Errors and exciting talent make for excellent start to Euro 2012

Day one of Euro 2012 was packed full with entertainment, with Poland throwing away first half dominance to draw with Greece, and Russia powering past Czech Republic in what was a cracking start to Group A, a group which so many predicted to be boring and lifeless.

Russia’s Alan ‘Player To Watch’ Dzagoev was the headline grabber, scoring with two cracking finishes against Czech Republic. He did miss a sitter at one point and was outshone by the superb Andrei Arshavin and the dominant Zenit-based midfield, but it was a fantastic start to a tournament where Dzagoev is expected to shine.

Russia took advantage of some slack Czech defending throughout the game, exploiting the gaps with great fluidity and speed of movement. Czech left-back Michal Kadlec was hideous out of position a lot of the time but most pointedly for Russia’s second goal, Roman Shirokov somehow able to stroll into the six yard box unmarked and deftly chip over Petr Cech.
The Chelsea goalkeeper should have come out quicker and stronger but he was left hideously exposed by a wayward defence. When Dzagoev smashed in his second, Cech should have stood up to the shot and Russia’s fourth should have been met with similar composure, Roman Pavlyuchenko powering past defenders with great ease and firing past Cech. It was a poor day for a world-class goalkeeper, but there is the slight saving grace that it wasn’t the worst goalkeeping performance of the day.
Wojciech Szczesny is an ‘outspoken’ character, in that when he speaks he says something of interest and he’s actually a character in a game packed with PR-tuned robots. But being so verbose gives the critics an immediate stand-point and, when mistakes are made, sympathy is hard to come by.
So when the Arsenal goalkeeper horribly misread a cross to allow Dimitris Salpigidis to equalise, and later conceded the penalty that Przemyslaw Tyton brilliant saved, howls of derision could be heard from the realms of Twitter where Szczesny has so often annoyed and overjoyed so many at the same time.
The penalty was particularly poor decision-making from Szczesny; to come out that quick and misread the speed of the move like that is bad enough but to then leave a leg trailing, giving a player the open pass to go down inside the area, is sheer lunacy.
But it came in on a day filled with mistakes and errors from all sides. Carlos Velasco Carballo, the referee for the Poland-Greece opener, started off well, dealing with robust tackles in a firm and authoritative way, but then descended into card-happy territory. The sending off of Sokratis Papastathopoulos was incredibly harsh seen as his first booking wasn’t even a foul and his second was a dubious yellow. Howard Webb, in the second game, was much better and wasn’t actually forced to get his cards out of his pocket at any point.
Aside from that, Sotiris Ninis – another player tipped to have an impressive performance – had a stinker, summed up by his attempted backheel to a teammate who was 5 yards away and not looking to move in that direction. Georgios Samaras was dreadful and served little purpose out on the wing for Greece other than to helpfully give the ball back to Poland, while Aleksandr Kerzhakov seemed to want to hit shots wide rather than go for the easier option and just score.
But from the ridiculous errors we went to the sublime football. Vaclav Pilar’s rounding of the goalkeeper and superb finish from Plasil’s majestic pass was a highlight of day one, while the tirelessly excellent Arshavin sent a warning out to the rest of Europe: he’s back.
We almost had an early contender for goal of the tournament too, but Theodore Gebre Selassie’s Van Basten effort hit the side netting.
It was the perfect tonic: the bad and the brilliant of football all wrapped up in one day. The defending wasn’t good enough to make the game too tight but, at the same time, it wasn’t a laughable shambles. Both games were open and all four sides had their periods of domination – as a neutral, it really doesn’t get much better than that.
Apart from, of course, some controversial red cards, some goalkeeping errors and an erratic refereeing performance that all, frankly, added to the entertainment. No pressure, Group B.

Discussing Gerrard’s involvement at EURO 2012 is pointless

Steven Gerrard
With England’s place at EURO 2012 confirmed after an unbeaten qualification campaign, the inevitable, hypothetical 23-man squad selection process has begun.

Manager Fabio Capello has a plethora of players available to him, with around 40 seemingly in with a chance of getting on the plane to Poland/Ukraine.
The midfield, particularly, gives Capello some positive problems; there may not be a lot of supreme talent but at least there are now a lot of options, something that England haven’t had in the past. Players like Scott Parker and Jack Wilshere could be replaced by Gareth Barry and James Milner – a slight drop in quality maybe but the players are more than capable of filling in.
One of the major talking points in these selections has involved Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard, currently recovering from an ankle infection and not set to return for some time. The midfielder played 90 minutes against Manchester United and Norwichin October after being eased back into the side following groin surgery.
Gerrard’s last appearance before his injury woes was the 1-0 loss away at United in January, his last international appearance coming almost a year ago in the 2-1 friendly defeat to France. In short: it is a long time since we have seen Steven Gerrard at his pulsating best, or even at a level even vaguely similar to that.
It seems slightly incongruous, then, for Gerrard himself to label EURO 2012 his “last chance”. Gerrard is no longer a mainstay in the England side. He’s not as vital to England’s hopes as he perhaps once was. So for Gerrard to even politely assume that he’s going to be selected for a tournament after barely playing for the past eleven months is a bit egotistical.
A similar criticism could be had of anyone who argues that Gerrard should go to EURO 2012 over X, Y or Z: how can you make that decision when he’s done very little – a Giggs-aided freekick aside – this year?
The point here, though, is that you can’t say he shouldn’t go to the Euros and you can’t say he should – because no one knows if Gerrard will return from injury in time to build up some form ready for the summer and nobody knows whether he’ll be at his explosive best when he does return. So what’s the point in even discussing it, other than filling column inches?
Many would argue that it is pointless discussing the squads now anyway because anything could happen between now and June, be it with injuries or form. The fact that England don’t know their best eleven, or know who is going to be in the squad is irrelevant at the moment.
The England side should (and the word ‘should’ is in italics for a reason there) be picked based on form; who are the best players going into the tournament and how can Capello fit them into one cohesive team? The side – or the squad – should not be picked on reputation.
And that, right now, is the only way Gerrard is getting into these hypothetical squads: his reputation.