GDANSK, Poland – With Group C hurtling toward a potential three-way tie for the top spot, Italy is experiencing an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu.
The Azzurri are set to face bottom-of-the-group Ireland in their final group-stage match. If they win, and if Spain ties Croatia, there would be a logjam of three teams tied with five points. In this hypothetical scenario, the first two tiebreakers -- total points in games among the tied teams, and goal difference in games among the tied teams -- would fail to break the deadlock. That would mean the third tiebreaker -- total goals scored in the games involving the tied teams -- would be used. If Spain and Croatia happen to tie 2-2, those two teams would advance based on having scored one more goal than Italy.
That is precisely what happened to Italy at Euro 2004, when Denmark and Sweden played to a mutually beneficial 2-2 draw, one that included Mattias Jonson’s 89th-minute equalizer. The two Scandinavian sides advanced and Italy went home. Back then, irate Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon alleged that the game between Denmark and Sweden had been fixed. The Italy manager on that day? None other than current Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni.
“I hope this gives the people who are looking into these games a chance to actually make sure that things don’t go on,” he said after Ireland's 4-0 loss to Spain on Thursday. “I think Italy needs to play its own game. Italy need to win playing to their own strengths because they do have the means at their disposal to win the game. Of course, the results for Croatia and Spain … could have an influence, could create certain doubts, but I like to see the good in people, even if certain referees make mistakes. I don’t think certain things should go on. I’m convinced that they won’t.”
For his part, Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque insisted his side would not be content with simply playing for a draw.
“Of course, we will try to win,” he said. “We will not try for a 2-2 draw. This is not what we are going to concentrate on, this is not of interest to us. We don’t want to make any calculations and we will play for victory.”
Italy will be hoping that is the case.
By John Carr, ESPN Stats & Information
Spain dominated in every aspect of its game en route to a 4-0 victory over Ireland Thursday, which put the Spaniards on top of Group C and made Ireland the first team eliminated from this year’s tournament.
Spain set single-game highs at any Euro tournament since group play began in 1980 in completed passes (810), passing percentage (90.2) and touches in the attacking third of the field (327).
Fernando Torres got the scoring started early for Spain with his 4th-minute strike past Irish keeper Shay Given, which was the earliest by a Spaniard at the European Championships.
David Silva’s 49th-minute tally made him Spain’s top scorer since the last World Cup with 10 goals for his nation (David Villa has nine in that span) and made Spain the second team to score in the opening five minutes of both halves of a Euro match. The other was Croatia in its first match against Ireland this year.
The Spanish offense didn’t slow down there, though. Torres scored again in the 70th minute, his 30th international goal, making him Spain’s 3rd all-time scorer and putting him equal with David Villa as Spain’s top scorer at the Euros with four each.
Cesc Fabregas’ 83rd-minute goal for Spain made him the fifth player to score in each of his team’s first two games this tournament.
Ireland’s 198 completed passes, 67.6 percent passing accuracy and 107 touches in the attacking half of the field are all single-game tournament lows.
In their last five major competitions (Euro 2004-08-12 and the 2006-10 World Cups), Spain has played 22 games and allowed more than one goal on just one occasion, the 3-1 loss to France in the 2006 World Cup round of 16.
In the early game, Andrea Pirlo put Italy ahead in the 39th minute with the first goal scored on a direct free kick in this tournament and the first at Euros since 2004. All five of Pirlo’s international goals since July 2006 have been on free kicks (3) or penalties (2).
Croatia controlled the second half, however, with a 95-to-59 touches advantage in the attacking third of the field and three shots to zero from inside the penalty area. Mario Mandzukic’s game-tying goal came in the 72nd minute, making him the second Croatian with three Euro goals (career or single tournament). Davor Suker had three in the 1996 tournament.
Thursday’s draw means Croatia is undefeated in its last six meetings with Italy, and Italy is now winless in six straight games at major tournaments and five straight games overall (0-3-2).
