Story by Robin Popley
After the eventful start to Euro 2012 on Friday, football fans everywhere would be forgiven for thinking that their appetites had been made even wetter, ahead of a jam-packed weekend which involved four of the world’s best historic footballing nations. However, unlike in the match between heavy-weights Italy and Spain on Sunday tea-time, both the Netherlands and Germany failed to live up to pre-tournament expectation, with the former limping to defeat against 1992 winners: Denmark.
In a match in which they dominated for long periods of the game, as so often is the case in football, they were undone by their own failure. Michael Krohn-Dehli capitalised on some poor defending by the Dutch, slotting the ball past the helpless Stekelenberg, in the Holland goal. After wasting chance after chance, they never fully recovered from the shock of going 1 – 0 down at such an early stage, leaving them adrift – alongside Portugal following their defeat to Germany – at the foot of the Group B table.
Incidentally, in the match won by the Germans, apart from the goal itself, Portugal had the best chances in the match. Pepe, with the pick of the bunch, hitting the underside of the bar on the stroke of half-time. Unlike their Dutch peers, they showed signs of resistance, only to be undone in the 70th minute with a goal from Bayern’s very own Mario Gomez. As they say: form is temporary, class is permanent.
That same mantra should also be applied to both Italy and Spain. The former, the winner of the World Cup on four separate occasions – most recently in 2006 – and the latter, current World and European Cup holders.
The game, itself, started slowly enough with Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli not looking his usual self. It would turn out that his highlight of the afternoon would come before kick-off, when Clive Tyldesley (ITV Sports Commentator) announced, ‘He’s took his ear phones off, so, we know that we are good to go!’ However, the impressive Di Natale stood up to the plate and scored a beautiful goal, sliding the ball past the infamous figure of Iker Casillas, on 50 minutes. Hitherto, we at ‘11’ adhere to the saying, ‘You are most vulnerable when you have scored yourself’. Seemingly Italy were not as well informed, as within 4 minutes, Spain hit back through former Arsenal midfielder, Cesc Fabregas. Well taken again and well created by his team-mates. A true ‘spanish’ goal.
That is how it would stay, leaving Croatia and the Republic of Ireland to try and take the early advantage in Group C. Despite donning my most green jumper, luck wasn’t to be on Ireland’s side, as within 3 minutes Croatia had taken the lead. Mandzukic heading past the wrong-footed Shay Given. But, then, a beacon of hope for Ireland. Before the clock struck the 20-minute marker, they had drawn themselves level, courtesy of Leicester City’s very own, Sean St. Ledger’s superb thumping header. The boys in green were back on track…
Sadly, that was as much joy as Trapattoni and his charges would experience, throughout the match. They were first dealt a cruel blow on the stroke of half-time, as Everton striker, Jelavic – after looking momentarily off-side – was played in via an unfortunate deflection off Stephen Ward’s thigh. Then defeat was complete only a matter of seconds into the 2nd half, following an own-goal by the extremely unlucky Shay Given, after the ball had rebounded off the post following a header by Mandzukic. Disappointment, maybe, but certainly not down and out!
Only time will tell if the giants overcome the minnows in these respective groups, yet, one always hopes for a revival from the underdog. Even, if, against the odds.