Day 1 review
Switzerland 0 Czech Republic 1 (predicted: 1-1)
Two very different games unfolded on Day 1 of the competition. In the opener, hosts Switzerland were unfortunate to be on the losing end against the Czech Republic. They had numerous chances in both halves and even survived the loss of their star striker, Alex Frei, to injury. His replacement, Hakan Yakin, was involved in plenty and should have put the Swiss ahead when he headed wide from six yards out.
It was a Czech substitute, Vaclav Sverkos, who scored the winner, capitalising on poor defending from the Swiss. The Czechs were strong in defence but insipid on the attack. Initial thoughts are that they might find qualifying from the group a bit more difficult than expected.
Portugal 2 Turkey 0 (predicted: 2-0)
There was a big gap between Portugal and Turkey with the Turks looking overwhelmed at times. Portugal were on song, their attacking quartet of Nuno Gomes, Ronaldo, Deco and Simao all on form; the long, diagonal pass a potent weapon, often finding one of the above in space on the left hand side to create goalscoring opportunities.
But all over the pitch they were superior with Petit and Joao Moutinho dominant in midfield and the back four dealing with everything thrown their way, new Chelsea right-back Bosingwa particularly impressive.
I forgot to mention another familiar face in the Turkey team yesterday – former Bury, Brighton and Sheffield United player Colin Kazim-Richards whose rise to relative prominence in European football was less predictable than a Coldplay ballad. But, like the rest of his team, he was outplayed by an impressive Portugal, Nihat and Tuncay Sanli’s greatest contributions being outrageous dives that should have seen them booked.
The goals were more than deserved. Pepe charged from defence, played a neat one-two with the willing Nuno Gomes and bundled it home under pressure from inside the box on the hour. In injury time substitute Raul Meireles put a more realistic look to the scoreline when he doubled the lead.
Question of the day: why did Nuno Gomes give the captain’s armband to Cristiano Ronaldo when he was replaced? Isn’t that like asking Adam Sandler to direct a remake of The Godfather?
Day 2 preview
It may not be pretty for Austria and the co-hosts would be happy to perform as well as Switzerland did yesterday. Record goalscorer Toni Polster called them the worst team in the competition by far and backed a national campaign calling for them to withdraw for fear of being embarrassed.
But despite a series of poor results recent outings have provided more hope. They performed well in defeat against Germany, went 3-0 up against the Netherlands before losing their nerve and losing 3-4 and drew 1-1 with the talented Nigerians.
They bring few quality players and will hope that the team can exceed the sum of the moderate parts. Former Arsenal keeper Alex Manninger is a familiar face as is left-back Emanuel Pogatetz. The central defence of Martin Stranzl and Sebastien Prodl will compete and the experienced midfield of Joachim Standfest, Andreas Ivanschitz and Rene Aufhauser will have to use nous in the absence of top class talent. Don’t expect much up front with 7 goal Roland Linz and 20 year old Martin Harnik likely to have their work cut out for them.
Croatia surprised themselves as much as anyone when they overcame England at Wembley to progress from their qualifying group. The Croats showed a weak underbelly at times but you can’t knock the achievement of such a small nation. Manager Slaven Bilic has produced a skilful, exciting team with plenty of character and no shortage of talent.
Three German-based strikers will score goals (Klasnic, Olic, Petric) if they get a good service from the attacking midfielders Darijo Srna, Niko Kranjcar and the exceptional Luka Modric. At the back Nico Kovac is likely to be playing his final tournament at the age of 36. He will sit in front of the experienced back four with Robert Kovac and Dario Simic paired in the center, Manchester City’s excellent Vedran Corluka at right-back.
Like the Czechs yesterday, Croatia will be expected to come out triumphant against the weaker co-host opponents. We will probably see a gutsy display from Austria but Croatia seem stronger than the Czechs and they will probably edge this one.
Prediction: Austria 0 Croatia 2
Clashes between fans leading up to the game between Germany and Poland will hardly ease tensions on the pitch today. A Polish newspaper’s depiction of the German manager and captain’s decapitated heads was hardly an olive branch either.
But on the pitch it could be a fascinating battle. The Germans qualified at a canter from a poor group while the Poles topped a group containing Portugal, taking 4 points from two games against them.
They don’t have quality all over the pitch but Poland do boast strong attacking options including Racing Santander attacker Smolarek, Brazilian-born midfielder Roger and Southampton’s Marek Saganowski. Former Celtic striker Maceij Zurawski is not the force he was but his experience will be key.
Germany are strong, no doubt. The unpredictable Jens Lehmann is set to start in nets, the back four are experienced including the excellent Philipp Lahm of Bayern Munich and pick your midfield stars from Torsten Frings, Michael Ballack, Bastan Schweinsteiger and the former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlesperger who found respect and success in his homeland with Stuttgart.
They will score goals with Hitzlesperger’s team mate, Mario Gomez, a possible starter after scoring 6 in 10 games. They have an array of top talent in Kevin Kuranyi, Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski to choose from as well.
Germany are one of the tournament favourites but I have an inkling that they will have a slow start today.
Prediction: Germany 1 Poland 1