Not your usual Poland v Russia image.
The day began on a slightly strange note. Graceful as ever, France's loveable left-back, Patrice Evra compared England's tactics to that of Chelsea's on their way to European glory. Not in a complimentary way either. In another fall-out from yesterday, Swedish boss Erik Hamren accused his players of being 'cowards' after their limp defeat at the hands of hosts Ukraine. Let's hope they have more white flag waving opportunities on Friday night.
In Group A, day 5 would prove to be something of a 'crunch day'. After opening fixture disappointment for co-hosts Poland and the Czech Republic both needed something positive otherwise the curtain was due to fall.
The evening game saw the biggest grudge match of EURO 2012 so far, as hosts Poland took on bitter old enemies Russia. A few gulps could be heard when this fixture originally came out and seeing that it also fell on Russia's national day the prospect for trouble seemed very likely indeed. The Polish Premier, Donald Tusk (yes, really) urged fellow Poles to show “maximum cordiality” with their former oppressors during an ill-advised organised march across Warsaw's Poniatowski Bridge to celebrate the event which commemorates the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990. You didn't have to be a genius to work out what would happen next. The Russians have proved already in this tournament that they aren't too slow with their fists and the Poles felt they had 400 years of scores to settle.
On the pitch itself was something of a belter. In an open, end-to-end encounter it was the Russians who struck first. On 37 minutes Arshavin curled in a free kick which was joyfully headed home by new golden boy, Alan Dzagoev, his third of the tournament. Despite their enterprising play the Poles faced an early exit. That was until Borussia Dortmund's Jakub Blaszczykowski scored the goal of the tournament so far with a searing left-footed effort twelve minutes into the second half. Blaszczykowski came from a very harsh background. As an eleven year old he even witnessed his own mother being stabbed to death by his father. He now captains his country and is a household name in his homeland, is the face of many advertising campaigns and attracts much admiration within Polish society.
Earlier on, still smarting from a 4-1 battering by Russia, the Czechs took on Greece. Needing a response they quickly found themselves two up after only six minutes firstly through Petr Jiracek and then Vaclav Pilar, the Greeks somehow managing to look even more clueless than they had in the first half against Poland. But then like the Poland game they slowly clawed themselves back into the game, thanks to complacency that had crept into the Czech play. Most culpable seemed to be Petr Cech. Having survived a slight fumble in the first half when a Greek effort was harshly ruled out for offside, fluffed his lines again in the second. Dropping the ball at the feet of Fanis Gekas who promptly tapped it into the empty net, the Chelsea stopped looked around for someone else to blame. Petr, is was your fault, we all saw you do it.
Following on from these games, Greece now need snookers following their 2-1 defeat. They have the awkward task of having to beat dark horses Russia, who only need a draw to qualify, then hope the other two can only manage a stalemate. The joint hosts Poland need a win and if Petr Cech continues to cover his gloves in margarine they may just have a chance.
Next up Holland v Germany.... Good grief.
Kerzhakov; worse than Carroll and Samaras combined!
After a long build up that seemingly nobody noticed finally the Championships gets under way with two fixtures that sum up the general 'meh' factor. It's fair to say we were hardly wetting ourselves in anticipation over Poland v Greece or even Russia versus the Czechs from the pre-labelled 'group of dull'. (That's Group A for those of you who may have nodded off). But more of that in a bit.
But before a ball had already been kicked, the issue that UEFA wished but fails to go away i.e. racism reared its head once more with some "isolated incidents of racist chanting" at an open Dutch training session in Krakow. Fortunately, for Platini's boys, the Dutch have so far failed to lodge a complaint but how long do we have to wait until the next one?
Mercifully, the opening ceremony lasted only twelve minutes; the main highlights being a rather hairy DJ Karmatronic bashing out some typically Eastern European techno and pianist Adam Gyorgy failing Diana Ross style with some keepie-ups. He should have stuck with Chopin.
When the action finally got under way, it was everything that we told not to expect. Predictably the pundits came up with the misused cliche of opening games being cagey affairs. It was pretty much the opposite of that. Poland went for an attack! attack! attack! approach and when the Greeks finally buckled thanks to some comedy defending and goalkeepin. But then it all got a bit weird. The all-action Polish goalscorer, Robert Lewandowski along with his team mates put their feet up and slowly but surely the Greeks crept back into the game. But then Sokratis Papastathopoulos was dismissed, for two none yellow cards, the referee also ignoring a blatant handball in the Polish area. It seemed as though Spanish whistle-blower, Carlos Velasco Carballo was a 'homer'. We had underestimated him. The Greeks came out fighting and thanks to some 'superman' antics by Sir Chesney in the Polish goal, they found their equaliser through Dimitris Salpigidis. The Arsenal man then compounded his error by hauling down the goalscorer to earn Greece a penalty and himself a red card. Salpigidis' celebrations were somewhat premature as the captain Giorgos Karagounis took responsibility and promptly saw his spot-kick saved by substitute keeper, Przemyslaw Tyton. A great game for football fans and scrabble aficionados alike.
The day's second game pitted a declining Czech side against an upwardly mobile Russian team. Petr Cech, so fantastically protected during Chelsea's Champions League triumph, was offered no such protection as the Russians threatened to run up a cricket score. Fortunately for him, Russia boasted a lumbering forward in the form of Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who seemed to have donned boots in the shape of toblerones. Even Andy Carroll must have been laughing at him. By the time he starting picking out people in the crowd Russia were leading 2-1 and not wishing to to let the Czechs back into a game they seemed so far out of, the unfortunate Kerzhakov got the hook and his replacement, the former Tottenham man Roman Pavlyuchenko, scored the last goal in an impressive 4-1 victory. With two goal Alan Dzagoev and old favorite Andrey Arshavin pulling the strings, Russia are now considered by some as 'dark horses'. Although they may have to consider ditching Kerzhakov who made Greece's Georgios Samaras look like something of a world beater.