Poland 1-1 Greece • June 8, 2012
The first match of the 2012 Euros featured Greece taking on hosts Poland in Warsaw. Polish Borussia Dortmund star Robert Lewandowski wasted no time getting the first goal of the tournament hammering down a cross from Jakub Błaszczykowski with his head. Although it would be difficult to top the bizarre opening ceremony, the referee did his best to become the focal point in the match due to several controversial calls, which were later described by some Greek supporters as “ridiculopoulous.”
Greek Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a debatable red card for a push and the Greeks headed into halftime down a man and down a goal. At this point, I like to imagine that Greek captain Gorgios Karagounis gave a rousing locker-room speech reminding his men of Spartan King Leonidas from the film 300; “No retreat, no surrender!”
With this call to arms, his men responded though a goal from Dimitris Salpingidis to even the battle. Later, the match reached its apex following Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny’s foul to give a penalty to Greece. Replacement goalkeeper Przemysław Tytoń made a diving save to keep the score tied at 1-1 with ten men on each side.
Ultimately, the result of this exciting inaugural match felt fair as both sides headed home with a point.
Russia 4-1 Czech Republic • June 8, 2012
Russia got on the board quickly with a goal from Alan Dzagoev in the 14th minute. Soon after, play was stopped due to a flare thrown on the field, used as a sort of makeshift firework celebration. On Sunday, the Russian Football Federation warned its fans to “Respect yourself, your home, and your team.” Despite the interruption, Russia would continue to score fairly consistently throughout the match with later goals from Roman Shirokov, Dzagoev, and Roman Pavlyuchenko.
The Czech Republic was not silent though, with a lone goal from Vaclav Pilar. The high-scoring affair ended a superb first day of action in a group that was predicted to be lackluster.
As analyst Alexi Lalas has pointed out, the fascination of Group A comes from the idea that each team in the group truly has the belief that they can advance.
Netherlands 0-1 Denmark • June 9, 2012
Group B’s first goal came from Denmark with a nutmeg from Michael Krohn-Dehli in the 24th minute. Krohn-Dehli has been marked in the media as a possible star of the tournament and could have transfer offers to leave his current side, Brøndby IF.
In the 88th minute, Denmark’s Lars Jacobsen contacted the ball twice with his arm in the box, but the referee controversially let play continue. The Netherlands would end the match with 28 shots to Denmark’s eight. Ultimately, the Oranje suffered the first upset of the tournament due to failure to finish chances.
Germany 1-0 Portugal • June 9, 2012
The second match on Friday featured the first meeting of giants, with Die Mannschaft facing off against Os Navegadores. Portugal set themselves up to absorb pressure for the majority of the match, in a Chelsea-esque manner.
In the 72nd minute, German Mario Gómez leapt into the air, heading down a cross from Khedira into goal. It should be noted that the cross actually deflected off of the back of a Portuguese player before making its way into the box.
Nonetheless, Germany capitalized on a created chance. In the end, it was all that they would need to assert early dominance in the tournament.
Spain 1-1 Italy • June 10, 2012
Saturday’s matches in the “Group of Debt” began with Spain and Italy, the last two World Cup champions. The feared Chelsea goal scorer Fernando Torres began this match starting in his natural position, on the bench. Meanwhile, much of the commentator’s attention throughout the game was directed at the holy terror Mario Balotelli. The Manchester City villain highlighted his performance on a breakaway where he choked by simply failing to kick the ball. Personally, I believe that he was trying to think of a fancy way to get by the goalkeeper and was unable to choose which trick on FIFA 12 he was going to try.
Luckily for the Italians, Balotelli’s ineptitude was negated by Andrea Pirlo’s class performance. His searing passes and assist on Antonio Di Natale’s 61st minute goal were truly enjoyable to take in. Spain would not be outdone, however, responding three minutes later with a typical passing display that led to a slotted goal by Cesc Fábregas.
After the match, Spanish players complained to the media that the conditions of the playing surface made their usual, quick passing impossible.
According to Xavi, “It was super dry and that makes passing the ball difficult.” Talk about first-world problems.
Republic of Ireland 1-3 Croatia • June 10, 2012
Saturday’s battles between failing economies continued as the Boys in Green tried to hold their own against the Vatreni (that’s “The Blazers,” for any non-Croats out there). I’ll forego the generic witty headline about the “bad luck of the Irish” and instead remember the tried and true virtue...you create your own luck in life.
The Irish failed to defend well, allowing goals that were softer than my new kitten. At some points it was difficult to differentiate whether Ireland was bad or if Croatia was good. Croatia’s goals came courtesy of Mario Mandzukic (3’, 48’) and Nikica Jelavic (43’).
Ireland did get a goal from Sean St. Ledger in the 19th minute, but certainly fell to a stronger side. That being said, some of my Irish friends insist that their side was just using this match to lull Italy and Spain into a false sense of security.