Euro 2012: Matchday Five (Group A)

Czech Republic 2-1 Greece

Like the 2007 All-Ireland final, this game was largely settled in the first six minutes.

The Greek defence (and goalie) simply imploded in the opening moments, conceding two very soft goals, giving the Czech’s all the comfort and momentum that they needed. The second was particularly bad, unforgivable. It was actually a really tame contest after that, as Greece slowly emerged from their shell and sought to redress the situation.

The Czech’s took their foot off the gas and sat back for large parts of the second half. But while Greece had lots of possession and attacks, they were so utterly routine, so predictable in every ball that they played. Long, over the top, with the intended recipient crowded out by Czech defenders. The final score is inaccurate to the state of the game: the Czech Republic were not really pushed too hard. The Greek goal was a total fluke, a Cech howler that reopens the debate on his level of skill and commitment since his serious head injury several seasons ago. This time round, it seems to have been a simple lack of communication in the back line.

Regardless, the Czech’s actually strolled to the finish line, content to mop up the long Greek balls and make counter attacks. But they were, after the first few minutes, toothless going forward, with Baros largely isolated upfront. The Greeks just really didn’t look like scoring from play again after their first goal. A just result.

Some big tests for both teams coming up against…

Poland 1-1 Russia

The violence surrounding this contest is a travesty, as it takes away from what was a fantastic game of football, the best of the tournament so far.

It was end-to-end, it was attacking from both sides, it was frantic it was desperate, it was fun to watch. Neither side had a defence to be proud of tonight, and both sides could have won it with a but more accuracy from the forwards. Some dodgy refereeing, against both clubs, also slightly soured it, but they are minor complaints to what was a great contest between great rivals.

The Russian attacking machine was matched by the Poles, but it was the visitors that had the better of the first half, Dzagoev’s header, an excellent set-piece goal, their reward for consistently fluid forward efforts. Poland did not falter, and came out in the second determined to stick to their game plan of attack, pressing, counter-attack. Russia tired and got sloppy, summed up by the return of the “other “ Andrei Arshavin, whose lazy pass while in a promising position inside the Polish box resulted in a turnaround, culminating in Blaszczykowski’s excellent equaliser. From there, it was the Poles who dominated most parts of the pitch, absorbing Russian efforts to get past their defence with ease, breaking from midfield with speed, but unable to get the final pass or the final shot that was needed to win the game.

The blood was up for Poland, to too much of an extent. Their commitment and heart cannot be doubted, but they need to, on occasion, play with a little bit more patience and composure. If they could do that, they could go far. As for Russia, this is a harsh come down from the highs of the first game, though the result suits both teams on paper. Russia’s workrate throughout the 90 minutes is something that they could work on a bit, they tend to fluctuate wildly in their control of a game. Check out how anonymous Dzagoev became in the second half. Not good.

Final day for this group on Saturday. I would expect Russia to confirm first place with a win against Greece, the 2004 champions just aren’t good enough to beat the odds and defeat them. A draw at most. The big game to watch is Poland and the Czech Republic, and on the basis of games so far, I’d back the co-hosts all the way.

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