Stroking their chins knowledgeably, those 'in the know' considered that Group C contained by far the best team in EURO 2012 and any fool could see that it also contained the worst.
Poor old Ireland. They came bouncing to Poland and Ukraine on a misguided wave of optimism. In qualifying they had a solid defence which, if it could keep Italy, Croatia and (whisper it) even the Spanish out they could even claim a few scalps and make it out of the group stages.... just like the good old days. Day Eleven saw the eighteenth anniversary of their famous defeat of Italy in New York. But that was team of Houghton, Staunton, Irwin and Roy Keane. Now the same Roy Keane was being vilified for his comments on the ITV panel about the squad and horror of horrors! even the ever-partying Irish supporters. Ireland had improved but defeat was hideously inevitable.
Antonio Cassano poked Italy ahead before Mario Balotelli's spectacular effort doubled their lead then was quickly gagged by teammates before he could make his own point to the bench. Keith Andrews, who had by far looked to be Ireland's most dangerous player, still found time to be sent off and Ireland were sunk. Roy continued to scowl and whether he liked it or not the Irish fans continued to enjoy themselves.
Meanwhile, the Spanish huffed and puffed against a Croatia side who, with a little more accuracy and devilry, could have put the holders out. Sadly their attackers lost their compass, maybe amidst the smoke from their fans flares. (UEFA are said to be annoyed) Ivan Rakitić, in particular, somehow managed to hit Casillas with a header when he should have hit the net. Spain wanted to walk the ball into the net and in the end through Jesus Navas, that's exactly what they did. Spain could now face France or even England, the Croats wound up with a mouth full of turf as their tears helped water the Gdansk pitch.
Cloggers: A divided Dutch squad taste bitter defeat.
Two survivers of EURO 2004, who following some impressive performances with their respective countries, went on to become global superstars but have since failed to light up another tournament. Today was the day when one of these men finally brought his club form to that of the International stage. No, not Wayne Rooney, his turn will come. We're speaking of none other than the ever-preening, ever posing, young Cliff Richard look-a-like, Cristiano Ronaldo. A man who is so full of himself that he has separate facilities to that of his Portuguese teammates and is even able to employ two personal minders. Poor old Raul Miereles enjoys no such luxury. One thing Ronaldo has on his side is that so long as he can deliver the goods, the rest of the squad are not also prepared to put up with his rather inflated ego but to gently give it a little massage too. Compare that to the ever self-destructive Neatherlands squad who always seem to take a perverse pleasure in machine-gunning themselves in their clogs. You can see why the Portuguese were favoured to advance ahead of their Dutch rivals.
Holland needed to win by two goals in order to have any chance of qualifying and did themselves no end of good by taking the lead through a curling effort by Rafael van der Vaart. Meanwhile his North London counterpart Robin van Persie looked to have taken some pounds off his value through another profligate performance. Meanwhile Ronaldo began to make life a living hell for the Dutch defence, two goals later (he could easily have had a hat-trick) and Portugal, Ronaldo n' all, were safely in the Quarters and face-off with Czech Republic. The Dutch were heading home, pointless but probably still convinced that they were at least as good as anyone else.
Such was the fine balance in Group B there was a possibility of the Germans being knocked out. It would have taken a whole set of unlikely circumstances to send them back to the Fatherland, one of which would have been a defeat to Denmark. When Michael Krohn-Dehli equalised
Lukas Podolski's early goal (on his 100th appearance for the national team) it looked a possibility. But then this was against Germany. The Danes hadn't beaten the Germans in a major competition since EURO '92 and it wasn't going to happen tonight. With ten minutes to go, yet another youngster, the colourfully named Lars Bender, scored his first for Germany and sent the Mannschaft through to face their economic bitches, Greece.
Unexpected scene of the day: Greece finally has a reason to celebrate.
The Russians and the Poles entered the business end of the group stage as favourites to make the Quarter-Finals. As we were so often reminded, Poland have never even won a game at the European Championships, tonight would be a good time to start. Their opponents came in the guise of an unpredictable Czech Republic. Nowhere near the class of 1996 and 2004 but still potentially dangerous, even with Milan Baros leading the line. The Russians had an altogether easier task against the Greeks. Once derided as the 'worst team' at the finals after their first half slapstick antics against the Poles, but that was before the Irish displayed their defensive 'skills'. Judging by their second half performances in that game and against the Czechs who knows what may happen in this curious competition?
