Once the formalities of the obligatory stylish opening ceremony had been completed, the much anticipated 2012 European Championship got underway with action from Group A featuring hosts Poland who drew 1-1 with Greece and Russia running out 4-1 winners against the Czech Republic. Here are some highlights:
Alan Dzagoev lived up to his billing as ‘One to Watch’ with a brace against the Czech Republic. It was the Czech’s that seemed to settle the better of the two sides during the opening period of the game, however it was the Russian’s that struck first as Dzagoev – who was Russia’s top scorer in qualifying – that popped up to break the deadlock 15 minutes in after Kerzhakov’s header – which hit the post – before falling to the talented Russian who hammered it home with an incisive finish. Substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko was the provider for the second, with a razor-sharp ball to Dzagoev just outside the area, before the midfielder smashed it home past Petr Cech from the edge of the penalty-box.
In 2008, Russia reached the semi-finals of the European Championship only to crash out after being hammered 3-0 by eventual winners, Spain. Two years later, under Guus Hiddink, they failed to reach the 2010 World Cup. A few have tipped the Russian’s to potentially be dark horses of Euro 2012 and after a 4-1 thrashing of Czech Republic they might just live up to that tag. At times, Dick Advocaat’s side showed glimpses of brilliance particularly after a poor opening 10 to 12 minutes, before a ruthless streak, albeit helped by a poor Czech defence, scoring twice in ten minutes. Again, Russia turned it on in the closing stages of the game with two goals in three minutes from Dzagoev and Pavlyuchenko. Two assists in those four Russian goals came from Andrei Arshavin. A ruthless and clinical performance, could they go all the way?
He might have scored 23 goals in 32 appearances in the Russia Premier League this season, but it is fair to say that the striker didn’t have the best of evenings in front of goal. Seven shots – 0 on target.
Wojciech Szczesny and Sokratis Papastahopoulos
Both were sent off in the opening game between Poland and Greece, perhaps Papastahopoulos’ sending off was the harshest of the two as the Greek defence received two particularly harsh yellow cards from Spanish referee, Carlos Velasco Carballo (more of him in a moment) – the second which was for a push on an already falling, Rafal Murawski. Szczesny, on the other hand, was sent off after bringing down Dimitris Salpingidis in the 69th minute inside the box.
Carlos Velasco Carballo
The Spanish official was particularly ruthless, as is customary for him to those who are regular watchers of La Liga, brandishing two red cards, and four yellows during the opening game of the tournament between hosts, Poland and 2004 winners, Greece. Carballo, who handed out 176 yellows and 9 red cards this season, probably won’t be getting the call for the final on July 1st…
- Przemyslaw Tyton’s penalty save, after coming on for Wojciech Szczesny spared Poland from an opening game defeat.
- Borussia Dortmund trio, Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek linked well in the opening stages and enjoy a lot of luck down Greece’s right flank. Blaszczykowski’s cross set up Lewandowski, whose header was the first goal of the tournament.
- Greece were lucky to get a draw – many expected Poland to win, but a point could be crucial for them as the second spot in Group A (assuming Russia finish first) is up for grabs.