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Euro 2012 talking points: day 1

From a pleasing pattern being set to whether Greece’s performance was a positive for Ireland, Miguel Delaney picks out the key themes of the opening day

Russia topped off a largely raucous first day
Russia topped off a largely raucous first day
Image: PA

A hugely encouraging start

All in all, not a bad opening day: seven goals in two games, four very different halves of football, a series of attention-grabbing incidents and – most of all – some very entertaining football.

And all that from the group that is commonly considered the least appealing in the competition. Suddenly, the other three have a fair bit to live up to.

Because, to a certain degree, it was actually the differences and flaws among the sides that made the day.

We didn’t, after all, just see some pleasing football. We also saw admirable pluck. In the first game, for example, Greece’s second-half grit was every bit as compelling as Poland’s earlier attacking.

Likewise, the Czech Republic’s second-half revival re-ignited their match… before eventually provoking an equally rousing response from the Russians.

And, really, that is what we want from tournament football. That clash of styles, the push and pull, the tension that makes things interesting and gives rise to drama.

The first day certainly had a lot of the latter. It was hugely refreshing.

A pleasing pattern is set

Of course, the opening day didn’t just perfectly set up the tournament but also the group. If it’s fair enough to extrapolate from the first two fixtures, it seems that a very strong Russia will win the group, a poor Czech side will finish bottom and two inconsistent Greek and Polish sides will fight for second.

Potentially complicating that, however, is all of the emotion that will be swirling around Poland’s grudge match with Russia on Tuesday.

Whatever happens, though, this is already one that looks like it’s going to right to the wire.

Greeks bearing guides?

Is Greece’s late point a positive for Ireland? While it can be dangerous to apply the set of circumstances that one team enjoys/endures to another, these tournaments often eventually conform to an overall pattern.

In 2000, for example, most matches went according to form and attacking football was generally rewarded. In 2004, it was the opposite.

Today, we saw elements of both. Poland were exhilarating in the first half only to be tactically exploited in the second as Greece’s effort and experience took hold. To his huge credit, manager Fernando Santos completely changed the dynamic of the game when he brought on Dimitris Salpigidis.

In all, it was a points victory for pragmatism.

Giovanni Trapattoni will be hoping it stays that way.

Home discomfort

When a tournament eventually whips up, it can be difficult to row in behind the host nation. And particularly when that host nation are so young and vibrant. The only problem is that can also give way to wastefulness and wayward mentality. And that was exactly what we saw in the second half with Poland. The nature of their first-half missed chances and their second-half decline will make this draw seem like a defeat. Given how they also wilted under pressure – in the words of their own manager – questions have to be asked how they will respond to the high-tension dimensions of the Russia game.

In short, Poland suggested enough that they could have a good home tournament. But also enough that they could have a hugely dispiriting one.

That, however, is the nature of evolving young sides.

Will it be 2008 all over again… or even 1960?

Russia made a significant statement of intent tonight, both in terms of style of football and winning intentions. A semi-final should be a definite target. But, given how they can potentially build momentum and confidence in a forgiving group, so –arguably – should winning it outright.

Russia may have changed a few opinions tonight but, in truth, this has been coming for a while. They went into this campaign with the third longest unbeaten run of all Euro 2012 sides and the best defensive record. Yes, they conceded tonight. But they only escalated at the other end.

Goal of the day: Roman Pavlyuchenko’s

Moment of the day: Przemyslaw Tyton’s penalty save

Good day for:

  • Russia
  • Fernando Santos
  • Andriy Arshavin
  • Dimitris Salpigidis
  • Alan Dzagoev

Bad day for:

  • Franciszek Smuda
  • Starting goalkeepers
  • Referees
  • Anyone who decided to give today’s games a pass because the matches weren’t dazzling enough
  • The Czech Republic
  • Alexander Kerzhakov

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