As is usual practice at this stage of the tournament both games kicked off simultaneously. Pre-kick off we were treated to Shearer banging on about his recent trip to Warsaw. Sick of Salford already, Al? Meanwhile the BBC's coverage went straight down Stereotype Street with a predictable little film of how Poland has combated Communism and is now ready to face the world...hackety, hackety, hack. Needing to fill time, Gary risks a political question to his panel of David Moyes, Alan Shearer and the ever-smiling Clarence Seedorf. After one or two monosyllabic responses from Moyes and Shearer, Seedorf rises like a Dutch Dalai Lama and speaks with some enlightenment about South Africa, always grinning. Sensing the need to turn matters back to football Lineker turns on Moyes and tries to get him to 'fess-up' about the Spurs rumours. Davie bats very straight and is generally given an easy time. Gary's no Paxo.
When the game gets underway in Wroclaw, Poland are boyed by a huge flag to match the 'This is Russia' one their old friends used in the previous group game. They do what they've done in the previous two matches and attack, attack, attack! The Czechs seem patient enough just to see how things go. Robert Lewandowski had the best chance of the game, his effort fizzing wide, we saw pretty much nothing of him again. The Polish manager Franciszek Smuda worried that his team might freeze and as the weather began to become more ominous, slowly but surely they start to become a lot more rigid. Meanwhile, in Warsaw the Russians go for the jugular. Strangely Aleksandr Kerzhakov is again preferred to Pavlyuchenko up front, despite one of the worst displays ever seen by a front man in a major tournament when Russia faced the Czechs. He actually comes close to scoring at one point but many just think he was trying to hit the corner flag. As half time approaches both games are tied at 0-0 meaning both Russia and the Czech Republic are going through. Then Greek captain Giorgos Karagounis, who looks likes like the love child of Mel Gibson and Joey Barton, is put through and puts it past the flailing arms of Russia's Vyacheslav Malafeev. Unbelievably, the Russians are in big trouble and the Greeks could be going through. We are all reassured that it won't really stay like that. Of course it won't.
The second half begins with the Czechs, now knowing that a draw is gonna do them the no good, begin to attack. The Poles look confused and decide to let them. their logic seems confused, their manager looks just befuddled. Russia, who had dominated their match before conceding look equally all at sea and could easily have gone two down as Karagounis is tripped in the area. Everyone thought it was a penalty, even Ignashevich who committed the foul. Everyone, that was with the glaring exception of Swedish referee Stefan Wittberg, who was probably still miffed at his team's exit. He flashes the Greek captain a yellow card for simulation who then nearly breaks down in tears at the whole injustice of it all. Back in Wroclaw, with Vaclav Pilar pulling the strings down the right the Czech Republic now sniff blood. Theodor Gebre Selassie, one of the finds of the tournament so far, terrorises the Poles over on the left flank, it's only a matter of time. Only acrobatics from goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton and some industrial defending is keeping them out. Then in the 72nd minute, after some surprisingly neat and unselfish work from Milan Baros found the hairy Petr Jiráček's surge into the area. Jiráček sidestepped the lunging Boenisch and rolled the ball into the net. This meant that the heavily fancied Russians were going out, only their deadly foes, the Poles, could save them now. Which they almost did at the death. Jakub Blaszczykowski's last ditch effort cleared miraculously off the line.
So the Russians go home and Poland left to cry on the sidelines whilst everyone else enjoys their party. So, with the Czechs and the Greeks into the Quarter Finals, Gary Lineker closed the BBC's coverage with a lame but irresistible financial pun. "Greece may be heading out of the EURO but they are still in the EUROS" he deadpanned. Boom, and indeed boom.
Thunderbolts and Lightning! Very, very Frightening!
Day Eight saw the still unfancied England fly back to the Ukraine where they would face bogey team Sweden. It was to prove to be a fairly dramatic encounter but first...
UEFA are looking into reports of a banana being thrown by Croatian fans at misfiring Italian striker, Mario Balotelli. Expect to see a little tap on the wrist and told not to be such naughty, naughty boys.
