to spur Greece on and substitute Salpingidis helped turn this game on its head. Suddenly the Greeks had energy and their equaliser on fifty minutes was deserved. Greek captain Giorgos Karagounis got behind the Polish back four and Wojciech Szczesny in goal for Poland never got near the cross and Salpingidis slotted home. Things got worse for Szczesny when on sixty eight minutes he was sent-off after bringing down the lively Salpingidis. However, Karagounis had his penalty saved by substitute keeper Przemyslaw Tyton. The Polish crowd that in the first-half had been lively and hostile became increasingly subdued as the second-half went on and by the final whistle were probably grateful that their team had got a point. It had been a lively opener to the competition, not the usual cagey game that often starts a major championship. Greece were probably happier by the end of ninety minutes, considering how thinks look at the end of the first-half.

Russia         (2) 4 – 1 (0)  Czech Republic

The second game in Group A was also slightly surprising, in how easily Russia overcame the Czech Republic. Admittedly, the Czech Republic were poor and if Russia had been more ruthless in front of goal, then the margin of defeat would have been greater. Kerzhakov was particularly wasteful in the second-half and paid for his profligacy when he was substituted on seventy three minutes. Dzagoev and Shirokov had given the Russians a 2-0 lead at half-time, but an early second-half Pilar goal brought the Czech Republic back into the game. However, Russia continued to look dangerous and goals on seventy nine minutes and eighty two minutes from Dzagoev and Pavlyuchenko sealed a convincing win. The Russians took the three points and an early lead of Group A.

Tomorrow Group B begins with the first game up between the Netherlands and Denmark (Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv), followed later by Germany against Portugal (Arena Lviv, Lviv). The Netherlands have emerged as one of the giants of European football in recent years with an impressive record at the European Championship Finals. The Dutch didn’t enter in 1960 and then didn’t qualify in 1964, 1968 and 1972. Their breakthrough came in 1976 when they finished third, overcoming Yugoslavia. 1980 saw the Netherlands unable to progress from the Group stages and in 1984 didn’t even make the Finals. However in West Germany in 1988, the Dutch became Champions, coming through as Group runners-up and upsetting the hosts 2-1 in the Semi-Final before securing the title with a 2-0 win over the Soviet Union. Four years later the Dutch couldn’t hang onto their crown as unfancied Denmark dumped them out on penalties in the Semi-Final. In 1996, penalties were once again to account for the Netherlands, as France advanced past them at the Quarter-Final stage. As co-hosts in 2000, the Dutch strode into the Semi-Finals to face Italy, but doing a fairly good impression of England, lost out on penalties again. In Portugal in 2004, the penalty horrors were overcome in a shoot out with Sweden in the Quarter-Finals, only to lose to hosts Portugal 2-1 in the Semi-Final. So to 2008 where have gone unbeaten in the Group stages, the Dutch lost out to Russia 3-1 (aet) in the Quarter-Finals. Qualification for 2012 was pretty comfortable, dropping just three points (a loss 3-2 to Sweden). The Dutch come into the tournament on the back of a 6-0 win over Northern Ireland. Expect the Orange machine to be there or thereabouts at the business end of the competition.

Despite not being perceived as one of the big names in European football, Denmark have a decent record in the Finals. In 1964 they lost in the Semi-Finals to the Soviet Union, but it was twenty years before they qualified again. In France the Danes reached the Semi-Finals once more, this time losing out to Spain on penalties. Four years later in West Germany it was an unhappy experience for Denmark as they lost all three Group games to rivals Italy, Spain and West Germany. Qualification for the event in 1992 looked to have passed the Danes by when they could only finish as runners-up to Yugoslavia. However, with civil unrest in that country, Denmark were called up to replace Yugoslavia. In an incredible twist of fate, the Danes went onto win the competition. They came through the Group stages after a draw with England, a loss to Sweden and victory over France. This set up a meeting with the Netherlands in the Semi-Finals. The Danes looked to be going through as they lead 2-1 with just four minutes remaining. However, Frank Rijkaard equalised for the Dutch and the game went to extra-time and eventually penalties. Denmark scored all five as Van Basten missed for the Dutch. In the Final, the Danes ignore the underdog tag and goals either side of half-time from Jensen and Vilfort, saw the Danes crowned as Champions. Despite qualifying for the Finals in 1996 and 2000, Denmark exited without getting out of the Group Stages. In 2004 the Danes made it to the Quarter-Finals only to be well beaten 3-0 by the Czech Republic. The Danes qualified for Euro 2012 by topping their Group, with Portugal as runners-up. In their last outing, the Danes overcame Australia 2-0, but could struggle in a group with the likes of Germany and the Netherlands. However, Euro 1992 showed that anything is possible.

