The European Championships kicked off in stunning fashion on Friday night as Poland were held by Greece and Russia netted four in their opening group match in Wroclaw. The Russians had achieved that early advantage in Group A in a very domineering display by the likes of Alan Dzageov and Andrei Arshavin.
The latter, Arsenal midfielder, was allowed the time and space from the Czech defence along with the freedom that his club doesn’t allow him. The opening day had everything, the mauling and the fantastic performance from what seems like Group A’s stand-out side – Russia, along with the controversy in the 5pm kick-off.
Goals from the increasingly popular CSKA forward, Alan Dzagoev and Roman Shirokov fired Russia into a 2-0 half-time lead. Just when it seemed all was lost for the Czechs, Vaclav Pilar pulled a goal back but the clearly exhausted Petr Cech wasn’t at his best and in a four minute double salvo, Russia had completed their rout with Dzagoev their man of the match, netting a brace.
Whilst the opening match, which pitted co-hosts Poland against 2004 winners Greece, wasn’t technically the best match the entertainment was to be found through the controversy in Warsaw. Manchester United target and Polish frontman, Robert Lewandowski headed the co-hosts ahead on 19 minutes and by half-time they had the person advantage as two soft yellow cards had centre half Sokratis Papastathopoulos going for an early shower.
Half-time substitute, Dimitris Salpigidis levelled the match up for Greece and with 20 minutes remaining Giorgos Karagounis bore down on the penalty spot, readying himself to convert a penalty. Arsenal goalie Wojciech Szczesny was sent off for the foul and his reserve, Przemyslaw Tyton saved the Greek captain’s placed spot kick.
Russia had taken the advantage from the opening day of the Championships which left the group of death on Saturday. It was over to the Dutch and the controversy and the enlightenment of the Panorama documentary of Polish hooligans was founded in an open training session in Krakow.
Black Dutch players were subject to racial abuse in the open session whilst the English were the favoured in a relaxed atmosphere, Ireland’s Group C opponents, Italy are also based in the city of Krakow which won’t host any matches in the tournament.
Ex-Dutch footballer, Ruud Gullit came out, announcing that he didn’t subscribe to Platini’s opinion that players who threaten to walk off suffering racial abuse should be yellow carded. Gullit, who played a part in Holland’s 1988 winning Euro campaign stated that UEFA shouldn’t punish players who walk off should they be subjected to racial abuse.
This comes only a few months after FIFA president, Sepp Blatter said that racial matters could be “settled by a handshake.” With off-field problems aside, Holland started brightly but they would go into half-time trailing thanks to a goal from Michael Krohn-Dehli, who slotted the ball in against the run of play.
Amid huge penalty claims for the Dutch, they were unable to break down to impenetrable wall that Simon Kjaer and Liverpool centre half Dan Agger brought to Kharkiv. Between Robben hitting the post and Robin van Persie having an off day, Holland weren’t destined to take three points into the second match. Despite all of their huffing and puffing, the Dutch failed to blow the Dane’s house down, leaving the initiative down to Germany and Portugal who contested the late kick-off in Lviv.
Portugal, who had been criticised in the lead-up to the tournament for the one-man army nature of their side had the 80 million man, Cristiano Ronaldo, looking to bring a first major piece of silverware back to Portugal for the national side – single-handedly or not.
They were up against one of the tournament favourites as the German pups of the 2010 World Cup had seemingly matured in qualification. It was a cagey affair with Portugal looking terrified to lose the match with the first half’s only talking point was Pepe’s strike which cannoned off the bar and bouncing just on the line.
That one moment threatened to open the repetitive case of goal line technology but Blatter was able to stay comfortable from his vantage point. The moment threatened to break out into flowing football until both sides were interrupted for the half-time whistle.
The Portuguese defensive mentality made for tedious viewing and just when Miroslav Klose was about to be hurled on for Mario Gomez, the latter Bayern forward threw his head onto the ball. The tango football nestled into the net on 72 minutes which saw Germany rack up three points, joining Denmark in the top two.
Join me on Tuesday afternoon where I report on Sunday and Monday’s matches in the European Championships which sees both England and Ireland kick off their campaigns.