At the wonderfully named Dombass Stadium where Ukraine faced France, Group D's second round of matches began ominously with a crack of thunder that nearly took out the TV signal just as La Marseillaise filled the Donetsk air. Fortunately we weren't robbed nearly of seeing 'the missing Neville brother' Franck Ribery's contorted face as the anthem came to its dramatic end. Four minutes later, and with only Moses deeming the pitch to be passable, the game was halted. Faced with the horror of filling for at least 45 minutes before the next scheduled ad break, Adrian Chiles plumbed for a Cliff Richard 'Wimbledon' gag before asking the panel for some weather related anecdotes. Gareth Southgate somehow shoehorns in cricket, whereas the ever entertaining Gordon Strachan retells a story of a snowy night in Aberdeen. With nothing else to go to apart from the England v France game, Chiles is somewhat relieved to hear that the game was to be restarted at 6pm BST but had to remind the viewers that this meant Emmerdale would now not be shown until 8.30pm. Not that there was anything else on the other side mind you.
Sadly when the game got underway, it couldn't match the pyrotechnic show which had so delighted/ terrified those in the stadium for the previous fifty-five minutes. Despite the efforts of national hero Andriy Shevchenko, the home nation played second fiddle to a French side regaining something of their confidence. "No French side has won a game at the European Championships without either Zidane or Platini in the team" we were constantly informed, but as soon as Jeremy Menez had put France one up with a tidy finish following some trickery from Ribery. Three minutes later it was two, Benzema found Newcastle's
Yohan Cabaye on the edge of the area who fired in a low shot which beat a curly-headed but balding Pyatov in the Ukraine goal. Cabaye later also hit the post and so it was France who took themselves to the top of Group B.
England supporters, finding themselves at a numerical disadvantage before their game with Sweden, where given a great boost before kick-off. The England Band were back!! What do you mean 'Boo!!'? For those of you who decided not to watch the news and Emmerdale (how could you?) the further bit of good news was that the game was put back until eight o'clock so that there was no clash. Pretty perfect for us then. Although it meant that we missed all of the BBC's build up, direct from Sunny Salford! The game itself was one of the most dramatic of the tournament so far, although Radio 5 Live's Alan Green took a twisted pleasure in reminding us about the "lack of quality". England look comfortable in the first half. Andy Carroll, selected ahead of Oxlade-Chamberlain to keep the Swedes on their toes, literally does that when he nuts in an opener from a Steven Gerrard. But then England begin to sit back, much to the growing misery of Mark Lawrenson who you fear may pick up his revolver and take a walk in the woods anytime soon. The second half is only four minutes old when England hit the snooze button and after some chaotic defending, the ever bearded Olof Mellberg's shot rebounds off Joe Hart and Glen Johnson and into the back of the net. Memories of 1992 come flooding back and Mellberg, who let's face it looks pretty conspicuous, wanders past three or four England defenders to head in Sweden's second. The ghosts of England's past were gathering and swirling overhead. Sensing disaster, Uncle Woy pulls off the ineffectual (again-although he was light years better than Ashley Young) James Milner and sends on Theo Walcott. A general feeling of 'meh' soon turns to disbelief as his speculative effort flew in to make it two-a-piece. Then, sensing some decent headlines for once, Walcott's run opens up the Swedish defence like a can of sardines and his cross is met by Danny Welbeck who flicks it into the Swedish net. 3-2 and the Swedes are out! Who believes in bogey teams anyway?
What did the media's choice as the new England manager make of all that, we wonder? Best be on the lookout for a flash car with a wound-down driver seat window and a TV camera lens shoved into it then.
Ah feck! Irish eejits are out of EURO 2012.
It took seven days of the tango ball flying off into orbit or demasculating defensive walls, but thanks to Italy's Andrea Pirlo we have our first free-kick goal of EURO 2012. Pity that it may all count for nothing though, as Mario Mandzukic's well taken equaliser for Croatia means that Italy will need to beat the Republic of Ireland in order to qualify for the knockout stage. Pirlo was the heartbeat of the Italian side, although anything he put in front of a misfiring Mario Balotelli inevitably wound up in the crowd. Similarly, Tottenham's Luka Modric ran Croatia's midfield and will certainly be in demand over the summer. Not that Harry Redknapp will need to worry as he was given the old tin tack. In typical 'Arry fashion he found time to pop his head out from the driver's window and happily jabbered to the good people of the press about how gutted he was. The question is, will he leave his usual financial time bomb ticking away at White Hart Lane?
