Bordering on plain in the Ukraine

Euro 2012 – Day 4

Group D

England 1 – 1 France
Ukraine 2 – 1 Sweden

Our favourite studio team changed dramatically. McAllister the stalwart was playing the defensive role and Hamann was quickly substituted for an attack-minded Gary Breen. Last night, the line up changed into something far less glamorous. Dempsey is still talking through his tonsils, but he was joined by Dennis Wise (hah!) and David O’Leary to see out the end of Round 1.

England (Boo!) and France played out a pretty game of football. I know. I never thought I (or anyone else) would (ever) say it of either of these sides considering Ribery (that’s suppose to sound like Reeberee, not Rooberrry, David). Especially after the way England (Boo!) have been playing of late.
It didn’t even seem like a strenuous match. A tidy stroll across the turf maybe. It certainly wasn’t the fire and brimstone affair promised in the lead up, or a rerun of the 100 year war. There was no attrition, no prisoners, quarter or rations given or taken. The whole affair was rather bloodless. The commentators were offered very little opportunity to break out their battle-weary metaphor reference guide. The teams played with cool tact and assertive discipline. They looked good. Well-drilled – something new for an England (Boo!) squad. With no Lampard, Stevie G took charge and laid on the first goal. Manchester City’s Nasri bagged a beautiful equaliser a short while later. There’s not much else to say. The teams seemed happy with the draw*.

Probably because they didn’t expect the Ukraine to turn up for game 2. Can’t blame them. No one did, not the Swedes, the commentators, not even the Ukrainians.

Admittedly I dozed off during a very poor first half, but prayers were answered during half-time (not mine – I need the sleep). At home in Kiev, Shevchenko, a striker in the snow-blind winter of his career, exploded into the game. He woke up and with him, the Ukrainian squad, the stadium and the watching country did too. The Swedes unwittingly started the fire when they took the lead. They looked comfortable with it too. For a few minutes. Then Shevchenko scored two goals and set the place and his team’s chances of qualifying for the next round alight. He’ll probably run for office on the back of it. Be successful too.

England (Boo!) have never beaten Sweden in a competitive match**. Now, in order to qualify, they have to. Poor wee Dennis didn’t like being told that.

I can’t remember a more exciting first round in any tournament. The second is shaping up too. It begins tonight with Greece facing the Czech Republic and Poland trying to take points from an invincible-looking Russian team. If Russia win they’ll qualify for the next round. There’s a good chance they’ll go all the way in the form they are in. But then again, the ball is round.

*England Manager Roy Hodgson was so relieved with the result, he said the word ‘ability’ at least 14 times in the post match interview.

**They did once but it was in a friendly in the 60s.

Comments

  1. Your reports are a godsend, Lee. All the news the amateur world football fan needs to know. Informative and entertaining. Combined with the all encompassing tournament preview from Dennis. Many thanks guys. Keep them coming.

  2. Dennis Gedling says:

    I hope Didi Hamann is back in the studio soon. His intense concentrated blinking on the opening night’s coverage was quite unnerving.

  3. Phantom says:

    Some disturbing snaps of Russian skinheads marching to the game against Poland in Warsaw last night. There seems to be a fair amount of angst built up from the past century or so.

  4. Dennis Gedling says:

    A Polish friend once told me that the Eagle on the Polish flag faces West so it gives Russia a chance to stab it in the back when it’s not looking. That sums up a lot of it. There’s a bit debate about the what the big banner meant at the game too. The massive banner the Russians had was of someone who freed Russia from Poland some 100 or 200 years ago with the words ‘THIS IS RUSSIA’. It’s unsure as to whether they’re saying this guy sybolises Russia or they’re saying that Poland is Russia.

  5. Dennis Gedling says:

    Big debate, not bit debate.

  6. Phantom says:

    It looked like it was meant to provoke.

  7. Mark Doyle says:

    Lee, I think you need to do a bit of research for this European soccer competition. Ukraine had reasonably good form in the practice games leading into the tournament. I believe that Spain might struggle without the influential David Villa. England are a very ordinary team. With respect to the Dutch team, whom were runners-up at last world cup, there have been rumours of instability. Croatia might surprise and do a 2004 Greek effort. France should perform well, but their bizarre actions at the last world cup will have a big question mark for this tournament. Germany are in a good position and their young team should benefit from a reasonably successful last world cup in South Africa.

  8. Peter B thank you for some very kind words. I will try to post daily.

    Dennis I miss Didi too, but have to laugh because I would probably miss the commentary from the others too. O’Leary especially. I was in stitches at him this morning.

    Phantom, Dennis, I’m no historian, but I think the Poles and the Russians have been giving it to each other for hundreds of years this is just the contemporary version – I’m talking about the banner now not the march beforehand which was hideous.

    Some of the banners at games in Scotland recently have been just as provoking. The Celtic fans orchestrated a huge display of the four hoursemen as a ‘jest’ to Rangers fans, individual fans held up cardboard cut-out gravestones, they even passed a coffin over their heads.

    Brilliant Mark, thanks. This is my favourite part of football. The post-mortem, the debate, that we all see the same things and see them so differently. The views I flippantly express here are only an opinion, and opinions are like bottoms. Everyone has one. I hope the timbre of the posts suggests they are less than scholarly. I like to have fun with the words more than anything. I love football and have watched almost every minute of this tournament. That is the primary source of research for my commentary. If I make a mistake I expect to be corrected.

    I hope you don’t mind but I have responded to some of your comments…

    The Ukraine are well past their best. Their warm up games for this tournament meant very little. The are a poor side when you look at the likes of Germany. The fact that they rely so heavily on Voronin and Shevchenko speaks about the (lack of) depth of quality in their squad. Spain played without a striker against Italy and still looked like one of the most attack-minded teams in the competition, there can be little doubt about their quality. Croatia can’t win this tournament. They don’t have the depth or quality across the board. France won every game, except the first in the qualifying round. They’ve gone 21 consecutive games without defeat. I have been loath to pick a favourite, but I would have to say the Germans look most likely. They looked like a very good club side this morning.

    Thank you all for reading!

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