Day 4 review
Spain 4 Russia 1 (prediction: 1-0)
It maybe wasn’t a huge stretch to suggest that Spain would overcome Russia but I did not see it being by such a wide margin in the end. David Villa struck a hat-trick and Cesc Fabregas grabbed a fourth in the dying minutes with the impressive Roman Pavlyuchenko getting a consolation for Russia.
The Russians were not without their merits and were unfortunate to be two goals down at half time. But their own heads went down early in the second half and they showed little likelihood of coming back in to it despite a few half chances. Spain looked like they could score on every attack.
Spain’s performance must put them up with Germany, the Netherlands and perhaps Portugal as potential tournament winners but I would not write the Russians off yet in terms of progression. They are perhaps unfortunate to have met one of the best teams of the tournament in the first game and they may yet take four points from their last two games yet.
One of the things worth noting was how average the Spanish defence looked. The Guardian have been criticised for suggesting that nearly every team’s defence was suspect but they may be right. The best defence I’ve seen so far has been the Romanians and in a tight game that can make the difference.
Greece 0 Sweden 2 (prediction: 1-1)
I think it’s fair to say the Greeks won’t become the first back-to-back European Champions even if they are not necessarily out of the running here. They were second best to a surprisingly zestful Swedish team who won through a fine finish from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a scrambled comedy goal from Petter Hansson.
The Greeks are better than they showed here, especially in the first half when Karagounis and especially Charisteas (who played as a withdrawn second striker on the right hand side) probed with occasional menace. But they will have to drop the defensive shtick in the next game against Russia. In Sweden they came up against a team who were even more dogged and well organised, and who have now put themselves in pole position for the quarter-finals.
Henrik Larsson and Freddie Ljungberg defied their years with energetic displays. Wilhelmsson, Svensson, and Andersson proved themselves to be more than the journeymen they might otherwise have been considered.
Day 5 preview
It’s the second round of games and after these we should have a good idea of who is going through from Group A. It is likely that Portugal will be pretty much guaranteed their place if they play like they did against Turkey – and the Czechs play like they did against Switzerland.
The Czechs are rumoured to be considering Milan Baros in a forward line with Jan Koller but the Euro 2004 Golden Boot winner has struggled in his club career since that tournament. Portugal are likely to play the same team that beat Turkey and you wonder how long the Czechs can repel Ronaldo, Deco, Simao and Moutinho who were exceptional last weekend.
For the Czech Republic I think Koller is too long in the tooth now to be a goal threat against a half-decent defence and with Rosicky out the Czechs are going to struggle for goals. Portugal showed against Turkey how impressively that they can sweep forward and I forsee their qualification being guaranteed.
Prediction: Czech Republic 0 Portugal 2
Alex Frei is a huge loss for Switzerland who were unlucky to come up short against the Czech Republic on Saturday. In his place is Hakan Yakin who’s roaming style will keep center backs Cetin and Zan busy. Manager Kobei Kuhn should otherwise have faith in the team that pushed the Czechs to the end.
Turkey are missing their captain and key player Emre and that’s as big a loss as Frei is to the Swizz. However, while Turkey were well beaten by Portugal, they clearly have some good players. Kazim-Richards, Tuncay and Nihat all have the potential to be match-winners and I think they will be too strong for Switzerland. The hosts will still have reason to hold their heads high after this one I reckon.
Prediction: Switzerland 1 Turkey 2