England 1, France 1: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s debut coincides with Roy Hodgson’s, the duo part of a team coming of England’s tumultuous build up to Euro 2012. With a disciplined, defensive approach, the Three Lions held the favored French at arm’s length, with France still growing into the major title contender they’d later become.
Ukraine 2, Sweden 1: The last bright moment of a storied career, Andriy Shevchenko opened his home nation’s tournament with two, turn back the clock goals, bringing Ukraine from behind to vault them to the top of their group.
Team of the day
G: Joe Hart, England
LB: Ashley Cole, England
CB: Joleon Lescott, England
CB: John Terry, England
RB: Oleg Gusev, Ukraine
DM: Scott Parker, England
M: Kim Kallstrom, Sweden
M: Sergey Nazarenko, Ukraine
RW/F: Samir Nasri, France
AM/F: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden
ST: Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine
Subs: Glen Johnson, England; Andrei Voronin, Ukraine; Andriy Yarmolenko, Ukraine
Three lessons to take home
1. Ratings schmatings – This isn’t a lesson we learned today, but include this in your homework as a reminder: FIFA ratings are worth nothing. It’s a shame that many confederations (not to mention the World Cup) use them when determining seeds for draws.
Today, the world’s sixth ranked team was content to draw with team number 14. Then, the 17th ranked nation lost to number 52.
If a thermometer kept telling you cold water was hot, would you keep using it?
There’s a lesson in the subversion of FIFA ratings: We should be wary of putting too much stock in what happened before June 8. That’s not to say pre-tournament results, news, conditions are useless. They’re pretty much all we have. We just need to recognize the limits of our knowledge.
France was 21 unbeaten going up against a hobbled team embroiled in controversy. Sweden had won four in a row, defeated Ukraine last year, and was playing a team that dropped pre-tournament friendlies to Austria and Turkey.
It’s fun to make prognosticate, but nobody’s mastered how to use all this data. We’re all still idiots.
2. There’s life outside the middle – The success of Spain and Barcelona has led to a primacy of the middle. Control the middle of the park, control the ball, control the game. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but it’s not the only way home.
Ukraine’s success was built on Sergey Nazarenko (pictured) distributing wide to Evgeni Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko, Andrei Voronin dropping back from up top just enough to keep Sweden honest. France flooded the middle and dominated their game with England but really could have used a traditional winger and a target man to provide some variation.
We saw Spain change up on Sunday. No teams lives and dies through the middle as much as Spain, but when they needed something different against Italy, Jesus Navas came on. There definitely is life outside the middle.
3. May the best man try to win but then not even get man of the match – No doubt who put on the best show in the first game. That would be France’s Samir Nasri, who was central to everything France did for about 85 minutes. In the second game, Zlatan Ibrahimovic dropped some jaws, but like Nasri, his team was left with a disappointing result.
With games often defined by missed assignments, the players who perform like your bets best for the future are rarely the ones who had the most influence on the game. Would you take Scott Parker over Samir Nasri based on what you saw today? Neither would I. How about Andriy Shevchanko over Zlatan? That one’s closer, but I still wouldn’t do it.
For 90 minutes, Parker and Shevchenko were the most important men on the pitch, even if they weren’t the best.
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.