Tag Archives: EURO 2012

Euro 2012 – the final view from the sofa

So just the final left to go and after tomorrow we can all get back to a normal life that doesn’t involve staying up too late to watch extra time and penalties. Hurrah!

One month of sacrifice is about right!

Whatever happens tomorrow the highlight of the tournament for me will be that Poland has more roads than it otherwise would have (although still woefully short of what should be), that we have a few nice stadiums including one in which I can attend a Coldplay gig in September and that this whole thing has been a good advert for the country. Lowlight must be the death of an Irish fan, by the looks of it accidental, possibly falling into the river after a tour of the bars in Torun. Some might vote for the fights between Russians, Poles and Police but frankly that was inevitable and something similar would have happened wherever they held the games.

The remaining group games and the quarter finals showed the truth that we had two strong groups, B & C, and two weak ones. The semi finals being made up of two from each group and, surprisingly for some, the final being between the two teams qualifying from group C – Spain and Italy.

Group A saw the teams reliving the Miracle on the Wisła, Poland and Russia, completely run out of energy and /or ideas for their remaining group game resulting in progress for Greece and Czech.

Group B saw German domination of the group continue and the Dutch go home embarrassed having lost every game. Portugal, thanks largely to Ronaldo finding his touch, beat the plucky Danes to second place.

Group C saw Spain win the group but not as well as most thought they would and the Irish following the Dutch. Italy looked to me a stronger team than they were getting credit for and ultimately proved better than Croatia who tried hard but could not get past the Spanish in their final group match.

Group D was won miraculously by England thanks only to excellent defending and the inability of the other teams to break it down. England beat Ukraine in their last game because the ridiculously simple and obviously essential goal-line technology is not used, so a perfectly good Ukrainian goal was not allowed. France got beaten by Sweden but still came second. To be fair, it really didn’t matter who got through this group as they would have been beaten in the next game anyway.

Groups C and D both had exactly 15 goals for and 15 against. Group B had 16 and 16 and group A managed 14 for and 11 against.

Worst goal difference was Ireland with -8, and best was Spain with +5, four of which they got against Ireland.

And so on to the quarter finals we marched. Czech versus Portugal was first up and it was Portugal who dominated. Ronaldo got tired of hitting the post with his foot and so decided to disturb his Brylcream in the 79th minute to head the winning goal. Bye bye Czech.

Next up was Germany versus Greece, which Germany won 4-2. The Germans were massive favorites but on 55 minutes it was one each and the question was what were the Germans going to do about it. What they did is get themselves back into shape, roll out the Panzers and score three goals in 13 minutes. The Greeks didn’t give up though and their pressure paid off with a penalty goal in the 89th minute. It proved too little too late and the German coach’s decision to rest a few stars, like Gomez, did not bite him in zee arsch.

Spain versus France. The ridiculous location of Donetsk saw a feeble France dispatched by Spain 2-0. Les Blues had spent most of the time since being shown up by the Swedes arguing amongst themselves, as they often do when they are not winning. After this match they had plenty of time for more arguing on the bus home.

England versus Italy. Now that Italy have finally proved how good they are, some people are trying to claim England were not that bad as we managed 0-0 after extra time and only lost on penalties. Let me tell you the truth, I was begging the Italians to score from the second half kick-off onwards because for us to win would have been a huge injustice. England were a team with a very good defence, no midfield and no attack. Rooney schmoony, he was a waste of a seat on the plane. Why did the English forward players always look like they were 10% as fit as every other player at the tournament? Worth noting that losing on penalties in major football tournaments is one of the few clauses of the Magna Carta (1297) still on statute today “We, the feudal barons, insist that any English football team such as may be establifed, when partaking of a great tournament, will lose on penalties.”

The English reality

The English dream

Semi finals. Almost the exciting bit. Spain versus Portugal. Nil nil after extra time, Spain won 4-2 on penalties. Spain got away with it really. They played an average game, Portugal were hungrier for the win but couldn’t find the net. The Spanish goalie is altogether more scary than the Portuguese guy, which helps with penalties. Fabregas talked to the ball again. End of.

