After another unnecessary opening ceremony, which this time took place at the 42000 seater St. Jakob Park stadium in BASEL, the hosts Switzerland took on the Czech Republic in the opening game, with an early mistake by the Czech allowing Alexander Frei to fire wide in the opening shot of the game.
The high tempo from both sides caused a few fouls such as Jankulovski knocking down Behrami with some danger for both defences. The Lazio winger Behrami certainly seemed eager to add to his suitors, having recently threatened to invoke the ‘Webster clause’, with some tricky dribbling and dangerous delivery, including a shot straight down the throat of Cech. With the Czechs eager to counter-attack and exploit the height of the 6ft 7.5 inch Jan Koller, the contrasting styles set up an intriguing contest, with a win in the first game creating a psychological boost.
A back-heeled pass by Frei to Inler allowed the defensive midfielder to drive forward and shoot, albeit straight the giant Cech, who had to be equally sharp when Frei turned his marker and got the shot away after a long ball and knock on beat the centre-backs too easily (21). A poor clearance by Arsenal’s Senderos created panic in the Swiss box, with the experienced Muller covering for his error-prone partner, stealing the ball away from Koller. The smart interplay between the technical Czech midfielders created various angles to play the high ball into the box to Koller.
When this appeared to break down, the Swiss broke forward quickly, with a rasping drive from Frei swerving, forcing Cech to punch, no doubt proof of the criticisms from various keepers of its disadvantage from a defensive perspective. While this may be the case, surely in terms of goals and entertainment there are only positives. In comparison to the number of long range goals in Germany 2006, we should expect a similar number proportionately in the rest of the tournament.
Switzerland suffered a huge blow on the stroke of half time, when star striker Frei appeared to jar his knee, causing doubts about the rest of his involvement in this tournament. The distraught Frei limped off, with the experienced Hakan Yakin, top scorer with 24 in the Swiss league replacing him. Having missed out in Euro 2004, after spitting at Steven Gerrard, injury struck this time, lowering already modest Swiss hopes reliant on their captain and inspiration Frei. One positive of BBC coverage was the lack of an update from the England camp, which at past tournaments shifted the focus from the match at hand. A negative was their ability to do the impossible: pair John Motson with an even more annoying Mark, whose most insightful piece of analysis was to sheepishly laugh at ‘Motty’ noticing ‘Platini scratching his chin’.
The lack of pace in the Czech attack helped Switzerland soak up any sustained pressure, with the whole side pressing and defending in numbers allowing the Czechs to pass amongst themselves but not build any dangerous attacking play. His set up suited Arsenal’s Senderos, who was rarely exposed with the team suiting his style of play. The substitute Yakin slotted in without much trouble, causing problems through his early touches, firing a free-kick narrowly over. The lack of movement from the all Koller caused Karel Bruckner to substitute the 54 goal striker for the more mobile Sverkos, who is equally capable aerially.
Libor Sionko won a free-kick, which the left-footed Jankulovski whipped in, with a number of the Czech players waiting at the far post, including the tricky Sionko. Immediately, the Swiss responded with fine interplay between Behrami and Lichtensteiner, with the resulting cross blazed over by Barnetta, who was marked closely throughout. In frustration, he clumsily tackled Plasil resulting in a free-kick, which Jankulovski curled over. Kobi Kuhn, recently at the centre of Swiss news concerning his ill wife, held his hands up in frustration as Hakan Yakin wasted a free header.
Sionko probed for any openings causing Senderos to clear after the former Ranger’s player slipped in a pass to the striker. Eventually, a simple headed ball back into the box beat the whole Swiss back four and Sverkos finished with his shin, with the keeper stranded. The Swiss responded with a scramble in the box eventually causing Vonlanthen to hit the bar when all that was required was to keep the shot low from the rebound after Cech saved well from Barnetta. In the dying seconds there was a large claim for handball, with Ujfalusi the offender but referee Roberto Rosetti waived away any claims.
Thus Czech Republic took the initial advantage in Group A, with Switzerland coach Kuhn set to come under further pressure from the media, with already the perception that given his age, perhaps he doesn’t have the drive needed to manage the host nation widespread.
