France weathered a violent storm to defeat Ukraine at the Donbass Arena. Torrential downpour altered the game for almost an hour but play resumed as the fans were treated to a spectacle.
Surprisingly, Oleg Blokhin made no changes to his starting line-up. Nazarenko dropped deep to pair with Tymoshchuk in front of the defence. Voronin who was stationed behind Shevchenko had Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko on either side of him operating on the flanks. Laurent Blanc switched from the 4-3-3 formation he employed in his team’s opener against England to a more effective 4-2-3-1. In the defence, Clichy was brought in to replace Evra on the left and in attack, Nasri replaced Malouda. Nasri though was moved from his flank role against England to the middle where he orchestrated play behind Benzema.
The game began amidst the rains and the first moment of drama took place during the national anthems via a sudden clap of thunder. After five minutes, Dutch referee took the bold step to halt play when the rains had aggravated to pelting on the playing surface. The close proximity between the lightning and the thunder was enough to instigate a precautionary measure by Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers. The worst of the storm passed and in no time the waterlogged pitch was effectively drained.
Play restarted and Ukraine did just enough to assimilate France’s attacking pressure. The guileful French attackers roamed the pitch switching positions at different times. Benzema cut inside and had a pop from distance to test Pyatov who comfortably palmed the ball away. Both teams continually found a lot of space on the counter. On 15 minutes, Benzema did well to get in between the two centre-backs and knocked the ball back with a header but no team mate made a run towards the ball. A minute later, Menez got on the end of a delightful pass from Samir Nasri and wasted no time in slotting the ball at the back of the net. The linesman’s flag came to Ukraine’s rescue as the goal was ruled offside. A motivated Ukraine kept France at bay with a series of strong challenges. The Ukraine defence being mean to Benzema in particular. On 26 minutes, Ribery robbed Nazarenko of the ball but his pull-back to Menez was laid to waste by the Paris Saint-Germain attacker. Tymoshchuk’s misguided pass in the 28th minute found Ribery who burst down the left. His intercepted cross for Benzema fell straight to Menez but the goalkeeper made a brave block to keep the score level. Talisman Shevchenko had his chance in the 33rd minute. His shot from an angle did little to disturb Hugo Lloris. Minutes later, an intervention by Phillipe Mexes spared Benzema’s blushes. Mexes’ header forced an excellent save from Pyatov before the break.
Oleg Blokhin made half-time changes to his team, Marko Devic replacing Andriy Voronin. France started the second half strongly and a couple of last-ditch interceptions prevented them from going in front. Shevchenko’s powerful shot missed the target by inches as the Ukranians delivered a threat from a counter-attack. France took the lead through Menez on the 53rd minute. Benzema’s pass to him was expertly controlled before firing a low shot into the bottom right corner of the post. End-to-end stuff ensued as a result. The Ukrainians came out to find an equaliser but they were punished as Les Blues got a second goal from Yohan Cabaye. Benzema again was the provider, He dazzled away from his marker to thread a ball into the path of Cabaye whose shot whistled past the helpless Pyatov. The goal demotivated the Ukrainians and France became in total control. Cabaye hit the post amongst a flurry of chances for France but the scoreline stayed 2-0. The full-time whistle was accompanied by a chorus of boos from supporters of the home side.
POST MATCH THOUGHTS
The result leaves Ukraine with three points, one short of England and France who top the group meaning they can still qualify mathematically. It’s an extremely unlikely scenario though for the reason that they face a more superior England side in the final group game. Oleg Blokhin’s side need to play through Shevchenko more often if they are to have any chance of qualifying. They also need to work on their finishing seeing that they wasted a lot of chances in this one. They only had a shot on target out of nine tries. France on the other hand will be brimming with confidence after a dominant display. Laurent Blanc’s change from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 proved effective so he is expected to stick with that in subsequent matches. Alou Diarra once again bossed the midfield was and was a rock in front of the defence. He started in France’s first game due to injury to Yann M’Vila but now he is close to indispensable. Expect Laurent Blanc to preserve faith in him. France face Sweden in their last group game, a win which is very feasible as the Swedes are the whipping boys of the group with no points to their name.
“I warned the lads that the match against Sweden meant little. Some of the players were thinking they were already in the quarter-finals.” – Ukraine Manager, Oleg Blokhin on Ukraine’s loss.
“Ménez has a quality that none of Ribéry, Nasri, Hatem Ben Arfa or Mathieu Valbuena truly possess. He has the speed and the power to run in behind and hurt defences. That’s a rare quality.”- France Manager, Laurent Blanc showering praises on Menez.
