Ahead of Saturday night’s final Euro 2012 Group A fixtures, most of the talk was concerned with whether Poland or Czech Republic would join Russia in the quarter-finals. Despite the Czechs beating the co-hosts to prevail to the knockout rounds, Greece clearly had not read the script and overcame Dick Advocaat’s highly-fancied men to qualify at their opponents’ expense.
Sunday is D-Day for Group B, as two of four strong teams will surpass a tight pool and head to the next stage. Germany only need a draw to top the pool when they face Denmark, whilst Portugal and Netherlands clash in a game with a number of different connotations. Here is the news from Ukraine and Poland that has caught Soccerlens’ eye today.
Russia suffer shock Group A exit
After a convincing 4-1 victory over Czech Republic on the opening day of the competition, some were touting Russia as a potential outside shot for glory this summer. A spectacular Jakub Blaszczykowski goal in a draw with Poland and a lacklustre 90 minutes against Greece later and the eastern European giants are heading home with their tails between their legs. Greece showed that the determination and heart shown to lift the 2004 tournament still lives in the current crop, and a hard-fought but well-deserved 1-0 win on Saturday sees Fernando Santos’ men prevail at the expense of the team they just beat.
Meanwhile, in the other game a national fervour, as has been seen since the start of the tournament, brewed up ahead of co-hosts Poland’s do-or-die game against the Czechs. Franciszek Smuda’s men needed to win the game to qualify, but despite a lot of huffing and puffing, the Czech Republic triumphed 1-0, with a Petr Jiracek strike in the second 45 confirming their place as group winners.
Russia will certainly be disappointed by the manner of their elimination, after the likes of Andrei Arshavin and Alan Dzagoev had dazzled onlookers in their first game and only victory. The talent at the disposal of coach Advocaat is there for all to see, and it is certainly arguable that the best footballing team in the pool has been eliminated. For the eastern European superpower a rethink may be needed, as some of the seasoned players that have led the nation is recent times start to head towards the twilight of their careers. However, in CSKA Moscow’s Dzagoev they surely have a new star to build a team around for the 2014 World Cup.
Poland’s best moments in the competition were in the first 45 minutes in the opener against Greece, as Robert Lewandowski looked to have headed the home side into a match-winning position. However, Smuda’s men have looked nervous and inconsistent since then, struggling to live up to the weight of expectation a football-made nation has put on them as hosts. Despite a number of unsavoury incidents surrounding racism and fan violence, the Polish public have shown their love for the game and have been accommodating hosts to date.
So what of the quarter-finalists? Czech Republic head through as group winners, a feat that looked impossible after their opening-day humbling at the hands of Russia. Credit must go to Michal Bilek and his men since that defeat, as the side have looked markedly better and bounced back well to win their remaining two games. Bilek has entrusted younger players to come into the side, and the dependence on the senior figures of the nation’s game no longer seems as apparent. Despite this, Czech Republic will need to improve further to prolong their stay in the tournament, as the Group B runners up lie in wait. This is most likely to be Portugal or Netherlands, and will be a step up for Bilek’s charges. However, with Cristiano Ronaldo misfiring and Bert van Marwijk’s Oranje not their usual merciless self, the Czechs will eye another scalp.
Greece progress as runners-up, and must be commended for their fight back from adversity also. After the first 45 minutes of their campaign they were 1-0 down to Poland, reduced to 10 men and looking ragged. Despite this, the Greeks have shown warrior-spirit to get themselves back into contention, and in the end up are good value for their place in the last eight.
Santos’ men will have taken heart from their nation’s unlikely triumph eight years ago in Portugal, and the same passion and determination is on show this time round. With Germany almost certainly going to be Greece’s opponents in the quarter-finals, a monumental effort will be needed to avoid elimination. That said, the Germans are always known for their mental toughness at international tournaments, which this time has been coupled with a talented and able side. However, despite Greece lacking the same footballing skill and finesse as Joachim Low’s men, they have proved that no other nation in the tournament has more will-to-win or dogged defiance than they do.
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World-class Rooney ready to return
England boss Roy Hodgson has admitted that his star man Wayne Rooney is chomping at the bit to return to action, and will feature in the Three Lions’ decisive Group D fixture against Ukraine on Tuesday.
Van Marwijk playing for his job
With Netherlands losing their first two games of Euro 2012, the Oranje are hanging on to their campaign by their fingernails. A comfortable win over Portugal still has the potential to get them through to the last eight providing Germany beat Denmark, but Bert van Marwijk may well be relieved of his position should progression not be guaranteed.
Ronaldo under increasing pressure
The competition’s best player on paper, Cristiano Ronaldo, has not fired this summer as yet, as Portugal have had to rely on other players to keep their campaign afloat. The Independent examines why it has gone wrong for the Real Madrid superstar ahead of their crucial clash with Netherlands.
Mad Mario (not him)
Italy’s Mario Balotelli is not the only forward at Euro 2012 whose attitude is under question, as his Croatia namesake Mario Mandzukic is under scrutiny. The Guardian examine the marksman’s performances to date, which have delivered three goals but questions over his temperament.
Group B should provide onlookers with a night of drama tonight, as all four teams in the pool are still in with a shot to make the next round. Come back tomorrow to hear all the fallout from two mouth-watering games, and look ahead to the Group C finale on Monday night.