Monday, 4 June 2012

Euro 2012: The Key Games in The First Round (Part 1)

The 14th European Championships begin on Friday afternoon with an opening match between co-hosts Poland and the winners of this competition in 2004, Greece.  The first part of Fan With A Laptop’s preview of this competition looks at the key matches in the first two rounds of the group stages.  An overview of the competition will be posted later on this week.

Russia V Czech Republic; Wroclaw, 8 June, 20:45 (19:45 BST)
Semi-finalists four years ago, Russia’s revival was checked by their unexpected failure to reach the World Cup finals two years ago. They retained Advocaat as coach and qualified for this tournament.  Russia’s first match will be against a Czech Republic side that were very much a shadow of their former selves during qualifying – but still finished ahead of Scotland in qualifying.  Their previous finals meeting in this tournament was a 3-3 draw at Anfield in Euro 96.

Germany V Portugal; Lviv, 9 June, 21:45 (19:45 BST)
Since reaching the final four years ago, the old German aura seems to have come back, reaching the World Cup semi Final two years ago.  All that seems to be missing is a trophy for Germany.  The first hurdle in their attempt to win their first championship in 16 years is a side they disposed of in their quarter final four years ago.  Portugal disappointed four years ago, and flopped in the World Cup, yet you cannot discount a side containing Cristiano Ronaldo.  The runners up in this group are seeded to play Spain in the semi finals.
Spain V Italy, Gdansk; 10 June, 18:00 (17:00 BST)
The entrance of the defending European Champions and World Cup winners, against the team Spain succeeded as World Champions in another repeat of a quarter final from four years ago (right).  If Spain had picked a group to ease them into a tournament, this would not be it – especially as the double champions are hampered by injuries to key men.  Yet Italy have had a nightmare period since their World Cup win in 2006 – struggling to that quarter final with Spain four years ago followed by elimination form the World Cup at the first hurdle – a feat only Brazil (in 1966) and France (in 2002) had previously “achieved”.  This may be the beginning of Italy’s shot at redemption.

France V England; Donetsk, 11 June, 19:00 (17:00 BST)
Our dearest neighbours make their tournament bow against one of the teams they love to hate – yet two years ago both sides were in different types of turmoil.  Since losing to Italy in the 2006 World Cup final – France have endured a similar nightmare phase as Italy – being knocked out of the group phase in this tournament four years ago (by Italy in a winner takes all group game in Geneva no less) and failing to get out of the group in the World Cup two years ago. Despite losing twice to Scotland, at least France were here four years ago.  England failed to qualify, and saw those who qualified ahead of them threaten to win before being cowed by Spain (who beat Russia in the semi finals) and Turkey (who beat Croatia in the quarters).  England go into this tournament having only recently appointed the experienced Roy Hodgson.  The omens are not great for England – in two meetings in this tournament, France won the last meeting (in Lisbon 8 years ago: 2-1) while the other one was a drawn affair (0-0 in Malmo twenty years ago) notable for a ferocious Stuart Pierce free kick that hit the bar moments after he was apparently head butted by Basil Boli.

Poland V Russia; Warsaw, 12 June, 20:45 (19:45 BST)
The hosts second game, and a must win game if they are to avoid the fate of Austria & Switzerland from four years ago – hosts who failed to make it into the knock out stages at their own party.  Russia will also be looking to win to try and win the group – remember the group runners up are seeded to face Germany in the quarter finals so Russia will be looking to avoid that fate.

Netherlands V Germany; Kharkiv, 13 June, 21:45 (19:45 BST)
While Portugal and Denmark play earlier on this day, this could well be the tie of the opening rounds as these two faces off for the third time in these championships since that semi final in Hamburg 24 years ago.  Their first meeting in these championships was a 3-2 win for West Germany in Naples at the 1980 championships, however it’s their next meeting that is fondly remembered as the Dutch avenged their World Cup final defeat in 1974 with a 2-1 win at Euro 88 that put the West Germans out on their own soil whilst setting the Dutch up for their own win.  Since then, the Dutch won 3-1 in Gothenburg at Euro 92, while the last meeting was a 1-1 draw eight years ago in Oporto.

Italy V Croatia; Poznan, 14 June, 18:00 (17:00 BST)
Despite Croatia’s late entry to UEFA, this is a fixture with history.  Croatia beat Italy in the qualifying rounds for Euro 96 in Italy, while Croatia have also won in a World Cup finals match in Kashima.  Given that Spain will be starting favourites against Ireland in the later match from this group, a result for either side will make them favourites to qualify alongside Spain.
Sweden V England; Kiev, 15 June, 21:45 (19:45 BST)
It used to be the case that England were always drawn to play Poland.  At the moment Sweden is the new Poland as this will be the third Finals out of 5 that these two have met, with there being two draws in the World Cups of 2002 and 2006.  The last meetings in this competition were in the qualifying stages of Euro 2000 (where Sweden won 2-1 at home and drew 0-0 at Wembley), while the only finals meeting was the infamous 2-1 win for Sweden twenty years ago (above) when they hosted the party.  Both sides will be hoping for a win that would put them ahead of France and Ukraine, and will see them avoid Spain in the quarter finals.  On the minus side, the group winners are seeded to play either Italy or Croatia.

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