vrijdag 29 juni 2012

Euro 2012 Report - 27 and 28 Juni

The Big Final: Sunday - 1 July

Portugal 0-0 Spain (aet, 2-4 on penalties)
Fabregas puts holders into final
The Barcelona man netted the decisive spot-kick after Bruno Alves had rattled the bar to book La Roja a date in the showpiece event in what will be their third successive final

Spain progressed to their third consecutive major final with a 4-2 penalty win over Portugal in the Euro 2012 semi-final at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk.

Despite playing at far from their best and with chances to find the net at a premium, a total of 120 minutes failed to separate the two sides as the game ended 0-0. And after Bruno Alves rattled the bar with Portugal's fourth penalty of the shoot-out, it was left to Cesc Fabregas to score the winner.

Vicente del Bosque sprung a surprise before kick off as he made one change to the side that defeated France in the quarter-finals, electing to start with Alvaro Negredo in attack ahead of both Fabregas and Fernando Torres.

His Portuguese counterpart Paulo Bento also made one alteration, with Hugo Almeida replacing the injured Helder Postiga after naming the same side for their six previous competitive fixtures. 

The Seleccao set about disrupting Spain's rhythm immediately by pressing their opponents high up the pitch. It worked for the opening few minutes as La Roja struggled to get their foot on the ball but they soon forged a chance for themselves.

Andres Iniesta played a give-and-go down the left flank with Jordi Alba before passing the ball into the box. Negredo could not get a shot away but managed to stab it back to the top of the penalty area where Alvaro Arbeloa tried to caress it into the top corner but his attempt flew over the bar.

But the Spaniards were by no means dominating and Cristiano Ronaldo was proving difficult for Del Bosque's men to deal with. However, two charging runs down the left failed to result in anything to truly test Iker Casillas with a free kick and a wild volley on the spin inside the opening 25 minutes.

Bento's men continued their high-intensity pressing and Spain were unable to get the most out of Xavi when on the ball. A long delivery forward resulted in an opportunity for Iniesta but he failed to hit the target, and moments later Ronaldo pulled an effort wide of the goal.

Spain continued to look uncomfortable on the ball and just nine minutes after the restart Del Bosque had to concede that his pre-match gamble had not paid off as he replaced Negredo with Fabregas.

Portugal were getting a lot of joy from putting the Spaniards under pressure in their own half but Almeida failed to make the most of it in the 57th minute. After his side won the ball back he could have passed to Nani or Ronaldo but instead produced an ambitious shot from 35 yards that did not work Casillas.

Shortly after the hour mark Spain began to have their best spell of possession in the opposing half but there remained little to separate the two sides as the tension mounted. Xavi got the game's first shot on target with a drilled attempt that was straight at Rui Patricio, shortly followed by a Ronaldo free kick that flashed over the bar.

In the 90th minute Portugal found themselves in a four-on-one but when the ball was shifted to the left, Ronaldo failed to make a solid connection and blazed his well off target in what was the last opportunity of normal time.

As the Seleccao grew tired they were no longer forcing their opponents to play from deep, instead allowing them to control the ball in their own half during much of extra time. Del Bosque's side dominated the extra 30 minutes but Rui Patricio brilliantly thwarted both Iniesta and Jesus Navas either side of the interval to ensure the game went to a penalty shoot-out.

Both teams got off to the worst start possible as Patricio and Casillas both saved from Alonso and Moutinho respectively. Iniesta, Pepe, Pique, Nani and Ramos all scored - including a 'Panenka' from the latter - before Bruno Alves hit the bar to make the score 3-2 to Spain after four spot-kicks each. 

It offered Fabregas the chance to book their spot in the final and he obliged, scoring via the post and setting up a date in Kiev for the final with either Germany or Italy on July 1.

Germany 1-2 Italy
Balotelli double sets up Spain final
The enigmatic striker has come through on the big stage, with two well-taken first half goals leading the Azzurri into the Euro final for the first time since 2000

EURO 2012, Italy vs. Germany, Mario Balotelli, Philipp Lahm
A brilliant performance from Mario Balotelli has driven Italy into the Euro 2012 final, after a 2-1 win over Germany at the National Stadium in Warsaw on Thursday. 

The Manchester City forward has hit the headlines for all the right reasons, opening the scoring with a powerful header before smashing home an emphatic second to clinch a date with Spain at the Olympic Stadium on July 1.

It was a deserved victory for Italy, who could have added further goals in the second half had they taken one of the numerous chances afforded to them by Germany's rushes forward to find a way back into the match. 

Mesut Ozil ensured a nervy finish to the encounter with a penalty in second-half stoppage time, but there was to be no miracle for Germany, who bowed out at the semi-final stage for the second major tournament in a row. 
Joachim Low restored Mario Gomez and Toni Kroos to his starting XI after the Bayern Munich pair were benched for the quarter-final victory over Greece in the quarter-finals.

Cesare Prandelli made only one change from the side that eliminated England on penalties, with Giorgio Chiellini recovering from an injury in time to replace Ignazio Abate.

It was Germany who threatened first only six minutes in, after Mats Hummels’ scrambled shot was blocked on the line by Andrea Pirlo, allowing Gianluigi Buffon to smother.

The Azzurri skipper nearly forced an own goal moments later after inadvertently diverting a Jerome Boateng cross into Andrea Barzagli, but the deflection rolled just wide of the post.

Despite the scares at the back during the opening exchanges, Italy were quicker to settle into the match, and began to establish a rhythm with some patient play in midfield.

Riccardo Montolivo blasted into the arms of Manuel Neuer from the edge of the box, but the Germany keeper was forced to work much harder by Antonio Cassano, whose curler towards the bottom corner was tipped away.

Italy started to get into their stride, were asking growing questions of the suspect German defence. Then, with 20 minutes gone, the Azzurri carved them completely apart.

Chiellini fed Cassano on the overlap down the left, and the Milan forward delivered a superb cross into the heart of the area, where Balotelli rose above Holger Badstuber to head Italy into the lead.

Italy were buoyed by the goal, with Germany still unable to shake off the erratic edge to their play. Montolivo’s hesitation allowed Badstuber to strip him of possession deep inside the area, but the new Milan signing would make a far more decisive contribution with 36 minutes gone.

His searching ball over the top caught the German back line out completely and released Balotelli, who stormed towards goal and smashed an unstoppable finish high into the back of the net.

The Manchester City man was booked for ripping his shirt of in a passionate celebration, but there were no such signs of desire from Germany, who were showing none of the verve from their entertaining win over Greece in the previous round.

Low was facing an uphill battle to get his side back into the match, and responded in kind, hauling off Gomez and Lukas Podolski at half-time for Marco Reus and Miroslav Klose.

Germany improved in the second-half but Phillip Lahm should have done a lot better after the restart, blasting over from the edge of the box after he was teed up in space by Kroos.

Reus was next to try his luck with a powerful free-kick from 20 yards out, but Buffon was equal to it and managed to punch over the crossbar.

However, for all Germany’s increased endeavour in the second half, they still lacked a cutting edge in front of goal, and with their urgency in the Italian half, were increasingly vulnerable to the counterattack.

A sweeping break just past the hour mark saw Alessandro Diamanti slip in Claudio Marchisio behind Badstuber, but his finish was driven the wrong side of the post.

The Juventus midfielder spurned an even greater chance with a quarter of an hour to play, when Badstuber’s slip allowed him with a clear sight on goal, but he disappointingly dragged his shot wide.

Germany were simply nowhere to be found, and could not make their forward pressure pay as Italy continued to take them apart on the counter.

Substitute Antonio Di Natale wasted the pick of the chances on 82 minutes after being put one-on-one with Neuer, but with all the time in the world to pick his spot, he instead found the side netting.

Germany were handed a late lifeline after Balzaretti's handball was spotted in the box, giving Ozil the chance to bury from the spot.

