KIEV, UKRAINE - NOVEMBER 09: (FILE PHOTO) General view of the Olympic Stadium on November 9, 2011 in Kiev, Ukraine. For next year's EURO 2012 finals, England have been drawn in Group D along with Ukraine, Sweden and France. (Photo by Joern Pollex/Getty Images)
After four years of waiting, Euro 2012 has finally arrived. The tournament started this past Friday with a bang as Greece took on host nation Poland, while Russia matched up against the Czech Republic in Group A action. There was not a lot of expectation surrounding the opening match between Greece and Poland, two teams that are not expected to progress very far in Euro 2012. Instead, the 2004 Euro winners and one of this tournament's host nations put on quite an exciting match that also happened to raise early controversy in the officiating department.
Poland dominated the match in the first half, scoring their first and only goal in the 17th minute. The first of many controversial calls came in the 35th minute when Sokratis Papastathopoulos was show the first yellow card of Euro 2012 after going up for a header with a polish attacker. A foul did not seem to have been made, but the card was shown none the less.
Just ten minutes later, the Greek defender would be shown a second yellow for a challenge that appeared to not to have happened at all. After chasing down the ball, the Polish attacker fell to the ground, seemingly without being touched. Apparently, the referee saw things differently. Greece would go into the half not just down a goal,bput down a man as well.
Apparently, the string of bad calls didn't have an effect on the Greek's moral. In fact, they came out guns blazing in the second half, looking like a completely different squad then the one that took the pitch in the first half. Poland, being under pressure from a surging Greek offense, gave up their lead in the 51st minute when Dimintrios Salpingidis scored a goal off a rebounded shot.
Greece had their best opportunity to win the match in the 61st minute when Polish goalkeeper Szczesny was shown a red card for tripping Salpingidis in the penalty area. What happened next ended up making Euro history. Instead of taking the lead, backup keeper Tyton stopped Giorgos Karagounis' penalty shot, the first ever penalty stopped by a backup keeper.
Greece looked to take the lead late in the game, but a very close offside call was made and the match ended in a 1-1 draw. Both squads would argue that they deserved the win, but being so early in the tournament, Poland and Greece will each be happy with a point. Greece and Poland will play again tomorrow, with the Greek's taking on the Czech Republic at noon and Poland taking on Russia at 2:45 p.m.
Russia will be going into their match against Poland at the top of Group A, having easily dispatched the Czech Republic on Friday. The Russians scored early on, with their first goal coming in the 15th minute. Russia picked up an insurance goal nine minute later when Roman Shirokov chipped the ball past Petr Cech. With a 2-0 lead going into halftime, Russia seemed to have the game won.
That didn't stop the Czech Republic from making a game of it in the second half, showing signs of life and bringing the Russian lead down to just one in the 52nd. Unfortunately for the Czech's, Petr Cech did not play like the goalkeeper most are used to seeing play forEPL squad Chelsea, and could not keep his team in the match. Russia would kill any hope the Czech's had of scoring an equalizer with two more goals; one in the 79th and Russia's fourth in the 82nd.
This match really came down to Cech not being 100 percent. Whether Cech an undisclosed injury or just a bad day, who knows, but a couple of Russia's goals were savable by normal Cech standards. With Greece finishing their match against Poland on such a high note, Cech will have to be match fit as the Greeks will be looking for an all to important three points.
Saturday saw the first upset of Euro 2012 as Denmark shocked the Netherlands with a 1-0 victory. The Dutch were clear favorites going into this match, especially being led by Arsenal star Robin Van Persie. Instead of walking away with a victory, the Netherlands left the match in shock. A 24th minute goal from Michael Krohn-Dehli was all Denmark needed. The Netherlands made the mistake of putting this match entirely on the shoulders of Van Persie, who missed chances all match long and didn't show the type of skill most are used to seeing from him during his time with Arsenal.
The Netherlands will now have to get passed Germany, one of the favorites to win Euro this year. With a less than stunning win against Portugal, Germany will be wanting to score a few more goals to bring up their goal differential. If Van Persie continues to struggle, it will be a very long match for the Dutch.
While three points is three points, the Germans probably left the field wishing they had scored more goals against Portugal Saturday afternoon. Christiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese may have been playing for a draw, but the Germans were playing for a big win. Going into the second half, it looked as if Germany would have to settle for a disappointing draw, but Mario Gomez came through for the Germans in the 72nd with a stunning header and gave his team the late lead and the victory.
Despite Portugal maybe not expecting to win this game, a loss is surely not what they were looking for. The Portuguese will have a chance to gain their first three points when they take on Denmark on Thursday. While Portugal is probably a favorite to win this match, look for Denmark to play hard and not give them any breaks after shocking the Netherlands.
Spain and Italy both played to a less than exciting draw on Sunday, with the only two goals coming in the 61st and 64th minutes of the match. Spain actually had more than enough chances to pick up the winning goal, but those chances came from Fernando Torres, who seemed to carry over his struggles from Chelsea over to his national squad. His best chance came late in the match when he tried to chip Italian keeper Buffon, but the shot went just over the top post.
Thursday will see Spain take on a hurting Ireland squad, having lost big to Croatia who will take on Italy following the Ireland/Spain match. If there is one thing to be said about the so called "Group of Death," it's that it is not shaping up to what many thought it would be, at least early on with Croatia at the top of the table.
Finally, Croatia and Ireland finished off the weekend play with a dominant performance from the Croatians. It took just three minutes for Mario Mandzukic to score for Croatia, giving them a very early lead. Ireland would equalize in the 19th, but would not see the back of the net for the remainder of the match. Everton striker Nikica Jelavic would score the game winner in 43rd off of a rebound with an insurance goal coming again from Mandzukic in the 48th.
One of the keys to Croatia's win was that they were able to keep Ireland and LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane locked down for most of the match. With Jelavic carrying over his brilliant form from Everton, Ireland didn't really stand a chance in this one, despite being somewhat of a dark horse in Group C. If Ireland is to have any luck (no pun intended) against Spain, Robbie Keane will have to find way to get in front of net and come up with more chances for his squad.
With an exciting weekend of play behind us, an even more exciting week is ahead. England and France kicked off earlier today and played to a 1-1 draw, while host nation Ukraine just kicked off against Sweden. Be sure to check back with the Brotherly Game on Friday for an end of week wrap up featuring the games played Monday through Thursday.