The Blues fail to conquer their blues
Italy 1 – 1 Croatia
39″ Andrea Pirlo (1-0), Mario Mandzukic 72″ (1-1)
Traditional giants Italy was left in danger of catching an early flight home as Croatia (who has never lost to Italy after gaining independence from Yugoslavia) held on for a gritty 1-1 draw in a Group-C encounter at Poznan. In the process, Croatian scorer of the day Mario Mandzukic equaled the national record for highest number of goals, hitherto held by Davor Suker. But before that, Italy looked all set for a comfortable victory after having being given the lead via a moment of brilliance by Andrea Pirlo
The match didn’t begin at the blistering pace as expected from the pre-match hype. After all, in only their last match, both the teams had played a super-attacking brand of soccer. And contrary to what many experts said, Mario Balotelli did find a place in the starting line up ahead of De Natale. Balotelli started off with a 3rd minute shot at the goal. On the other hand, Croatia hoping for a quick start saw Mandzukic concedes a free kick for a foul on Chiellini
Croatia’s most capped player and captain Srna made a few set piece attacks, one of which ended with a good Buffon save, and the subsequent counter-attack by Italy saw Cassano race into the Croatia box and nearly score, but for a timely tackle by Gordon Schildenfeld. Balotelli’s effort paid off when he earned a free kick in the 39th minute, and then there was that moment of magic as Pirlo’s free kick swerved over the defense into the goal. Italy 1-0 Croatia, and that’s how the first half ended
The second half began with a flurry of passes, attacks and shots on goal. Within the first 10 minutes, Thiego Motta received the first yellow card and was promptly substituted. De Natale, as expected, replaced Balotelli, and immediately the results showed, but for Croatia as Mandžukicequalized!! Strangely, after that, neither side seemed to push on for a result nor the game never rose to great heights after that, barring a thunderous volley by Kranjcar who replaced Super Mario deep into injury time which was well saved by Buffon
The result leaves the group interestingly poised, with Spain carving out a victory vs Ireland, any of the three – Croatia, Italy and Spain can make the cut. But Italy will have to hope for a result in the Croatia vs Spain game and win vs. Ireland to progress. Or else, win really big vs the Irish and proceed on goal difference
Cesare Prandelli stuck with the 3-5-2 and for the first 45 minutes it worked without too many hitches. Balotelli and Cassini ran hard and split the defense well -Balotteli earned the free kick that saw Italy take the lead. On the other hand, Bilic’s men lined up almost as a 4-1-3-2. It was expected Croatia would use the flanks to attack, and though in the first half they didn’t do so freely, in the second half with Modric, Mandzukic and Nikica Jelavic pressed higher up the pitch. Srna gave Giaccherini a tough time on the right and it was Ivan Strinic’s cross from the left that led to the goal. Thus Croatia had the better of the exchanges in the second half
Italy: Buffon, Chiellini, De Rossi, Bonucci, Giaccherini, Marchisio, Pirlo, Thiago Motta, Maggio, Cassano, Balotelli. Substitutes: De Sanctis, Sirigu, Ogbonna, Balzaretti, Abate, Di Natale, Barzagli, Borini, Montolivo, Giovinco, Diamanti, Nocerino.
Referee: H. Webb (England). Assitant Referees: M. Mullarkey (England), P. Kirkup (UK). Fourth Official: P. Kralovec (Czech Republic)
“Of course you are a bit bitter because when a side plays football, creates a lot of goalscoring chances, they need to put a game to bed, to kill off the game”. – Prandelli denied being angry with the result
“All I will say is that I’m very optimistic for the next match. I’m really satisfied we’ve four points from the two games. It could be even better but four points is optimal, realistic and now we have a real chance to go through” – Bilic declined to look ahead to the next game with Spain
‘Super Mario’ pushes Oranje to the brink of elimination
Germany 2- 1 Netherlands
Mario Gomez (1-0); Mario Gomez (2-0); Robin Van Persie (2-1)
Considered the most mouth-watering contest in the group stages by many did not live up to the expectations. There was only one team in the contest and apart for a few minutes in the second half the result was never in doubt. Bert Van Marwjik surprisingly started with nearly the same team and the same formation which had lost to Denmark in the previous match. The now fit Joris Mathjisen came into the defence in place of Ron Vlaar which was expected. Rafel Van der Vaart and Klas Jan-Huntelaar were surprising omissions from the starting line-up. The manager seemed to have faith in the team which created a lot but finished nothing in their last match. Joachim Loew did not change his team and went with the same team and formation. He may have been tempted to change a few players in the mid-field and forward line but wanted to stick with a winning team. Germans lacked their usual panache in the last match which has become synonymous with the current team. This match would give a real indication of their tournament winning credentials.