However, there was nothing left from Low's side despite an even later surge forward, giving Italy a nervy, but deserved victory and setting up a second meeting with Spain in this European Championship.


maandag 25 juni 2012

Euro 2012 Report - Sunday 24 Juni

England 0-0 Italy (aet, 2-4 on penalties)
Young & Cole the villains in tense shoot-out
Roy Hodgson's side were saved by the woodwork and an offside flag in two hours of football, before suffering heartbreak in another spot-kick duel which saw the Azzurri prevail

Alessandro Diamanti - Italy

England suffered yet more penalty heartbreak, this time at the hands of Italy as they succumbed to an agonising 4-2 defeat on spot kicks in a goalless Euro 2012 quarter-final in Kiev.

Italy dominated the match but wasted a host of chances in normal time thanks to some brave last-ditch defending, and Roy Hodgson’s side managed to see out the extra 30 minutes before the inevitable shoot-out.

Riccardo Montolivo and Ashley Young both missed penalties before Gianluigi Buffon saved from Ashley Cole, and substitute Alessandro Diamanti scored the winning penalty to send the Azzurri into the last four.

England named an unchanged side from their win over Ukraine, with Hodgson keeping Danny Welbeck in the starting line-up, while Cesare Prandelli opted to start Mario Balotelli ahead of Antonio Di Natale for the Azzurri. Leonardo Bonucci came in for the injured Giorgio Chiellini and Thiago Motta was replaced by Riccardo Montolivo.

Both sides had glorious chances in the opening minutes. Daniele De Rossi struck the post from distance with a stunning volley, before Glen Johnson shot straight at Buffon from six yards.

Johnson was looking lively down the right flank, and a superb early cross found Wayne Rooney who couldn’t quite direct his header on target.

Prandelli’s side started to enjoy more possession, however. Balotelli was denied by a superb John Terry challenge when it looked as though he was through one-on-one. Montolivo then lifted a delightful ball into the path of Balotelli, who fired an improvised volley straight into the arms of Hart.

England then swept up the other end with a fine counterattacking move, culminating with Rooney playing the ball into the path of Welbeck, but the young Manchester United striker disappointingly side-footed well over the bar.

Balotelli almost had another opening after Pirlo played a superb ball towards Cassano, who headed back across goal, and only a fantastic last-ditch tackle from Lescott denied the Manchester City striker.

Early in the second half, De Rossi volleyed wide from just yards out with the goal at his mercy after a Hart punch was headed back into the box, and Italy then had two chances in quick succession after Hart parried a long-range strike into the path of Balotelli, but the Three Lions' shot-stopper saved low before Montolivo blasted high.

Young scuffed a shot wide before Rooney almost flicked a Gerrard free-kick goalward as the game entered the final 15 minutes, but it was a rare foray forward from a tiring England side.

Former West Ham striker Diamanti came off the bench and tested Hart straight away, firing a low strike towards his near post, but the England No.1 stopped well. Then another substitute, Antonio Nocerino, was only denied by an excellent Johnson block.

Rooney had a chance to win it in stoppage time, firing over with an acrobatic effort after Carroll headed back across goal in a positive passage of play, but the game moved inevitably into extra time.

The tension clearly started to set in as extra time got underway, with neither side wanting to make that one crucial mistake. Balotelli drove another tame effort towards Hart as England still struggled to keep possession.

A Diamanti cross evaded Hart and struck the far post before Walcott produced a dangerous run into the Italy area, but couldn’t find Carroll with his chipped cross.

Diamanti wasted another glorious opportunity, blasting wide having been found in space inside the box before Nocerino had a goal ruled out for offside after heading in a Diamanti cross, and Hodgson’s side somehow held on for the shoot-out.

Montolivo drilled his penalty wide of the left-hand post before Young blasted against the crossbar. Buffon then saved Cole’s tame effort and Diamanti hit the winning kick to set up an encounter with Germany in the last four.


zondag 24 juni 2012

Euro 2012 Report 23 Juni

Spain 2-0 France
Alonso marks 100th cap with match-winning double
Two goals from the Real Madrid midfielder provided the difference as La Roja secured their first ever competitive win over Les Bleus who proved extremely unadventurous

Spain set up an all-Iberian semi-final with Portugal as they earned a 2-0 win over France with a workmanlike display in the last eight at the Donbass Arena.

La Roja bossed the game in large parts, opening the scoring midway through the first half thanks to Xabi Alonso as he completed a century of international appearances. Despite an improved performance in the second half Les Bleus failed to find a breakthrough and received a sucker-punch when Alonso slotted home from the penalty spot in second-half stoppage time.

Following Fernando Torres' disappointing performance against Croatia, Vicente del Bosque reverted to the striker-less formation which garnered so much criticism after their opening group game with Cesc Fabregas rejoining the forward line. 

In an attempt to stifle the typically fluid and creative Spaniards, Laurent Blanc opted to begin with Mathieu Debuchy in front of Anthony Reveillere on the right in order to help protect against Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba. Samir Nasri started among the substitutes amid rumours of infighting for a fairly conservative looking French team.

Spain controlled the ball from kick-off, passing it across the field and probing for an opening that proved elusive until the 19th minute. Blanc will have been furious that when Spain did create an opportunity it came down his side's supposedly fortified right. Iniesta threaded a pass to the overlapping Alba and he looked up and picked out Alonso who headed the ball back across goal and into the far corner.

Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema were doing their best to provide a moment's respite for their side but for all their endeavour they frequently found themselves running into dead ends and handing the ball straight back to the opposition.

In the 35th minute Les Bleus got their first shot on target from a free-kick after Sergio Ramos felled Benzema. Yohan Cabaye struck the ball from 35 yards and it looked destined for the top left corner until Iker Casillas palmed it away.

For all their possession La Roja were once again creating very little. A give-and-go between Iniesta and Fabregas enabled the former to get in behind the defence but his effort was blocked by a recovering Laurent Koscielny on his competitive debut for France.

France returned from the break in a far more positive manner and began to commit greater numbers forward when on the ball. With an hour played Ribery worked some space on the left and clipped a cross into the middle. Debuchy met it in the centre of the box but his header sailed narrowly over the bar.

With Spain reducing their urgency Blanc sensed the momentum swinging the way of his side and made two attacking substitutions, replacing Debuchy and Florent Malouda with Jeremy Menez and Nasri. 

All night France had allowed Alvaro Arbeloa a lot of freedom on the right in an attempt to provide Ribery with more space in behind him on the left flank. This almost paid dividends in the 71st minute when the Bayern Munich winger charged forwards and drilled a dangerous cross into the six-yard box but Casillas got a hand to it and gathered at the second attempt.

The substitutes failed to have the desired impact on the game, however, as the Spanish defence remained tight. Del Bosque's side were then awarded a penalty in stoppage-time when Reveillere brought Pedro down in the area. Alonso stepped up and converted from 12 yards, sending Hugo Lloris the wrong way.

Spain now have three days of rest until they return to Donetsk to face Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal in the semi-final. France will turn their attentions to the World Cup qualifying campaign where they will face La Roja twice, with the first fixture coming in October.


zaterdag 23 juni 2012

Euro 2012 Report - 22 Juni

Germany 4-2 Greece
Record-breakers cruise into last four
The 2008 finalists overcame first-half frustration against the Hellenic side, with Khedira, Klose and Reus adding to Lahm's brilliant first-half strike to progress

Germany v Greece - UEFA EURO 2012 Quarter Final, Reus and Lahm

Germany booked a semi-final against England or Italy after thrashing Greece 4-2 in Friday's Euro 2012 quarter-final at the PGE Arena in Gdansk.

In a first half which saw profligate finishing from the 2008 finalists, Philipp Lahm broke the deadlock with a fine long-range strike after 39 minutes. Greece secured a shock equaliser 10 minutes into the second half with Georgios Samaras tapping in a Dimitris Salpingidis cross.

Germany retook the lead after 61 minutes with a sumptous Sami Khedira volley from close-range, before Miroslav Klose headed a third seven minutes later. Marco Reus made it 4-1 with 15 minutes left before Salpingidis converted a penalty a minute before time as Germany secure a semi-final place for the fourth consecutive tournament.