The happy go lucky Irish, who were mercilessly crushed by the Croatians, came back for more punishment. This time they were whipped by a sadistic Spain and the role of Torquemada himself was played by a strangely resurgent Fernado Torres. The Spanish ditched their rather odd 4-6-0 formation after the 1-1 draw with Italy and stuck El Nino up front instead of Fabregas. Torres, looking back to his old self in a bright, red shirt, looked far too sharp for a docile Irish defence. Picking up on an early mix-up he slapped the ball past a surprised Shay Given after just four minutes to edge the Irish nearer to the plane home. Once more Roy Keane was apoplectic on the ITV panel and his slow, burning rage simmered further with every defensive blunder. Again Iniesta sparkled and is becoming one of the players of the tournament. Just after half time he dribbled unchecked down the Irish right before his shot was parried by Given. It fell to the feet of Manchester City's David Silva who had time to dance about a bit before slotting the ball into the net. With twenty minutes to go again the Irish defence fell asleep and Torres was able to race through and slot home a third. There'd be no chance of a hat-trick though as an unsentimental Del Bosque dragged hi off. Fearing no further danger, Ireland (and the cameraman) dozed off for another forty winks allowing substitute Fabregas to belt home his second of the tournament and Spain's fourth of the game.
With that defeat Ireland become the first team to go home. Trapattoni's men may have one last role to play though. A victory over his native Italy will send the Azurri home to face another tomato parade, although a draw between Croatia and Spain will ensure that anyway. Mama mia!
Day six was the day that the 'Group of Death' finally began to live up to it's name, especially if that 'death' refers to the reputation of some of great and the good. Throughout the game between Portugal and Denmark our old friend Ronaldo was at his posturing worst and drew a blank. Even the heavily criticised Postiga managed to find the net as Portugal scored three in a five goal thriller. The Real Madrid man, who finds the net for fun in Spain, missed several presentable chances and seemed to hate his team mates. To be fair two of his colleagues are Pepe and Nani, so his hatred is quite understandable. Meanwhile, one man who's reputation is little less glittering, a certain Nicklas Bendtner scored twice as the Danes pulled back a two goal defect. But it turns out that in a Danish shirt he's not quite as useless as Emmanuel Adebayor thought as he now has an incredible six in five against the Portuguese. Fortunately, for the profligate Cliff Richard look-a-like, substitute Silvestre Varela hit something of a screamer to hand his team a vital 3-2 win. Denmark probably edged it In terms of tattoos though, with Agger and Kjaer in their side, although Miereles ran them quite close.
After yesterday's grudge match between Poland and Russia, the evening kick off saw yet another fixture with a touch of spice. The tension was built before the Holland v Germany game by using the old music from the Krypton Factor. But not even Gordon Burns could have saved the Dutch from a first half humiliation. Robin van Persie, who had something of a nightmare in the first game against the Danes, missed another succession of decent chances before the Germans took the game by the scruff of the neck. Unable to live with their opponents the Dutch found themselves two goals down thanks to two finishes from Mario Gomez, taking his EURO 2012 tally to three. The Dutch looked pedestrian and out of ideas as Germany had the cigars out. Holland looked like they'd been on the funny fags. This also seemed a good time to begin to wonder who's hair transplant looks the most convincing Wesley Sneijder's or Wayne Rooney's? Rooney had an appointment with a pair of clippers in Ashley Young's room and now looks a bit like Travis Bickle from 'Taxi Driver'.
The second half saw the timely introduction Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for Ibrahim Afellay and Rafael van der Vaart on for the surely soon to be retired Mark van Bommel, who happens to be Bert van Marwijk's son-in-law. Might be an awkward Christmas at the van Bommel's this year. The Dutch move onto the Red Bull and come to life! Finally, van Persie, who'd been playing as though possessed by Georgios Samaras, hits an absolute belter and it's game on! Bastian Schweinsteiger tries to halt it all with some good old German cynicism. Meanwhile, Arjen Robben was given the hook and decided to display his frustration by leaving the pitch on the opposite side and trudging past the Dutch fans. "There's no 'I' in team", offers Mark Lawrenson somewhat unhelpfully. The childish giggle was left until the end of the game when German sub Lars Bender was introduced to the action, strangely Lawro refused to make a gag about that one.
