The 2012 Euro Cup started off with a momentous match between Poland and Greece on Friday and continued into the weekend with some of the greatest football you’ll see on any pitch. With most teams not wanting to collect a first match loss–as expected in international tournaments–the opening weekend saw many 1-1 draws. That doesn’t mean the play wasn’t exciting, as fans across the Eastern Europe were showcased with great goals and exciting action from 16 of the continent’s best. Here is a look back on the first set of matches from Groups A-D, and a look forward as play intensifies at the 2012 Euro Cup.
(Group A) FRIDAY JUNE 8th: The opening match between Poland and Greece in Warsaw saw two men sent off, brilliant saves, and an incredible opening atmosphere for the tournament. This was followed by the Russians dominating the Czech Republic 4-1, setting the highest goal-total in a match so far between all competitions.
(Group B) SATURDAY JUNE 9th: The highly anticipated “Group of Death” played on Saturday, and though it may have been short of goals, there was no lack of intrigue and excitement. The biggest upset of the tournament was dealt to the Netherlands as Denmark capitalized on one of their few chances in a shocking 1-0 result in the Ukraine. In a tantalizing fixture Saturday afternoon, tournament favorites Germany barley withstood the onslaught of the Portuguese to keep a 1-0 victory putting them atop of the group.
(Group C) SUNDAY JUNE 10th: Two of football’s most historic nations faced-off in an epic match that saw reigning European Champion Spain only able to obtain one point in a 1-1 draw with Italy. The second match of the day unveiled the tournament’s two smallest nations–Ireland and Croatia–who competed for the top spot in the group. The Irish were unable to comeback from a 2-1 halftime deficit, and the final score of 3-1 gave Croatia the most points in Group C.
(Group D) MONDAY JUNE 11th:The 100 Year War resumed Monday for the English and French in a 1-1 draw with neither team able to take advantage of multiple second half opportunities. Ukraine finished the first set of matches with a historic 2-1 victory at home against Sweden. The overwhelming pro-Ukraine crowd set the backdrop for the co-hosts in a shocking second half comeback that will shuffle the expected order in Group D.
Biggest Surprise: Co-host Ukraine were the forgotten underdogs that nobody predicted to make it beyond group play. But after a thrilling 2-1 victory versus the experienced Swedes, the Ukrainian National Team has people believing. With the incredible support of their die-hard countrymen and a unified squad on a mission, there is no telling where Ukraine can go from here. As of now they sit atop Group D, with a chance to take their nation to footballing glory.
Best Match (Poland vs Greece): The typical excitement before the opening match of an international tournament did not end at the opening ceremony as Poland and Greece set the bar for the entire field on Friday. With Poland dominating much of the first half at 1-0, Greece’s hopes turned for the worse on a controversial red card that sent off midfielder Sokratis before the half. Yet the Greeks showed resilience in the second, playing better a man down and tying the score with a rebound goal from substitute Salpingidis. Greece continued the pressure until a breakaway chance in the box sent Arsenal Keeper Wojciech Szczesny off with a red card, giving Greece a chance to secure a victory. But back-up keeper Przemyslaw Tyto made an incredible save on the penalty kick, thwarting Greece’s comeback chances and keeping Poland alive in their group. Easily the most exciting match and a beautiful way to open up Euro 2012.
Best Goal: In a weekend full of world-class strikes none was more crucial than Mario Gomez’s 72nd minute header to give Germany a 1-0 victory over Portugal. After a controversial start for Gomez, head coach Joachim Löw stuck with the twenty-six year old who responded in style with one of the biggest goals of his young career.
Best Performance: After a disastrous showing at the 2010 World Cup and betting scandals at home, the Italians were looking to reignite the fire in the national team’s performance this summer. Italy played an strong, clean, and smart ninety minutes against defending World and Euro Cup champions Spain, earning a well deserved point to open the tournament. Italy set themselves up for a chance to move into the quarterfinals and possibly win Group C outright.
Biggest Disappointment: With so much hype and expectations for Dutch football heading into the tournament, the Netherlands played with lackluster desire and emotion. Denmark remained collected the entire match, and even though the chances came, the Netherlands were unable to finish opportunities and therefore were punished with a 1-0 loss. With Germany and Portugal on the horizon, it will be extremely difficult for the pre-tournament favorites to move on into the quarterfinals.
Looking Forward: With the first set of matches complete, expect to see more goals and more victories as teams become more desperate throughout group play. After the Netherlands loss, Group B is shaping up to house the most exciting match-ups in the next week, especially when Germany plays the Dutch in a make or break game. Also can Spain continue their international football dominance as they take on Croatia and Ireland with Italy battling for the top two spots?
Games to Watch (On ESPN Family of Networks)
Tuesday June 12th: Poland vs Russia (2:45pm)
Wednesday June 13th: Netherlands vs Germany (2:45pm)
Thursday June 14th: Italy vs Croatia (12:00 pm)
Friday June 15th: Sweden vs England (2:45pm)