Cristiano Ronaldo’s million-dollar haircut headed Portugal into a semifinal meeting with either Spain or France with a 1-0 win over a very, very lackluster Czech Republic. Clearly the Czechs were playing for penalties, and they were just, oh, 40 minutes short. Nice try, guys. Portugal outshot them 19-2 and probably should’ve won by three or four goals (Ronaldo hit the post twice). Now we’re at the point where I can start spouting cliches about anything being possible at the Euros and so on. This Portugal team is decent, though they’ll have to ride their luck (and hope Ronaldo keeps scoring) to beat the likes of Spain and France.
Man of the match: Ronaldo. There is no denying his ability to score goals, even if he occasionally does so in an extremely whiny, petulant manner. He now has three in the tourney.
Tomorrow: Germany vs. Greece, 11:45 a.m., ESPN
Alright folks, the first round is done. Sorry I didn’t get in the final two days of highlights, but they were mostly anticlimactic anyway, except for maybe the disallowed Ukraine goal and the two very good goals from Balotelli and Ibrahimovic. Anyway, on to the quarterfinals! All times Pacific.
Thursday, June 21
Czech Republic vs. Portugal. (11:45 a.m., ESPN) Probably the least expected – and also least boosted by star power of the four games. Which is amazing, considering His Hair Gel is playing. Yes, I mean Cristiano Ronaldo. Nonetheless, it should be a good match. Portugal is favored, but the Czechs have been very good since their tourney-opening thumping at the hands of the Russians. Since neither team could really be called an offensive juggernaut, what happens is pretty much down to how successful the Czechs (and right back Theodor Gebrie-Selassie, who has been quite good so far) contain Ronaldo. The winner of this takes on the winner of Spain-France. Prediction: I want to pick the Czechs, but I just can’t. Portugal 1-0.
Friday, June 22
Germany vs. Greece. (11:45 a.m., ESPN) The other big shock of the tournament so far, with the Greeks coming back to knock off the heavily favored Russians. If they pulled off the upset again, it would be a really really really big upset. It’s not impossible, but this is an aging Greek team, not as defensively sound as in the past, with arguably the worst forward pool in the competition. Germany, meanwhile have stars at every position and are probably the most unstoppable attacking force in the tournament. But hey, it could happen, right? The winner takes on the winner of England-Italy. Prediction: Germany 3-0
Saturday, June 23
Spain vs. France. (11:45 a.m., ESPN2) This is the one game in the quarterfinals that is on ESPN2 – we can only presume that the Tennessee high school girls’ championship is on at this time. The media seemed pretty shocked that France, which was basically qualified by this point, didn’t seem all that upset to lose to Sweden in their final match, thus ceding the group to England and meaning France takes on Spain. Here’s the thing, though: France would probably have to play Spain at some point in the tourney anyway, and the winner takes on either the Czechs or Portugal, far less daunting than a possible semifinal date with Germany. So in a way, it makes sense. the defending champs haven’t lost a match yet, but aside from a 4-0 win over hapless Ireland, they haven’t been convincing. Prediction: France pulls the upset, 2-1.
Sunday, June 24
England vs. Italy. (11:45 a.m., ESPN) As kind of noted in the Spain-France preview, I thought people’s reactions to the seeding from Group D was curious. England fans cheered wildly with news that they were getting Italy instead of Spain in the quarterfinals. It’s true, Spain would probably beat England, but Italy are also very good. There is a question whether an England team with a not quite fit Wayne Rooney, an underperforming Ashley Young, and well, Andy Carroll (I think Danny Welbeck is decent, so I’m not including him) will be able to break down an organized Italian defense. They struggled to do just that against France (no shock there) and Ukraine, and both teams were inept defensively in the match with Sweden, so this will be the English team’s first chance to show they can score goals against a good defensive team. Italy aren’t high scoring, but Andrea Pirlo has played well, and their rotating cast of forwards has shown at least one guy can pop up and put the ball in the back of the net. Prediction: 1-1, Italy wins on penalties.
Sorry for the delay in updating, but if you’re anticipating regular, multiple-post-a-day type stuff the next couple weeks, you’ll be sorely disappointed. But I’ll do what I can. On to the games!
Greece 1, Russia 0: Greece improbably both qualifies for the quarterfinals and knocks Russia out on the final day, thanks to a goal from Giorgos Karagounis. Russia had 24 shots on goal but failed to score, and after a rousing start to the campaign, throttling the Czech Republic, whimpered their way out of the tournament after a draw with Poland and this game.
Poland 0, Czech Republic 1: The co-hosts continue their pattern of getting out to flying starts to matches, then gradually petering out at the end. In this case, they didn’t even escape with a draw like the last two matches and were eliminated at the first stage. Petr Jiracek scored the loan goal for the Czechs, who rallied satisfyingly to qualify for the next round, but don’t look like a very threatening team, particularly with Milan Baros as the lone striker.
