Day 7 review
Italy 1 Romania 1 (predicted: 2-1)
The group of death became the group of pigeons with a cat amongst them after a second Romanian stalemate left them ahead of the single-pointed Italy and France in Group C.
Amongst my predictions yesterday were that we’d see a lot of Italian changes – and that we did. Amongst the five changes made were introductions for Fabio Grosso, Alessandro Del Piero and Simone Perotta. Unfortunately for the Italians they once again failed to get the rub of the green: a perfectly good Luca Toni goal was ruled out, what looked like a harsh penalty awarded against them.
The Eastern Europeans were no pushovers and, indeed, they retained 53% of the possession and created numerous chances. But both goalkeepers produced brilliant saves in what was one of the best games of the tournament. Adrian Mutu took advantage of a shocking error from Zambrotta to put the Romanians ahead on 55 minutes but a minute later the equaliser was tapped home by Christian Panucci.
It could have gone either way and I suggested this game could have ended 0-0 – but in hindsight 4-4 was more likely!
Netherlands 4 France 1 (predicted: 1-1)
I think it is fair to say that France are in trouble. The Netherlands were slightly flattered by the three-goal win over Italy and it would be disingenuous to suggest the same in this thumping win. With maximum points, seven goals scored and one conceded, they have been the glorious surprise of the tournament so far.
Dirk Kuyt – often maligned but performing well in the tournament – put the Dutch ahead from a corner when Florent Malouda (why? why!? why!!?) stood beside him in the box looking confused about the concept of “marking”. The French – who brought Govou, Henry and Evra in to the starting line-up – poured forward towards the end of the first half with chances for Govou and Ribery.
It was very much in the balance until a brave substitution from Marco van Basten who introduced Arjen Robben for Orlando Engelaar at half time. Henry missed a great chance to even things up before van Persie finished brilliantly to double the Dutch lead. The disappointing Henry pulled one back after clipping home a cross from the disappointing Willy Sagnol but a minute later Arjen Robben finished brilliantly from a tight angle to regain the two-goal advantage.
France were pretty much finished at that point and Wesley Sneijder – who has been one of my players of the tournament so far – curled a beautiful goal from the edge of the box. 4-1 and Raymond Domenech could be in his final days as France coach.
Day 8 preview
It’s hard to remember the first games even though it was only three days ago. Sweden meet Spain with expectations sky-high for the Spanish after their 4-1 win over Russia. But manager Luis Aragonés downplayed the victory and ensured his team were aware that there was room for improvement. Fernando Torres made headlines for the wrong reasons when he reacted petulantly to being substituted in the second half.
Aragonés is expected to name the same team against opponents who performed above expectations against a decent Greek side. The key to the game will be in midfield where Spain’s undoubted class will come up against the committed and organised effort of Freddie Ljungberg, Anders Svensson and Daniel Andersson who played well as a unit in the opening match. Christian Wilhelmsson is out and Sebastian Larsson may take his place.
Although they coped well with strong, organised opponents in the first game I have this sneaking feeling that Spain won’t have it all their own way today. If Sweden check the right boxes on the pitch then they might turn this group upside down.
Prediction: Sweden 2 Spain 1
Few people might be looking forward to Greece meeting Russia. But this could be an intriguing battle, pitting two strong, honest teams against each other in what is a must-win game for both.
Russia were unlucky to lose by such a wide margin against Spain but with their star player Andrei Arshavin still suspended they are a tiddlywink player with a broken thumb. Their team is young (the squad’s average age is just over 26) and if the excellent Roman Pavlyuchenko misses the game (he has something called an “abductor muscle strain”) then they will struggle to make an impact in front of goal.
Greece players are rumoured to be encouraging coach Otto Rehhagel to dispense with the defensive formation deployed against Sweden and return to the 4-3-3 that served them well in the play-offs. Their performance was not great against the Swedes and if they do attack an inexperienced Russian side then I think they will nick this one. Personally I’d like to see Greece take things to the final game.
Prediction: Greece 1 Russia 0