Knockout time, and who expected this? Russia, the Group leaders who pounded the Czech Republic 4-1 on opening day? Out. Poland, the hosts, looking bright in their 1-1 draw against frontrunners Russia? Do widzenia. Group A turned my expectations upside down.
Poland v Czech Republic
Sorry, but when you can’t play through the middle of the park and your attack is as one sided and one dimensional as Poland’s, you have to expect trouble. And when the Czechs counter attacked right up the middle of the park in the 72nd minute as Poland went looking for a winner, Petr Jiracek stepped up and put the team on top of Group A. For good.
It was a deserved victory for a team that had been battered 4-1 on the opening day of the tournament, a team holding out hope that they could sneak into the knockout stages in second place. Poland, on the other hand, needed a win and played with increasing desperation, which only made them more predictable and open to the counter attack. Still, they had the chance to grab a draw and knock the Czechs out of the tournament in the dying moments which Michael Kadlec made an incredible clearance off the line to preserve the victory.
It was a strange tournament for Poland, who battled hard and played attractive football but who simply could not diversify their attack enough to unleash Lewandowski on opposing defenses. At Borussia Dortmund, Lewandowski received attacking support all over the pitch; Kagawa, Blaszczykowski, Göetze, etc. For Poland, he was completely isolated up top with Blaszczykowski and Piscek combining on the right to provide the main support. With Polanski and others finding no joy in the attack, the Euros ended early for Poland, who leave without a win as hosts. A shame.
Still, you have to look at the Czechs and marvel at their heart, coming back from massive disappointment to win the group. It gets much more difficult from here (more on that in my next post), but their defense has become more and more solid as the tournament has worn on, so you never know. No really, you NEVER KNOW. Just look at…
Greece v Russia
What. The. Fuck?
Shock the world.
Yes, Greece, who were bottom of the group heading into the final day of Group A, beat high-flying Russia 1-0 on a smash-and-grab goal in the dying moments of the first half to
ruin my fantasy team win the match and advance into the knockout stages based on the first tie-breaker in the Euro Groups; head-to-head. Even though Greece had a 0 goal differential and Russia were +2 and both had 4 point sin the Group, Greece beat Russia, so on they go. Greece did a brilliant job in this match of watching Russia blow their chances playing group defense, echoing their incredible Euro 2004 win with full commitment to playing shut down, counter-attacking football. Well done to the Greeks, who continue to surprise as the world (myself included) continues to underestimate their football. The real shame is that captain Giorgos Karagounis was tripped in the box and picked up a yellow for “diving” instead of earning a legit penalty (UEFA should look at the tape and rescind the card), and now misses the quarterfinal. He was not happy.
Meanwhile, Russia. What can you say? Theirs was a tournament cut in half; the first 135 minutes, when they scored five goals and conceded one, and the second 135 minutes, when Andrei Arshavin ran out of gas, Yuri Zhirkov forgot how to cross the ball, Roman Pavyluchenko and Aleksandr Kerzhakov couldn’t score in a brothel, and Russia ran out of ideas, conceding two goals and scoring NONE. If anyone would have told me heading into the Poland and Greece matches that Russia would score one goal and concede two in their final two games, I would have laughed in their face. And yet, out they go, the second biggest disappointment in the tournament.
What a huge opportunity lost, not just for the team and their supporters, but for the rest of us, who were really enjoying Russia’s positive approach to the game. But they, like so many other teams, suffered from fatigue and a lack of a plan when plan number one (in this case, Andrei Arshavin) didn’t work out. For all of their positivity, Russia were too dependent on Kerzhakov and Arshavin to create when, in fact, both players seemed to fade into poor form as the tournament wore on. Tapping the ball around outside of the box as the other team throws ten men behind the ball is not going to win matches; you have to invite them onto you a little bit, have some steel in the middle of the park and get some sort of advantage heading toward goal. The extreme example of this idea is Greece, who retreated so deep that Russia couldn’t help but come forward, only to exploit a opening on the counter for the win. Russia could not find the right mix, and when the Greeks and Poles camped out in their own ends and sucker punched them on the counter, they had no answer, no way to find a telling ball. It almost happened for Russia, when Arshavin looped a telling cross onto the head of the excellent Alan Dzagoev, but the youngster pushed the ball inches wide of the Greek post.
After that, a quick ball and a smart run, the clock ran down and Russia were gone. Shame, but it is the price you pay for tactical monotony. Should have known better. до свидания
Thrill of, agony of, etc.