Euro 2012 – Phase 2

While the quality has sometimes been variable in this summer’s European Championships Finals there has been excitement throughout with England’s win over Sweden last night perhaps the most thrilling of all so far. The Swedes looked poor in the first-half and England were well deserved of their one-nil lead going into the break, which came from an excellent goal from Andy Carroll that must rank as one of the best headed goals in any European Championship Finals.

But the Swedes came out energised in the second-half, playing a much more up-tempo game and all over England like a rash, with the realisation they needed something out of the match to have a chance from progressing from an average group. Four minutes into the second-half Olof Mellberg beat Joe Hart perhaps a bit too easily when he responded the quickest from a loose ball following a free-kick Carroll conceded just outside the England box, before adding a second with a powerful header of his own, turning the game on its head in ten minutes. Supposedly well-organized, England had been undone by two-set-pieces.

The introduction of Theo Walcott changed the game though. First he equalized with a shot that fell to him from a corner that went hard into the centre of the net, beating a Swedish keeper who was moving to stop a swerving ball. Then, as the Swedes searched for a winner, Walcott’s pace on the counter-attack swept England to the other end-of-the field with just over ten minutes left; his ball was behind Danny Welbeck, but with a combination of skill and inspiration Welbeck flicked it behind him to magically put England ahead. For anyone who had heard about Welbeck’s progress as a schoolboy and kept an eye on him as he has been gradually introduced into the Manchester United first-team fold it was a sign of the technique and nose for goal he had always promised.

Scott Parker, fantastic again for England in the middle of the park, released Walcott again as England played on the break at the death, this time feeding Gerrard, but Isaksson made his third good save of the game following a parry of an excellent Parker shot in the first half and a great reaction stop from John Terry when the score was still 2-1. But it was not enough for Sweden who will be going home after their next game, regardless of the outcome. Apart from Zlatan Ibrahimovic they looked an average side, but two less than perfect teams still made for a great game.

Earlier in the evening the French accelerated in the second-half against the Ukraine to comfortably win 2-0 after a dull first half that was only lit up, literally, by the skies. It is not yet clear who the winners of Group D will face though as Spain still have a potentially tough game against Croatia. The holders predictably dominated against the Irish, winning by a 4-0 score that must have been short-odds even before kick-off. Croatia will pose the Spanish defence a threat, although even were they to get a result UEFA would do well act to act strongly if they find Croatian fans guilty of racist chanting in their match against Italy, for which they have been charged, and throw them out of the competition.

Though they took the lead, the Italians seemed content with the draw after Croatia equalized, probably confident in getting three points against Ireland, and hopeful Spain will beat Croatia. Whereas Spain look to be the strongest side in the bottom half of the draw, the Germans showed why they are the favourites in the top half with an excellent victory in the always exciting fixture against the Dutch. Holland started off very well, passing and moving with purpose in the final third, bossing territory as well as possession. But they didn’t score when on top and two excellent finishes from Mario Gomez, both from through balls by Bastian Schweinsteiger, put Germany in control. An early goal in the second-half from the Netherlands could have made the match one of the Classics, but despite fielding more attacking players after the break Van Persie’s goal came too late, and their destiny is now out of their hands after two defeats.

They should beat Portugal though, who were lucky to overcome Denmark in another good game on Wednesday. Denmark came back from two goals down, after Ronaldo in particular was wasteful in front of goal, and they still fashioned another great chance at the end after Portugal had retaken the lead to go 3-2, but they failed to take it. All teams could either still go through or out tomorrow night in Group B, but it is hard to not see the Germans making sure they do enough to win the group.

Group A will be decided tonight, with Czech Republic back in with a chance of qualifying despite more shaky goalkeeping from Petr Cech; since Cech’s head injury sustained against Stephen Hunt he has a understandable reluctance in certain situations which no doubt led him to blink at a vital moment against Greece on Tuesday. It wasn’t enough for the Greeks though and they will find it tough against the fast moving Russians tonight. Co-host Poland should also be too strong for the Czech Republic judging by the form of the first two games, although the eight days so far have showed football can continue to surprise when teams have all to play for.

MG

The Substantive Football Columnist Mel Gomes’ new e-book ‘Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is now available to preview and download from Amazon and Smashwords. With past recollections of matches including Clasicos, Milan Derbies and Diego Maradona’s one appearance at White Hart Lane, it covers a journey over land and sea in the 2010-11 Champions League. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.