Friday, 15 June 2012

Euro 2012: Order emerges out of chaos

With England's 3-2 win over Sweden, we come to the end of the second set of matches in the tournament, with a better idea of who's going to the next round, and who's going home. Funnily, though, each group is still pretty open as far as who might progress (with a couple of notable exceptions, ie Ireland and Sweden).

Starting in Group A, the Czechs did well to bounce back from their opening defeat, and put the hurt pretty comprehensively on the Greeks, who did, however, seem to pick up in the second half. The Poles, as well, looked like a completely different team against the Russians, bagging a 1-1 draw to keep themselves in the tournament. I still think Russia's the best team in this group, though, and should comfortably beat Greece to move to the next round; and I expect Poland to join them with a win over the Czechs.

In Group B, Denmark fought back bravely from going 2-0 down against Portugal, but in the end they just weren't able to hold on for the draw and lost 3-2. Now that they face the Germans, my prediction of them going all the way looks even more fanciful, but at any rate they've made it difficult for the more-fancied teams they were drawn against. Meanwhile the Dutch, who should have beaten Denmark in their first match, looked pretty dire against Germany; there's apparently some way for the Dutch to make it through to the next round, but at this point I'd say that's as fanciful as Denmark winning the whole tournament.

As for Portugal, I didn't see their match against the Danes, but they were apparently insanely profligate in front of the opposing goal; while they should beat the Netherlands pretty comfortably, I'll be surprised to see them in the semi-final.

Group C, after an exciting start, returned to form with Italy blowing a 1-0 lead against Croatia and Spain drubbing Ireland 4-0. While the Spanish looked a lot better against Ireland than they did against Italy, it doesn't say a whole lot - in both games this tournament Ireland have conceded within the first 5 minutes of kick-off. We'll be in a better position to judge after they've played Croatia, but I doubt Spain will get much farther than the semi-final.

Italy, meanwhile, decided to field their can't-be-bothered team, which meant that after taking the lead against Croatia they sat back and were duly punished. Mario Balotelli wasn't quite as bad in front of goal as he was against Spain, but he still hasn't produced the required performance. Yet Cassano was probably the one Italy should have taken off. Now the team's in the same position as in 2004, where they could win their final game and still get knocked out if Spain and Croatia draw 2-2.

And finally, France did as I predicted and ruined the party in Group D by beating Ukraine 2-0. This was another game I missed, but from the post-match stats it's clear that Ukraine was hopelessly outclassed, with the French dominating possession, shots, shots on target... Ukraine will be going into the final match with England needing a win, but given that England only needs a point to go through, I predict a match played predominantly in front of the English goal with eight English players formed up at all times.

As for England-Sweden, the Swedish papers indulged in a goodly amount of trash-talking before the match, some of which was quite funny, but in the end the Swedes just weren't good enough. That said, they made it pretty damn hard for the English, at one point leading 2-1 thanks to a Glen Johnson own-goal and a strike from Olof Mellberg. I'd call this divine punishment for England taking an early lead and sitting back; but in fairness to the English, they did well to fight back and take the lead again. This means, of course, that Sweden are now out of the tournament - and frankly, good riddance, as they're one of the most boring teams I've ever seen.

Conventional wisdom says that England and France will make it through to the quarter-finals, and if this set of matches demonstrated anything, it's that the conventional wisdom always finds a way to win out. That is, after all, why it's the conventional wisdom.