Switzerland 0 – 1 Czech Republic FT
Having scored 42 goals, he set himself into Manchester United history winning both the league and the European Cup, yet Ronaldo fuelled intense speculation in the media, when declaring his dream to join Real Madrid, deciding to dismiss the love and admiration given to him. Another tricky winger Ricardo Quaresma, eternally in Ronaldo’s shadow also wants to win a move from Porto started from the bench.
With all the focus on the Portuguese winger, he is yet to set the big stage alight, having been outshone by Lionel Messi in the Champions League semi-final and having missed key penalties in the same run, there hasn’t been one memorable performance by the widely acknowledged world’s best player that comes to mind. Perhaps the great interest in this ‘saga’ influenced the questionable decision to appoint Gary Neville as an ITV pundit.
With the two sides meting in a more attractive encounter, there was one English presence in Colin Kazim-Richards obviously mentioned by ITV, with television outlets searching for any angle to attract larger audiences to their station. ‘It beats GCSE revision’ according to Clive Tyldsley, revealing their ‘chosen’ demographic, according to one forum member. With Turkey threatening on the counter, with a misunderstanding between Nihat and Tuncay broke down an attack, while Tuncay fell dramatically following another attack. Real Madrid defender Pepe headed the ball in the net from a corner but it was judged offside. Following this, a wonderful cross-field ball from Deco to Simao, who kept wide throughout, opened up the play, who delayed and a great block by Hamit Altintop stopped his cross. Simao then curled a deal ball over the bar, while his fellow wideman Ronaldo seemed sporadic in his involvement in influencing Portugal’s play, with his first dive 26 seconds in, followed by a misplaced pass, then he made a by fine dribble which then ended in a scuffed shot.
The end product of Portugal still appeared to be lacking as Ronaldo whipped in a brilliant free kick was stunningly saved by the Turkish keeper Demirel. Even Nuno Gomes’ predecessor Pauleta, their all-time top scorer, who surpassed the legendary Eusebio, never performed in the big tournaments, while the player himself seemed isolated from the midfield. Yet the poacher hit the post after the referee allowed the advantage with Simao feeling the full force of Besiktas’ Zan’s clumsy attempt at a clearance, who was rightly booked. Later Deco misjudged the weight of the pas s needed for the final ball, after a fine Portugal attack, with the Euro 2004 finalists starting to turn the screw as Turkey were reduced to rare counter attacks.
A stunning goal from Pepe of Real Madrid stunned Turkey with fine interplay with Nuno Gomes and the Brazilian naturalised with the Euro 2004 hosts finished with aplomb. Once dismissed after a horrible debut for the Spanish champions in a 5-3 defeat to Sevilla, following an inflated €30 million transfer fee, Pepe grew into his role this year as Real retained the title. Gomes, anonymous in the first half, headed against the bar from a Ronaldo cross. While Portugal started to monopolise possession, Nihat still gave a reminder of his threat, intending to add to his successes with Villarreal this year, as he chased onto a ball from Altintop, but the powerful Pepe ran it out of play, while Ricardo snatched the high ball from Tuncay.
Asik headed wide late on, while Tuncay swung wildly at the ball in a great chance and missed his kick completely, adding to Turkey’s lack of attacking potency. As the game edged to a close, Nani was scythed down in a very poor challenge by Aurelio. Another beautiful goal killed off Turkey with a fine turn by Moutinho, once linked to Arsenal, and pass left a simple finish for Raul Meireles, who looked dangerous in his few minutes, although Ronaldo can be deemed lucky for not being penalised for a foul in the build up.
The only disappointment of the opening day was ITV’s obsession with Ronaldo, which bordered on the unhealthy, mentioning him so many times that an estimate of about 200 would not be exaggerating. It is clear to see that Portugal do not have the most potent attacking options in the tournament, despite what the excitable Clive Tyldesley may think. Their fine possession football may be aesthetically pleasing but their style doesn’t have the clinical finishing necessary to win the tournament, much like Arsenal in some aspects.
Portugal 2 – 0 Turkey FT
By Kaiser Kolo
Well done KK for an excellent match report. EUROGOONER WATCH will continue bringing Gooners the world over, updates about the progress and performance of our Gunners in the Tournament.
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