KIEV, Ukraine – It was off to Kiev, leaving the charms of Kharkiv and Donetsk behind. And they were indeed delightful, apart from getting ripped off by a cabbie who wanted 10 euros for a 10-minute ride. The going rate in Kharkiv for such a journey is about half that. But it was after 2 a.m. -- those 9:45 p.m. kickoffs, with all the postmatch activity, linger -- and I wasn’t about to argue. I needed a bed for a few hours’ sleep.
Before shifting attention to England and Sweden in Kiev, I spent some of the plane ride from Kharkiv to Kiev thinking back to Germany’s 2-1 win over the Netherlands (see picture of the stadium).
It’s difficult for managers to come to news conferences when still heated up and maybe that’s why Bert Van Marwijk seemed to contradict himself. He knew all the questions he was going to be asked, so when making an initial statement (to lead things off), he delved into the defense, space that shouldn’t have been there for the Germans, formations and of course, Arjen Robben. He said he was pleased with Robben’s play when he shifted to the role of second striker in the second half, yet Van Marwijk took him off for the more defensive-minded Dirk Kuyt with the Dutch chasing the game.
Van Marwijk also spoke of the role Klaas-Jan Huntelaar played in livening up Robin van Persie in the second half. Pushed into a deeper role, he felt that the German defense’s preoccupation with Huntelaar gave van Persie more space to manoeuvre. Instead of facing one-versus-two scenarios, he was one-on-one and thus more dangerous.
The only positive for Van Marwijk as the Dutch face an early exit is that he’ll probably know his starting 11 for Sunday’s game against Portugal right now: Mark van Bommel, out; Rafael van der Vaart in. Ibrahim Afellay, who has disappointed on the wing, out; and Huntelaar in. Pity Van Marwijk can’t do much about his shaky defense.
Germany manager Joachim Low, in the wake of a victory, was understandably more composed. There was still, however, room for improvement. I thought Lukas Podolski had a great game. He didn’t do anything going forward, but that was because he had to help Philipp Lahm contend with Robben for most of the night. When a German reporter suggested that he – and Thomas Muller – could do more offensively, Low agreed. Low was far from critical, uttering his words like a loving father rather than an annoyed manager. The same, he said, went for Mesut Ozil.
Low will be without the services of suspended right back Jerome Boateng against Denmark. Did Boateng do a Steven Taylor and feign injury when it looked like he stopped Wesley Sneijder’s vicious drive with his arm in the box when it was 2-1? Low, as he said himself, might move Lahm to right back and employ Dortmund’s Marcel Schmelzer or make a straight swap and pick Bayer Leverkusen’s Lars Bender, usually a midfielder.
Unlike Van Marwijk’s, any changes Low decides to make with Germany on six points won’t be overly scrutinized.
The first week of my Poland trip is in the books. I’ve visited two host cities, so far (I leave for Wroclaw later this week). Which did I like better? It’s a tough call.
Here are some subjective comparisons:
The fan zone experience:
The fan zones in Gdansk and Warsaw have different vibes. One is mellow, while the other is frenetic. In Gdansk, the big screen faces a small hill, which allows viewers to watch games while relaxing on the grass. The Warsaw fan zone is set up in a giant plaza and is probably three times the size of Gdansk’s. In Warsaw, you’re pretty much guaranteed a crowd of 50,000 (on Poland’s match days that figure nearly triples) and with that amount of people comes a great deal of commotion -- worth point out that the place isn’t exactly conducive to relaxing. In Gdansk, you’re lucky if 10,000 people turn up. While I’m a big fan of watching games in a comfortable, seated position, fan zones aren’t about relaxing. They’re about going a little crazy. You can relax at home.
Warsaw and Gdansk were both well prepared to move fans to and from the stadium. In both cities you can get just about anywhere quickly and at low cost (one trip on Gdansk’s tram costs about $1). In Gdansk, the dedicated trams took fans from the city center to the stadium for free, both before and after the match. It was a very well-organized operation. The stadium in Warsaw is right across the river from the city center, and on Tuesday most fans walked. Those that went by tram, bus or train experienced no delays.
