Alright, so, time to throw my opinions into the ring on the first round of matches at this year's European Championship. Let me start off my saying how happy I am that England didn't make it. Now, don't get me wrong, England is my second (after Spurs) and greatest love in football, but they didn't deserve EURO this year. Their qualifiers were dissapointing, and Croatia and Russia need the chance to shine. Besides, we got the opportunity to wreak havoc on Trinidad & Tobago and the United States, so bully for us!
Anyways, here we go. By the bye - all predictions were made for a EURO pool before the tournament started. Although I won't put my predictions for the first round (even though most were right, I got Group C all wrong though) as it's now over, I will continue with my round 2 predictions.
Czech Republic - Lots of room for improvement. It took 71 minutes for them to find a goal, and it wasn't exactly gorgeous. They spent a lot of this game trying to get a feel of Switzerland's style, and couldn't seem to get into any rhythm. The Swiss (half the time without Frei) caused all kinds of trouble for their defense, and Koller seems to have forgotten he possesses a low game. Petr Cech was the reason they won. We'll see what happens against Portugal.
Switzerland - Strong start. Having Senderos in center-back isn't the best idea there's ever been, but when you have no other options, you go with it. They wreaked havoc on the Czech defense and midfield, and forced Petr Cech to be absolutely brilliant. Expect good things in the next match out of the Swiss against Turkey.
Portugal - Brilliant football? Yes. Strong opponent? No. It was men (this may be the first time I've referred to the Portuguese as men) versus boys, and they took full advantage. Positive points - they passed the ball around beautifully, got strong defending, and made some lovely runs. They also got disturbingly strong offense from their defenders, Pepe striking first. This will be a tough side for anyone to beat, the Portuguese have learnt a lot in the past four years.
Turkey - Disappointing. Very disappointing. We'll see how they play against a weaker team in Switzerland, as their first match against Portugal was never going to be a walk in the park. The Turks looked absolutely baffled, unprepared, and wound up getting frustrated and disheartened by the skill of Portugal.
Predictions for the next 2 matches (without specific scores :D)
Portugal v Czech Rep - draw
Turkey v Switzerland - draw
Austria - Did they ever surprise me! Solid defense, and created chances! Who saw that coming? Hell, the Austrian fans were petitioning for their own side to pull out to avoid embarrassment, and no matter what happens for the rest of the tournament they staked their right to be in EURO after their performance. Lovely stuff from the Austrians.
Croatia - Mine (and everyone else's) dark horse...needs work. I'm pleased Spurs' boy Modric got the goal...but don't read too much into it as it was a very early (4th minute) penalty. They were held by an (on paper) weaker side for 86 minutes, and wound up playing for the 1-0 win after half time, with needless possession and 10-behind-the-ball football. Croatia needs to step into the boots they were expected to have, and show their bottle against the Germans. If they play like they did against Austria, they will find themselves in trouble.
Germany - Almost the same argument as the Portuguese...except better. Much, much better. They were absolutely brilliant, took advantage of the old workhorses the Poles had in center-back and played lovely, flowing stuff. Every through-ball was perfect, every run was brilliantly timed, the German footballing machine could do no wrong against the Poles. Podolski and Klose are a fearsome strike partnership, who both had something to prove against their native land (they're both nationalized Germans from Poland). Lehmann surprised me, after a year riding pine I thought he would be rusty but he put an end to the few chances the Poles could muster. Bring on Croatia, say the Germans!
Poland - Lots of work needed. The center backs need to be faster, or else the wing-backs are going to have to be constantly aware of track-backs. No team should ever be able to make short passes across the 18-yard box when inside the 18-yard box. As a defender, this team broke my heart. They were absolutely brutal in the back (that sounds naughty...get your minds out of the gutter!!!). Offensively, they showed promise, but could make no headway against the German backline, and their few chances were pretty weak. Lots of work needed, and very little time to do it in.
Predictions for the next two matches:
Austria v Poland - Poland win
Croatia v Germany - Germany win
GROUP C (The Group of Death [cue scary music])
Romania - Go home. You were rubbish. 10-behind-the-ball all game, no flair, forget offensive talent, you don't even seem to have offensive want. Romania seems quite happy to pack the box and absorb-and-clear every attack. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with a huge defensive force keeping possession and scoring on quick counterattacks, but they didn't even have anyone to clear it to most of the time. They just defended, then popped it back out of the box and sat back waiting for the next attack. Rubbish!!