Die Mannschaft began the breathtaking fashion, and were unlucky not to be ahead after just four minutes. A nervy Michalis Sifakis spilled a Khedira effort back into play, allowing tournament debutant Andre Schurrle to fire low into the net and under the goalkeeper before the effort was ruled out for offside.

Fernando Santos' men failed to offer attacking creativity in much of the early proceedings at the PGE Arena - a testament to their game-plan - with a lone shot from Grigoris Makos saved easily by Manuel Neuer. In contrast, Marco Reus fired an effort wide after a brilliant move from midfield at the other end.

Germany upped their tempo as Greece initiated a period of stability, and it almost paid dividends. Reus played an intricate one-two with Klose before spreading the ball out wide to Ozil. The Real Madrid midfielder could then only fire at Sifakis before the ball was hurriedly cleared by Kyriakos Papadopoulos.

Seconds later, the lively Reus spurned two glorious chances as Joachim Low's side failed to take advantage of their dominance. Firstly, with Ozil pulling the strings on the flank, the 23-year-old swept the ball across goal only to be agonisingly missed by an outstretched Klose, before he sliced another shot wide as Greece floundered.

With the Ethniki seemingly cornered by the Germans, the 2004 winners were not without their own opportunities. A superb ball from stand-in captain Kostas Katsouranis carved open a suspect defence, as Sotiris Ninis forced Neuer into an awkward save, with the goalkeeper only making sure at the second attempt.

Further efforts were subsequently wasted by Low's men towards the end of the first half. A Schurrle shot curled frustratingly wide, before Khedira's fierce drive was again blocked by the impressive Sifakis as a resilient Greek defence held firm.

But Greece's luck would run out five minutes before half-time. Lahm dribbled his way into position outside the area before unleashing a superb swerving strike which deceived Sifakis and nestled in the bottom corner to give die Mannschaft the lead. Minutes later, Schurrle failed with a chance to make it two when he shot inches wide of goal.

The Ethniki were noticeably improving as the game wore on, but were almost 2-0 down after a horror clearance from Sifakis found Schurrle who, instead of shooting, opted to thread a ball towards Klose, only for the move to break down.

At the other end, Katsouranis picked out Samaras with a fine pass, as Greece broke forward with a two against two counterattack, but half-time substitute Theofanis Gekas failed to get sufficient power in his back-heeled pass.

Nevertheless, the Greeks were not to be denied. A quick-fire counterattacking move saw Salpingidis race down the right before squaring a low cross towards Samaras, who positioned himself in front of Jerome Boateng to bundle the ball past Neuer and send the travelling support into delirium.

The celebrations were short-lived, however. Six minutes, in fact, as Germany emphatically recovered to take the lead just past the hour. A speculative cross from Boateng on the flank was spectacularly met with the foot of Khedira, whose volley rifled into the roof of Sifakis' goal.

The Greek resistance completely gave way after that setback, and Germany took full advantage. Ozil's in-swinging delivery from a corner saw Klose rise highest to head home into an empty net after Sifakis opted to commit himself to a punch, as the Lazio forward claimed his 64th international goal.

On another typically German break, Klose latched onto Ozil's neat pass, but could only fire at Sifakis. However, Reus was at hand to lash a shot into an empty net, securing the Germans' record-breaking 15th successive competitive win. Boateng was deemed to have handballed late on, with Salpingidis converting a penalty as Greece exited the tournament on somewhat of a high.

Low's men progress to the semi-final where they will meet either England or Italy on Thursday at the National Stadium in Warsaw.


donderdag 21 juni 2012

Euro 2012 Report - 21 Juni

Czech Republic 0-1 Portugal
Ronaldo finally breaks through
The 27-year-old gave a captain's performance with the winner late in the second-half to lead his side past the uninspiring Czechs into a semi-final against either Spain or France

Cristiano Ronaldo stood up to be counted once again as he led Portugal into the Euro 2012 semi-finals after a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic at the National Stadium in Warsaw.

The Real Madrid star headed home the only goal of the game with 11 minutes left on the clock to seal a narrow victory for the Seleccao and set up a date with either Spain or France on June 27. 

Both sides seemed reluctant to over-commit in attack in a cautious first half, though Ronaldo would come closest in first-half injury time with a low drive that rebounded off the post. 

Portugal took control in the second half, sending in a number of shots at Petr Cech's goal, but were largely frustrated in their attempts to breach a Czech defence which had conceded the most goals of any team in the quarter-finals.

And Ronaldo finally settled affairs with his third goal in the tournament to cement his side's place in the last four for the first time since 2004. 
The only change for either side was the inclusion of Vladimir Darida ahead of Daniel Kolar in midfield for the Czech Republic, who also named captain Tomas Rosicky as a substitute for the second game running amid concerns over an Achilles tendon injury.

In front of a sizeable fan presence inside the National Stadium, the Czechs just about managed to claim the upper hand during the initial exchanges, as their control of possession restricted Portugal’s enterprise to forays forward on the counter.

Nevertheless, the first hint of an opening fell to Joao Moutinho after 13 minutes, with the Porto midfielder squeezing in a shot on the turn that was comfortably snatched by Cech.

It was a half-chance at best, and illustrative of the cagey beginning to the match, which saw both sides struggle to really stamp their authority on proceedings.

Ronaldo appeared to force Cech into action with a powerful drive after racing into the box, but the chance was quickly snuffed out by an offside call.

Nani and Miguel Veloso were then both booked within minutes of each other after a pair of thumping challenges on Darida and David Limbersky.

Slowly, Portugal would begin to make an improved contribution to the game, eschewing their long-ball approach for a more concerted offensive effort, with Ronaldo, as ever, at the heart of things.

The Real Madrid star went close with an audacious overhead kick that flashed just wide following a struggle by the Czech defence to clear a corner, before seeing a 30-yard free kick miss the target.

However, the Seleccao were handed a blow with 39 minutes gone when Helder Postiga limped off clutching his hamstring, with Hugo Almeida coming on in his stead.

The change did not faze Portugal too much however, who went closest to snatching the lead on the stroke of half time. Ronaldo collected Fabio Coentrao's cross perfectly on the turn, and drilled a low attempt that bounced agonisingly off the base of the post after the slightest touch off Cech's boot.

Ronaldo would come close once more a few minutes after the restart, with another long-range free kick bouncing off the woodwork via a save by Cech.

Portugal were looking the superior side as the second-half unfolded, with Raul Meireles sending a pair of efforts over the bar, before Nani forced Cech to parry his low drive away from goal.

The Chelsea goalkeeper had to be alert once more to tip over a piledriver from Moutinho at full stretch, as the match crossed the hour mark with the Czech Republic struggling to get a sniff of the ball.

Meireles snatched at an opening from just inside the box, before slipping in Nani, whose deflected effort came close to looping into the top corner.

But just when it looked like there would be no way through for Portugal, up stepped Ronaldo to bounce a punishing header into the back of the net after a great cross from Moutinho.

Pereira nearly increased the Seleccao's advantage within moments with a well-taken drive, but Cech was equal to it and expertly tipped wide. 

But Czech Republic's subdued second half continued as they simply could not find a way back into the match despite a late surge from Cech to the opponents' box for a corner, failing to come close to an equaliser as their tournament ended with a whimper.


dinsdag 19 juni 2012

Euro 2012 Report Tuesday 19 Juni

England 1-0 Ukraine
Rooney header seals controversial top spot
The Three Lions top Group D following the three points and France's loss, but the co-hosts saw an equaliser denied despite replays showing that the ball had crossed the line

Wayne Rooney returned from suspension to fire England to the top of Group D and into the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 as a 1-0 victory over Ukraine set up a date with Italy on Sunday.

The co-hosts dominated much of the opening half and England were happy to get into the break level despite having the best chance through the Manchester United striker.
However, Roy Hodgson’s side came out with a much more impetus in the second half and Rooney scored the 29th goal of his international career to keep England’s unbeaten record in Poland and Ukraine intact.

