Day 2 review
Austria 0 Croatia 1 (predicted: 0-2)
For the second day in a row the competition co-hosts were hard done by, this time Austria losing out to the underwhelming Croats by a single goal. Croatia went ahead from a Luka Modric penalty in the fourth minute after Rene Aufhauser clattered in to the dramatic Ivica Olic. For the next twenty five minutes it was all Croatia as they outplayed the Austrians who were unable to string two passes together.
But it all changed in the latter stages of the first half as Croatia – guilty of casually blowing several chances to kill the game off – were penned back by the gamey Austrians.
There was little quality on show but the co-hosts drove onwards, not least through the impressive Joachim Standfest. Their weakness was in front of goal as Linz and Harnik struggled to find any space in their opponents box. Harnik, 19, looked lost.
In the end Croatia hung on and they will have to improve greatly if they are to win again against either Germany or Poland. Austria will probably struggle to get a point in the tournament but at least they showed some spirit and pride and were deserving of more here.
Germany 2 Poland 0 (predicted: 1-1)
It’s fair to say we saw the best game of the tournament as Germany overcame Poland with a goal in each half from Lukas Podolski. The media headlines are already referring to it as a “comfortable victory” and, yes, in the context of the last twenty minutes it was. But up till then Germany were forced to work hard to repel a talented Polish side inspired by half-time substitute Roger Guerrero.
The Germans were powerful and impressive in the first half, dominating the Poles and taking the lead when Klose and Podolski combined to outwit a naive Polish offside trap to go 1-0 ahead. Later in the half the Poles started to get some joy on the right-wing, German right-back Marcell Jansen exposed by Lobodzinski who failed to make the most of the space he was afforded.
When Roger replaced Zurawski (who wasted a great opportunity before half-time), Poland finally had some impetus, Ebi Smolarek and Lewandowski becoming more involved. Despite several good chances, one of which brought a good save by Lehmann from Southampton’s Saganowski, Poland could not get a goal their efforts deserved.
Day 3 preview
The obligatory group of death might look like it contains three potential tournament winners…and Romania. But the Romanians are a far stronger outfit under Victor Piturca than they were under Anghel Iordănescu or Gheorge Hagi. This is their first tournament since Euro 2000 where they reached the quarter-finals.
In qualifying they topped their group containing the Netherlands and Bulgaria, losing a single game to the Bulgarians. Their squad had no shortage of goals with Adrian Mutu bagging six, Ciprian Marica and Nicolae Dica getting five.
But they are not just about goals as Piturca has built a side full of technique but combative too. Inter Milan defender Cristian Chivu may line up in midfield with Paul Codrea of Siena and the defence is established with Cosmin Contra of Getafe, Razvan Rat (Shakhtar Donetsk), Gabriel Tamas (Auxerre) and Dorin Goian of Steaua Bucharest sharing in excess of 150 caps between them.
And it’s hard to know what they will be up against in the shape of World Cup finalists, France. With an array of riches all over the pitch, manager Raymond Domenech is spoiled for choice. He will surely play the back four of Abidal, Gallas, Thuram and Sagnol with the ageing Makelele likely to be partnered by Mathieu Flamini in Patrick Vieira’s absence in midfield. The international re-birth of Nicolas Anelka has been fascinating and he may get the nod ahead of Florent Malouda, alongside Franck Ribery and Sidney Govou.
If Thierry Henry doesn’t deliver up front then Karim Benzema and even Bafetimbi Gomis will challenge him for a starting berth. And I haven’t mentioned Patrice Evra, Lassana Diarra and even the improved Jean-Alain Boumsong.
Very hard game to call. But that’s why they are calling this the group of death.
Prediction: Romania 0 France 0
Dirk Kuyt aside, the Netherlands look quite strong but they are not as strong as they might be. Mark van Bommel and Clarence Seedorf have decided they don’t really like manager Marco van Basten and are not included. Even Ruud van Nistelrooy only recently returned to the squad after effectively retiring a few years ago when van Basten told him he would not be first choice.
In addition to missing personnel, injuries will seriously inhibit the Dutch. Robin van Persie, who has struggled for fitness for months, is out. Arjen Robben and Ryan Babel will also miss the game – the latter is out for the tournament.
The back four does not instil the greatest confidence. If you know little about their centre backs, Joris Mathijsen and John Heitinga, they are being selected ahead of Chelsea’s Khalid Boulahrouz. That should say a fair bit about them. Mario Melchiot, victim of many football analyst’s red marker pen, is unliklely to start but Blackburn’s much-maligned André Ooijer is the one to keep him out.
Further up the pitch Gio van Bronckhorst has seen better days and he will battle it out with AZ’s Demy de Zeeuw and Nigel de Jong of Hamburg for the defensive midfield slots. Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart are both pretty good players and will be responsible for supplying the lone striker, probably van Nistelrooy.
But if Ruud doesn’t do the job then van Basten can call on the free-scoring Ajax striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar or, um, Celtic’s Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink.
Italy’s big blow is in losing their inspirational captain Fabio Cannavaro, the 34 year old likely to be replaced by Wolfsburg defender Andrea Barzagli alongside Marco Matterazi. Buffon, one of the best goalkeepers in the world, will try to hold the defence unit together with ageing Christian Panucci and Gianluca Zambrotta in full back positions.
If they go for a 4-3-3 formation then exepct Massimo Ambrosini and Gennaro Gattuso to protect the attacking Andrea Pirlo in midfield. Up front Luca Toni will be the focal point, flanked by the seven-goal forward Antonio Di Natale and Mauro Camoranesi.
There’s something more solid yet exciting about the Italian side. Like the Dutch, they have weaknesses but probably not as many. If France are likely to top this group then the battle for second place starts here.
Prediction: Netherlands 1 Italy 2