As they say in Brooklyn, not for nothing*, but this blog made a couple of rather tame predictions prior to Group A getting underway; one was that Robert Lewandowski and his Borussia Dortmund teammates would be the driving force for Poland and another was that Russia were the team to beat in the Group and that Aleksandr Kerzhakov was truly the player to watch in Group A. As far as I am concerned, both predictions came true, but not in the way I expected.
Poland vs Greece
A story of two halves, each alike in insanity, divided against themselves. Ha.
Poland came out flying, Greece looking like the underachievers I had expected them to be. The right hand flank of Greece’s defense was battered by the overlapping runs of Lukasz Piszczek and Kuba Blaszczykowski, who pwned the right wing and battered the Greeks with crosses and runs for most of the first half. It all came good when Blaszczykowski whipped in a cross for Lewandowski, unmarked on the far post, to hammer down into the ground, and bounce into the net. 1-0 to Poland and they were flying.
Keep Your Head Down and Keep Reaching For The Stars: Lewandowski Scores
Soon, Spainsh referee Carlos Velasco Carballo decided to try and ruin the game by handing out consecutive yellow cards to Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos on two calls that were not only never yellow cards, but likely were not even fouls. Off he went on a red card, the Greeks reduced to 10 men. A note here about the refs; I am going to do my best not to complain too much, but these men are under too much scrutiny from UEFA. They need to let the refs manage the game and not set down such rigid guidelines. Watching the
loathsome Manchester United 12th man English ref Howard Webb do a great job in the Russia v Czech Republic, it is clearly impossible to set a single standard. So, Spanish refs and others like them, lighten up. The game is not about you.
Poland went on to miss several chances, with defender Damien Perquis missing a couple of sitters from close range. But Poland left the pitch at halftime looking good; up a man and a goal at home. Game over.
Hellas has no fury like a team scorned; down to 10 men, the Greek team galvanized into a far more cohesive unit escially after Carballo turned down a penalty shout for handball in the Polish box. After the half, Greek manager Fernando Santos took the team by the neck and turned the entire game with a couple of brilliant tactical choices for which Poland could not find an answer. The first was bringing on the talismanic Dimitris Salpingidis for an underachieving Sotiris Ninis. Salpingidis paid almost immediate dividends in turning the tide of the game.
How many Poles does it take to blow a one man, one goal advantage at home? One. Wojciech Szczesny.
When Vassilis Torossidis swung a ball into the Polish box, the Arsenal keeper Szczesny dove into the feet of his own defender (who had the cross covered) spilling the ball free and to the onrushing Salpingidis, who buried the ball in the net to make it 1-1.
Santos’ other great move was to push his defensive resources to the left, pinching his midfield into cutting off the supply line of Piszczek and Blaszczykowski, and forcing Poland into playing the ball through the middle, where the Greeks mopped up.
When Salpingidis made a brilliant run onto a looping ball into an empty Polish penalty area, Sczcesny ran onto him and stuck a leg in, tripping the Greek attacker, giving away a penlty and earning himself a red card.
Stop Tripppin': Salpingidis wins the Greeks a penalty
It was the Poles worst nightmare, their goal and man advantage suddenly gone, back up keeper Przemyslaw Tyton brought on to defend the penalty. No keeper in Euro history had ever come on and saved a penalty before, but Tyton dove to his left and pushed away Karagounis’s effort, preserving the draw and adding incredible drama to the opening match. In the end, 1-1 was, shockingly, harsh to the Greeks, who showed an iron will and a real tactical nous in their ability to adapt to this match; they played better with 10 men than with 11. Their upcoming game against the Czech Republic is going to have a major impact on Poland’s chances; they have to hope the Czechs can earn a draw now.
Russia vs Czech Republic
Let’s get the match report out of the way quickly:
a) Russia absolutely battered the Czechs 4-1
b) Alan Dzagoev is a star in the making after two clincial finishes against Chelsea keeper Petr Cech
c) Roman Pavyluchenko scored a goal and set one up in about 8 minutes of time on the pitch
d) Andrei Arshavin was boss, playing fluid, attacking football the likes of which you rarely ever saw him play at Arsenal (his 4 goal performance against my Liverpool side being a rare exception)
Highlights… in Russian. To the winner, the spoils!
But the big debate coming out of the Russian camp will be about the play of Alexsandr Kerzhakov, the striker I targeted as theplayer to watch in this Group. To the naked, uniformed eye, Kerzhakov was an absolute waster, missing chance after chance in front of the goal; only his header off the post, which bounced to Dzagoev for his opening goal, could be seen as bad luck. Everything else in front of goal? Shocking. With Pavyluchenko coming on and bagging a goal and an assist in under ten minutes, surely he must be the choice for Russia, right?
Oops. Missed Again: Kerzhakov Can’t Score
Kerzhakov was outstanding in linking up play, coming deep and picking up the ball, holding it up and bringing the Russian attack together. His lack of a scoring touch doesn’t erase his qualities in leading the attack and serving as the glue for his entire team. If he had buried his chances, Kerzhakov would have had one of the all-time great matches in Euro history. Instead, his lack of scoring has some supporters calling for Pavyluchenko to get the start against Poland in the next match. Thankfully, Dick Advocaat knows what he has; look for Kerzhakov to shine again on Tuesday.
*I have lived here for 15 years and still have no idea what it means…