England’s goal continued to lead a charmed life throughout the second period though and they were indebted to John Terry for a fantastic goal-line clearance in the 62nd minute following Joe Hart's save from Marko Devic, however replays showed that the ball had crossed the line.

Rooney’s inclusion in the starting line-up was the only change to the side who beat Sweden so James Milner continued on the right hand of midfield despite the impact made by Theo Walcott in England’s 3-2 victory over Sweden.

Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin was dealt a huge blow before kick-off as captain Andriy Shevchenko was not passed fit to start the game with a knee injury. Devic replaced the influential striker in one of four changes to the co-hosts’ side as Artem Milevskiy, Denys Garmash and Yaroslav Rakitskiy replaced Andriy Voronin, Serhiy Nazarenko and Taras Mikhalik. 

Cheered on by a vociferous home support, Ukraine began the game on the front foot but Hart’s goal was never really under threat as the England defence restricted them to shots from outside the area.

Andriy Yarmolenko had the first real sight of goal in the ninth minute from the edge of the penalty area, however the Dynamo Kiev midfielder had the ball taken off his toe as Terry executed a perfectly-timed challenge.

Midway through the half the co-hosts continued to dominate the game and a mistake by Ashley Young, as he attempted to deal with a cross-field pass, nearly gifted them the opening goal. Oleg Gusev was able to steal the ball away from the Manchester United winger, before cutting inside from the right wing and firing over the crossbar.

Rooney missed a golden opportunity to give England the lead in the 28th minute, but he mistimed his jump when trying to connect with Young’s inch-perfect cross, and the ball dropped harmlessly wide.

Moments later, Hart was called into action as Milevskiy found some room 25 yards out. He played a neat pass into the path of Yarmolenko, who had escaped the attentions of Ashley Cole. The winger’s curling shot was on target but it was easy for Hart who was able to drop on the ball and make the save.

The half-time break gave England a chance to regroup and within three minutes of the restart they were ahead.

A Steven Gerrard corner was cleared only as far as Glen Johnson, who returned the ball to his captain to deliver a dangerous cross right across the six-yard box to send the Ukraine defence into a scramble and allow Rooney to head in for a yard out.

England’s goal only served to inspire the Ukrainians and they had two fantastic chances in the space of two minutes on the hour mark. The first came from a quick corner from the left but Milevskiy was unable to keep his header down from Yarmolenko’s cross despite getting in front of Joleon Lescott.

A minute later a piece of heroic defending from Terry kept England ahead as his acrobatic clearance denied Devic, although replays appeared to show the ball had actually crossed the line and the striker was, in fact, offside in the build-up.

Ukraine continued to push for the equaliser and they were denied by the impressive Manchester City duo of Hart and Lescott ten minutes later. Yevhen Konoplyanka unleashed a powerful shot from just outside the area that Hart could only parry away, but before another Ukraine player could get onto the loose ball, the centre-back had tidied up for his goalkeeper and averted the danger.

England finished the game playing on the counterattack but spent the majority of the final ten minutes in their own half as Ukraine threw everything they had at their opponents, even the introduction of Shevchenko couldn’t inspire the co-hosts and their elimination was confirmed.

Sweden 2-0 France
Stunning Ibrahimovic goal condemns Les Bleus to Spain test
Hamren's men finally held onto a lead at the third time of asking to pick up their first points of the tournament, while defeat means Blanc's side finish second in the group

France will play Spain in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals after surrendering their Group D top spot to England by losing 2-0 to Sweden.

Erik Hamren's men, who already had their elimination confirmed after losing both of their first two games, frustrated the French side in the first half and through Ola Toivonen had two excellent chances to take the lead.

Les Bleus looked very flat in the first half, with Franck Ribery forcing Andreas Isaksson into his only save of the period, as they looked nothing like the attacking threat that beat Ukraine 2-0.

After the break it was Sweden who looked the better side and deservedly took the lead when Zlatan Ibrahimovic volleyed home superbly, with Wilhelmsson nearly adding a second soon after. The Swedes then defended well and scored a second through Sebastian Larsson, forcing France to qualify as group runners-up with England beating Ukraine.

Laurent Blanc made two changes from the 2-0 win over co-hosts Ukraine, with Hatem Ben Arfa starting for the first time in the competition in place of Jeremy Menez, who is a booking away from suspension. Yann M'Vila returned from injury to replace another Newcastle man in the French ranks, Yohan Cabaye, who has been struggling with a leg problem this week.

The Swedes also made two replacements from their last game, a 3-2 defeat at the hands of England, with Rasmus Elm (knee) and Johan Elmander (foot) being forced out with Toivonen and Emir Bajrami coming into the side.

The opening stages saw France create a number of chances for themselves as firstly Karim Benzema slipped Ben Arfa beyond the last man but the Magpies man tried an ambitious shot from a tight angle, skewing the ball off-target. 

Toivonen then wasted a golden opportunity to deal a blow to Blanc's men, the forward challenging Philippe Mexes in the air, and got the better of the centre-back getting himself one-on-one with the French keeper. However he lost control of the ball with a poor touch, and allowed Hugo Lloris to force him wide with the eventual shot into the side netting.

France began to stamp their dominance on possession as the first-half progressed, but with 25 minutes passed they were yet to carve out any more clear chances. Adil Rami tried his luck with a long-range free-kick, but fired over, and then Jonas Olsson made a terrific block to deny Benzema a shot on goal.

Minutes before the break Ribery thought he had finally dribbled free of the Swedish defence, only for Olof Mellberg to get back and slide in with a fantastic tackle, sending the ball out of play for a corner. Toivonen nearly managed to get in behind the French back-four twice more before the whistle, but strayed carelessly offside on both occasions.

The second-half nearly started disastrously for France, as substitute Wilhelmsson would have been in on goal had the linesman not ruled him offside. The 32-year-old, who injected some energy into Sweden's line-up, then nearly knicked the ball from the hesitant Rami's toe but was just about muscled off it by the defender.

Five minutes in and Benzema timed his tun perfectly to beat the Swede's offside trap before cutting in and attempting a curler into the far corner, however the forward didn't get the connection he was looking for and missed the target.

Wilhelmsson continued to make a big impact on the game by controlling a long ball with a magnificent touch before beating Debuchy, he then delivers to the back post where Larsson tested Lloris with a good volley. 

The French keeper saved well but was helpless to deny Ibrahimovic from scoring the opening goal. The Sunderland winger who went close moments earlier crossed from the right and the AC Milan star acrobatically volleyed into the back of the net.

Sweden immediately searched for a second as Ibrahimovic nearly turned provider by holding up the ball before teeing up Wilhelmsson, but Lloris to parried his effort behind.

With Blanc surely aware of the news that England had also taken the lead against Ukraine, and Hamren's side looking dangerous, he needed his side to respond and decided to bring Florent Malouda on for the wasteful Ben Arfa. Soon after Nasri narrowly missed the target from the edge of the box but it was more woe for the manager as Mexes picked up a yellow which sees him miss their next game.

With 20 minutes left to find the two goals that would send them top, at that stage, Benzema was denied a shot on goal thanks to brilliant tracking from Jonas Olsson before M'Vila tired his luck from outside the box, stinging the palms of Isaksson and winning a corner in the process - which France wasted.

Sweden's defence continued to hold firm at time ran-out for Les Bleus, with Mellberg denying Mexes with a brave last-ditch tackle with 10 minutes remaining. Then, Jeremy Menez was thrown into the fray, and he would have made an instant contribution if it wasn't for Isaksson's foot. Another substitute, Oliver Giroud, also almost scored with his first touch from the resulting corner, but headed over the bar.

The French loss was confirmed when Sweden added a late second in injury time through Larsson who smashed a volley into an empty net after Wilhelmsson's initial effort hit the crossbar, giving the Swedes their first victory against France since 1969 and handing Blanc an unenviable quarter-final with Spain.


maandag 18 juni 2012

Euro 2012 Report - Monday - 18 Juni

Croatia 0-1 Spain
Navas sends holders through in top spot
The substitute from Sevilla struck near the end of regulation to decide a tepid contest and send La Roja through to the last eight as group winners

Spain has qualified for the Euro 2012 quarterfinals after an uninspiring 1-0 win against Croatia at the PGE Arena Gdansk on Monday. 

