Sunday, June 08, 2008

Euro 2008: Day 1

Czech Republic 1-0 Switzerland
So, not a bad game to kick off the tournament. The Swiss may not be one of the favoured teams, but they gave a good account of themselves overall, despite the loss. The Czechs took a while to get going, and although they had more quality than their opponents, I'd say they were lucky to come away with a win, and they needed a few good saves from Petr Cech to keep them in the game.

Switzerland, meanwhile, had a terrible bit of luck when captain Alexander Frei went down with a knee injury just before halftime. He had to leave the game, and -- as you could probably guess from his devastated reaction -- his tournament is over as well. That's a huge blow, because you have to wonder who's going to score their goals now, with only two proper strikers left in the squad. And that proved to be the problem in the second half, as despite a strong performance from the Swiss, it was the Czechs who eventually took the lead after 70 minutes. The ball was headed back in past the Swiss defence and Vaclav Sverkos, who'd come on earlier for Jan Koller -- ran on to it to score.

More bad luck for Switzerland: they probably should have had a penalty for a handball by Tomas Ujfalusi late in the second half, but instead the referee played on, and first Tranquillo Barnetta had his shot brilliantly saved by Cech, and then Johan Vonlanthen whacked the rebound off the crossbar. Anyway, the result doesn't bode well for their chances of progressing from the group. The Czech Republic, meanwhile, will have to step up their game a bit -- i.e., come up with something other than lumping the ball up to Koller -- if they want to get past Turkey and/or Portugal.

Portugal 2-0 Turkey
Apparently this is what you do if you're suffering from a lack of strikers: get your goals from your central defenders. Pepe opened the scoring against Turkey in the 60th minute after a rampaging run up the middle of the pitch, playing a one-two with Nuno Gomes to get into the box and finishing well under pressure from the Turkish defender. And it was fitting that he was the one to score, after seeing an earlier header ruled out for a (correct but very close) offside call. Substitute Raul Meireles added a second goal for Portugal in stoppage time after a well-worked move, fed by Joao Moutinho on the edge of the box.

It was a pretty open, entertaining game to watch, with both teams more interested in attacking -- or, in Turkey's case, pressing forward and then throwing themselves to the ground instead of shooting -- than defending. As for you-know-who, Turkey seemed to be double- and triple-teaming him, but he still showed a few flashes of brilliance, and was involved in the buildup to both goal. His most notable contribution was probably a dangerous free kick in the first half that was just barely tipped onto the post by Volkan. That, and possibly pouting when he realized that Simao's jersey was even more skin-tight than his own.

Anyway, a much better start to the tournament for Portugal than last time around, when they lost to eventual champions Greece in the opening game. Turkey will feel that they have a decent shot at surviving the group, but they have to learn to take their chances -- they had only one shot on target -- rather than just falling over.

Next up in Group A: Turkey v. Switzerland and Portugal v. Czech Republic, both on Wednesday

Bad hair of the day award: Valon Behrami of Switzerland, who seems to have been a bit too enthusiastic with the Lady Clairol highlighting kit.

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