Final Group A standings
*1. Czech Republic 2-0-1, 6 pts
*2. Greece 1-1-1, 4 pts
3. Russia 1-1-1, 4 pts
4. Poland 0-2-1, 2 pts
*Qualified for next round
Player of the Group
Giorgos Karagounis, midfielder, Greece. After one half of their first match, Greece looked dead and buried. After 10 minutes of their second match, Greece looked even more dead and buried. Starting their third match, Greece looked very unlikely to advance to the next round. Then Karagounis stepped up with the lone goal in the match to send them through and break Russian hearts, or at least, they would have if Russians had hearts. He’s 35, but exemplifies the “Never Say Die” (I hate myself right now) attitude that has the Greeks believing they can win this competition like they did in 2004, though let’s be honest: the Greeks aren’t going to win this competition.
Denmark 1, Germany 2: Arguably the dullest 3-goal match you’ll ever watch ended with the Mannschaft booking their place in the quarterfinals as expected. Goals were scored by new Arsenal signing Lukas Podolski and Denmark’s Michael Krohn-Dehli, then the winner for Lars Bender. It wasn’t a bad showing by the Danes, who were widely expected to finish last in the group and didn’t. Germany was imperious in this round and won’t be satisfied with anything less than the title, though obviously Spain will have something to say about that.
Portugal 2, Netherlands 1: Cristiano Ronaldo finally wakes up and fires Portugal into the second round with a 2-goal match. He probably could’ve had more – he had 12 shots on goal, only two less than the Dutch team. For the Netherlands, who got a goal from Rafael “Play defense? What? Me?” Van Der Vaart and faded meekly with no points from the competition. Considering they were the World Cup runners-up, this has to be considered one of the worst showings from a major team in this tournament in a long time. Well, since France in 2008, anyway.
Final Group B standings
*1. Germany 3-0-0, 9 pts
*2. Portugal 2-0-1, 6 pts
3. Denmark 1-0-2, 3 pts
4. Netherlands 0-0-3, 0 pts
*Qualified for next round
Player of the Group
Mario Gomez, forward, Germany. There were several candidates for this, and though Gomez didn’t score in the final group match, considering that he scored all of Germany’s goals in the other two, I think he was probably deserving. Gomez is often ridiculed by fans, both German and otherwise, but his combination of size and skill will make him extremely difficult for opposing defenses to deal with in this tournament moving forward. It’s saying a lot that his form is keeping Miroslav Klose (63 goals for Germany) on the bench.
1. Germany (3-0-0, 9 pts). Beat Denmark 2-1. It wasn’t a pretty match, but all Germany had to do against Denmark was not lose. With *what should be* an easy match against Greece, Spain could be their semifinal opponent. Up next: Greece, June 21
2. Spain (1-1-0, 4 pts). Up next: Croatia, June 18
3. Portugal (2-0-1, 6 pts). Beat Netherlands 2-1. No one was really expecting Portugal to advance to the second round, but they were excellent defensively and mostly opportunistic in attack (except for Ronaldo in the first two matches). Can they win this whole thing? Up next: Czech Republic, June 21
4. Czech Republic (2-0-1, 6 pts). Beat Poland 1-0. Group A ended up being much more entertaining than anyone expected, and after getting thumped by Russia, the Czechs made some changes to their squad, came back and were the best team in the group. They deserve their second round appearance, though Portugal will likely be happy to be taking them on. Up next: Portugal, June 21
5. France (1-1-0, 4 pts). Up next: Sweden, June 19
6. Croatia (1-1-0, 4 pts). Spain, June 18
7. England (1-1-0 4 pts). Up next: Ukraine, June 19
8. Greece (1-1-1, 4 pts). Beat Russia 1-0. After the second match, I thought there was NO WAY that Greece would advance to the next round. They’re missing both central defenders through injury, probably the worst forwards at the Euros, and their two starting midfielders are in their mid-30s. But, they’re in the quarterfinals. Up next: Germany, June 21
9. Ukraine (1-0-1, 3 pts). Up next: England, June 19
10. Italy (0-2-0, 2 pts). Up next: Ireland, June 18
11. Russia (1-1-1, 4 pts). Lost to Greece 1-0. Poor, poor Russians. How does this team look so dynamic to start the tournament, then so wasteful and ineffective by the end. And thanks to fan trouble, they have a six-point deduction in attempting to qualify for the next Euros. Yuck. Up next: отдыхать
12. Denmark (1-0-2, 3 pts). Lost to Germany 2-1. The Danes will be disappointed at having given up the late goal to lose to Portugal, because they could very well be in the quarterfinals now. Nonetheless, it was a mostly good performance by them, except Christian Eriksen, who was terrible. Up next: Enjoying whatever season they’re having in Denmark right now