Neither side seemed in any hurry to snatch the initiative throughout, with La Roja's famed tiki-taka football failing to break down a determined defensive barrier set up by Slaven Bilic's men. 

The match seemed destined to end in a stalemate, but with two minutes remaining, substitute Jesus Navas walked the ball into the net to confirm Croatia's exit from the tournament.

The defending champion now progresses to the last eight as the winners of Group C alongside runner-up Italy, where it will face either France, England or Ukraine. 
It was a cagey opening to the match, with Croatia content to sit back and soak up the pressure from Spain– whose possession figures reached 78 percent during the first 20 minutes.

Eventually La Roja would manage a sight on goal through Torres, who managed to squeeze in a shot while being forced to the byline by Gordon Schildenfeld, though Stipe Pletikosa was able to save.

Spain’s next offensive threat would come from their center-back pairing, with both Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique peppering the Croatia goal from long range.

Ramos would almost blunder moments later, with a meaty challenge inside the area on Mario Mandzukic deemed legitimate by referee Wolfgang Stark, despite the incredulity of Vedran Corluka, who was booked for his protests.

Croatia was looking the part defensively, but with news of Italy’s lead over Ireland filtering through at the interval, knew that a breakthrough would be needed at the other end of the pitch.

And it would nearly get it just before the hour mark. Luka Modric was the architect, skipping free on the right, before bending a cross with the outside of his boot onto the head of Ivan Rakitic, who was thwarted by Iker Casillas from point blank range.

Spain’s tiki-taka football was getting them nowhere, and Del Bosque responded by hauling off Torres for Navas, hoping to use the Sevilla man to introduce more width. Bilic responded in kind, bringing on Jelavic and Perisic in a bid to find the goal that would salvage their participation in the tournament.

The Dortmund midfielder snatched at a chance moments after his arrival, sending a half-volley over the bar after a good delivery from Darjo Srna.

With Italy still ahead in Poznan, matters remained finely poised in Gdansk, with a goal from one side enough to eliminate the other.

Perisic had another opportunity with 10 minutes to go, but his volley was parried by Casillas as the near post, moments after Cesc Fabregas’ dallying on the ball cost him a gilt-edged shooting opportunity.

Iniesta broke free down the left and fired away at goal, but once more, the opening was nothing but a half-chance and easily saved by Pletikosa.

However in the 88th minute, a swift attack saw Iniesta break free, where he squared to Navas for the simplest of goals. 

Croatia rushed to respond, but with news of Italy's late second against Ireland rippling throughout the stadium, Bilic's men simply ran out of time.

Italy 2-0 Ireland
Cassano and Balotelli seal qualification
Cesare Prandelli's side professionally get the job done against the Irish and will now face the winners of Group D in the quarterfinals

Antonio Cassano

Italy has qualified for the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 as the Group C runners-up thanks to a narrow 2-0 victory over Republic of Ireland in Poznan on Monday evening.

Cesare Prandelli’s men were on top for the majority of the first half, and a header from Antonio Cassano 10 minutes before halftime gave the Azzurri a lead to hold on to for a long period of time. Mario Balotelli then stepped up to seal the victory moments before the final whistle with a typically dramatic finish from just outside the six-yard box.

Italy came extremely close to taking the lead on the half-hour mark when Federico Balzaretti went on a marauding run down the left-hand side and reversed a pass into the area for Di Natale. The Udinese forward then swivelled sharply and hooked a strike at goal, but Sean St Ledger was on hand to make a brave block with his chest from six yards.

This was a period of real dominance for Prandelli’s side in the match, and it nearly took the lead again moments later when Di Natale took the ball beyond Shay Given and attempted to twist a shot over the line from a tight angle, but Richard Dunne sprinted back to make a terrific clearance off the line.

Ireland failed to weather the storm, however, and went behind in the 38th minute thanks to a headed goal from Cassano. Andrea Pirlo whipped in a dangerous cross to the near post from a corner kick and his former Milan teammate bulleted a header at goal that just squeezed over the line, with Given and Damien Duff’s attempts to clear off the line proving to be futile.

Italy came bursting out of the blocks after the break, and should have doubled its lead just four minutes into the half when Balzaretti again showed impressive skill down the left to cut a pass back into the danger area, but Cassano’s eventual strike at goal from 10 yards lacked conviction, and Dunne managed to clear the ball up the park.

The introduction of Shane Long midway through the second half gave Ireland the kick that it needed to up the tempo of its play, with the strength and movement and of West Brom striker causing real problems for the nervy Italian defense. A succession of corner kicks in a five minute period from Trapattoni’s men had the Azzurri looking shaky, but their best chance in this period of dominance came when Keith Andrews powered a strike at goal from long range, but Buffon was equal to it and managed to palm the ball to safety.

It all unraveled for Ireland towards the end of the match as in the space of a couple of minutes, Keith Andrews was given a second yellow card for kicking the ball away in frustration, and then substitute  Balotelli stepped up to score Italy’s second goal with a fantastic bicycle kick just outside the six-yard box.

This victory sees Italy move on to the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 to face the winners of Group of D. Republic of Ireland is heading home from Poland and Ukraine without have registered a point in the group.


zondag 17 juni 2012

Euro 2012 Report - Sunday 17 Juni

Portugal 2-1 Netherlands
Ronaldo double seals fate of Oranje
The 27-year-old scored in both halves to cancel out a superb Rafael van der Vaart strike, condemning the Dutch to a shock exit and securing a date against Czech Republic on Friday

A Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Portugal beat the Netherlands 2-1 at the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv to send the Oranje out of Euro 2012 and set-up a quarter-final meeting with the Czech Republic.

Rafael van der Vaart broke the deadlock early on with a sumptous curling strike from distance to put Bert van Marwijk's team into the lead. Portugal, however, improved after the opener and despite squandering a barrage of opportunities, Ronaldo would equalise in the 28th minute after a fine assist from Joao Pereira.

With chances at both ends in a competitive second half, the Dutch would come unstuck by the speed of Portugal's counter-attacks, with Ronaldo sealing his double 16 minutes from time to send their opponents crashing to a humiliating exit.

The Dutch, needing to win by at least two clear goals, began the match on the front foot, with Wesley Sneijder firing over the side-netting after a good delivery from Gregory Van der Wiel. Their breakthrough would be an early one.

Arjen Robben retained possession on the wing, cutting in before feeding Van der Vaart. The Tottenham midfielder, from distance, produced a moment of star quality, curling the ball past a beaten Rui Patricio to hand Van Marwijk's men an 11th minute lead.

The setback did much to reinvigorate a Portugal side who had offered very little in the opening stages. Ronaldo raced down the left wing and turned inside Ron Vlaar before smashing a low shot off the post.

The Seleccao would again falter in the final third. An error from Van der Wiel allowed Helder Postiga to escape the attentions of the Netherlands defence, but the striker could not beat Maarten Stekelenburg.

The Portuguese pressure had become unrelenting and eventually their equaliser arrived. A poor pass from Jetro Willems relinquished possession to Joao Pereira who, in turn, threaded a delightful through ball towards Ronaldo. The Real Madrid forward subsequently slipped the ball under the goalkeeper to restore parity after 28 minutes and move above Luis Figo in the all-time goals scored list for his country.

After silencing his critics, Ronaldo felt confident enough to attempt the audacious, with a dipping shot from 40 yards forcing Stekelenburg to punch away hurriedly. Later, the 27-year-old headed inches wide from a Joao Moutinho corner to conclude a masterful first half at the Metalist Stadium with the teams locked into a 1-1 draw.

The second half began in cagier fashion. Portugal, however, would be denied by the offside flag after an angled shot from Ronaldo was blocked into the path of Postiga, who turned it in before the referee cut celebrations short.