As many tipped, Germany have the group virtually in the bag. Unless results go very strangely in their favour, the Dutch look to be seeing Schiphol Airport a lot sooner than they would have hoped.
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.
Oi! Sleepy Frenchman! Wake up!
June 11th saw Group D get underway with the game that many were looking forward to and perhaps dreading in equal measure. But shock horror! England put up a fairly decent performance. A 'new look' Three Lions took on a very familiar looking France, the inclusion of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain in the English starting eleven causing many media outlets to virtually self-combust. Suspended Wayne Rooney had even given his new barnet a first birthday brush-over to mark the occasion. But then just when things were looking positive the injury jinx struck again. This time it was goalkeeping coach Ray Clemence snapped his achilles in a pre-match warm-up. We're now just waiting for Bryan Robson's shoulder to involuntarily go 'pop'.
When the game got underway England showed more passion and desire in the first ten minutes then throughout the whole South African debacle. Sadly the same cannot be said about the commentary box as Andy Townsend's reaction to James Milner rounding French 'keeper Lloris and predictably putting it wide was to pronounce 'I think he should score'. Such insight. Such insight. Half an hour had gone by and just as tension began to build Steven Gerrard swung in a free kick for Joleon Lescott to head home. Instinctively John Terry wheeled away, punching the air in delight. It was all down to him. He thoroughly deserved to celebrate! (We may have made that bit up) Sadly the joy was only to last nine more minutes. Lescott's Manchester City colleague Sami Nasri found some space and scored the first goal from outside of the box in EURO 2012 to level things up then promptly made a 'shushy' gesture towards the French journos who thought he wasn't deserving of his place. That told them. Joe Hart would not be best pleased with that, suggests ITV pundit Patrick Vieria at half-time. Meanwhile, host Adrian Chiles took a more lackadaisical approach to anchoring the coverage by allowing Jamie Carragher to take over the questioning, leaving Vieria to look somewhat befuddled.
The second half ebbed and flow towards a draw which probably suited both teams. Not even the introduction of of the anti-super-sub, Jordan Henderson, could make the vital difference. Fans from both teams gave it their all except for a mustachioed French fan who obligingly fell asleep for the cameras and the England band who were refused entry despite assurances from the Football Association and UEFA, the band were not allowed to bring their instruments into the Donetsk's Donbass Arena. No reason was given for the decision, we could probably think of a few.
Ukraine v Sweden began with lots of obligatory shots of female blonde Swedish fans as both teams struggled as much as the viewers. The main shock for Premier League fans was not only the sight of a 108 year old Shevchenko still leading the line for Ukraine but that Andriy Voronin had chopped off his ponytail. He's still rubbish though.
After a goalless first half the Swedes draw first blood with an instinctive goal from shy, retiring Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A Ukrainian player collapsed like a heap during the build up but Sweden kept playing. In the end it's up to ref and he rightly gave the goal. But then like Roy of the Rovers Shevchenko comes to life and scores with a flying header just three minutes later!! BBC co-commentator Martin Keown opts for some 'ye olde english'..."cometh the hour, cometh the man..." and probably regrets it. Not to be undone Jonathon Pearce, never short of a touch of hyperbole, goes nuts when Andriy Shevchenko gets his second and starts quoting Ukranian poetry. This is on the basis that the poet shared the legendary striker's surname. Nice research but sometimes you get the impression certain football commentators don't really 'get' their audience. With a home victory on the cards the Swedes push forward in greater numbers, Oleg Blokhin, the Ukrainian coach reacts by hunting out a third. Dramatic stuff. Meanwhile there's a curious camera shot of a Ukrainian fan hooded in a sinister, black, gimp mask, Amsterdam stylee. Creepy. In the last minute former Bolton wastrel, Johan Elmander has a golden chance in the last minute to make it 2-2 but as usual he blazes it over.
Despite Ukraine's home advantage and their poor record against the Swedes there are some pundits and interviewers who suggest that that the English have played their hard game and now it's simply a task of beating the other two. We've been there before.
Creepy. Ukrainian gimp mask.
Rocking the 'beanie' hat look, Croatian manager, Slaven Bilic.
