Greece

We go again!

The morning after the night before – waking up and feeling how Mark Lawrenson looks – tired, haggard and with no enthusiasm for life. That is until you remember there are three more World Cup matches to look forward to today. You might be bleary eyed following on from yesterday’s 12 hour marathon of football but you are ready to go again.

This will be remembered as the World Cup that gave us a 2am kick-off and four games in one day.

It will be something to tell the grandchildren about in the future – or alternatively something that will disclose only for people to look at you with distain and roll their eyes.

You were there, sitting on the sofa, in that same groove since 5pm when you saw Gervinho score a World Cup goal at 3.22am.

You were in that same position a few hours earlier when England physio Gary Lewin was stretchered off having injured himself celebrating a goal.

The same groove when Maxi Periera saw red for Uruguay as Luis Suarez looked on from the bench.

The groove that was just beginning when Colombia trickled in the first goal of the afternoon and celebrated in style.

The groove that you will again form when Switzerland-Ecuador kicks off this afternoon, until the final whistle is blown at close to 1am following on from Argentina-Bosnia.

If the past three days are anything to go by, goals are to be expected. Just two teams – Cameroon and Greece – have failed to register a single goal in the tournament.

After eight games, the 2014 World Cup has already given us a glut of goals – 28 in total. In comparison to South Africa four years ago, goals were at a premium with just 13 scored after the same number of games.

Thus far, Brazil is living up to its expectations. Let’s hope that it continues that way!

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Euro 2012: What we learned from Group A?

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The already prejudged Group of Meh, delivered one of the first major shocks of Euro 2012. In a dramatic finale, Group A was turned on its head in the final round of fixtures.

Russia: It is not how you start, it is how you finish…

Russia and tournament co-hosts Poland were the favourites to go through even as the final round of games kicked off. Russia had an emphatic 4-1 win over Czech Republic but failed to take their chances against both Poland and Greece. Many believed that Russia would run away with this group, particularly after that 4-1 win, some, including this blog, tipping them as potential dark horses for the tournament. Alan Dzagoev and Andrei Arshavin impressed, but Dick Advocaat’s side paid the price for his refusal to change things up front. Aleksandr Kerzhakov had 14 attempts on goal but didn’t manage a single shot on target in the three games he started.

Could Greece do it again?

4 points – a win, a draw and a defeat. Sound familiar? Déjà vu from Greece as they progressed to the knock-out stages with the exact amount out points they did when they won the European Championship in 2004, in exactly the same position – 2nd in their group, scoring just 3 goals in 3 games. Greece’s victory over Russia was their first at the European Championship since beating Portugal in the 2004 final. The Greeks look likely to face Germany in the quarter-finals *insert bailout/Euro joke here* Can they win it again?

Czech-mate

After Czech Republic were emphatically beaten by Russia, 4-1 many considered them to be out of contention for qualification, but two wins over Greece and Poland, shows that it is not how you start it is how you finish that is important. The Czechs are the first team to win a European Championship group with a negative goal-difference. As they won Group A with a goal-difference of -1. Could we be seeing the Czech’s of 2004 that reached the semi-finals?

The Polish left POL-axed!

There is a certain air of expectation that comes with being hosts and co-hosts of a major tournament and it is unfortunate that Poland have not qualified for the knockout stages. Euro 2008 was their very first European Championship, where they also exited at the group stages but with just one point. Players like Borussia Dortmund duo Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski lit up the tournament with the goals against Greece and Russia respectively. Many will be saddened to see Poland depart, but they certainly put on a show. Austria and Switzerland both failed to make it through the group stages four years ago, and it certainly looks the same way this time around for both Poland and Ukraine.

Euro 2012 – Day One: The good, the bad and the ugly

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:

The good

Alan Dzagoev

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.

Russia

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?

 The Bad

Aleksandr Kerzhakov

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.

The ugly

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

Quick hits

  • 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.