Well what can you say about the Germans? In qualifying for Euro 2012, they won all ten fixtures winning the Group by thirteen points. Their record in the Finals is also as imperious, winning the European Championship on three occasions (1972. 1980 & 1996) and runners-up on three occasions (1976, 1992 & 2008). However, they can have their blips as in 2000 and 2004 the Germans didn’t qualify out of the Group Stages. This time around though the Germans look a force again and will be hunting that fourth crown.

Portugal made it to the 2012 Finals after a play-off victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina 6-2 on aggregate. Portugal failed to qualify for any of the tournaments between 1960 and 1980 before getting to the Semi-Finals in 1984, losing 3-2 in extra-time to hosts France. There was a gap of twelve years before Portugal made the Finals again and at Euro 1996 made it to the Quarter-Finals where they lost 1-0 to the Czech Republic. Indeed Portugal have had reasonable success at the Finals since, reaching the Semi-Finals in 2000 (losing to France in extra-time), were runners-up to Greece in 2004 and in 2008 were knocked out in the Quarter-Finals by Germany.

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UEFA European 2012 Championship: Preview

As summer stills attempts to make its mind up about whether to actually show up this year, June sees the beginning of the UEFA 2012 European Championships, hosted by Poland and Ukraine. The award of the event to these countries has divided opinion. UEFA President Michel Platini, unsurprisingly, is fully supportive of taking such a major tournament to new territories. However, Theo van Seggelen (Secretary General of the World Players Union, FIFPro) is concerned that the abiding memory of the Championships could be more about racism and violence than events on the pitch. This assertion is based around work carried out by FIFPro and highlighted at the Soccerex 2012 event in Manchester and covered recently by the BBC’s Panorama programme. It is a very real concern and UEFA must be holding it’s breath at what may ensue over the next month.

On the pitch, the general consensus is that there is no pressure on England going into the tournament as the expectation from the media and football public is low. The tournament has been swallowed up amidst the Jubilee Celebrations and the impending Olympics; perhaps it is no bad thing. Preparation has hardly been ideal for the Three Lions, with the appointment of a successor to Fabio Capello left in limbo for months. Then once appointed, Roy Hodgson received a less than overwhelming response from some sections of the media and fans. For my part I think it is a good appointment given that The FA were totally sold on having an English manager this time around. Hodgson has good experience at club and international level and I just hope he isn’t subject to the sniping that marked his brief time at Anfield. Of the England squad picked by Hodgson, it has a very familiar look about it and it will surely be the ‘last hurrah’ for the likes of Terry and Gerrard. There hasn’t been a great deal of luck with injuries either, as the squad has seen Ruddy, Barry, Lampard and Cahill all have to withdraw and there has also been some background dissent at the non-selection of Rio Ferdinand. Will adversity work for or against England?

In terms of how the 2012 competition pans out, I can’t see the shocks and emerging of an underdog to win, as happened earlier this year in the African Cup of Nations. Having said that, Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004, showed that upsets are possible. However in 2012 for me the European ‘big guns’ of Spain, Netherlands, Germany and Italy will be the ones to beat and in terms of the Groups, this is who I expect to emerge to the knock-out Phase:

Group A: Russia and Czech Republic.