France - You had a go, but couldn't pull it off. Henry and Viera are out, which is never a good thing for a French side lacking offense. Ribéry had a great game (under the circumstances), but everyone else was crap. Benzama was dissapointing, Anelka was rubbish. They need to play much better to get out of this group.
Italy - Now, now. Yes, the Azzuri just got their asses handed to them on an Oranje platter. But they showed a lot of promise. Their defense absolutely needs to tighten up and not count on the ref to make the calls they want (the van Nistelrooy goal was onside, stop whining, Buffon laid a good foul on his own boy). The loss of Cannavaro was a big one, but they have the talent to fill the hole. Materazzi was not the answer in this game, as much as I love him. Chiellini and Panucci should take CB roles, they can both play, and play well. Toni created a lot of chances, but he can only do so much. He should have scored on that volley he was alone far, just a tad over the bar. That said, on most attacks, he was in alone with di Natale. The midfield needs to squeeze up to provide real pressure, otherwise they'll lose themselves everytime they move within 25 yards.
Netherlands - Hup Oranje!! I called them to win the tournament and this opening match has given me all kinds of confidence (even though I predicted they'd draw their first...oops!). Absolutely wonderful ball movement, tireless play from van Bronkhorst and Kuyt (again, who saw that coming??). But, rather than talk about how well they did like everyone else, allow me to point out the flaws - WEAK defense. Van der Saar was left alone far more than he should have, and had to be right on top of everything. There were some vicious chances create by the Italians that required the bean-pole (van der Saar) or the goalpost to stop. Mathijsen and Ooijer (could you guess they were Dutch?) need to play MUCH better, like they did during qualifiers, or else poor defending could prove their undoing.
Predictions for the next two matches:
Netherlands vs France - Netherlands win
Italy vs Romania - Italy win
Spain - Well what more can you say about that? They put everything on the field, did all their talking through their play, and looked really sharp. David Villa and Fernando Torres were both right on top, causing more problems for the Russians than (cue end-of-Cold-War joke). Puyol had more work than he should ever have, again, the defense need to play better, but all-in-all, very good performance. Fast, pretty, brilliant, high-scoring - Spanish football and the ideal woman are one-in-the-same!
Russia - You beat England?? Really?? With play like that, it's a little embarrasing. That said, having how they played in qualifiers, and how they played yesterday, it was two different teams. Granted, they've lost their captain, but one man shouldn't have that kind of effect on 11. A lot of those boys just got back from winning the UEFA Cup against Rangers, they're winners and need to play as such. The defense was baffled and slow on the get-go, at least the second goal could have been stopped if one defender didn't decide to stop tracking back at the top of the 18-yard box, setting up an open low cross to Villa. The offense needs to get back to basic, hard runs up the wings, passing into the center, and a little ball control would be nice.
Sweden - I'm glad Ibrahimovic found his feet. Lovely goal from him against a dour Greek side. The Swedes refused to give up the attack against the Greeks, played wonderful in defense to set up attacks, beautiful give-and-gos from the midfield to the forwards, the entire team jelled and played very well. And how about that goal from Hansson? I haven't seen an uglier one in a long time, but good for him to score it, strength and movement from the center-back to score a goal should be inspriring for the whole team. Larsson's playing like a 20-year old, seems incredibly fresh. Isaksson did well after a year on the bench at the City of Manchester Stadium. I'm looking forward to the next one.
Greece - It was cute last time, it's annoying now. Piss off back to Athens if you're going to do that again. Same as Romania. Once Sweden scored they showed that they are capable of playing wonderful attacking football with strong defense, so I don't know why they don't keep doing that? Ah well, I doubt we'll see a change from the Greeks until they crash out of the group stages.
Predictions for the next 2 matches:
Greece v Russia - Russia win
Sweden v Spain - Spain win
At any rate, let's see what happens. With a few exceptions, a wonderful display of football. The lack of scoring from losing teams is a little worrying - both draws were goalless, and except for Russia, every team that's lost has lost without scoring. So come on you underdogs, and bring on more EURO, I'm loving it!
Detailed game reviews thus far have been written up by Andrew at his Blog - Sporting Madness
Round 1 Group A review
Round 1 Group B review
Round 1 Group C review
Round 1 Group D review