Netherlands made the better start in a very warm evening at Kharkiv in front of nearly 38,000 spectators. Mathjisen hit a through ball which reached a stretching Van Persie who could only turn into the hands of Manuel Neuer in the 7th minute. In the 11th minute Arjen Robben made a sharp run through the centre passed a ball to Van Persie on the right side of the box, but his right footed shot went well wide of the opposition goal. In between the two Dutch chances the Germans had shown their intent when an exquisite volley by Mesut Ozil crashed against the post in the 8th minute. Netherlands was having a lot of possession but Germany was looking incisive on the break. In the 24th minute Ozil received a ball on the right flank. Nigel de Jong was tracking him. The other Dutch defensive midfielder Marc Van Bommel was marking the run of Sami Khedira. This left Bastien Schweinsteiger with a lot of space in the middle when Ozil passed the ball to him. He threaded a superb pass which was collected by Mario Gomez with his back to the Dutch goal. He received the ball and turned with a pirouette all in a single movement which left him with an easy finish past the helpless Dutch keeper Stekelenburg. Robben attempted a shot from the right which was easily saved by Neuer. The Dutch attacks were being snuffed out by the brilliant play by the German back line that pressed and marked magnificently. Robben tried his typical runs through the right wing but was beautifully stopped time and again by the German captain Philipp Lahm. Germans were finding a lot of joy through the right wing where Thomas Muller was giving the inexperienced Dutch left back Jetro Willems a torrid time. Muller nearly found Gomez with a cross in the 30th minute. In the 37th minute Germany should have gone further ahead when an unmarked Holger Badstuber found himself at the end of an Ozil free-kick. His header from close range was saved brilliantly by Stekelenburg. The very next minute the Germans were two ahead. It was the same combination with Schweinsteiger from a central area passing to Gomez on the right side of the Dutch box. He opened his body and hit a swerving left footer past the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper. It could have been worse for the Dutch if Stekelenburg had not saved a deflected free kick on the stroke of the half-time whistle.
Van Marwjik rang in the changes at the start of the second half with Van der Vaart and Huntelaar coming in for Van Bommel and a very poor Ibrahim Afelley. Netherlands were dominating possession 58-42 at this point but it was not very constructive with respect to chances in the opposition box. It was Germany who came close to scoring again in the 52nd minute when Mats Hummels ran through the centre of the Dutch defence and took a shot which was saved by the goalkeeper. The rebound fell to him and he hit another shot on target as but the goalkeeper thwarted him again. The Dutch midfield play had improved but they were still not creating any chances. In the 58th Robben, who had switched to left wing managed to find Van Persie on the edge of the German penalty area with a pull-back pass. Van Persie’s snap shot to the right of Neuer forced him to a great save. Netherlands was starting to find some potency to their play in the opposition third. Sneijder and Robben both had good chances which they put wide in the 62nd and 69th minute respectively. Sneijder looked to have scored in the 71st minute when he took a shot from the left of the German penalty area with Neuer beaten. Jerome Boateng flung his body on the way to make a great block. Germany brought in Miroslav Klose for Gomez in the 72nd minute. In the 73rd minute Van Persie managed to turn Hummels in the middle of the German half and ran on through the centre and took a great right footer which beat Neuer to his left before nestling into the back of the net. The Dutch were back in the contest. The Germans were tiring in the extreme heat. However they took control of possession and did not allow the Dutch much further leeway for the rest of the match.
Germany deserved to win as they were the superior side who created better chances and looked more incisive in their play. Loew’s confidence in his team especially the Bayern Munich contingent paid dividends as their superior team play and understanding managed to overcome the Dutch. Jerome Boateng picked up a second yellow card and will miss the next match against Denmark. Loew may have to play Lars Bender at right back. He can also move Lahm into right back and play Marcel Schmelzer at left back. Germany can still be eliminated if the results go against them in the last round of matches. However looking into their two matches especially the second one they will start favourites for the win against Denmark. Netherlands still have a slim chance of qualification and will have to win with a big margin against Portugal and hope that Germany defeat Denmark. Van Marwjik will have to look into his tactics. He should start with two strikers in Van Persie and Huntelaar although the latter did not have any constructive contribution during his time on the field. Van Persie seems to getting back his touch which bodes well for them. The defensive midfielders will have to play better as they were ruthlessly exposed by a very fluid and flexible German midfield. Hope is still there to qualify a however slim one. The Group of Death has lived up to its billing and it is all to play for going into the last round of matches.