13. Poland (0-2-1, 2 pts). Lost to the Czech Republic 1-0. The Poles looked lively in attack, speedy and skillful, but couldn’t score goals when it counted. Now there are stories of players blaming mismanagement and not getting enough tickets for their family for the defeat. On the bright side, uhh … I heard Krakow is very beautiful this time of year. Up next: A mess of consonants and ill-fitting vowels
14. Sweden (0-0-2, 0 pts). Up next: France, June 19
15. Ireland (0-0-2, 0 pts). Up next: Italy, June 18
16. Netherlands (0-0-3, 0 pts). Lost to Portugal 2-1. Europe’s six-year love affair with the Dutch is probably over now, so it remains to be seen whether their players will return to Dutch club teams like PEC Zwolle and RKC Waalwijk after playing in the Champions League with the likes of Inter Milan and Bayern Munich the last few years. Up next: In-fighting, bitter recriminations, accusations
Player of the Euros So Far Rankings
1. Mario Gomez, Germany
2. Karim Benzema, France
3. David Silva, Spain
4. Mesut Ozil, Germany
5. Pepe, Portugal
Czech Republic 2, Greece 1: After being overwhelmed by Russia in the opener, the Czechs score twice in the first six minutes through Petr Jiracek and Pilar (his second of the tournament). Neither team is great, but the Czechs have Tomas Rosicky, which was good enough to get them the win. Greece’s consolation came through Theofanis Gekas, thanks in a large part to another mistake from Petr Cech, who is not having a great tournament for the Cech Republic. The Czechs can advance to the next round with a draw against Poland coupled with Greece failing to beat Russia in the final group match. Greece’s only hope of advancing lies in beating Russia and hoping the Czech and Poles draw.
Russia 1, Poland 1: Poland captain Kuba rescues his team with a great goal after Alan Dzagoev had scored his tournament-high third goal in the first half. Poland could have won – Russia offered very little in the second half. This match came amid riots and marching outside the stadium for Russia Day. Apparently these two nations don’t like each other. Who knew? The only way Russia wouldn’t advance is if they lost to Greece and Poland beat the Czechs. Any other result would still see them go through. Poland will advance with a win next week. I’ll go over this again in a bit just to make sure you get it.
Group A standings
1. Russia 1-1-0, 4 pts, 5 goals scored, 2 goals against
2. Czech Republic 1-0-1, 3 pts, 3 gs, 5 ga
3. Poland 0-2-0, 2 pts, 2 gs, 2 ga
4. Greece 0-1-1, 1 pt, 2 gs, 3 ga
Russia qualifies for the second round with a win or draw, or a draw between the Czech Republic and Poland.
The Czech Republic advances with a win, or they must draw and Russia must win or draw against Greece.
Poland advances with a win.
Greece advances with a win and a draw between the Czechs and Poland.
Next Match Day: June 16
1. Croatia (1-0-0, 3 pts). Up next: Italy, June 14
2. Ukraine (1-0-0, 3 pts). Up next: France, June 15
3. Russia (1-1-0, 4 pts). Drew 1-1 with Poland. After a rip-roaring win against the Czech Republic, Russia started strong, then labored to get a point against Poland. They’re still odds-on to advance, but could be knocked out. Up next: Greece, June 16
4. Denmark (1-0-0, 3 pts). Up next: Portugal, June 13
5. Germany (1-0-0, 3 pts). Up next: Netherlands, June 13
6. Czech Republic (1-0-1, 3 pts). Beat Greece 2-1. A few changes and the Czechs rallied impressively against Greece. They look like a really bad side without Tomas Rosicky playing, though. (He sat out the second half.) Up next: Poland, June 16
7. Italy (0-1-0, 1 pt). Up next: Croatia, June 14
8. Spain (0-1-0, 1 pt). Up next: Ireland, June 14
9. France (0-1-0, 1 pt). Up next: Ukraine, June 15
10. England (0-1-0 1 pt). Up next: Sweden, June 15
11. Poland (0-2-0, 2 pts). Drew 1-1 with Russia. Poland will be disappointed to only emerge from their match with Russia with a point, but they at least have their fate in their own hands against a mediocre Czech team. Can they put in a full 90 minutes of good play? Up next: Czech Republic, June 16
12. Portugal (0-0-1, 0 pts). Lost 1-0 to Germany. Up next: Denmark, June 13
13. Netherlands (0-0-1, 0 pts). Lost 1-0 to Denmark. Up next: Germany, June 13
14. Sweden (0-0-1, 0 pts). Up next: England, June 15
15. Greece (0-1-1, 1 pt). Lost 2-1 to the Czech Republic. After another second-half fell short, Greece are left in a situation where they could conceivably win their last match against Russia and not qualify. But they don’t even look good enough to win. Up next: Russia, June 16
16. Ireland (0-0-1, 0 pts). Up next: Spain, June 14
Player of the Day: Theodor Gebrie-Selassie, Czech Republic. The Czech right back was the best player on the pitch against Greece, delivering the cross for the second (and ultimately, winning) goal. He will probably have some new teams trying to sign him after this tournament.