Germany versus Italy. What a glorious match! Germany have never defeated Italy in a World or European championship and Italy kept that record intact with a 2-1 victory in Warsaw. Both Italian goals were excellent and scored by Mario Balotelli who, as the BBC put it “fell into the warm embrace of his mother as he made his way down the tunnel”. Ahhhhh. He put his chance to play in the final on a knife edge by picking up a yellow for taking his shirt off to strike a hero pose but thankfully cramp ended his match prematurely so he ran out of time to get another one for something equally silly. He’s only 21.

I did say earlier that the Germans looked vulnerable and that while a long run was possible they would not win. Clever me. The Germans have a system and an effective one but they can’t do much else than run that system so when the wheels come off they start looking short of ideas and skill. Main weakness is defence. If you could merge the English defence with the German midfield and attack, scatter a few Scandinavians in there for good measure, then you might have a Northern European team capable of beating a Southern one. Just.

The Germans got a penalty right at the death but little consolation should be gained from it. By then it should have been 4-0.

And so tomorrow we have Spain versus Italy. Hard to make predictions as so much depends on how the teams react to the pressure of a major final and because this will be the hardest test both teams have faced. That at least means we have the right teams in the final. Nobody is there by luck or accident of the draw, both these teams deserve to be there because they have progressively beaten better and better teams to take their place in the Kiev dressing rooms.

Spain must be favourites;

The world champions have now won their past nine knockout games at major tournaments without conceding a goal, and are unbeaten in their last 19 competitive matches.

But, I’m going to go for Italy, without the need for penalties. It might require De Natale to be sharper than he was in the semi, it will certainly need Balotelli to curb his enthusiasm and not get sent off and hopefully we can look forward to a cracking goal from Pirlo.

So I guess they will win 4-0! ;-) Cracking second goal. That Jordi Alba should get straight over to the Olympics for the 100m. Happy for Juan Mata too, he was great in the Premier League last season and I think this last 5 minutes was the only time he got on the pitch the whole tournament. Shows just how good the squad is.

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Euro 2012 – in the middle of the real Poland and Russia battle

Sitting in my flat, I can hear a faint shouting. A group of lads are down a nearby park, dressed up in Poland shirts, drinking and singing with 6 hours to go before the Poland – Czech Republic game begins… It appears the Poles have learnt something from the Irish. All around me today in a low key way in the Warsaw suburb in which I live I can sense this great tension in Poles. Today is the day. This is it.

It was a tension that reached a fever pitch I’d never seen before in all my football life last Tuesday, when Poland and Russia met each other at the National Stadium across the river from central Warsaw. Lucky enough to get a ticket at the last minute for a mere 15 Euros, my Irish friend and I walked in to a completely full ground, scarves held aloft in a mass show of unity. It was breathtaking to see the stadium for the first time. It’s every bit the equal of Wembley and it seems that in the steepness of it upper stands it captures something more of the passion of a national game. In this case that was a raucous, swelling tumult of noise that ebbed and flowed as much as the game did. The Russian visiting fans, who’d been perfectly friendly to us on the way into the stadium (a few minutes after the violence by Poniatowski bridge) were completely outsung by the 40,000 or so Polish fans in the stadium.

I don’t want to write about a few thugs fighting each other or attacking innocent bystanders who happened to be nearby. There were well over 200,000 people in Warsaw from one of the two teams. The fact that, at most, 500 blokes (0.2% of that two hundred thousand) decided to have a go at each other does not reflect the experience I or most of the people attending the game had. Shameful but by no means representative.

So by the time Poland were a goal down and the second half had started, I was completely hoarse, but the noise grew and grew. It was breathtaking and the explosion of joy when Błaszczkowski belted the equaliser in was phenomenal. I have never been to a game quite like it. Exhausted after the game, we staggered out of the ground and picked ourselves up to drink a fair bit of wódka and stumble home well after the sun had risen for the next day. One to tell the grandchildren, that’s for sure. Hell, I even got on TV.

And they say the camera adds ten pounds!

But that was Tuesday and already that phenomenal result against the group’s strongest team feels like a lifetime away. In the papers I’ve been reading, everyone’s talked about the excitement when the host nation gets out of the group. From my point of view, I can barely sit on the edge of my seat without falling off. Though my poor liver is a massive Czech Republic fan – hoping for a dismal defeat which sends us all home – I feel like every other fibre of my being is willing Poland on already.