Van Marwijk altered his side by bringing on Ibrahim Afellay in favour of de Jong, but to no avail. Ronaldo breezed past his marker on the left-wing to set-up Nani, who inexplicably fired straight at Stekelenburg from point blank range.

Another counter would finally come to fruition, as Nani atoned for his miss by setting up Ronaldo with a weighted through ball. The winger turned his marker and fired into the back of the net to seal a quarter-final place.

Van der Vaart would later hit the post from distance and Van Persie wasted a glaring chance before Ronaldo spurned one of his own for a hat-trick, hitting the post as the Netherlands ultimately suffered an untimely elimination from the European Championship.

Germany's win against Denmark means that Portugal finish second in Group B and face the Czech Republic in the first quarter-final in Warsaw on Thursday. The Netherlands head home having lost all three group games.

Denmark 1-2 Germany
Podolski & Bender send Olsen's men home
Joachim Low's men delivered a professional performance to see off the threat of their opponents and comfortably finish top of Group B of the European championship

Podolski - Germany

Germany have booked a Euro 2012 quarter-final date against Greece with a 2-1 victory over Denmark at the Lviv Arena on Sunday.

Joachim Low's men have progressed as winners of Group B and will be joined in the next stage of the competition by Portugal, who defeated the Netherlands 2-1 in the concurrent fixture in Kharkiv.

Lukas Podolski marked his 100th cap with the opener after 19 minutes, but Denmark hit back within moments through Michael Krohn-Dehli, who nodded home from close range to send the match into the break all square. 

A lackluster second half saw neither side in any hurry to snatch the initiative, but Lars Bender settled matters with the winner in the 81st minute to confirm the Germans' place in the next round.

Both coaches were forced to make changes to their starting lineups, with Bender replacing the suspended Jerome Boateng for Germany, while Dennis Rommedahl’s injury saw Jakob Poulsen begin for Denmark.

Joachim Low’s men raced out of the blocks, and saw two chances go begging early, both at the feet of Thomas Muller. The Bayern Munich man’s indifferent form in front of goal continued, first firing over the bar from 15 yards out before somehow failing to put away a cross by Podolski from point-blank range.

However, Muller would make his presence felt in other ways later on as he played a key part in helping Mario Gomez find Podolski in the penalty area, who in turn smashed home to give Germany the lead after 19 minutes.

But Denmark would respond just before the half-hour mark. Lars Jacobsen’s deep corner was powered towards goal by Nicklas Bendtner, where Krohn-Dehli was waiting to head home the equaliser.

The match remained finely poised as the half wore on, though Germany’s greater enterprise in the attacking third meant that they always appeared the more likely to score again. Podolski crashed a 20-yard free-kick inches over the bar before Sami Khedira poked inches wide after attacking his own blocked shot.

Denmark had managed to escape the first half on terms, but then created a fantastic opportunity to take the lead five minutes after the restart.

Simon Poulsen’s pace on the left saw him slide towards Bendtner, who in turn teed up Jakob Poulsen, but the Midtjylland midfielder could only brush his shot off the outside of post.

The match settled into lull as the half progressed, with both sides alternating spells of possession without really displaying a cutting edge. Substitute Andre Schurrle attempted to break the monotony just past the hour mark after sneaking in on the left flank, but saw his finish parried comfortably by Andersen.

Manuel Neuer then caused a few German hearts to flutter with a fumbling piece of handling on a seemingly routine effort from distance by Niki Zimling.

Chances remained hard to come by, with Germany perhaps secure in the knowledge that a draw would take them through as group winners. That permutation would be confirmed with nine minutes to go, as Bender was quickest to react to Mesut Ozil’s pass to slot the Germans into the lead for good.

Bendtner sent a late header over the bar, but there was to be no recovery for Denmark whose exit from the tournament was confirmed with the news of Cristiano Ronaldo's winner against the Netherlands.


Euro 2012 Report - Saturday 16 Juni

Greece 1-0 Russia
Captain Karagounis clinches qualification to send Advocaat's side home
The Greeks soaked up pressure throughout the match before exploiting a defensive lapse from the Russians which proved to be an expensive mistake

UEFA EURO 2012 - Greece v Russia, Giorgos Karagounis and Yuriy Zhirkov

A hard working performance and an opportunistic Giorgios Karagounis strike saw Greece sneak a 1-0 win over Russia to seal their Euro 2012 progress and send their opponents home.

Despite being under pressure for large parts of the game the Greeks took the lead in first-half stoppage time as Karagounis punished some sloppy defending with a neat finish. 

And his side remained resolute in defence throughout the second half to secure a famous victory which, coupled with the Czech Republic's win over Poland, meant Russia finished third in Group B.

The Ethniki came into the game knowing they needed a win to ensure qualification and they were the first to draw a save from the opposing keeper. Karagounis' near-post delivery was  flicked on target by Kostas Katsouranis but Vyacheslav Malafeev clawed the ball away at full stretch.

Russia responded positively, and three minutes later Alan Dzagoev broke in from the right following a quick throw. Andrey Arshavin got on the end of his cross 10 yards from goal and Michalis Sifakis was forced to parry the ball away. 

Dick Advocaat's side were in the ascendancy and moments later had two great chances to go ahead. Firstly, Aleksandr Kerzhakov failed in his quest to get his first shot of the tournament on target as his volley bent agonisingly wide of the far post. Then, Yuri Zhirkov's cutback for Dzagoev was intercepted by Katsouranis.

By the half-hour mark the Russians had taken control of the match but were more often than not being restricted to shooting from range. Yet, when in possession, the Greeks lacked ambition and committed minimal numbers to their attacks.

Zhirkov fired over five minutes before the break but Fernando Santos' side held out and in stoppage time Karagounis fired Greece into a surprise lead. A misplaced header by Sergey Ignashevich was capitalised on by the 35-year-old who capped his 120th international appearance - a statistic equalling the country's all-time record - by surging into the area and slamming a low shot underneath Malafeev.

Roman Pavlyuchenko replaced the profligate Kerzhakov at half-time but the Russians continued to struggle against the resilient Ethniki defence. Their woes were best summed up when, with space limited in the final third, Igor Denisov shot from distance only to see his effort swing wide. 

Greece remained a threat on the counterattack and after Aleksandr Anyukov somehow cleared Vasilis Torosidis' cross away from inside the six yard box, Karagounis received a booking that will keep him out of the next match for diving in the area though it looked like a certain penalty. 

Santos signalled his intent to see out the game with the solitary goal by replacing striker Theofanis Gekas with left-back Jose Holebas 25 minutes from time. But the Ethniki almost extended their lead in the 70th minute when Gergios Tzavellas' beautifully struck free kick rattled the frame of the goal.

In their desperation to find an equaliser Advocaat's side became extremely disjointed and another long-range attempt from Denisov was saved by Sifakis. With five minutes of normal time remaining Dzagoev came close to restoring parity but his header from Arshavin's cross shaved the outside of the post.

And the Greeks held out to secure their passage to the quarter-finals whilst Russia - who had shown so much promise in their opening game against the Czech Republic - face an early flight home.

Czech Republic 1-0 Poland
Jiracek sends co-hosts crashing out
The Wolfsburg man provided a rare moment of class in a scrappy, hard-fought game, putting his side into the quarterfinals as Group A winners

Gebre Selassie, Lewandowski, Czech Republic v Poland

Petr Jiracek broke Polish hearts in Wroclaw, netting the only goal of a tense Group A encounter to secure a 1-0 win and last-eight berth for Czech Republic. 

The Wolfsburg midfielder was clinical in converting Milan Baros' pass 72 minutes into the game after Poland had been caught on the break and left wide open at the back. The Czechs held on to record all three points, and qualify along with Greece for the next stage.

With both sides needing a win to guarantee their place in the quarterfinals, the game started at a frantic pace with plenty of goalmouth action. Poland was the first team to go close, when Dariusz Dudka's improvized overhead kick flew into the side netting with the home crowd ready to celebrate the opener. 

