Russia in the driving seat as Czechs and Poles left with a shootout – Day 5 analysis

The second round of matches began tonight in the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, as Group A rivals took each other on. The first game of the day saw the Czech Republic face Greece. Both teams needed to go for broke as a defeat would all but end their hopes for progressing. Greece were likely to be their usual, rigid self in an attempt to stifle the opposition whereas the Czechs would be hoping for their old guard to keep their hopes alive.

Petr Jiracek slots the ball home to put his team into the lead

Despite the contrary belief before the match, it started off at a frantic pace. In the first 6 minutes Greece were cut open twice by their old foes. First it was new Wolfsburg signing and former Viktoria Plzen player Petr Jiracek who burst through the middle to fire past the Greek goalkeeper. It was the exact same position that the 2004 champions found themselves in on Friday night.

However, 3 minutes later it was totally different, again a star from Viktoria Plzen’s run in the Champions league last season. Vaclav Pilar bundled the ball home from 4 yards out to send the Czech fans into raptures. It seems to be the common theme for Greece needing to be bailed out these days. But would it happen here? Would they come back like they did against the hosts on Friday?

Well, straight away it didn’t look like it. Rosicky and Baros were  finding space and  looking dangerous. The Greek fighting spirit that was on show against Poland came to the fore again after the half hour mark. The Czechs couldn’t keep the high tempo going, their key men weren’t getting on the ball and Greece were troubling the much vilified Czech defence. Dimitris Salpigdidis, the hero from Friday night had a header narrowly chalked off for offside. He was going to be key if Greece were going to get back into it.

The white wave of attack from Greece continued after the break, but Salpigdidis and co. couldn’t make the breakthrough. Samsunspor striker Theofanis Gekas was brought off the bench to make an impact and he was immediately effective, albeit with a little help from Petr Cech who fumbled the ball into his path leaving him with an open goal. It was game on and the same players who made an impact. They were lumping balls forward and were getting some joy out of it. Set pieces, which is usually what the Greeks focus on as a major source of goals began to desert them in the end and the game petered out to a 2-1 to the Czechs.

The main worry for the Czech Republic in their game may well be their lack of fitness. They seemed to run out of steam very quickly and one wonders if this will be their main problem in overcoming the hosts to reach the quarter finals. As for Greece, they seem to be dead and buried. Their final game is against table toppers Russia, and at this stage it seems like a Greek loss is on the cards. Unless they find goals from somewhere, they won’t qualify.

The second game of the evening was contested between Poland and Russia. This was seen as a momentous occasion, as Russia, which is of course the former Soviet Union, invaded Poland during WWII and oppressed the Polish people under a communist state for more than 40 years. The resentment has always been there and with the game being held on ‘Russia Day’ it added extra spice to the occasion. Unfortunately, the game was marred by violence and we can only hope that there haven’t been any deaths.

As for the game, a win for Russia would send them through and Poland knew a win would almost seal their place in the last 8. The occasion seemed to get to the Poles, though. Russia continued their sparkling form as their main men passed the ball around with the same Joie de vivre that saw them beat the Czech Republic on the opening day. That pressure paid off right on half time when Alan Dzagoev scored his third goal in two games.


Jakub Blaszczykowski celebrates after scoring his side’s stunning equaliser against Russia

Poland needed a lift and after the break they began to look more likely. Andrei Arshavin began to show why Arsenal no longer needed his services after Christmas. He stopped working; his passing wasn’t up to scratch and his team mates were suffering because of it. In the 57th minute he made one bad pass too many. From that bad pass, Poland Captain Jacob Blaszcykowski scored arguably the best goal of the tournament so far.

The belief soared through the Polish players in the process. Their start man Robert Lewandowski began to find space amongst the Russian back four as they began to drop deeper. Warsaw hoped that they would find a winner but it was not to be.

Not all is lost for Poland. A win against neighbours Czech Republic will put them through to the next round. The second half performance tonight will be very encouraging although they looked very toothless at times. Robert Lewandowski will have to be on top form for them to win.  As for Russia, they look almost certainties to qualify. The movement up front from Kershakov and Arshavin when on form will be too quick for the Greeks. The pressure might get to them, though and as we all know, Greece are no strangers to causing an upset.

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