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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Euro2008 catch-up: Germany drop as Spain grasped QF place

Go back to the 12th, Thursday. The Croatians simply showed too much of a lively surge for the Germans to contain and dismiss. It was open in the first 10-15mins until one or two hesitancies from the German defence gave Croatia more belief. The weak link was Marcell Jansen at left-back and he was exploited on 24mins when Danijel Pranjic crossed over from the Croatian left and Darijo Srna reacted quicker than Jansen to beat Jens Lehmann.

The Germans didn’t respond to being behind and we found out if they would being two behind after the break. Ivan Rakitic's cross-cum-shot deflected off Lukas Podolski and hit the post low, and with Lehmann stranded Ivica Olic reacted first to tap in. It was Podolski who gained consolation with a snapshot resulting from Phillip Lahm's cross but they had Bastien Schweinsteiger sent off for a reactionary push on Jerko Leko after a feisty tackle. Should have been yellow for below the shoulders but UEFA look to crack down sternly on such conduct, regardless how minor it may be. I don't disagree.

Austria & Poland fought a tense draw, with Poland's Roger Guerreiro tapping in from Marek Saganowski's cut back after Ebi Smolarek crossed from the Polish left. Saganowski had turned Emanuel Pogatetz to cross but Guerreiro appeared to be offside when he scored. Now the interesting is, not only did the Poles gain the lead against the run of play on the 30min mark, Austria were clearly the better throughout the game and particularly the first half.

So when Austria gained a crucial penalty in the dying moments of injury in the second half, there was uproar from the Poles. Veteran Ivica Vastic stepped up to score from the spot, given when Mariusz Lewandowski was seen tugging on Sebastian Proedl. Referee Howard Webb was subjected to death threats as a result which I naturally found unwarranted but all the more so when you read the words from the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tursk. "Today I must speak as Prime Minister, but last night my conversation was very different. I wanted to kill somebody, you know who, like every other Pole."

Can anyone find Gordon Brown for a reply? Coach Leo Beenhakker: "Maybe he wants to show he is a big boy and has the guts to do it, I don't know. I've never had a problem in 43 years of being in football but this is something I cannot understand. We don't have it in our own hands any more and the conclusion is we are out of the tournament.

"If you lose a game because they score two and you don't it's different and tough but you accept it. Sometimes you don't get what you deserve. This hurts much more than the first match. It was the only situation to survive in the tournament. Austria is excited about the result. Our conclusion is that with this result we are out of the tournament."

My conclusion of Poland, considering they failed to score against Germany and were fortuitous with Guerreiro's goal, that they got what they deserved and so did Austria. There were 88mins plus for Poland to score in and they didn't so managers should drop dwelling on one moment in the game when they have plenty of time to make sure of victory.

Next was Group C with Italy v Romania. The worst game thus far being France v Romania and Italy somewhat subsided by injuries and Holland, this was not an easy game to judge. As it was, it was a good game. Adrian Mutu was feverish up front and Luca Toni had a headed goal from Gianluca Zambrotta's cross wrongly ruled offside. The linesmen have gotten a number of such decisions wrong in the tournament. So it took a second half mistake by Zambrotta's header towards goal for Mutu to snatch in and score past Gianluigi Buffon and Italy were rocked. Immediately Italy went on the attack and a cross from the right came off the head of Giorgio Chiellini to by-pass all except the creeping movements from behind of Christian Panucci who tapped it in.

The crucial moment came in the 80th min when Panucci was judged to have brought down Daniel Niculae in the box and Mutu stepped up for what should have been Romania's snap victory from the Italians, only for Buffon to make a stop of the effort and the ball cleared away. Romania could have been four points in 2nd place today. Instead it was two and yet one for Italy which could all the more be crucial in their qualification.

Arguably the team of the tournament was next against France. Holland stepped up to the French with an unchanged side and why not? The French dropped Eric Abidel, Karim Benzema and Nicolas Anelka for Thierry Henry, Sidney Govou and Patrice Evra. Govou started wide on the right with Franck Ribery behind Henry. I felt that was wrong and Ribery should have exchanged with Govou. Ten minutes in and Dirk Kuyt continued to impress from his Liverpool right-side position as Rafael van der Vaart's corner came across and the Liverpool man headed in despite Florent Malouda simply trying to muscle him about.

The French will look at a penalty appeal turned down, rightly so, and Henry one-on-one with Edwin van der Sar but uncharacteristically lofting the ball way, way over the goal. Thereafter the Dutch increased the lead when sub Robin van Persie, on for Kuyt, picked up alone on an Arjen Robben cross to slide past Gregory Coupet but France responded well when William Sagnol's cross was touched past the keeper by Henry but that was immediately forgotten. From the kick-off, the Dutch attacked and Wesley Sneijder played down the left to Robben, who sprinted down, troubled both Lillian Thuram and Sagnol to strike a fine shot acutely past Coupet at the near post.

To add insult to injury, more likely salt to the injury, van Persie and Robben combined to find Sneijder, who turned his marker well to curl over a superb finish for no.4. French cuisine not up to standard, better to go Dutch.

Group D brought the Spaniards with Sweden. Fernando Torres brought his duck as David Silva chipped towards goal and Torres stuck out a leg to poke past the keeper. Carlos Puyol had to depart due to injury and that led to Raul Albiol being introduced, whereas Alvaro Arbeloa would have been better to move Sergio Ramos central. Nonetheless Sweden equalised when Zlatan Ibrahimovic picked on a Fredrik Stoor cross, reacting faster than Ramos, and then leaving Ramos on the ground as the Real Madrid defender lamely challenged, the Swede turning to snap his effort past Iker Casillas. Spain should have had a penalty when Silva was barged over by Johan Elmander but surprisingly the referee ignored it.

Sweden seemed content on a point, Ibrahimovic rested due to a niggling knee problem and the Swedes defending deep for most of the game to thwart the Spanish attack, but Spain gained a last-gasp winner as the Swedish defence failed to deal with a Joan Capdevila cross over to the left, Villa slipping and slotting past the keeper.

The current champions Greece were put out of the tournament by Russia as a solitary Konstatin Zyryanov goal put paid to their ambitions. Zyryanov latched onto a smart overhead return by skipper Sergei Semak on 34mins, as keeper Antonis Nikopolidis looked to follow the ball out for a goal-kick. Semak chased it and turned it back, Zyryanov unmarked to turn in the ball. Encouragingly, with the absence of Andriy Arshavin and Pavel Pogrebnyak, Roman Pavlyuchenko missed a few chances to increase Russia's lead, one or two of them real sitters but the win was secured despite Greece's efforts.

Russia are level on points with Sweden, who they meet in the final group game where the winner simply takes all. The Swedes will bank on Ibrahimovic being fully fit while the Russians could have Arshavin to include in the first XI and the Zenit St Petersburg playmaker makes little mercy of energetically running around the opposition with creativity. Compare that with Russia's defending against Ibrahimovic and Henrik Larsson and it is difficult to call.



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