Multiply that force of will by 40 million, then stuff 1/400th of that into the car park which makes up Warsaw’s fan zone and then set that passion alive by beating Czech Republic today. If that happens then all the passion and joy we’ve seen before will look like a kick about in the park. Today is the day.

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Euro 2012 – inside the stadium

On Sunday, my wife and I attended the Euro 2012 Group C game in Poznan, between Ireland and Croatia. Unlike Ian, I had been able to source tickets through the UEFA website, although not through the initial general lottery, but rather when the tickets came on offer later. As an Irish person, the 3-1 defeat to Croatia was hard to take, but was a great experience to have attended. I won’t cover the football in too much detail, as that will have enough coverage elsewhere. However, some other points of note are covered below.

Poland/Poznan as a host

My initial feelings around how Poland was preparing to be a host to many other countries was that the expectations were very low-key and low level. Poznan normally works well as a tourist location, and has the Poznan International Fair, which occurs each few months. However, it seemed like a lot of people and businesses in Poznan were treating Euro 2012 as just an extension of normal tourist operations. However, with in the region of 60,000 to 70,000 extra visitors, across 3 match-days, it seems like there were no specific plans in place with how best to manage them, and make the most of the visits. The supermarkets and off-licences had long queues, while there were parts where there were no people at all visiting, only a few minutes from the city centre.

Poland as a Central European location

It seemed like a criticism of Ukraine and positive for Poland, when 12 of the ‘visiting’ 14 teams (apart from the 2 hosts) chose to base themselves in Poland. With most teams opting to stay in Poland and fly into Ukraine if needed, it seemed to point at the availability of facilities in Poland versus in Ukraine. However, another factor was Poland’s central location, and thus availability to most of the qualifying countries as an easy-to-reach location. This was highlighted in two ways. Firstly, the Czech Republic team had the best draw when it came to location. The closest Euro 2012 location to Czech Republic was Wrocław and all of their games take place there. Not even the hosts have that luxury, as they have a change of venue at least once. This allows the Czechs most convenience with the border being only one hour by drive from Wrocław.

However, this was also highlighted in two other ways. When driving from Kraków to Poznań on Sunday, there were many cars with Croatian flags and number plates also travelling north. This showed Poland’s worth as a central location. We even saw two cyclists who were travelling from Croatis (presumably taking a few days to get to Poznań from Croatia). While travelling near Wrocław, we also saw many cars from Germany, who seemed to be returning from L’viv after watching Germany win 1-0 against Portugal on Saturday night. Whatever about available infrastructure, most locations for Euro 2012 seemed to give options to most fans to travel to the games.

Ireland vs. Croatia

Inside the stadium versus television

In the Municipal Stadium (Stadion Miejski)in Poznań, there was a great atmosphere. The stadium design means that noise reverberates and echos to make a great atmosphere. However, there were a few signs where the stadium did not feel fully finished, despite officially reopening almost 2 years ago in September 2010. When the first football games were played there were a number of concerns raised by UEFA, and while most seem to have been addressed, there were small points noticeable. For example, there were a few points where covers for plug sockets had been broken and in other places where plastering had not been fully completed to the best of standards. However, for the game between Ireland and Croatia, there was a great atmosphere. About 70% of the audience was Irish, with most of the remainder Croatian and while the result meant the Croats had reason to sing, the Irish fans continued to give support. Due to the stadium shape, this gave a great atmosphere, although this may not have translated as well to the television screens.

Stadion Miejski in Poznan

When watching some other games on TV, the crowd seems somewhat muted. However, having been in the stadium I can say that it does not seem to reflect the amount of singing which takes place. Furthermore, when watching a game on TV, it seems that most stadia are all the same with the same ads scrolling past and so on. This seems to be a ‘curse’ of the modern stadium where it is designed with commercial effects in mind rather than for the fans.