While it’s hard to say which city was more prepared from a transportation standpoint, public safety is a different story. Gdansk is the only Polish city that hasn’t had an incident of crowd violence.
Tiebreaker – the tourist’s perspective:
Choosing between Gdansk and Warsaw is tough. These places are about as different as two cities in one country can get. One’s on the coast, the other’s landlocked. One’s part of a small metro area of about 800,000 people, the other is a booming capital city with a metro population of more than 3 million.
So which is better? It’s a tough call. They both have nice qualities, and I encourage the readers of this blog to visit both. That said, if I had to choose one for a weekend getaway, I’d choose Gdansk every time. Warsaw just doesn’t have anything like Gdansk’s Old Town.
More assorted winners and losers:
Winner: Italian and Spanish fans. In Gdansk, I saw the two sets of supporters mix together in a completely amicable way. Everyone just wanted to have fun. And judging by the number of partiers still out when I caught my train to Warsaw at 6 a.m., they succeeded.
Winner: The Spanish guy with the drum. I didn’t know it at the time, but the guy with the drum at the Italy-Spain match was Manuel Cáceres Artesero, aka "Manuelo, el del bombo" (Manuelo of the Drum). Mr. del Bombo has gone to almost every Spain match since 1982 and is something of a national treasure. He even has his own Wikipedia entry. No wonder the Spanish fans cheered when he emerged midmatch, walked to his seat, beat his drum and bowed.
Loser: The PKP. The PKP (short for Polskie Koleje Państwowe) is a state-owned train operator in Poland. It’s notorious for running behind schedule. On my trip back to Warsaw on Tuesday morning, I arrived about 30 minutes late and almost missed the daily safety and security press conference with the mayor.
Loser: Hooligans. You may have read my report on the street violence that preceded the Poland-Russia match on Tuesday. I witnessed a series of unfortunate incidents between different groups of supporters, and I think just about everybody in Poland was disappointed the next day.
By Jason York, ESPN Stats & Information
Mario Gomez did not need many touches Wednesday against the Netherlands to score twice and push Germany to a 2-1 win in Group B.
Gomez is tied for the tournament lead with three goals and only has eight touches in the penalty area in Germany’s first two games. He has scored a goal every 2.7 touches in the box to date.
Gomez, who scored 38 goals in 45 games for Bayern Munich in the German Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League last season, averaged 5.3 touches in the penalty area and 0.8 goals per game for Bayern.
The Netherlands continued to pad every key offensive statistic, except for the most important one – goals.
The Dutch have tournament-high totals in scoring chances created (38), touches in attacking third (326) and touches in the penalty area (54) and still just one goal to show for it.
Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder is the tournament’s individual leader in scoring chances created (16), passes completed in the attacking third (69) and into the penalty area (21).
The Netherlands’ Robin van Persie has a tournament-best 18 touches in the penalty area, but his goal, the only Dutch goal so far, was scored from well outside the box at 23.1 yards from goal.
In the other Group B match Wednesday, Portugal defeated Denmark 3-2, though even with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani in attack, Portugal did not spray the ball around in possession. Portugal has had two of the five lowest single-game completed passes totals in the tournament to date, including a tournament-low 242 passes completed Wednesday against Denmark.
Ronaldo had 38 touches for the second straight match, but he looked much more dangerous against Denmark than he did in his opening game. Ronaldo had 22 touches in the attacking third of the field against Denmark, including 15 in the second half. Ronaldo had only 14 touches in the attacking third in the entire opening match against Germany.
Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner had three of his 30 touches against Portugal in the penalty area and two of those touches led to headed goals by him. Twelve of the 33 goals scored in the tournament to date have been headers.
By John Brewin, Senior Editor at ESPNSoccernet
"Warsaw as warzone" was the worldwide story. Scenes of nationalism-inspired thuggery certainly caught international imagination. And it's a massive shame. A thoughtless minority has scarred what has been a tournament of pleasant surprises and warm welcomes; its fighting also distracted from the game of the tournament so far.