Group B: Germany and Netherlands.

Group C: Spain and Italy.

Group D: England and France.

Tomorrow Poland face Greece at the National Stadium in Warsaw, in the opening fixture, with Russia and the Czech Republic playing later in the day at the Municipal Stadium in Wroclaw. Co-hosts Poland do not have a great track record in the European Championships, and have only ever qualified for the Finals on one occasion, that being in 2008. In their Group games the Poles lost to Germany and Croatia and drew against Austria. Poland won their last warm-up game 4-0 against Andorra, but will be under tremendous pressure from the home fans to get a winning start to their campaign against Greece.

This will be the fourth appearance for the Greeks in the Finals. Their debut came in 1980, where they drew 0-0 with West Germany, but lost to the Netherlands and Czechoslovakia. Greece had to wait 24 years before qualifying again and what an incredible tournament they had. In the Groups Stage, Greece beat hosts Portugal 2-1, drew 1-1 with Spain and went through on goals scored after a 2-1 loss to Russia. In the Quarter-Finals, the reigning Champions France were beaten 1-0 to set up a Semi-Final meeting with the Czech Republic. The game went to extra-time and a single goal was enough to see Greece into the Final. Incredibly the Greeks overcame hosts Portugal 1-0 with a goal from Charisteas to become European Champions. However in 2008 it was a rather different story for Greece as they lost all three Group games, to Sweden, Russia and Spain. Greece qualified for this tournament after topping a Group containing Croatia, Israel, Latvia, Georgia and Malta. The Greeks were unbeaten winning seven games and drawing three. However, going into their last friendly before Euro 2012, Greece had not won in four games, before a 1-0 win over Armenia provided a boost ahead of tomorrows game.

Russia (in the guise of the Soviet Union) were the first European Champions in 1960 beating Yugoslavia 2-1 and had an impressive record in the early years, finishing runners-up in 1964, fourth place in 1968 and runners-up in 1972. There were then barren years until 1988 when they reached the Final only to lose to the Netherlands. As the political situation changed in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union broke apart, by the time the Euro 1992 arrived a team that represented the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a regional confederation formed by 12 of the 15 newly formed sovereign states that emerged out of the break-up, competed in Sweden. In the Group games, the CIS drew with Germany and the Netherlands before bowing out with a 3-0 loss to Scotland. As Russia emerged as a footballing entity they qualified for Euro 1996, but finished bottom of their group, losing to Italy and Germany before ending with a draw against the Czech Republic. Eight years later in Portugal, Russia again finished bottom of their Group after losses to Spain and Portugal, although they did beat eventual Champions Greece 2-1 in their closing game. Four years ago, Russia had their best showing in recent years, reaching the Semi-Finals before bowing out to three second half goals from Champions elect Spain. In qualification for Euro 2012, Russia topped the Group in which the Republic of Ireland were runners-up. In their last warm-up game, Russia impressively overcame Italy 3-0.

As Czechoslovakia (prior to the political break-up in 1992), the country had a rather hit and miss European record, in that between 1960 and 1992, they failed to qualify for six of the nine tournaments. However, when qualifying they had an impressive record. In 1960, Czechoslovakia having lost to the Soviet Union in the Semi-Finals, beat France to take third place. Sixteen years later Czechoslovakia won the competition, overcoming West Germany winning 5-3 on penalties. Another third place was achieved four years later, overcoming Italy 9-8 on penalties. As the Czech Republic the team has qualified for every Finals from 1996 to date. In England in Euro 1996, they made it to the Final, only to lose to Germany. In the tournaments of 2000 and 2008, the Czech Republic didn’t get beyond the Group stage, but in 2004 got to the Semi-Finals only to lose to eventual Champions Greece in extra-time. Their qualification for this years tournament was sealed through the play-offs with a 3-0 aggregate win over Montenegro. Their last outing before this tournament ended in a 2-1 defeat to Hungary.