In Gdansk, Group C opened with something of a head-scratcher. Champions Spain began their 'Clash of the Titans' match against Italy with a decidedly unorthodox and some might say, arrogant '4-6-0' formation. A system last employed, unsuccessfully as it turned out, by footballing giants Scotland against the Czech Republic a year or so back. Taking his cue from Barcelona rather than Craig Levein, Vicente del Bosque, (or if you prefer the First Marquis, the Duke of Del Bosque as he is now referred, sounds a bit grander than Sir Alf) felt that playing Cesc Fabregas in an advanced role was preferable to poor old Fernando Torres. Too clever by half? The Italians seemed to think so, and throughout the first half looked by far the more dangerous of the two sides. It wasn't enough to keep the crowd entertained though, who took no time to indulge themselves in the dreaded Mexican wave.
The Spanish only seemed to carry a threat when Iniesta had the ball at his feet. Meanwhile, the Mario Balotelli roadshow continued in earnest. A moment of magic one minute, a great chance spurned the next and a general malevolence which convinced you that one way or the other he wasn't going to see out the ninety. Well-coiffured Azzurri boss, Cesare Prandelli soon took matters into his own hands and replaced Super Mario with Antonio Di Natale who almost immediately added to his 29 goals with Udinese with a delightfully taken goal on the hour. Even without a recognised striker, Spain sprang to life and equalised almost immediately through the advanced Fabregas. Torres must have been suicidal at this point. And yet he was soon given his chance to impress, but the substitute promptly threw it all down the toilet again missing several gilt-edged opportunities. Di Natale could have even won it for the Italians who look pretty damned impressive.
It will be interesting to see if the Spanish employ a similar system against the Irish on Thursday who, judging by their nightmarish performance against Croatia, will cause them little problems.
On ITV's coverage it took Peter Drury nanoseconds to mention "the craic" and almost as long for Ireland to doze off and allow Mario Mandzukic's header to elude Shay Given and put the Croatians ahead. Much to the annoyance of talksport's Richard Keys, a phantom whilstle-blower plagued the rest of the first half. The whistle was clearly heard a as Sean St.Ledger headed in after 19 minutes. Former Tottenham defender Vedran Corluka, who was meant to be picking St.Ledger up must have thought his prayers had been answered and for worrying split-second it seemed as though the referee found a reason to disallow it, he hadn't. From this point the 'luck of the Irish' was all going to be bad.
Nikica Jelavic put the Croats back in front just before the interval despite appearing to not just look offside but in another postal district. However, replays showed that the final touch came off an Irish leg. Whatever Trapatonni had said at half time promptly blew up in his face as Mandzukic again used his noggin via a humourous off-the-post-off-Shay Given deflection to put Croatia 3-1 up. Later on Ireland should have had a penalty when Robbie Keane was upended in the box; but for most of the game they were totally outplayed and out-thought by a fluent Coatia and beanie-hatted, Slaven Bilic . Coupled by some interesting substitutions, the Irish have got not just a mountain but a whole range to climb if they are going to get out of Group C.
The Van Persie air-shot
The day began with poor old Rio announcing in the tabloids (rather than twitter for a change) that his England career was all but over. So no 'World Cup Wind Ups' in 2014 then?
Twitter warrior Joey Barton took to the web again,suggesting he would have featured in the England squad at Euro 2012 were it not for his behavioural problems on and off the pitch. "Why are people saying [I] 'can't get in squad etc'?" "On ability I walk into the squad, on behaviour I don't." We leave that up to Joey to figure that one out.
Predictable story of the day. It appears that during the game in Wroclaw Czech defender Theodor Gebre Selassie was the victim of monkey chants during his country's European Championship defeat against Russia, according to anti-racism campaigners "small section of the crowd" were responsible.
If we thought that Group A was the 'group of dull', Day 2's fixtures in Group B saw the real thing. The Dutch came up against a stubborn Danish side who had the gall to take an early lead thanks to some trickery from Michael Krohn-Dehli. Holland huffed and puffed in front of goal, Robben hit the woodwork before being denied a blatant penalty but Denmark refused to let go of their lead despite 29 shots being fired at their goal. We wouldn't be cruel to include Robin van Persie's hideous air-shot. Up next saw many people's favourites, Germany take on a pedestrian Portugal who only came to life once the Germans had taken a second half lead through Mario Gomez. Once again Ronaldo fluffed his lines on the big stage and took make matters worse, rival Lionel Messi was busy bagging a hat-trick for Argentina in a 4-3 victory over Brazil.