Poland 0-1 Czech Republic
A very surprising result, a game with two very different halves.
The Poles had all the running in the first 20 or so minutes, making a strong of chances, but they wasted them all, Lewandowski’s left footed shot being the worst example. The Poles were showcasing their pace and their eagerness, but again lacked that big of control and patience that any great team needs. Way too eager to be on the ball and sweeping forward, without a plan or the composure to see it through. The Czech’s survived the early storm and just came back into the game stronger and stronger.
The second half was looking to be a good one, with everything in Group A so finely poised, but whatever happened, Poland collapsed utterly. The formation, the speed, the discipline just evaporated as the Czech’s were given the run of every part of the pitch, the Poles giving away free, after free after free. They simply lost their heads, and with it, any hope of getting to the next round. The goal was inevitable, well taken when it came. Poland just looked shell shocked, as if they suddenly realised how close they were to a European quarter final they were and choked. They made some unenthusiastic attempts to get an equaliser but the opposition dealt with such attacks with ease. This was the worst second half display – bar Ireland against Spain – which I’ve seen in years.
Poland are out and deservedly so. From the ashes of the opening day mauling at the hands of Russia, the Czech phoenix has risen to win Group A. Very unexpected, but they bounced back with a well earned win against the Greeks, and dominated the co-hosts for much of this game. They still have plenty of problems that will see them struggle in the knock-out stages I think, but the Czech’s have upset the odds to get there.
Greece 1-0 Russia
The Greece of 2004 turned up and Russia crashed out.
Some of Greece’s detractors might pull out the usual insults today and tomorrow, but that should not distract from the reality, which is that the defensive strength of Greece shone out, as did their tactical intelligence in their ability to absorb and shut down the Russian advances.
It was an even enough first half, and the Greek goal, catching a lazy Russian defence totally off guard, was as deadly a blow as any goal scored in the 2004 campaign. The Greek turtle defence is not pretty to look at in terms of attractive flowing football, but it is a master class in how to defend, how to react to opposition movements, how to crowd out attackers, how to survive. It helped that the Russians seemed totally clueless when they did get shots off, getting only two of many on target.
The Russians pressed and pressed, but for all of the attacking skill and flair that has seen them so praised (and now mourned by some due to their early exit) they were not good enough to break down a tough, committed defence, a team that saw the odds and spat at them. This team, more than any other perhaps, is carrying the hopes and dreams of their nation on their shoulders and simply believed they could do it, in a way that Ireland could only dream of. They poached their goal and they did what they did best. Germany can work the ball well, Spain can pass it with ease, Greece can defend like a thick stone wall.
Russia, since Arshavin misplaced that pass so badly against Poland, have simply bombed. The attack that worked so beautifully against the Czech’s has stuttered, unable to find a way through the blue and white shirts tonight. It is another botched job from the Russians, hosting the World Cup in six years and looking every inch to be another Serbia – bursting with talent, and underachieving despite that.
For the Greeks it is anther unlikely qualification, and hopes of repeating the miracle in Portugal might resurface now. They are tough and even the likes of Spain and Germany could find them hard to crack.