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.