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Wileman: Surprises and stars so far at Euro 2012

Luke Wileman
6/12/2012 6:39:56 PM
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The first five days of action at EURO 2012 have produced plenty of talking points and some fantastic storylines as we have witnessed surprises, star performances and a lot of top quality action.

Here are a few thoughts from the tournament so far:

A Show From Sheva

It was an incredible story. My highlight of the first five days was seeing a vintage performance from Andriy Shevchenko. The 35-year-old rolled back the years to score two goals in Ukraine's opening match against Sweden, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead.

On our EURO Tonight broadcast following the match, Darren Anderton said "class is permanent" when talking about Shevchenko's performance. The veteran may have lost a little bit physically in the latter stages of his career, but he still has the ability to produce in front of goal when the pressure on.

The movement from Shevchenko for both goals was superb, as was his execution. In the first half, Shevchenko missed a couple of excellent opportunities, but as an experienced striker, he kept his composure and didn't let the misses affect him.

The scenes at the end of the match were something that will live long in the memory for fans and players alike as Shevchenko received the adulation of a grateful nation. Shevchenko has won the Champions League, Serie A, five Ukranian titles, and been named his country's Player of the Year six times, but this was a night he will never forget. It was a fantastic sight to see.

Pressure on Poland

After Poland's opening day draw with Greece, their coach Franciszek Smuda said his side were unable to deal with the psychological pressure of playing in the opening match as a host nation. Taking a point from the opening match of the tournament is not a bad result, but after starting in such a positive fashion, it was alarming to see how Poland were unable to build on their early lead.

Robert Lewandowski gave the co-host a deserved 17th minute lead as they caused Greece all sorts of problems attacking from wide positions. But Poland couldn't add to their advantage and had to settle for a point after succumbing to a comeback from Greece in the second half. Greece actually played better with 10 men, but it will have been frustrating for Poland not to make the man advantage count. That was their opportunity to open the tournament with a bang, and they wasted it.

They did, however, manage to earn a point in their second match against Russia, thanks to a stunning strike from their captain Jakub Blaszczykowski. It was an impressive comeback from the co-hosts after Russia had taken a first half lead. It leaves Poland's fate in their own hands. If they can win against Czech Republic in their final group game, they will advance to the guarter-finals.

Best Game So Far?

In terms of the quality of play on show, Spain against Italy is the stand-out match of the tournament so far for me. The players involved in that match are some of the best in the world, and it showed. Seeing the way a player such as Andres Iniesta is able to influence the game was a joy to watch. His control, passing, speed of play was superb to see – and there were many others who lived up to that same standard.

The Italian performance was impressive. They are solid defensively as expected, but under Cesare Prandelli, they also have an attacking mindset. The 3-5-2 formation was a surprise to see, but it worked well against Spain.

The Spaniards themselves sprung a surprise when they played with Cesc Fabregas as their main forward, despite having more natural attacking options such as Fernando Torres on the bench. Heading into the tournament, the absence of David Villa was the main reason why I didn't pick them to repeat as champions, and that seems to be a major issue for them after watching their first match. Taking Villa's goals out of the Spanish team is difficult for them to deal with. It will be interesting to see if Vincente Del Bosque changes things up for their second match against Ireland on Thursday and decides to go with Torres from the start.

A Knockout Blow

The biggest shock of the tournament so far was seeing Denmark beat the Netherlands in Group B. That result blew the toughest group in the tournament wide open. The Dutch were the better side but couldn't finish their chances and were made to pay for it. It now means they need to avoid defeat against Germany on Wednesday in Kharkiv in their second game of the group stage, which is an extremely difficult task.

The Germans were quietly effective in their win over Portugal and look the favourites to win the group. They were my favourites heading into the tournament, and I've not seen anything from the opening few days of action in Poland and Ukraine to make me change my mind.

Luke Wileman

Luke Wileman


Luke Wileman is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca.

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