The streets of Poland's capital city center were a nervy place to be in the small hours of Wednesday morning. Police roadblocks were guarding entry down certain avenues, and debris was being swept along the route that the Russian march to the stadium had taken. As the game between Poland and Russia drew to a close in the National Stadium, a battalion of armed cops made its way to a spot directly in front of the Russian fans at the end of the ground where Jakob Blaszczykowski had scored. Any repeat of earlier antics would be met with quick-fire justice, meted out with the many weapons the average member of "Policja" has to hand.
It was a provocative gesture in itself, following on from the "THIS IS RUSSIA" banner that recalled ancient conflict as a gesture of further defiance from the visitors. In the event, a draw after an exciting contest that was actually played in a decent spirit was the right result beyond footballing concerns. The Russians could still feel superior, as Dick Advocaat was only too keen to suggest, but the Poles had national pride and the goal of the tournament so far to rejoice in.
Away from the stadium and in most of the streets, actual fun was being had. The vast "Fan Park" that sits in the very middle of the city in the grounds of the Palace of Culture and Science was packed with people hours before the game. Footage of that "Kuba" goal depicted a shared moment of unbridled joy, though the average Fan Park punter could almost forget how difficult it is to get served. A half-liter of Carlsberg must be acquired with tokens bought on arrival, while a lack of reliable beer taps to deliver said golden elixir is a source of considerable complaint and frustration.
Still, being part of the experience is the name of the game and Poland being kept alive in the tournament can only be a good thing. The vast majority of Warsaw's inhabitants wants to enjoy itself and is doing so, too. There are unconventional means of enjoyment, too.
A visit to a downtown bar on Monday evening confirmed the hold that Euro 2012 has on the city. While sipping Polish lager in a Mexican-themed bar, football conversation of the type probably being had in licensed premises from Truro to Tyneside was taking place among English fans as British coverage was beamed onto the big screen. Seating was by appointment only, and there was a further international, more exotic flavor to be added.
There was an excitable man on the microphone, first conducting a first-goal sweepstakes then providing entertainment between halves of that evening's two matches. He was accompanied by a band of bongo players, whose role was not confined to its lead singer's hugely theatrical attempts at Ricky Martin's "Cup of Life," Tom Jones' "Sex Bomb" and The Temptations' "Papa Was A Rolling Stone." And what else to close than "New York, New York"? While we missed out on the halftime bon mots of Adrian Chiles, Jamie Carragher & Co., this was certainly more memorable than the football being played out on the big screen.
The bongo boys also performed during the match. Any excitement between England and France -- and there was just enough for our percussive pals to earn their tips -- was accompanied by a bongo roll. One English ex-Patriot got rather annoyed when the beat went especially crazy following Samir Nasri's goal. Ah, yes, and I haven't even included the dancers from the establishment around the corner who added further spice to the microphone man's cabaret stylings. Or the juggling display from two very skillful local lads. And don't worry, it was a football they were juggling, and the ladies were at no point indecent.
What is the point of telling you all this? Well, other than to be smug about what a wonderful time I am having, that the majority want to do the same, in several shapes and forms. Here was an evening to prove that football is supposed to be fun, just as much of what happened in Warsaw on Tuesday was to be enjoyed, too. Don't allow the idiots and the thugs to make you forget that.
KHARKIV, Ukraine -- If only hotels these days had DVRs.
I desperately wanted to watch Ukraine face Sweden on Monday in a battle of teams that traditionally wear yellow and blue, but that was impossible since England and France had just ended in Donetsk and it was time to write my follow-up story. What a party pooper, my editor. (Just kidding, boss, you’re the best and always will be!)
The game in Kiev was on in the background in the press room -- of course, I glanced over when I had the chance. When Ukraine scored the equalizer, fireworks went off, leading a colleague and I to look at each other simultaneously with a smile. We thought, at first, it might have been thunder following a hot and humid night.
By the time I returned to my hotel room -- by the way, the walk to the stunning Donbass stadium hours earlier was delightful, leading me past a park along the river where people played beach volleyball -- the match was in injury time and the host was hanging on. When the final whistle blew and Ukraine prevailed 2-1, cheers could be heard from a floor below. The vodka must have been flowing.
