How we’ll remember …
Czech Republic 2, Greece 1 – As another reminder that Greece just aren’t that good, and we still can’t quite figure out what happened in 2004. Their second half recovery against Poland tricked us. Today they gave the tournament’s worst performance, going down two goals within the first six minutes. Their only consolation was Petr Cech’s second half gift, but in a Czech uniform, he gives one to everybody. Cech’s obligatory donation leaves a flattering scoreline.
Poland 1, Russia 1 – One of the tournament’s best-played games defuses a tinder box packed with Russian nationalism and Polish reaction. Thousands of Russia supports took to the streets of Warsaw to demonstrate on Russia Day (celebrating the country’s independence). Counter “demonstrations” saw hundreds arrested. Despite a potentially incendiary banner of great and unusual size being unfurled at the National Stadium, the action stayed on the field, with Poland taking a point from the group favorites.
Team of the day
G: Vyacheslav Malafeev, Russia
LB: David Limbersky, Czech Republic
CB: Sergei Ignashevich, Russia
CB: Damien Perquis, Poland
RB: Theodor Gebre Salesse, Czech Republic
M: Thomas Hübschman, Czech Republic
M: Eugen Polanski, Poland
W: Petr Jiracek, Czech Republic
W: Jakub Blaszczykowski, Poland
F: Alan Dzagoev, Russia
F: Robert Lewandowski, Poland
Subs: Aleksandr Anyukov, Russia; Vaclav Pilar, Czech Republic; Andrei Arshavin, Russia
Three lessons to take home
1. Wide is back en vogue – Who dominated the middle of the park? Today, who cares.
Yesterday’s matches highlighted the development. Today’s reinforced it. Bringing anger from the edges (as they’d say in helmet-pad football) is how the Czech Republic and Poland got it done.
The first instance came three minutes into the day when Petr Jiracek came from the Czech Republic’s right flank, beat left back José Holebas, and gave the Czechs a lead they’d never relinquish. In the second game, Poland got wide midfielders Ludovic Obraniak (playing wide today) and Jakub Blaszczykowski on the right to exploit Yuri Zhirkov.
Tomorrow, Thomas Müller (Germany) and Michael Krahn-Dehli (Denmark) will be back in action, each having the chance to continue the trend. The Netherlands’s defense is vulnerable, with Müller set to be matched up against 18-year-old Jetro Willems. Krahn-Dehli will be wide versus a 4-3-3 which, thanks to Portugal’s approach, needs its wings to serve as outlets high (we’ll see if Paulo Bento opens up against Denmark).
2. Fullbacks matter. They really matter – We saw two 4-3-3 formations on Tuesday (Russia and Greece), each showing why fullbacks are important both executing and attacking the systems.
Russia’s fullbacks were integral to an attack that dominated possession (57 percent, per UEFA). Yuri Zhikov was solely responsible for Russia’s width on the left, allowing Andrei Arshavin to cut in and orchestrate the attack. Aleksandr Anyukov was able to get forward and exploit a flank left vacant when Alan Dzagoev cut inside. Zhirkov and Anyukov kept opposing fullbacks Sebastian Boesnich and Lukasz Piszczek true to their original positions, preventing them from compacting the defense by collapsing inside.
At the other end, Russia and Greece’s 4-3-3 were exposed after failing to protect their fullbacks. Earlier today, I mentioned Jose Holebas has been the worst player of the tournament, but somebody who wanted to argue otherwise could offer he’s received little help from his left wing. Be it Girogios Samaras or Kostas Fortounos, Greek’s left-sided attacker either has no defensive responsibility or has abdicated it.
For Russia, they can’t leave Yuri Zhirkov by himself, but Andrei Arshavin doesn’t have the fitness to help. In the past, when Arshavin’s has been health enough to track back, he’s been ineffective (Guus Hiddink often used Diniyar Bilyaletdinov to help, but the former Everton midfielder’s not in the team).
The 4-3-3 leaves Zhirkov exposed, and while most teams won’t be able to take advantage of it, the weakness is the difference between Russia being a dark horses and legitimate contenders. Teams like Germany and Spain will not be as forgiving as the Czech Republic and Poland.
3. Group stage will start to take its toll – Long after I forget the result, I’ll remember Andrei Arshavin at the end of today’s Poland-Russia match.
Late in the game, as Russia set up to pursue a winner, the ball was worked to right-center back Aleksei Berezutskiy, who wanted to play the ball forward to Arshavin (about 12 yards in front of him). All of Russia’s attacked where going through there playmaker, but if Arashavin had anything to say about it (if he could catch his breath to get the words out of his mouth), this one was going to be different. Arshavin points back to Sergei Ignashevich (the other center half), which Berezutskiy seemed to take as a joke before playing the ball to Arshavin anyway. Of course, Arshavin immediately got rid of it, hitting it to Ignashevich before resuming his exercise in respiratory stress.
It’s an extreme example but still a reminder: Three games in nine games is going to be a lot from some of these players. Two games in four days is more than most have to deal with during their club seasons. Managers rotate their stars, protect their veterans, and only in must-win situations are players pressed. Even Chelsea, during their run to their Champions League title, had to develop two lineups to protect the team they used in Europe.
Injuries are an issue, too. Tomas Rosicky, coming off a career high in games played, left today’s Greece-Czech Republic game at halftime. An Achilles problem has him doubtful for Saturday’s match with Poland.
A fragile player even when he’s being preserved, Rosicky enters a danger zone when you try to turn him around on three day’s rest. It’s unlikely he’s the only player being pushed to (and beyond) his limits.
ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.