National Anthems

Clashes, Fights and other disturbances

It was interesting to visit the Rynek and fan-zone in Poznań. With thousands of people collecting there, and much alcohol being consumed, it was easy to see how some clashes could occur. However, what made it most interesting was that the clashes that occurred seemed to be more between fans (of one nationality) and police, rather than between opposing fans. The Irish fans in particular seemed to be looking for the party and something to forget the economic reality. However, the Croatia fans did let off some fireworks and flares to celebrate scoring goals, only for the Polish stewards and police to step in. A video of fans on Poznań’s Rynek seems to support this, showing fans attacking police rather than other fans. This also seems to align to the story of Russian fans attacking Polish stewards last Friday. Thus, it is interesting to see the response prepared for future such situations, should they occur over the coming couple of weeks.

Polish Army Helicopter patrolling Poznań

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Euro2012 – the view from the sofa (2)

Catching up with the remaining first round group matches.

Spain vs Italy

Predictable forwards. Balotelli neither killed a fan nor walked off the pitch but he did try hard to get sent off and better than that when through clean on goal and in a position from which he could easily get one past the keeper he decided to go into a slow motion swagger and got mugged from behind. Where are the shouts of “man on” when you need them? He was substituted shortly after and his replacement, Di Natale, wasted only 4 minutes getting the goal the Italians deserved.

At the other end, Fernando Torres, what is it with this guy? The Spaniards did it the other way around and put the muppet on as a replacement for the goal scorer, Fabregas, who had a great game. Torres on the other hand was as frustrated and tormented as he has been for the last few years. He manages to get into great positions from which he has (or used to have?) the skill to score spectacular goals but he doesn’t. He then mopes around looking like he’d rather just go and hang himself. He needs help or he needs a new career. God help Chelski next season if he really is the guy they are relying on for goals.

Overall this was a great game for a neutral but probably very frustrating for both sets of fans. The Italians looked fresher but then their season lasted 17,000 minutes less than the Spanish one so I’m reliably informed by the BBC.

You have to see these two as both qualifying from their group unless Croatia manage a bit of an upset against a tiring Spain in their last match?

Ireland vs Croatia

Here’s a tip, if to want to beat Shay Given (Irish goalie) head the ball low and to his left. Worked a treat for the Croats.

The second worst defeat so far was the fate of the jolly Irish and that’s despite the filthy weather being very much up their street. Good job it’s the Irish who lost because as we all know they are the only fans who can turn losing into a good excuse for cheerfulness and having a good old time.

Croatia looked decent enough but good enough to come second? They have some excellent players but I fear not enough of them.

As for the Irish, well I wish them all the best but Italy and Spain must be viewing them as a good opportunity to pump up the goal difference. Sorry, Derek.

England vs France

Yawn. With England playing a defensive 8-1-1 formation for most of the game you have to assume they were happier with the draw than were the more active and attacking French. Despite sending the Polish commentator into orgasms every time he got the ball, Benzema managed nothing more than a couple of lame shots. Decent goals from Lescott and Nasri.

Perhaps I’m biased but I got the feeling half the England players were using the game as part of their recuperation from injury and that if they actually moved a bit faster and tried to attack they might have won the game. As it was, when one of the eight defenders did try to move toward the French goal there was nobody there to pass it to so they either fell over or passed it back to the French. There were times I thought the ref had stopped the game but it was just another England build up to an “attack”. Missing Rooney, that’s for sure or stronger coffee for breakfast.

I tried to work out Woy’s substitutions but gave up as they defied logic. He might have wanted to score another goal, which would have been nice, but he’d left it too late and not bothered telling any of the other players who were clearly very focused on defending so they came on, did nothing and then the game ended.

Have to assume England will be aiming for qualification through drawing every match or boring the opposition to death.

The French will be relying on the good favor of the referees who are presumably under instructions from Platini to be nice to them judging by this performance. Then again, the refs favor of the French might have been a reaction to England putting in a serious bid for the divers trophy.

Ukraine vs Sweden

Good game with a similar all out attack feel as Spain Italy and with more energy in one half than the whole French English clash.

For once the headliners got the goals, Ibrahimovic the opener for Sweden and Shevchenko following up with two for Ukraine. Shevchenko’s goals were both headers and you’d have to search long and hard to find two better headed goals in one game by the same player. Considering this tournament is the 35 year old’s swansong he put in a great performance that was ecstatically appreciated by the fans, coach and teammates alike.