At breakfast in Kharkiv on Wednesday morning, I asked a couple of locals what they thought of the game and Andriy Shevchenko, the two-goal hero. “We didn’t expect much from him, because he was injured and after Milan, he didn’t really do much,” said Nikita, no doubt referring to Shevchenko’s time at Chelsea. When I asked him if Shevchenko was a massive sporting hero in Ukraine, he added, “Before he wasn’t. Now he is. Now everybody loves him. When we were losing 1-0, I thought there was no chance we could win.”
Aleks, whose English wasn’t as good as Nikita’s (but was much better than my Ukrainian) chimed in: “I could not believe that we won.” As I walked around the center of Kharkiv (a picture of the opera house shown above) to burn off my yummy breakfast of Ukrainian pancakes (which would be classified as dumplings in North America), I noticed several teenagers donning the yellow and blue of Ukraine from head to shoe. Mini flags, pinned to car windows, flapped in the air.
Next, Ukraine meets France on Friday before taking on England, which will have Wayne Rooney back at its disposal. In the meantime, Nikita was hoping for the best. “If we could beat France or England, it would be huge,” he said. Bidding adieu to the pair and about to make my way up a flight of stairs, Aleks raised his voice to declare, “Ukraine, champion.”
Now that would be something.
Today’s march was supposed to be peaceful. The Russian fans were supposed to be secure as they marched across the river -- in honor of the 20th anniversary of Russia Day, a calendar mark to celebrate independence from the former Soviet Union -- to Warsaw's National Stadium, where their national team would take on Poland. This was assured by the mayor and reinforced by police spokesmen during daily press briefings. They told us about the 5,000 CCTV cameras positioned around Warsaw, the constant police patrols and the checkpoints. Mayor Hannah Gronkiewicz-Waltz said she would personally be in the fan zone’s crisis management center.
But no one really believed it would be peaceful. After all, there’s too much tension between the Poles and the Russians.
Today I asked a woman named Karolina about the two nations and their fraught relations. “History comes back,” she said. What history?
Look it up. It’s there. Put 1945 into Google. Try 1939. The Polish-Soviet war took place from 1919-1921. Don’t forget the war of 1792. In 2010, the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, died when his plane crashed in Russia. He was traveling to the site of the Soviet massacre. The victims? Poles.
The people here recited these dates to me. They rattled off the dates. They had them memorized. They’re not historians, they’re Polish.
So when I decided to go to the Russian rally, scheduled for today at 5 p.m. local time, I had a bad feeling.
History comes back.
Things started out peacefully enough -- just a lot of people drinking. No big deal. When I got there at exactly 4:34, the fans seemed relaxed. The Russian supporters stood on one side of the street, Polish supporters on the other.
The police seemed relaxed, too -- as relaxed as people can seem in body armor anyway. At 4:37, I made a note about how many police they were still trucking in. Hundreds, probably even thousands. The place seemed safe. What can go wrong with so many police around?
I asked a 23-year-old sociology student named Lukasz if he thought anything would happen. He said no, but then shrugged and said, “There are idiots among every nationality.” I guess that’s all it takes: a couple of idiots.
At 5:09, I noted that the groups were separated. They’d grown in size by then and were yelling chants back and forth, but down the middle of the street, in the space usually occupied by the trams, the police had parked a line of vans. On each side of the vans, between the vehicles and the two groups of supporters, a line of officers stood watching. Most of them held shotguns.
But here’s the thing. That line of vans? It was only 10 -- maybe 12 -- vehicles, and those vans were the only thing separating the two groups. The rest of Jerozolimskie Street was unsegregated. Patrolled, yes, but all you had to do to get around the vans was walk further down the road.
At 5:17, I began to hear fireworks and started to wonder. At 5:26, I saw the first skirmish. I don’t recall who did what to whom, only that suddenly we were all running. I ran toward the ledges in front of the Polish Army Museum (I was using their Wi-Fi) and when I looked across the street, I saw people throwing flares at other people. I saw some people swinging, others ducking. Yet, I witnessed no police response.