The opening round of games in any tournament are invariably cagey, as nobody wants to get off to a losing start, so part of me says that the two opening fixtures will end as draws. Let the action commence…

UEFA 2012 European Championship Finals – The Draw

Friday 02 December 2011 (08.45 am)

Later today the draw for the UEFA 2012 European Championship Finals takes place in Kiev. Sixteen teams will be drawn into four Groups from four seeded pots. Each Group will be made up of a team from each Pot. From Pot 1 Poland have already been drawn in Group A and Ukraine in Group D for logistical reasons. This leaves Netherlands and Spain from Pot 1. Pot 2 contains England, Germany, Italy and Russia. Pot 3 consists of Croatia, Greece, Portugal and Sweden, with Pot 4 made up of the Czech Republic, Denmark, France and Republic of Ireland.

This morning the various forms of media will be highlighting the best and worst case draws that England could finds themselves with. For instance the BBC see the best case scenario as being drawn with Poland, Greece and Czech Republic with the worst case scenario would see England in with Spain, Portugal and France. To me it makes no real difference, as if you are going to win a tournament you have to play and beat the best teams irrespective of what stage you play them at.

Rest assured though that Signor Capello has already got his excuses in early as he has been banging on about how tired the players will be since the 2-2 draw with Switzerland back in June this year. However, for now the tournament is 6 months away, but tonight the pressure will be cranked up slightly as The Three Lions will know who they will be facing come June 2012.

Friday 02 December 2011 (7.00 pm)

Group A: Poland, Greece, Russia, Czech Republic.

Group B: Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Portugal.

Group C: Spain, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Croatia.

Group D: Ukraine, Sweden, France, England.


Well it could have been worse and to use that football cliché, ‘on paper’ we should qualify, but this is England we are talking about! The Group featuring Sweden, France and Ukraine will bring back memories of Euro ’92 when England were also paired with the Swedes (who were the host nation), the French and the Danes. England under Graham Taylor finished bottom of the Group, with 0-0 draws with both Denmark and France and then a 2-1 defeat to Sweden. England with a team including Tony Daley, Andy Sinton and Carlton Palmer went ahead in the fourth minute through a David Platt goal. However, strikes from Eriksson and Tomas Brolin, ensured the hosts progressed and condemned The Three Lions to an early plane home.

England has also further tournament experience with the French. At Euro 2004 in Portugal, England opened their Group campaign against France. Three points seemed in the bag as on 90 minutes, as England was leading with a first half Frank Lampard goal. However, Zinedine Zidane had other ideas and scored twice on 91 and 93 minutes to snatch victory…sacré bleu!

So history certainly isn’t on England’s side. For now, lets just park it for 6 months. Que sera sera….

2011/12: ECQ Group G – England v Wales (Wembley)

The Friday night win by England in Bulgaria was made all the sweeter by Wales victory over Montenegro on the same evening. These results meant that England now had a lead of 3 points at the top of the Group going into their home game against the Welsh. A victory at Wembley would all but seal qualification for England; anything else would mean a nervy final fixture in Podgorica next month.

Whilst pleased that England came away from Sofia with a win, the assertions by some quarters of the media that this was a ‘new dawn’ from a ‘young England’ has left me a touch apprehensive. The reality is that Bulgaria are a pretty ordinary international team, yet still tested England. This result and indeed the performances in this Qualifying campaign have left me feeling that up against the top world sides in the major competitions England will continue to struggle.

As the game approaches tonight, I have that feeling in the gut that it won’t be plain sailing tonight. Wales will have their dragon-tails up after their victory on Friday night and would like nothing less that denting England’s hopes of Qualification at Wembley. Many people consider that England failed to Qualify for the 1974 World Cup in West Germany because of the 1-1 draw in the final fixture against Poland on a damp October night in 1973. However, Wales played their part in ensuring England didn’t make it through. Having beaten Wales 1-0 in Cardiff in November 1972, Sir Alf Ramsey must have thought his England team would do the double over The Dragons when the Welsh came to Wembley in January 1973. Wales hadn’t read the script and lead on 23 minutes through a John Toshack goal. Norman Hunter did level the scores just before half-time, but England couldn’t find a winner in the second half and their World Cup dream was coming apart at the seams. Nine months later and it was kaput. Signor Capello you have been warned.

