Euro 2012 Day 1: Shocking Szczesny, Ragged Rosicky And Awesome Arshavin
The Euros got of a bright start yesterday with 7 goals on the opening day and 2 sending-offs to boot. The first match was low on quality but high on drama whereas the second was a classic exhibition of quick counter attacking football.
In the opening match, hosts Poland and Greece shared a point in a 1-1 draw that saw Wojciech Szczesny sent off. Poland deservedly took the lead in the first half and looked in control as Greece were reduced to 10 men but their refusal to take the initiative in the second half cost them as Greece bounced back. In the end, Poland were lucky to escape with a point with the Greek captain missing a penalty.
Wojciech Szczesny was at the heart of the action although not in a positive sense. He came darting off his line for a cross that led to Greece’s first goal and then got sent off half-way through the second half for bringing down Salpingidis who was through on goal.
The young keeper was definitely to blame for the first goal. It was a cross that was being dealt with by the Polish defense and Szczesny should have stayed put. For the second goal though, I don’t think he had much of a choice as Poland got caught trying to play off-side on the edge of their box. It can be argued that he actually helped Poland earn a point as the penalty was eventually saved by stand-in keeper Tyton.
I indicated yesterday that Szczesny might go through long periods without having to make a save and must be focused when he was called into action. Until the goal was conceded on 51 minutes, Greece had not mustered a single shot on goal. So while his decision-making can certainly be better, the young Pole also has to control his enthusiasm to get involved when his team are dominating.
There are suggestions that he’s overrated because of his personality but you need to be a strong character to deal with the inevitable set backs that goalkeepers face. Wojciech’s personality will allow him to deal with the lows better than his predecessor at Arsenal. On a positive note, it looks like Poland may not progress beyond the group and Szczesny won’t be involved anymore – that’s one less injury concern then.
In the other match, Russia produced some scintillating counter-attacking football to crush the Czechs. Andrey Arshavin exploited the space afforded by the Czech midfield and was influential throughout the match. He assisted twice and but for poor finishing from Kerzhakov, Russia would have embarrassed the Czechs even more.
As noted elsewhere, Arshavin is unable to turn in performances like these at Arsenal because his team-mates rarely find the space for the Russian to play into with most teams sitting deep against the Gunners. Arsene Wenger has become acutely aware of this and has used Arshavin in later stages of games where the manager feels that the stretched nature of the game would suit the little Russian. Arshavin’s test will come against Greece, who will surely be better organised next time around.
Tomas Rosicky played in his favoured position behind the front three but a lack of understanding and the poor quality of team-mates around him made his performance look worse than it was. Worryingly, he literally stopped running after 70 minutes. While there is a concern that he’s not fully recovered from injury, I feel it’s down to his fitness and Arsenal should not bank on getting more than 65-70 minutes from the Czech next season.
Today sees 4 Gunners involved in what promises to be the most exciting group. Van Persie and the Dutch take on Bendtner’s Danes while Mertesacker will try to contain Cristiano Ronaldo (gulps) and Podolski will try to inflict damage on the Portuguese at the other end.
I feel Netherlands will put down a marker in today’s match. Robben and Afellay should partner Van Persie up front and the trio with Sneijder behind them could give a torrid time to the Danish back line. At the same time, the Dutch need to wary of the influence of young Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen (an Arsenal target?) but if Van Bommel and De Jong can deal with that threat, the Danes may be forced back for long periods in the game. 3-0 to Holland.
Joachim Low prefers the experience and leadership of Per Mertesacker so the tall Arsenal defender could square off against Ronaldo & Co. That match up worries me, not least because Mertesacker has looked suspect in the friendlies leading up to the tournament. Germany will rely heavily on Mesut Ozil to add creativity going forward.
It’s a chance for Arsenal fans to watch how Podolski goes and I suspect some may be disappointed because he won’t see the ball as much as the hard-working Muller on Germany’s right side. Let’s hope he makes the best of the possession that he does get and bangs one in or two. 2-1 to Germany.