The European championship kicked off with a cracking game between the co-hosts Poland against 2004 winners Greece. It didn’t take long for the first goal of the tournament, coming from highly rated Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski. Socratis Papasthathopoulos was sent off for two bookable offences on the stroke of half time which seemed a tad harsh. Poland dominated large parts of the first half and going in at 1-0 were left to rue miss chances. If ever there was a game of two halves it was this one as the Greeks came out and stunned Poland making the score 1-1. The Greeks continued to press and after a lovely bit of play Dimitris Salpingidis was brought down by Wojciech Szczseny resulting in a penalty and a sending off for the Arsenal keeper. It was a great moment for sub keeper Przemyslaw Tyton as his first touch was to save the penalty and stop the Greeks going 1-2 up. The game finishing up 1-1 and gives both teams a start to build on.
Russia started their campaign off with a convincing win over Czech Republic scoring four in the process. Russia took the lead through CSKA midfielder Alan Dzagoev who smashed in the rebound which came off the post. Russia continued to create the better chances and before 25 minutes they were 2-0 up. Arshavin picked the pass that split the defence which was calmly finished by Roman Shirokov. The game was brought closer just after half time as Jaroslav Plasil picks out the run of Vaclav Pilar who went round the keeper and tucked the ball into the empty net. The game was put to bed as a spectacle though in the 79th minute as Pavlyuchenko slots through Dzagoev who smashes the ball past Petr Cech. Moments later Pavlyuchenko twisted and turned and rifled his shot past the Chelsea stopper making it 4-1 and putting the game beyond all doubt. A fantastic start for Russia, who were too strong for the Czechs and I’d fully expect them to win the group comfortably. The three other nations will all still have a chance of making the second spot in the group as it is well up for grabs.
The ‘group of death’ kicked off with the shock of the tournament so far as Denmark stunned Holland and took all three points. Holland dictated proceedings in the first fifteen minutes having 63% of the possession. Holland created a few good chances but totally against the run of play Krohn-Delhi lashed the ball through the keeper’s legs and put Denmark into a shock 0-1 lead. Holland continued to dominate and the closest they came to equalising was a Robben shot which hit the post. Holland continued to waste chances and with Denmark’s back line performing heroically it didn’t look good for the favourites. Wesley Sneijder then played an unbelievable pass through to Huntelaar who couldn’t lift it over Stephan Andersen. Holland kept wasting chances and finished the game with an astounding 29 shots with no return. The Danish backline along with some lacklustre finishing from the Dutch meant that Denmark headed to the top of the group.
In one of the most eagerly-anticipated games of the group stages Germany produced a 1-0 win which for the most part was a drab affair. It was clear to see that Portugal were set up to defend and for the most part they limited Germany to half chances. The chance of the half however fell to Real Madrid hot head Pepe who controlled the ball, curled his shot past Manuel Neuer which struck the bar and bounced off the line and was cleared. Germany continued to press in the second half and just as coach Joachim Low told Klose to warm up, Mario Gomez rose above the defenders and thumped his header past Rui Patricio. It was a cruel blow for the Portuguese who were starting to look more of an attacking threat and for all their play towards the end of the game they finished with no points. Denmark and Germany are both sat in commanding positions after their wins and Group B could be decided this Wednesday if the two sides win again.
Spain began their defence of the European title by fielding a team containing six midfielders with no recognised striker. Spain retained the ball a lot during the early stages but it was Italy who looked the more threatening and the most likely to break the deadlock. Iker Casillas was the busier of the keepers and made a couple of decent saves which kept the scores level at half time. Italy looked fairly solid at the back whilst a Spain side containing no forwards looked slightly flat and lost without a focal point up front. Spain started the second half the better but when Balotelli was presented with a great chance he was caught dawdling and Ramos nicked the ball away from the Italian. Di Natale was then introduced for Balotelli which proved a masterstroke as Pirlo slotted him through and he tucked the ball past Casillas to put the Italians 0-1 up. Incredibly, it only took Spain a matter of minutes till they levelled with David Silva unlocking the sturdy defence to find Fabregas who slotted the ball past veteran Buffon. As the players began to tire the game became stretched and Torres had two great chances to win it for the Spaniards but the game ended a 1-1 draw. A fair result where Italy proved they are no pushovers in this competition.
Republic of Ireland faced Croatia in a game many dubbed a ‘must win’ if the Irish were to qualify but unfortunately they were undone by a clinical Croatian outfit. Ireland got off to the worst possible start as Mario Mandzukic headed past Shay Given who maybe could have reacted quicker to the header. It didn’t take the Irish long to peg them back however as Leicester City defender St Ledger headed in at the far post and brought the game to 1-1. On the brink of half time though panic struck in the Ireland defence and the ball was sliced by Stephen Ward straight into the path of Nikica Jelavic who chipped Given and gave the Croatians a vital lead at the break. Ireland needed to come out and dominate the early proceedings second half but the complete opposite happened when Mario Mandzukic headed the ball onto the post which hit Given and dropped into the net. Ireland managed to hold onto the ball a lot more but the Croatians were comfortable at 1-3 and were happy to sit a little deeper. The referee then turned down what looked a clear penalty which would have given Ireland a route back into the game and swung the momentum. Croatia saw the game out fairly easily and Irelands clumsy defending combined with the Croatians clinical finishing proved the difference. Croatia face Italy on Thursday and if they can achieve a positive result they have a great chance of going through their tough group. It looks bleak for Ireland who will need to get two results against Spain and Italy in order to qualify. Spain will still be favourites to win the group but I’m sure Croatia and Italy will have other ideas.
England kicked off their Euro 2012 campaign with a tough trip to Donetsk to face the in from France. The game was a slow starter but the first real chance fell to James Milner who took the ball around Hugo Lloris but only managed to find the side netting with his finish. Moments later Joe Hart was forced into a good save from a Yohan Cabaye shot. The half contained few goal scoring chances until Joleon Lescott was on the end of a Steven Gerrard free-kick to put England into a shock lead. The joy was short-lived for the fans though as Man City midfielder Samir Nasri fired the ball past Joe Hart and beat him at his near post. Hart who plays with Nasri at Manchester City would be disappointed to of not got a strong hand to the shot. As the second half wore on both teams struggled to break down their opposite numbers and the game fizzled out to a 1-1 draw. A great result for England that will give them great confidence when they take on Sweden then Ukraine.
Andriy Shevchenko was the man for Ukraine as he netted twice to help his side come from behind to see off the Swedish. Ukraine looked much the better side for long periods of the first half, enjoying more possession but Sweden came closest to scoring through a Zlatan Ibrahimovic header which clipped the post. Moments after half time, Sweden produced a bit of quality as Ibrahimovic finished off a good move with a simple finish. Ukraine hit back immediately through Andriy Shevchenko who headed in a Yarmolenko cross to make it 1-1 with 35 minutes to play. Ukraine were in dreamland minutes later as that man again darted to the front post to flick the ball in from a corner. Ukraine saw the game out to claim a vital three points in Group D and top the group. A great end to the first round of fixtures which leaves England with it all to do against Sweden on Friday. Sweden are in a similar position to Ireland facing two very tough fixtures to qualify but for the three other sides it’s all to play for.