Well the only positive thing to say is that England won the game. As with many others who have just witnessed the 90 minutes at Wembley, I am left with a feeling of disappointment and no little relief. The opening 30 minutes England had plenty of possession, but it was mostly in the defensive third of the field. When on the ball they looked ponderous, lacked movement and were without ideas or inspiration. Is it just me, but are James Milner, Gareth Barry or Stewart Downing really international class footballers? The ten minutes before half-time when Ashley Young scored offered some hope, when there appeared to at last be a vibrancy and purpose about their play. Indeed for the opening ten minutes of the second half, England took the game once again to Wales and I was hopeful that a second goal would follow. However, that was as good as it got for Capello’s team as they withered away in the remainder of the game. Wales took control and England were unable to retain any sort of possession. The Dragons were comfortably the better team in the second half and but for Rob Earnshaw missing what can only be described as a ‘sitter’, would have deservedly taken a point from this fixture.

As is it England travel to Montenegro next month knowing a point will see them through to the 2012 Euro Finals in Poland/Ukraine next June. However, you can only agree with the Welsh fans who by the end of the game were taunting their English counterparts by chanting, “…Fourth in the rankings, you’re having a laugh…”

2010/11: ECQ Group G – England v Switzerland (Wembley)

Sometimes you just know with England that it is not going to be easy. You get that sick feeling in the gut. A leisurely late afternoon on a sunny Saturday sat on the sofa in front of the television should have ensued for me as England took on Switzerland at Wembley, but it just wasn’t to be. Yet again it was one of those occasions when watching the national team is a disappointment.

After the tempo England displayed in their last fixtures against Ghana and Wales, you hoped that a ‘same again’ approach would be evident in securing the three points. However, it was obvious from the opening exchanges that this was not to be. The young Swiss team buzzed around and the English played short passes to each other, often without pace and usually in a backward direction. My stomach ached after 32 minutes as a floated free-kick from Barnetta eluded first Ferdinand and left Hart diving in vain as the ball crept in. A knife was twisted further into the gut just three minutes later as the two-man wall of Walcott and Wilshere parted to allow another Barnetta free-kick to embarrass Hart at his near post. A crazy five minutes was completed when Wilshire driving forward, was brought down by Djourou. Lampard put in the resulting penalty to become England’s leading scorer from the spot and put the Lions back in the game. 2-1 down at half-time, things could only get better – couldn’t they?

Well it all started so well. Ashley Young replaced Lampard for the second half and within six minutes the Villa man had levelled with a crisp finish. However, that really was about it for England. Having got back into the game, the fizz went out of the home team and they reverted to the lacklustre display of the first half. Having said that, Darren Bent had a fantastic chance to win the game but lazily blazed over the bar. As the final ten minutes were played out, the Swiss kept hold of the ball and England looked devoid of ideas once more. In the final minute of time added on Downing had a chance to win it, but only found the side netting. In truth that would have been cruel on Switzerland. England now look nervously to the evening game in Montenegro, where if the home team beat Bulgaria they will lead Group G by two points and leave England once more having work to do to qualify for the UEFA Euro 2012 tournament.

As if the 2-2 draw wasn’t enough to endure, there was then the post match Capello interview. Three years of the Italian and interviews which are still senseless and on the occasions of a poor result, full of excuses. Gabriel Clarke pounced on the limp offering from Capello that the England players were tired, with a riposte that the Swiss players didn’t looked tired and that if we qualify, twelve months hence the issue of “tiredness” does not bode well for England. As ever, more incomprehensible words from the England manager and the moment was gone. On the box, “Britain’s Got Talent” Final was up next. What had gone before had shown, England currently doesn’t have talent.