The second games in Groups A & B delivered some fantastic football. Russia and Poland drew 1-1 in a hotly contested game with deep political connotations which consequently was overshadowed by the post-match violence involving fans from both nations. The Czechs kept their qualification hopes alive with a nervy 2-1 win over Greece. In Group B, Portugal snatched a late winner after giving away a 2-0 lead to win 3-2 against Denmark and throw the group wide open. In one of the most eagerly awaited games of the tournament, Germany outclassed the Netherlands to win 2-1 and sit top of Group B with one game left.
Here are 5 things we learned on days five and six.
1. Poland bounce back to thrill home fans
In another tale of this tournament’s co-hosts making a dramatic comeback, this time it was Poland who came from behind to thrill the home fans with one of the goals of the tournament from Jakub Blaszczykowski. It was a good performance from the Poles, who now just need to beat the Czechs to guarantee qualification from the group. Sadly, after the game mass brawls took place outside the Warsaw stadium as rival fans clashed in the streets which tainted the result somewhat.
2. Russia struggle against an organised, packed midfield
After demolishing the Czechs in their opening fixture, the Russians came up against a well-drilled Polish side spurred on by home advantage. The Polish set up in a compact 4-1-4-1 formation with the midfield triangle of Dudka, Polanski and Murawski restricting the amount of space available to Russia’s midfield of Shirokov, Denisov, and Zyryanov. As a result, the Russians lacked the fluidity of their opening match and struggled to get Dzagoev and Arshavin into the game as they would have liked. Indeed, Arshavin looked more like the player Arsenal fans are familiar with as he sulked and strolled around the pitch in the latter stages. At times he looked like someone had filled his socks with lead, barely able (or bothered) to lift his feet.
3. Wasteful Ronaldo yet to find top form for Portugal
Despite wowing Europe with his performances for Real Madrid and Manchester United for half a decade, CR7 is yet to fulfil his potential on the international stage. His overall performance against Denmark was a marked improvement on the first Group B game, as his trademark tip-toeing runs threatened the Danish defence on several occasions. As he is used to from his time in the Premier League, he was regularly hauled to the floor by bamboozled defenders. However, he missed a couple of clear-cut chances to see the game off, including one extraordinary miss that you couldn’t dream of him missing in the White of the Spanish champions. He will need to be at his best if the Portuguese are to make any impression on the tournament.
4. Holland on the brink of elimination
Germany’s victory over Holland means they are all-but qualified from Group B and will win the group if they avoid defeat against the Danish in their final game. Netherlands, meanwhile, have no points after two games and minus two goal difference. They need to beat Portugal in their last game and hope that the Germans beat Denmark if they are to finish second in the group. It’s certainly possible, but it’s not the position they would have hoped for going into a game with the Portuguese, who are vulnerable but dangerous in attack. Expect goals in their final group game.
5. Gomez silences critics with two outstanding goals
Criticised in some parts for his lack of ‘all-round game’ and negative impact on the flow of the German team’s attacking play, no one can doubt his ability in the box. Gomez continues to keep the prolific Klose out the team by scoring crucial goals when it matters. Bastian Schweinsteiger will be credited with two assists, and Germany owe as much to him as goal scorer Mario. The first was a beautiful swivel-turn to control Schweinsteiger’s through ball, a drop of the shoulder to sell Stekelenburg one way and finished the other. The second was even better; after movement out wide Gomez escaped the attentions of the Dutch defence and placed a 20 yard angled shot over the off-guard Dutch keeper. Before the tournament – and in the absence of the injured Spain striker David Villa – Gomez was favourite for the Golden Boot and his two goals tonight put him joint top with Russia’s Alan Dzagoev. Don’t be surprised to see the striker help himself to personal and collective honours this tournament.
Here’s a look at Group A & B going into the final first round games.
Tomorrow, Croatia look to qualify from Group C with a win against the impressive Italians, whilst Ireland will need more than a slice of luck on their side as they face the reigning World and European champions Spain.