Then things settled down. The Russian supporters began to march across the river. You might even say things became a bit festive. I snapped a picture of a guy in a Darth Vader costume, even playing photographer for a passing family of four.
I got up to leave. I had things to do. I hadn’t eaten dinner. I had a blog post to write. But then I had to run again. Something was happening a little bit behind me, to my right. Somebody screamed. I turned and saw six or seven men swinging on two guys: red shirts on blue shirts. The blue shirts did what they could, but it was clear they couldn’t do much. One blue shirt went down on the tram tracks. They kicked him in the head. They stomped on his body.
And then they were gone.
The man in the blue shirt didn’t go, however. He stayed right there, blood pouring from his head. His eyes were open, but he wasn’t moving. He didn’t move again until 6:05, when paramedics loaded him into an ambulance. A phalanx of officers had surrounded the medics and the man, but after they took him away, the police walked back down the street, away from the bridge. The bridge was the bottleneck. They should have gone to the bridge.
Not long after they left, I heard a yell. It came from the bridge. A bunch of people were running -- 100? 200? It’s hard to say. They charged -- there’s no other word for it -- like medieval infantrymen but armed with flares instead of swords. More beatings. More kicks to heads. I held my vantage point on the ledge of the Polish Army Museum and watched it all.
The strange part was that the fans never stopped coming. They never stopped walking toward the bridge. Was this normal for them? I don’t know. It wasn’t normal for me.
At about 6:50, I could no longer see any police. They’d left. I did see plenty of red and white shirts, though. They moved toward the bridge, together. Nobody was there to keep them apart.
It was time for me to go.
By John Parolin, ESPN Stats & Information
The Czech Republic rebounded from its poor opening performance with a 2-1 win over Greece in Wroclaw. The Greeks couldn’t overcome a historically bad defensive start, and find themselves alone in last place in Group A, needing a win over group leaders Russia to advance.
The Czechs scored two goals in the first six minutes of the match, the fastest pair of goals to start the match by any team in Euro history. Both Petr Jiracek’s 3rd-minute goal and Vaclar Pilar’s 6th-minute goal were assisted by defenders, the first defenders of the tournament to register assists.
Greece cut the deficit to one when Fanis Gekas scored in the 53rd minute, the second Greek goal this tournament (both from substitutes). Gekas scored on his first attacking third touch of the game, and his second touch overall.
Despite the three goals scored, this game was not an offensive showcase. The Czech Republic finished with six touches in the box, the lowest single-game total of the tournament. The teams combined for five shots in the penalty box, by far the fewest in a tournament game (France-England, 10).
Greece has just six shots in the box through its first two matches. Nine teams had more than that in just their opening match. Part of the problem was Greece’s inability to set up those shots.
The Greeks completed only 49.7 percent of passes in the attacking third today, and own the two worst single-game passing percentages in the attacking third this tournament.
Neither team was particularly effective creating offense on the wings. Greece completed only two of 25 crosses in the match (8 percent), while the Czech Republic didn’t connect on any of its 10 crosses, the only team in the tournament that failed to register a single successful cross.
In Warsaw, Russia and Poland drew 1-1 to set up a “win and in” situation for all four teams. When Poland equalized to earn a point, it was the second instance this tournament where a “host nation” came from behind to earn at least a point. Ukraine fell behind Sweden before winning 2-1.
The Russians took the lead in the 37th minute when Alan Dzagoev notched his tournament-best third goal. The 21-year-old Dzagoev headed home an Andrei Arshavin cross to become the second-youngest player with three goals in Euro play (Wayne Rooney, 2004).
Five of Russia’s last seven major tournament goals have been scored or assisted by Arshavin, who created five of Russia’s 11 chances and had 47 touches in the attacking third. Dzagoev finished with three shots on target, the only Russian to record one.
