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With Euro 2012's first round done, here's what we now know

Miguel Delaney identifies the themes of the tournament, selects his XI of the past fortnight and picks his finalists.

Republic of Ireland supporters do 'The Poznan' during the Italy game.
Republic of Ireland supporters do 'The Poznan' during the Italy game.
Image: INPHO/Donall Farmer

Themes of the first round

The field remains the same: In a tournament that has largely been characterised by the unexpected (exhibit A: Group A), only Spain and Germany have conformed to the general truths of their quality. As was widely predicted, Germany won all three games in their group, Spain finished top of theirs.

Thanks to a far deeper cohesion derived from infrastructures that are far superior than anyone else at the tournament, they remain a level far above.

In truth, it’s going to take something hugely unexpected — in fact, almost freakish — to stop them. A repeat of the 2008 final and the 2010 semi-final looks very much on.

So far, the tournament favours attacking football: almost every team that has set up their system in a reactive, reserved way has either been eliminated or had to adjust to survive. In the first case, there’s Ireland, Denmark and — to a certain extent — Croatia against Spain. In the second case, there’s Portugal and Greece. The only exception to that is England, although that might have as much to do with the mediocre nature of the attacks in their group as their occasionally panicked defence.

Roy Hodgson has certainly stabilised England and arguably implemented their first successful tactical plan at a major tournament since Glenn Hoddle… but, as their occasionally panicked defending illustrated, it’s not all the way there yet. Unless further progress is made, the suspicion remains that a superior side will continue the general trend favouring attacking football.

A tournament that makes little air for graces: so far, Euro 2012 hasn’t exactly been easy for most of the more eye-catching players and teams. The Dutch, for example, continued a rather remarkable trend. They are the fourth European World Cup runner-up in succession — after Italy 1994, Germany 2002 and France 2006, as well as following on from West Germany 1982 — to fall at the first round of the very next European Championships.

And, as goes without saying, the Dutch are almost a perfect example of an outfit that are more a collection of individuals rather than a cohesive team. Because this tournament hasn’t actually been easy for the biggest starts either. And, yes, while Spain and, to a lesser extent, Germany clearly have a few, they only prove the rule: because they’re the most integrated teams in the tournament.

Key stats

Best defence: Spain, 0.33 goals a game

Worst defence: Ireland, 3 goals a game

Best attack: Spain, 2 goals a game

Worst attack: Ireland, 0.33 goals a game

Game of the first round: Spain 1-1 Italy

Goal of the first round: Danny Welbeck v Sweden


YouTube credit: iqronikkiev

Individual performance of the first round: Cristiano Ronaldo v Netherlands

Team display of the first round: Spain v Ireland

State of play

Main contenders: Spain, Germany

Quiet improvements to suddenly come into reckoning: Portugal, England, Italy

Capable of a surprise: Greece, Czech Republic

Flattering to deceive: France, Russia

Unlucky but still insufficient: Croatia, Sweden, Denmark

Not enough gas in the tank: Poland, Ukraine

Reality checked: Netherlands, Ireland

Team of the first round

1. Gigi Buffon (Italy)

2. Jordi Alba (Spain)

3. Ashley Cole (England)

4. Pepe (Portugal)

5. Mats Hummels (Germany)

6. Tomas Hubschman (Czech Republic)

7. Giorgios Karagounis (Greece)

8. Andres Iniesta (Spain)

9. Mario Gomez (Germany)

10. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

11. Petr Jiracek (Czech Republic)

Team of eliminated players

1. Przemyslaw Tyton (Poland)

2. Darijo Srna (Croatia)

3. Yuri Zhirkov (Russia)

4. Sergei Ignashevich (Russia)

5. Yaroslav Rakitskiy (Ukraine)

6. Luka Modric (Croatia)

7. Jakub Blaszczykowski (Poland)

8. Mario Mandzukic (Croatia)

9. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)

10. Alan Dzagoev (Russia)

11. Michael Krohn-Delhi (Denmark)

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