Thursday, 21 June 2012

The final flurry of the group stages: Part 2

With the ending of the group stages at the 2012 European Championships held in the Ukraine and Poland there are many things for football fans to ponder. Here are a few of the lessons we were taught... continued;

4. The Spanish Revolution... faltering?
Despite despatching Ireland 4-0 Spain have been unconvincing thus far. The Italians more than matched them in the first group game and proved perhaps that the Italians themselves are dark horses for to make the finals. Spain breezed past a lacklustre Irish side, no disrespect to Ireland but no one will be judging their abilities on challenging at the final against the capabilities of an Irish side. The game against Croatia proved to be a stern test. During the previous tie Xavi and Iniesta completed more passes than the entire of the Republic of Ireland 11. Luka Modric turned out to be a significant figure that stood out against the Spanish as he pulled the strings of a possible upset. As the game went on Spain refused to threaten the Croatian goal and they actually surrendered the best chances throughout the game. Croatia were made to pay for their missed opportunities as Fabregas came on to delicately chip over a disciplined Croat defence for Iniesta and Jesus Navas to round the keeper and slot home. However if Croatia had scored first the atmosphere of the game suggested that Spain would struggle to get back in to the game, especially without a goalscorer on the pitch. Perhaps a sign of the Champions is to win whilst not playing well. However against a more clinical side with a strike rate of 21% of shots going in, like England, the Spanish would need to nullify the game and one may fancy Spain to be a very beatable side. Discipline, patience and lethal finishing is all that is needed to beat the best team in the world...

5. Not so Great Expectations.
England began the group stages with more of a hope than an expectation to qualify for the quarter-finals. With injuries plaguing the midfield and defence England's squad began to look rather thin. The core of the English side has developed to signify a fighting spirit; Scott Parker, Steven Gerrard, and John Terry all pride their game on determination. The injuries to Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard in some ways have been a blessing in disguise as Parker and Gerrard have confidence in their being first choice. This is perhaps the best tournament performance from Steven Gerrard and the confidence given to him by being first choice captain is certainly a contributing factor. England have not been impressive so far. They don't need to be. What they have been is hard to beat. The French threatened to score about as much as the English, when England did push forward and attack against Sweden they conceded twice, but of course scored three times securing a victory. The Ukraine proved to be the toughest test yet as those wise enough to see had already predicted. The host nation needing a win to qualify would always be an incredibly tough game. England once again limited the opposing side to smashing drives from 25 yards throughout the game. Two of the best chances that the Ukrainians created were in fact both offside without being flagged. Tough justice suggested by some for their attempt that was cleared from over the line by John Terry. Earlier in the move The Ukrainian striker was caught offside by Joleon Lescott but the linesman failed to do his job properly. The eventual shot crosses the line and is not spotted. Irrelevant. If the linesman is paying attention the chance wouldn't have got that far. Milyevsky's header earlier on in the game of which should have been on target was offside also without a flag. Justice was served as England won the group with a deserved 1-0 victory. England now meet fellow dark horses Italy in the quarter finals. Both teams have a great chance to reach the semi's in what will surely be a tense and cautious tie. I wouldn't be surprised if this game last longer than 90 minutes. The manager that chooses his substitutes wisely may be the victor. The not so great expectations have turned in to quiet optimism and murmurings of 'football coming home'. 

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