Russia’s ability to string together passes was also key, as it completed 82.3 percent of its passes against Poland, the fourth-highest percentage in a game so far this tournament.
Jakub Blaszczykowski scored the equalizer in the 57th minute for Poland, a 20-yard laser with his left foot. Blaszczykowski’s goal was the third-longest strike of the tournament and the third goal to come from outside the box.
DONETSK, Ukraine -- It’s always nice to see a home team do well at a tournament, so -- nothing against Sweden -- Ukraine’s 2-1 win was thrilling. The game marked the end of the first match day, to use Champions League parlance, at the European Championships, so it’s time for a look at who’s hot and who’s not through the opening eight matches.
Andriy Shevchenko: Like Fernando Torres, Sheva learned just how difficult it was to usurp Didier Drogba at Chelsea and ended up savagely criticized by the British press during his failed spell in west London. Part of that, though, was down to injuries. Even if Shevchenko, on his last legs at 35, doesn’t produce another goal in the next week and Ukraine is ousted, he’ll never forget the two he bagged against Sweden in Kiev to send all of Ukraine into rapture. Bravo.
Michael Krohn-Dehli: A mini story of redemption. Injuries contributed to a poor stint at Ajax, but Krohn-Dehli saved his best for the Dutch by scoring the winner as Denmark stunned the 2010 World Cup finalists, 1-0. His work rate was outstanding and outshone a teammate (Christian Eriksen) with a beefier reputation.
Mario Gomez: Gomez was one of those who got nervy in the Champions League final. The chances came ... and the chances went. Germany manager Joachim Low put his faith in Gomez by starting him against Portugal over the more reliable Miroslav Klose; Gomez repaid the boss by scoring a nifty winner.
Alan Dzagoev: Even though Dzagoev, an attacking midfielder, scored four goals in qualifying for Russia, there was talk that his place on the team wasn’t guaranteed; Marat Izmailov was pushing for his spot. Manager Dick Advocaat opted for Dzagoev, and he scored twice in the Russians' 4-1 win against the Czech Republic. It should have been a hat trick, but Dzagoev shot wide when presented with another good opportunity.
Antonio di Natale: Maybe now the oft-overlooked Udinese striker will get a start. His finish was as cool as they come, deceiving Iker Casillas -- one of the best goalkeepers in the world -- in Italy’s entertaining 1-1 draw with Spain. And he’s another 35-year-old.
The not so good
Robin van Persie: Is this the same guy who led the EPL in scoring? Van Persie had enough chances to claim a hat trick, or possibly more, in the Netherlands’ defeat. Instead, he didn’t even test Danish keeper Stephan Andersen. The worst moment? Whiffing when put through by his dear friend (not!) Wesley Sneijder.
Arjen Robben: The Dutch winger was almost as bad as van Persie. The villain for Bayern Munich in the Champions League final, it looks like his confidence hasn’t returned. One-on-one with Andersen, he should have shot instead of passing. Then, with van Persie in acres of space, he shot instead of passing -- hitting the post. He’s confused.
Fernando Torres: Changing jerseys from Chelsea to Spain did nothing for Torres' confidence issues, and manager Vicente del Bosque showed what he thought of El Nino by starting Cesc Fabregas, normally a midfielder, at striker against Italy. When Torres entered as a sub, he messed up three opportunities to win the game in the final 15 minutes.
Wojciech Szczesny: If Shevchenko experienced a high by scoring at home for Ukraine in a massive tournament, this was almost certainly a heavy downer for Szczesny. Poland kicked off the tournament in Warsaw against Greece and the Arsenal goalkeeper was a complete disaster. He was at fault on Greece’s goal and rightfully saw red for taking down Dimitris Salpingidis. A worry for Gunners fans, perhaps, who thought their goalkeeping problems were over.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov: With Russia eventually coasting past the Czech Republic, a few might forget Kerzhakov’s evening. Following a promising start, linking up well with Andriy Arshavin and Dzagoev, Kerzhakov spurned at least three golden chances. He’ll be relieved that Advocaat didn’t hold it against him.