• Sunday, 17 June 2012

    Yesterday at the Euros #9

    What a turnaround.

    A lot of people were backing Russia as outside bets for the championship and after thumping the Czech Republic 4-1 in their opening game, suddenly they weren't so far outside. A draw with Poland meant they went in against an abject Greece side only needing a draw even if the other game produced a winner. Goalless as the clock ticked on to 45 minutes, suddenly Giorgios Karagounis - who has scored once in the last two seasons at Panathinaikos and missed the penalty against Poland - found himself in space inside the box and fired one across the goal and inside the far post. Russia chucked everything at the Greeks, but for the first time in the competition, Greece found some defensive fortitude.

    After two draws, Poland needed to win to progress and started brightly. But after the 20-minute mark it all fell apart. As if someone had thrown a switch, suddenly they were totally unable to keep hold of the ball in a Wrocslaw downpour. Having weathered that opening 20 minutes, the Czechs grew into the game and found the breakthrough half way through the second half, Petr Jiracek with a nice drag-back and measured finish. Poland pressed late on, but as time ticked down they were never likely to get the two they needed. But with Greece ahead in the other game, had they got one, both Poland and the Czechs would bow out. Tomas Sivok headed the one goal-bound effort - from Polish skipper Jakub Blaszczykowski - off the line in the dying stages.

    Word had got to the Greeks in Warsaw that the Czechs had won as their game headed into stoppage time, sparking a minor celebration. A minute later, the whistle went for the final time in their game and the celebrations started for real. Czech Republic top the group on six. Greece come next, level on four with Russia, but ahead by virtue of the head-to-head record. Russia and Poland are out and, after one game in the group, that's pretty much completely backwards to what everyone thought. Also, you would not have this scenario in a 24-team competition which is what we'll have in four years time. As daft ideas go, that's one of UEFA's worst.

    Today, Group B. Can the Netherlands pull off a similar great escape?

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