Round two of the European Championships is done and dusted and the picture now looks a whole lot clearer with one group game left. Although only the fates of Germany, Sweden and the Republic of Ireland have been sealed, the other 13 nations are still mathematically in with a chance of reaching the knockout stages of the competition. Here are the things that caught our eye this week:
Theo Walcott – The one-time boy wonder has been dining out on one tremendous international performance for a number of years now. Well, at least he has something to replace the hat trick in Croatia with. England looked down and out after the Swedes produced a comeback from nowhere that left the Three Lions staring down the barrel. Roy Hodgson sent on Walcott though and he made an immediate impact, sending a swerving 25-yard drive past Andreas Isaksson (who made an absolute howler coincidentally). More surprisingly, Theo also provided the assist for the winner, crossing for Welbeck to level. His cross completion rate was 100%, a fact that someone needs to frame. It will never be seen again.
Fernando Torres – Say what you like about his record at Chelsea, indeed many people already have, but it takes a strong character to recover from the abuse he’s suffered this year. He may have been poor against Italy, but he looked in sparkling form against the Irish, as bad as they were. Two goals should revitalise his confidence and nudge him up in the Spanish pecking order. Golden boot anyone?
Mario Gomes – He’s been in possession for a total of 22 seconds at this tournament, yet he’s scored three goals. Gomes is the ultimate poacher and with the German midfield providing plenty of ammunition, you’d expect the Bayern hitman to continue his lethal form in front of goal. He’s also bagged his goals against two of the better sides at the competition, the Netherlands and Portugal.
Croatia – Slaven Bilic’s men were barely mentioned at the start of the tournament, mainly thanks to the presence of Spain and Italy in their group. However, they’ve been excellent so far with Modric pulling the strings in midfield, taking four points from their two games. Group C also has seen the emergence of a new Super Mario and not the one we expected to take centre stage. Mario Mandzukic has looked very dangerous in attack alongside Everton’s Jelavic and a 2-2 draw with Spain would be enough to send them through to the next round.
Jakub Błaszczykowski– Cometh the hour, cometh the man. With Poland 1-0 down to Russia, a result that would have left them struggling in Group A, the captain stepped forward to fire home one of the goals of the tournament so far. He beat the first man before driving home a sensational strike. Poland weren’t great against the Russians, but at least their fate is now in their own hands.
Giovanni Trapattoni – The wily old Italian may have pulled off a masterstroke in getting the Irish to the tournament in the first place, but his stubborn refusal to change his system or team selection ensured his side are the first ones heading for the plane home. There’s no shame in losing to the Spanish, but they simply capitulated after the early goal while they were woeful against the Croatians as well. It’s obvious to everyone that James McClean should have been on the pitch, while the boss needs to solve Ireland’s inability to keep hold of the ball. Disappointing for the fans.
Sweden – For a side so usually competitive at major tournaments, the Swedes have been awful this time around. They failed to deal with the wave of nationalistic emotion that swept Ukraine to victory in the first game and apart from twenty minutes and two Olof Mellberg headers, England made the Swedes look like Graham Taylor’s prize turnips. See you inevitably next time boys.
Cristiano Ronaldo – What a joy it is to include CR7 in this list for once. However, it’s probably the level of expectation that surrounds him that intensifies the scrutiny of his performances. His coach Paulo Bento has come out and defended his form but there’s no doubt there’s something wrong with the second best player in world football. If he was ineffective against Germany, he was positively dreadful against the Danes, missing a couple of chances that Emile Heskey would expect to put away with his eyes closed. Portugal’s fortuitous 3-2 win had almost nothing to do with their skipper.
Hooligans – Once again, hooliganism is proving a scour on the beautiful game. If the tournament hasn’t suffered enough thanks the constant allegations of racism, the last thing it needed was a mass brawl between the hosts Poland and the Russians. The boys scrapping in Warsaw aren’t exactly your Danny Dyer impressionists that the English game occasionally sees these days, but proper headcases. The issue has become as problematic in Eastern Europe as it was for England in the 1980’s. At least we’re not involved this time round.
The Netherlands – What has happened to Bert van Marwijk’s side? They’ve gone from World Cup finalists to Euro disaster in a single stroke. The combative, yet stylish side that lit up South Africa is almost unrecognisable and the likes of Van Persie, Sneijder and Robben just haven’t performed. They need a huge slice of luck otherwise an early exit beckons.