The Czechs also went close through Vaclav Pilar in the opening stages, when the midfielder fluffed a first-time effort having been set up brilliantly by Theodor Gebre Selassie. It was the hosts, however, who dominated proceedings in the first half. Ludovic Obraniak was at the heart of the attack, and his delicate ball almost released Jakub Blaszczykowski on the left hand side but Petr Cech reacted well to close the play down. 

It was all Poland at that point, with the Czech side struggling to string two passes together in the face of fierce pressing. An off-balance Robert Lewandowski should at least have hit the target with a shot that veered wide in a dangerous position, while Boenisch forced another save from Cech with a decent long-range effort and Marcin Wasilewski directed a tame header into the Chelsea man's arms. 

The Czechs' best chance of the first arguably fell to Milan Baros. The ex-Liverpool striker timed his run perfectly to spring the offside trap, but hesitated and could not control a decent lofted pass from deep as the danger passed.

A Greece goal against Russia in first-half injury time left Group A on a knife-edge, with both Czech Republic and Poland facing elimination if the scores stayed the same at the final whistle. Michal Bilek's men probed early after the restart, but despite some decent possession around the opposition area could not find a way through the determined hosts' defence. 

David Limbersky had a half chance to open the scoring as he powered into the box, but his shot could only find the side-netting once more as the game remained in an uneasy deadlock. The reticence of the Polish team to push forward, meanwhile, was baffling, as only a win would put the home side into the next round no matter how events in the other game finished. The home fans looked to Kamil Grosicki to make the difference, the Sivasspor winger entering just under 15 minutes into the second half in place of Eugen Polanski to add a new attacking dimension to the Polish team.

The change did not translate into extra potency in the final third, however, and numerous fouls from the hosts ruined their rhythm and handed their rivals the initiative. The Czechs had several chances from free kicks in dangerous areas, but failed to take advantage and net the goal that would take them above Greece and into the next round. One of those dead-balls forced a reaction save from Tyton, but the keeper was attentive and punched clear under heavy pressure. 

With 20 minutes left on the clock, it was the Czech Republic which took the advantage. A slick counter left Poland exposed at the back, and Baros slipped to Jiracek who did well to turn onto his right foot and coolly hit past Tyton.

The goal was a mortal blow for Franciszek Smuda's men, who looked unable to recompose themselves and fight for a now-unlikely victory. Baros momentarily thought he had sewn up the three points when he rounded Tyton, but the play was called back for a marginal offside and the Czechs stayed one goal up. The Polish fans sang their heart out right to the end but, despite a near-miss for Wasilewski right at the death, their efforts were in vain as the hosts bade farewell to the competition.

The central European nation therefore finishes top of Group A with six points, two clear of Greece which goes through after defeating Russia 1-0. Poland, meanwhile lies bottom of the pile and crashes out on home soil, having picked up just two points and failing to win in its fleeting Euro 2012 campaign.

zaterdag 16 juni 2012

Euro 2012 Report Friday 15 Juni

Ukraine 0-2 France
Les Bleus strike twice after lightning storm delay
After a torrential downpour suspended play for nearly an hour, Laurent Blanc's side notched two in four minutes to kill off the co-hosts' hopes of two wins on the trot in Group D

France boosted their hopes of reaching the Euro 2012 quarter-finals with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Ukraine in a rain-delayed Group D fixture in Donetsk.

Having been forced to leave the pitch after only four minutes due to a massive storm, play resumed nearly an hour later, but it wasn’t until the second half that the killer blows were dealt, with Jeremy Menez and Yohan Cabaye scoring within four minutes of each other to seal the points for Les Bleus.

Laurent Blanc made two changes to the France side that drew with England on Monday, dropping Patrice Evra in favour of Gael Clichy, while Menez replaced Florent Malouda in midfield. Meanwhile, Ukraine remained unchanged from their 2-1 win over Sweden, with Andriy Shevchenko’s brace against the Scandinavians keeping him in the side.

Shortly before kick-off the heavens opened, with several booming claps of thunder interrupting the national anthems. The storm continued as the game started, and the referee had no choice but to lead the players off the pitch with only four minutes on the clock.

The match got back under way almost an hour later, and France immediately took charge of the game, dominating the early possession. Menez had a goal ruled out for offside, but Blanc’s side continued to look far more threatening than the co-hosts. 

Les Bleus spurned a superb chance just before the half-hour when Franck Ribery’s ball across the box worked all the way through to the onrushing Menez, and the Paris Saint-Germain winger forced a fine save from Andriy Pyatov.

Ukraine almost took a surprise lead just over 10 minutes before the break when Shevchenko latched on to a lofted through ball and rifled a volley towards goal, but it was from a wide angle and Hugo Lloris confidently parried away from his near post. 

After a period of pressure from Ukraine, France moved up the other end and Ribery won a free kick, which Philippe Mexes rose highest to meet in the box, but his header was kept out by another excellent save from Pyatov.

Marko Devic replaced the barely involved Andriy Voronin at the break, but it was France who started the second half brightly. Menez tested Pyatov yet again, striking low from the left and the Ukraine shot-stopper stood firm.

Shevchenko then showed a superb moment of class at the other end, collecting the ball and unleashing a long-range effort which flew inches over the bar. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk had another effort moments later, blasting over from the edge of the box as the game started to open up.

And it wasn’t long before the deadlock was broken. On 52 minutes Karim Benzema found Menez in the area, and the winger cut inside on to his left foot and slotted a fine strike inside Pyatov’s near post to give Blanc’s side the lead.

France had their tails up, and Benzema looked lively. The Real Madrid striker played a delightful through-ball to Cabaye four minutes later, and the midfielder shrugged off a challenge before finishing low across goal to double the advantage.

After a distinctly flat period in which France monopolised possession, the ball fell again to Cabaye who rocketed a strike from outside the box, and Pyatov could only watch as it rattled against his post and back out.

The partisan crowd had little to cheer as the match entered the latter stages, and even a free kick curled over by substitute Oleksandr Aliyev failed to improve the dampened moods of the Ukraine supporters.

Blanc’s side held on for the win as the game petered out to its conclusion, and have given themselves a solid platform for their final Group D fixture when they take on Sweden in their bid to qualify for the quarter-finals.

Sweden 2-3 England
Welbeck winner sends Sweden home
Theo Walcott emerged from the bench to make the difference, scoring one and setting up another after a Glen Johnson own goal and Olof Mellberg header had put the Blagult ahead

UEFA EURO - Sweden v England, Andy Carroll and Steven Gerrard

Theo Walcott emerged from the substitutes' bench to score one goal and set up another as England earned a 3-2 victory over Sweden, who were eliminated from Euro 2012after an enthralling game in Kiev.
Roy Hodgson introduced Andy Carroll to the Three Lions starting XI and the decision paid dividends when the Liverpool striker sent England into a first-half lead with a powerful header.

Sweden, however, improved dramatically after the break and after Glen Johnson failed in his attempt to keep Olof Mellberg's finish out, the Olympiakos defender headed home a second to put Erik Hamren's team in front.

But Walcott made all the difference when England seemed to be crumbling, levelling the score with a 25-yard volley before laying on Danny Welbeck's outstanding winning goal.

England entered the match at a good tempo and with a surprising amount of positivity. Ashley Cole was not afraid to drive deep into the Swedish half and defensive midfielder Scott Parker found himself high enough up the pitch to test Andreas Isaksson for the first time with a powerful shot from 25 yards.

Looking the biggest threat in yellow was, predictably, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but passes lacking purpose and pace let him down at the end of two promising excursions towards Joe Hart's goal.

As had been the case in seven of their eight matches prior to this encounter, aerial play proved to be Sweden's undoing. Having whipped in the free kick from which Joleon Lescott scored against France, Steven Gerrard fired a fine long pass from an almost identical position that Carroll thundered home with a superb header.

Kim Kallstrom rifled an effort narrowly over the bar but Hart survived the first half without being severely tested while at the other end, Ashley Young was set free by Cole but failed to take advantage of the Chelsea full-back's smart one-touch pass and could only scuff a shot that trickled into the side netting.

