Story by Adam Wilson
So with the all teams having played their first group stage game, let’ s review what has been brilliance against what you would expect to witness in a Sunday league game.
3. Superb Shevchenko.
In most cases, people enjoy seeing the tournament hosts do well, the passion of home support is unrivalled and the extra lift playing at home gives the players provides the tournament with an added buzz of excitement. This was definitely the case in the Group D encounter between Ukraine and Sweden. Early in the second half, pirate-ponytailed striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovich, pounced on a brilliant cross to put his side ahead. Ukrainian hopes were fading until…. who else but Shevchenko, steps up to the plate, nine minutes and two sublime headers later Ukraine have the lead and hold on to go top of Group D. Shevchenko may not have been prolific during his time with Chelsea, but he is a hero to his country and his outstanding performance earned them three vital points.
2. Stewart Downing warming the bench. Oh, and England got a draw.
Monday saw the Group D clash between France and England, this was a match that England were expected to lose. However, for once it was the French who let their nerves get the better of them, as England took the lead through a Joleon Lescott header. France did pull one back through Samir Nasri, but they could not do enough to overthrow a resilient English side. As expected, the French were the more positive side, but England also had their chances to win the game. A point against France is a good start for England and Hodgson, who was already winning over fans prior to kick off, as it was announced that he had replaced Stewart Downing’s threat of no assists or goals with rising star Oxlade-Chamberlain.
1. Russia, Alan Dzagoev and Arshavin actually putting in effort.
Ok, so nobody thought Russia were a bad side, but where on earth did that result come from? Czech Republic are by no means World beaters, but they were brushed aside by a Russian side that played nice football and could have scored a hatful more if it wasn’t for Kerzhakov’s (See Worst) profligacy. Dzagoev looks like a brilliant talent scoring two goals and threatening the Czech side throughout, more performances like this could see plenty of clubs offer big money for him after the tournament is over. The final and most surprising aspect of Russia’s win has to be the way in which Arshavin controlled and conducted the Russian game, he was at the heart of everything for his country and we even saw glimpses of the player Arsenal fans haven’t seen since he smashed four past Liverpool in 2009.
3. Balotelli’s Blunder.
Spain vs. Italy, this was a game that would give the winner an unrivalled advantage in chasing qualification out of Group C. A moment of sloppiness at the back from Sergio Ramos saw Balotelli with a clear path to goal and a brilliant chance to put Italy in the lead. Nevertheless the man who stirs up as much controversy as quality, took what seemed an age dribbling the ball into the box before failing to either shoot himself or pass to teammate Cassano for an almost certain goal. Ramos chased back and tackled the hapless Italian, who was consequently replaced by Di Natale.
2. Kerzhakov borrows Torres’s boots.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov scored twenty goals domestically this season for his club Zenit St Petersburg and during Russia’s first Group game against the Czech Republic his positioning showed exactly why he finds himself amongst the goals so regularly at club level. It is therefore a shame that he has appeared to have left his boots at home and borrowed those of misfiring Spaniard Fernando Torres who also showed his inability to hit the target again against Italy. Kerzhakov however was wasting chances that maybe even Stewart Downing could have scored! (I jest, Stewart Downing doesn’t score) Karzhakov’s chances of starting the game against Poland took a further knock as substitute Pavyluchenko came on and showed him exactly how to find the back of the net.
1. Poland vs. Greece vs. the Referee.
As the opening ceremony came to a close, Poland was buzzing with the excitement of their opening game against Greece which was about to take place. It was a game that certainly did not lower the excitement levels. However the result can’t help but have been influenced by what must be one of the most bizarre refereeing decisions we will witness during this tournament. Greece star and resident tongue twister Sokratis Papastathopoulos was shown two yellow cards, which consequently saw him red carded and forced to leave the field of play. The problem however was that, neither of the fouls was deserved of a yellow card and the first may not have even been a foul! A red card changes a game at any level, but in an international tournament of this magnitude surely referees should have more ability than was shown here.