Ukrainian coach, Oleh Blokhin, a hot shot striker himself in the 70’s and first Ukrainian winner of the Ballon D’Or in 75 seems very popular with the squad. Pretty sure he keeps supplies of vodka and hairspray under his bench though!

Ukraine might just do what I predicted and win this group if they can keep the energy level up and keep the likes of Voronin and Shevchenko fit. Sweden have the ability to spring a surprise but don’t look to have the strength in depth to get out of the group. They’ll be avoiding their Danish cousins for a while.

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Euro2012 – the view from the sofa

I did try to get tickets from UEFA. I applied for plenty the first time around expecting to get at least one match but got the same as everyone else I know who applied, nothing. I tried again when they came up for resale and the website screwed up. I then gave up and now watch endless adverts telling me how many tickets they’ve got to give away if you buy a car, toothpaste, fast-food, whatever. Can’t say I’m happy with the way the tickets have been distributed.

Despite this setback the sofa and TV have enabled me to watch all the games so far with the exception of the first half of Netherlands vs Denmark. On noticing the score of 0-1 to the Danes my SMS to Danish friends gathered at Lolek and no doubt on their 12th lager was simply – WTF? The goalscorer, something like Parkinson’s-Carrefour, not exactly a household name had managed to dodge two defenders and slide the ball under the Dutch goalie. Against all odds the Danes went on to hold their lead and win the game despite the “shots on goal” being vastly in favour of the Dutch. Is this yet another Dutch team to be supreme on paper but able to snatch humiliation from the jaws of silverware? With the supposedly easy Danes behind them the Dutch now have to tackle the Germans and the Portuguese in their “Group of Death”.

Germany vs Portugal was a good game spoiled only by not enough goals and the fact the Germans won. Boring. The Germans were orderly as always but looked vulnerable to a touch of flair and if the goalposts were just a smidge thinner they would have lost so I’m going to stick my neck out and say that although a long run is possible, they won’t win the tournament. Hurrah! Unless it goes to penalties of course. Boooo! Christiano Ronaldo didn’t throw a hissy fit either, still, plenty of time for that.

Russia vs Czech. Well, as the Czech trainer said, the Russians were better than expected. How can they not be confident when their bovva boys are nutting the stewards, they’re no doubt on a promise of half a billion each if they win and they are fresh from their 5 star Warsaw hotel? Despite all that, I thought they looked dangerous and likely to go a long way. What is it about Arseshaving and Pawelyochenko that they manage to be 3x the players they are for their country than they do in the Premier League? A trait most England players would benefit from. Barring another miracle it looks very much like the Russians are nailed on group winners so the question only remains whether the Greeks or Poles can do any better than the Czechs and take second place?

Finally for now, Poland vs Greece. As opening games go, which is not very far, this was a good one. I was shocked at how well the Poles started the game and the goal was both well taken and well deserved. Unfortunately, as happens so often, after the Greek was sent off the Greek tragedy turned itself around and the Poles ran out of steam and ideas. Some might think this was a good time to make a couple of substitutions but Franky Smuda thought otherwise, only he knows why. Highlight of the game was surely the Greek substitution with Popodopolous being replaced by Popodopolous. Either that or the confusion of the most active Greek player having a name that sounded like “w sam raz”. Anyway, a draw is more points than losing so all to play for.

I’ve been listening carefully for monkey noises but as yet, thankfully, none have come through on the TV. I suppose the sensationalist viewer might hope that if there are any it is Mario Balotelli of Italy who hears them. He’s a lively character to say the least and according to him either he will kill the purveyors of monkey noises (or banana throwers) or he will walk off the pitch. Sounds very much like an invitation that some Spanish fans might find hard to ignore. We will see tonight if this has managed to get him a place in the starting XI.

Can’t help wondering if security at the turnstiles are scanning fans for hidden bananas? “Excuse me sir but is that a banana I see down your pants?”. I mean seriously, what do they do, confiscate bananas?

It’s sometimes hard to believe we are in the XXI century.

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