Disappointment of the day: Andrei Arshavin, Russia. Sure, he might not be completely match-fit, and Russia will still probably advance to the second round. But Arshavin’s performance was very reminiscent of his struggles in an Arsenal uniform the last couple years.
Goal of the day: Kuba, Poland
Player of the Tournament So Far Rankings
1. Andrei Shevchenko, Ukraine
2. Alan Dzagoev, Russia
3. Michael Krohn-Dehli, Denmark
4. Mario Mandzukic, Croatia
5. Tomas Rosicky, Czech Republic
Two early goals from Alan Dzagoev and Roman Shirokov sent the Russkies on their way, and they cruised to a 4-1 win over a pretty lousy Czech Republic side. The Czech briefly got back into the game on a Pilar goal, but Dzagoev scored again, and substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko netted the fourth.
An impressive win for Russia, who hasn’t been mentioned as a potential winner of the tourney, but looked plenty good in this game. Dzagoev and Andrei Arshavin (remember him?) were particularly impressive in the match. Alexandr Kerzhakov set a record with seven shots, all off target, for Russia, but he actually was pretty good that besides.
As for the Czechs, they looked hopeless and will need to win at least one of their last two (against Greece and Poland) to have any hope of advancing. Russia look good for advancing to the next round, though they’ll probably want to pick up at least a draw in their last two matches.
Ranking: 65; Qualifying record: N/A (Qualified as host); Best finish: Group stage, 2008; Coach: Franciszek Smuda; Nickname: Bialo-czerwoni
Poland have long been a bit of an afterthought in continental (and world) competitions, but with a young and talented squad featuring the likes of Dortmund pair Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczkowski (Just call him Kuba, trust me), along with their home advantage, it wouldn’t be a shock if they advanced to the knockout stages for the first time.
Player to watch: Robert Lewandowski. One of the most sought-after forwards in the game, Lewandowski had a breakout season in Germany, scoring 30 goals for Champions Borussia Dortmund.
Ranking: 14; Qualifying record: 7-3-0; Best finish: Champions, 2004; Coach: Fernando Santos; Nickname: Galanoleftki
The Greeks are a very experienced side (seven players over 30) who have been saddled with the label of the boringest team in Europe ever since they won the Euros in 2004 on the strength of four 1-0 victories. Otto Rehhagel, who coached the team to all its success of the 2000s, is gone, so it remains to be seen how they do under Fernando Santos. Without any players who would be described as a match-winner, they’ll have to grind out results to advance, though it’s not impossible.
Player to watch: Theofanis Gekas. The 31-year-old striker isn’t the flashiest or most athletic in the world, but he scores goals wherever he goes – right now he plays for Samsunspor, in Turkey.
Ranking: 11; Qualifying record: 7-2-1; Best finish: Winner, 1960; Coach: Dick Advocaat; Nickname: None. (May I suggest “Commie Reds”?)
Russia have been underachievers on the world stage in recent years, but a strike force of Arshavin, Kerzhakov, Pavlyuchenko and Pogrebnyak (Try saying those all four together really fast) should be enough to see them into the second round.
Player to watch: Andrei Arshavin. The pint-sized Arsenal forward was shipped off to Zenit after failing to impress again at the Emirates, but he tends to raise his game when playing for the national side, or at least that’s what my friend Oleg is hoping.
Ranking: 26; Qualifying record: 4-1-3 (Beat Montenegro in playoff); Best finish: Runners-up, 1996; Coach: Michal Bilak; Nickname: Narodni Tym
It’s amazing to think as recently as 2006, the Czechs were considered one of the best teams in Europe. They’re a long way from that now. And though they’re ranked higher than Poland, it remains to be seen whether they can finish ahead of them in this group, since Poland is hosting the tournament. Any hope of advancing beyond the group stage is largely dependent on some luck and the experience of players like Petr Cech, Tomas Rosicky and Milan Baros.
Player to watch: Petr Cech. The Chelsea goalie is considered one of the best in the business, and he has ridiculous headgear to prove it.
Poland vs. Greece
Russia vs. Czech Republic
Greece vs. Czech Republic
Poland vs. Russia
Greece vs. Russia
Czech Republic vs. Poland
Jeremiah says: As an interesting bit of trivia, this group, largely considered one of the weakest in the tournament (if not THE weakest), features two former winners and a runner-up. Can any of these teams win the whole thing? Probably not, though crazier things have happened before. (Denmark, 1992; Greece, 2004; Andorra, 2164)
4. Czech Republic