Group A: Russia are still on course to top the group, Czech are still looking like rank outsiders, but Greece and Poland continue to be inseparable. Funnily enough, Greece would have counted themselves unlucky for not winning the game (missed pen), which in reality the Poles should have wrapped up inside the first half (goal advantage, man advantage). The Russians picked up from where they left off in 2008 and some are even heralding their style of play to be some sort of an antidote to the tiresome tiki-taka of Spain. Arshavin was really quite brilliant and I hope he keeps the performances coming. (Kerzhakov too was doing everything right apart from the finishing.) If the Greeks don’t falter against the Czechs, and if the Polish don’t stun the Russians, I am expecting the Greeks to go through.
Group B: Get in there Denmark! What a fab result that was for us all Bendtner lovers?! Beat Portugal and they should have quite a realistic opportunity of going through the Group of Death. What if Portugal lose all 3 of their games and the other 3 end up on 6 points apiece? Personally though, I’d like the Dutch crashing out at the earliest and a defeat to the Germans would do just that. The Dutch, however, are a very good team and may well be looking to 1988 for inspiration.
Group C: Italy deserved to get something against Spain just for the sheer audacity of going in with 2 strikers. Spain looked toothless without a striker up front, and with Torres coming on, the chances duly came but they fell to the wrong guy. Spain struggled to get goals even with David Villa in the team in the 2010 WC, and the early indications are it’s going to be a struggle this time around too. A team which was having no such troubles with getting the ball across the line was Croatia. The Italy v Croatia game looks the group-deciding game at this stage, and are Ireland really going to be the pushovers which people denied they would be?
Group D: England isn’t here to play football. England is here to grind out results. England’s aim is to keep the ball from beating Joe Hart and nick a goal while the other team commits itself in attack. Will make for some really boring games, like the one against France, and that’s the reason I want them to succeed but also not succeed. France were largely like Spain. Lacking penetration in the final third. Once England scored, I thought there was no way France was coming back in, but Nasri got a fortuitous shot away and thank God for that. The man of the first round was undoubtedly Andriy Shevchenko. He rolled back the years and helped his team become the first to register a come-from-behind win. Ibrahimovic was impressive as well, and Sweden will kick themselves for losing to a team which had never scored against an European team in WCs and Euros prior to this game. Guess we can count the Swedes out of running then, even though they haven’t lost to the English since forever.