It took Ibrahimovic less than four minutes to lay on Sweden's equaliser after the break but this was one assist he could not take too many plaudits for. Having failed to beat the England wall with a free kick from 25 yards out, the Serie A top scorer inadvertently sliced the rebound straight into the feet of Mellberg, who swept a left-footed effort shot past Hart that Johnson could only clear off the line and on to the inside of the post, with the ball subsequently bouncing back into the net.

Johnson had failed to push up after the initial set-piece had been repelled, playing Mellberg onside, and as they did against France, England retreated too deep in response to the Swedish pressure. Johnson recovered well to prevent Rasmus Elm from running through on goal but the panic did not end there.

Larsson sent a long free-kick deep into the England box and with Johnson and Lescott left beaten by the men they had attempted to mark, Mellberg rose to head beyond Hart from point blank range.

Hodgson's response was swift and quickly paid off. Walcott entered the fray in place of James Milner and after a Gerrard corner from the England left-hand side was weakly cleared, the Arsenal winger crashed a swerving volley beyond Isaksson from just outside the penalty area.

Ibrahimovic came close to grabbing a brilliant third with a thunderbolt of a shot that Hart palmed away but Walcott again proved the difference.

The 23-year-old darted in between two Sweden defenders before lifting a precise cross into Welbeck, who got in front of his marker before beating Isaksson with a sublime flick with his heel.

Welbeck's winner ensured Sweden's departure from the competition with one group game, against France, still to play, but England march on and will enter their final first round fixture against Ukraine requiring only a draw to secure progression.


donderdag 14 juni 2012

Euro 2012 Report Thursday 15 Juni

Italy 1-1 Croatia
Mandzukic exploits Chiellini error to cancel out Pirlo pearler
The Wolfsburg striker netted his third goal of the tournament to grab a crucial equaliser for the Vatreni after the playmaker curled home a fine free-kick in the first half

Croatia came from behind to secure a vital 1-1 draw with Italy at Euro 2012 on Thursday to set up an exciting final round of matches in Group C.

Andrea Pirlo gave the Azzurri a deserved lead towards the end of the first half with a sumptuous free kick from the edge of the box, but goalscoring revelation Mario Mandzukic earned his side a point late on.

Both sides took to the field of play with the same line-ups from their first matches of the tournament, despite question marks hanging over the likes of Mario Balotelli - who came into the encounter with a yellow card incurred in the 1-1 draw with Spain - but he kept his place ahead of Antonio Di Natale.

Meanwhile, Croatia's convincing 3-1 success over the Republic of Ireland meant their preparations for the match were far less complicated. 

The game was a frenetic affair from the word go. The Azzurri, seemingly on a high from their impressive display against the reigning European champions, showed their intent early on as they once more looked to attack their opponents on the break; Christian Maggio, Pirlo and Antonio Cassano all proved important
outlets once more.

Balotelli struck first inside the first three minutes, seeing a shot on the edge of the box whistle just wide of the target, but the Croats were keen to prove their worth in the encounter. Mandzukic, Sunday's hero with a pair of goals to his name, was actively involved in an ongoing duel with Giorgio Chiellini.

The Manchester City striker did not stop running throughout the half, always looking to find space for his team-mates to pick out a pass - Pirlo's delightful 50-yard through ball a highlight. And his encouraging link-up play with Cassano almost gave way to a goal, if not for Stipe Pletikosa's stop.

Croatia used their front pairing of Mandzukic and Nikica Jelavic to launch attacks. The Everton striker, in a rich vein of form, posed the Azzurri back-line a problem or two as he kept Gianluigi Buffon on his toes with a couple of headed efforts.

Italy began to mix their play up, with Balotelli's hard work and Cassano's slick touches in advanced areas proving troublesome for the Croatian defence to keep up with. The AC Milan striker pounced on a raking ball and jinked his way into the box but dragged his strike wide of Pletikosa's goal.

Wave after wave of Nazionale attacks flowed forward, despite the occasional Croatian burst down the left flank, with Luka Modric embroiled in a fascinating battle with Thiago Motta. 

Claudio Marchisio, who came close with a thunderous strike earlier in the half, ought to have opened the scoring on 37 minutes. Juventus team-mate Pirlo, who begun to pull the strings in midfield, released his colleague, but he could not beat Pletikosa from close range, despite getting two bites of the cherry.

But Italy took a deserved lead two minutes later. A free kick on the edge of the box was curled in magnificently by playmaker Pirlo, who claimed his 10th goal in Nazionale colours. It proved a fitting end to a fluid half of football in Poznan.

Croatia coach Slaven Bilic would have been understandably frustrated with his side's lethargic showing, and it appeared that his half-time team talk worked wonders. Jelavic, the thorn in Chiellini's side throughout the opening stages of the match, grew in stature as the game wore on.

Modric began to break through the shackles once imposed on him as the Croatians set up camp in the Italians' half, forcing their opponents to defend deeper and deeper. The impact of the Azzurri's most influential stars had died down considerably, meaning there could be only one outcome.

Mandzukic profited from Chiellini's misjudgment in the box from a cross to collect the ball at the far post and fire past Buffon off the post for a crucial equaliser with 18 minutes left on the clock. It appeared the Croats had found the initiative to go on and emerge victorious.

However, a subdued last 10 minutes was played out, with Italy again struggling to recapture their earlier fluency, despite the introductions of Di Natale and Sebastian Giovinco. For Croatia, they leave with a crucial point and go into their encounter with Spain, who face Ireland later on Thursday, on a high.

Spain 4-0 Ireland
Torres leads procession as Trapattoni's men are eliminated
A second-half flourish from Vicente del Bosque's side sees La Roja head into the crunch clash against Croatia in pole position to qualify as Group C winners

Republic of Ireland have been eliminated from Euro 2012 after a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Spain in Thursday's Group C encounter in Gdansk.

Fernando Torres, omitted from the starting line-up in the first match, scored a double, while David Silva and Cesc Fabregas each bagged a goal in a match that saw total Spanish domination from start to finish.

Each side had made just one change from their previous Group C match, with Torres and Simon Cox being introduced to the action in place of Fabregas and Kevin Doyle, and it was the two strikers who made an immediate impression at the start of the match.

Cox tested the gloves of Iker Casillas in the first minute of the game with a well-struck shot from the edge of the area. Torres did one better and gave the holders the lead just four minutes into the match, providing the nightmare start the Irish had feared.

The Chelsea man pounced on some uncertain defending on the edge of the box from Richard Dunne to drive through into the box and smash a vicious strike past Shay Given, giving La Roja an early lead.

With Vicente del Bosque’s side camped outside the Irish box for the majority of the first 45 minutes, Given was forced into making decent saves from long-range shots, but the Aston Villa goalkeeper remained solid to deny strikes from Xavi, Gerard Pique, and Andres Iniesta from outside the area.

Spain went through the first half in total domination of possession, with Xabi Alonso and Xavi controlling the central areas. However, the comfortable nature of their play somewhat lacked a cut-throat mentality, which kept the difference between the sides at just one goal heading into the break.

Del Bosque’s half-time team talk seemed to induce confidence in the world champions, and they doubled their lead just four minutes into the second period when the Irish shot themselves in the foot again with some poor defending.

Silva latched on to a poor Given punch inside the penalty area and coolly passed the ball through the legs of Dunne into the corner, giving Trapattoni’s men a mountain to climb.

Midway through the second half Ireland began to look more of a threat, with substitute Jon Walters providing a decent physical presence in the box. However, as they pushed forward in an attempt to claw a goal back, Spain looked dangerous on the counterattack, which ultimately led to their third goal of the match.

Silva pounced on a lackadaisical touch from Aiden McGeady inside the centre circle and slipped a pass through the middle for Torres, who confidently strutted forward and curled a shot into the right corner.

Fabregas heaped on the misery for Ireland in the 82nd minute after drifting into the area from the right and unleashing a thunderous strike past Given.

Spain now head in to the match on Monday against Croatia in pole position to qualify as group winners. Republic of Ireland take on Italy as Trapattoni’s men aim to generate some pride in their last game of Euro 2012.