Germany: Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Holger Badstuber, Philipp Lahm, Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller (Lars Bender 90+2), Mesult Ozil (Toni Kroos 81), Lukas Podolski, Mario Gomez (Miroslav Klose 72)
Netherlands: Maarten Stekelenburg, Gregory Van der Wiel, John Heitinga, Joris Mathijsen, Jetro Willems, Nigel de Jong, Mark Van Bommel (Rafael Van der Vaart 45), Arjen Robben (Dirk Kuyt 83), Wesley Sneijder, Ibrahim Afellay (Klaas-Jan Huntelaar 45), Robin Van Persie.
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)
Venue: Metalist Stadium.
“With this victory I think we’ve opened the door to the quarter-finals. It’s now in our hands”-Joachim Loew German Manager
“The situation is that we still have a chance to go through and when you have a chance you have to believe”-Bert Van Marwjik Netherlands Manager.
Russia started their campaign with a thumping 4-1 win over hopeless Czech Republic. As expected Russian star players – Andrei Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko – put their average club seasons behind and rose to the occasion. As expected, the 21-year old Russian prodigy Alan Dzagoev showed what a class player he is and this performance will surely reflect on his mounting price tag during his imminent summer transfer. But, quite unexpectedly, the Czechs were as shambolic in defensive organization as they could be. It is not always that a goalkeeper of the calibre of Petr Cech – even his 2012 version – gets beaten 4 times in a match.
It took a little time for the Russian midfield – comprising straight out of Zenit St. Petersburg – to take control of the match but once they did, they made a mockery out of the lacklustre Czech attack led by an isolated Milan Baros. The trio of Igor Denisov, Konstantin Zyryanov and Roman Shirokov were instrumental in the midfield in a 4-3-3 formation. They quite easily bossed Czechs twin-fulcrum of Jaroslav Plasil and Petr Jiracek, playing in a 4-2-3-1 system. Shirokov’s burst through the right hand side of midfield set up the opening goal in the 15th minute. His cross was headed across by Aleksandr Kerzhakov on to the post. Dzagoev latched on to the rebound to open his account in Euro 2012.
Arshavin nowadays resembles a leap year. He rises from the ashes like Phoenix only when the Euro showdown is underway. It must have been agonizing for Arsene Wenger to see Arshavin in such a prolific form against Czech Republic, something he has rarely produced for the Gunners. He stared on wide left, but he dropped in the hole, prompted several attack deep from the midfield and there was an enigma to the Russian captain’s play which was awe inspiring. It was the 24th minute when his sublime diagonal pass into the Czech area was latched on to by an unmarked Shirokov to finish it from six yards out.
Czech Republic was nowhere. They were sinking without a trace and the positional sense of their defensive unit was shocking. Russian front man Aleksandr Kerzahkov was lenient enough not to kill the game even after numerous opportunities. The Czechs came back briefly as Jaroslav Plasil slid through a perfectly weighted pass for Vaclav Pilar to round Vyacheslav Malafeev and score on the 52nd minute.
But sanity prevailed as the wasteful Kerzahkov was replaced by Pavlyuchenko and he had an immediate impact by setting up a second for Dzagoev elevn minutes from time. Pavlyuchenko rounded the match off three minutes later as he strolled inside Roman Hubnik with maddening ease, before netting high and powerfully beyond Cech. The lanky forward was not given a place in the starting XI due to his lack of game time for Tottenham Hotspurs but it seems he has done enough to earn that for the next match.
Russia were favourites to advance from this lightweight group. But after this performance they should move a few places up in the odds table to progress even further. IF things go according to plan, Advocaat may even indulge in trying out variations and testing out fringe players – none better than target man Pavel Pogrenbnyak – in their last group match.
It is not the margin of defeat but the way their defence was exposed time and again would be a thing to worry for the Czech supporters. At this form, they cannot think of winning a game, leave aside progressing through to the knock out stages.
“We are quite happy. When you score four goals in an international game it’s a good result…. For a first game we’re happy.”
Russian manager, Dick Advocaat
“We’re angry now.”
Czech Republic goal scorer Václav Pilař after they were beaten 4-1 by Russia
Vyacheslav Malafeev, Sergei Ignashevitch, Alexei Berezoutski, Alexander Anyukov, Yuri Zhirkov, Konstantin Zyryanov, Igor Denisov, Alan Dzagoev (Alexander Kokorin, 85), Roman Shirokov, Alexander Kerzhakov (Roman Pavlyuchenko, 74), Andrey Arshavin
Petr Cech, Michal Kadlec, Theodor Gebre Selassie, Roman Hubnik, Tomas Sivok, Tomas Rosicky, Jaroslav Plasil, Petr Jiracek (Milan Petrzela, 76), Milan Baros (David Lafata, 85), Vaclav Pilar, Jan Rezek (Tomás Hübschman, 45)