The first round of group matches is over at the Euro 2012 Championship. There have been some exciting matches so far and this tournament only gets better as the games start to mean more and more, so if you haven’t checked any of it out you are really doing yourself a disservice. All 16 teams are still alive as there has been a draw in three of the four groups (the group of death is the lone group with two decisions) through the first of three guaranteed matches for each nation. The knockout picture will start looking clearer as the second round of games gets underway tomorrow afternoon, and as a reminder you can watch all these games on ESPN and on ESPN3 (including replays available on demand).
Match Five: Spain 1 – Italy 1
This match featured the past two World Cup winners, so as expected there was some brilliant soccer played Sunday afternoon in Poland. Spain, who won the last European Championship in 2008, came into the match with a 14-match winning streak which was snapped with this match as it finished 1-1. Italy drew first blood in this game, as Antonio Di Natale, a striker for Serie A club Udinese, scored on his first touch of the match in the 61st minute after replacing the eccentric Mario Balotelli. Unfortunately that lead for Italy would not last very long, as three minutes later Spain’s Cesc Febregas tied it for the defending champions by finishing off an incredible display of Spain’s prolific passing game in leveling the match up. Spain who dominated much of this match was not able to put any more shots into the back of the net, and for many of the countries fans the result was a discouraging one. Italy on the other hand was satisfied with the result and the point and will hope to defeat the lesser countries in the group to advance.
Match Six: Republic of Ireland 1 – Croatia 3
As someone of Irish descent the team I am pulling for most in this tournament is of course the boys in green, white and orange. I know it is going to be a short tournament for them, but at least they are competing in it. This match started off ugly for the Irish, with a third minute goal from Mario Mandzukic who knocked a header past Shay Given to start the match. The Irish were able to equalize 16 minutes later with Sean St. Ledger getting on the end of a cross of an Aiden McGeady free-kick, but that was all Ireland could muster in this match. Just before half-time Croatia went ahead for good, as Nikica Jelavich scored his first goal in an international match since 2009 even though Ireland’s coach believes that he was clearly off-sides and I tend to agree with him. Not that it really matters since in the second half Croatia scored an insurance goal (that will help them with goal differential tie-breakers should they be needed) as Mandzukic earned his second goal of the match in the 48th minute. The three goals allowed by Ireland in this match were as many as they had conceded in its previous 14 games, so it was an uncharacteristic performance to say the least. Croatia is now atop group C with the only win thus far in the group and they will face Italy on Thursday afternoon.
Match Seven: France 1 – England 1
Besides Ireland, a team I am rooting for is England, if only because they have Wayne Rooney. Rooney is suspended for the first two matches of this tournament after kicking Montenegro’s Miodrag Dzudovic during an October match so he missed today’s match and will have to sit out England’s performance versus Sweden later this week. England put in an okay result this afternoon without him, holding on for a 1-1 draw versus a tough French team. Both of the goals in this match were scored in the first half, with England opening the scoring in the 30th minute. Joleon Lescott, a defender from Manchester City scored on a header from a Steven Gerrard cross at the half hour mark, the only shot on target for the English today. Just before halftime Samir Nasri leveled for France when he got a low shot past England keeper Joe Hart. France, who has still not won a match at a major tournament since the 2006 World Cup came into the match with a 22-match unbeaten streak and that streak is still intact after today. France had the better chances today, including 15 on target, but only one got past Hart who kept England in the match and earned them the 1-1 draw.
Match Eight: Ukraine 2 – Sweden 1
Welcome to the Euro’s, Ukraine. Playing in their first ever match in a European Championship today, Ukraine was able to secure a 2-1 victory over the favored Sweden side in what was probably the most thrilling match of the tournament thus far. The scoring opened up in the 52nd minute, with Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic earning the first goal of the match. The AC Milan star forward has been the focal point of the Swede’s attack for years and today was no exception as the 30-year old found the back of the net for the first goal of the match. Just three minutes later Andriy Shevchenko, a Ukrainian legend (and former AC Milan and Chelsea star himself, and current member of Dynamo Kyiv) headed in the equalizer and then added his second goal of the day in the 61st minute that proved to be the difference. After the match, Shevchenko said “we showed today our character, our good football” and added “we have very good chances to qualify” so obviously he’s feeling pretty good about the result and the fact that Ukraine now leads group D with three points.
12 PM (EST): Greece vs. Czech Republic
2:45 PM (EST): Poland vs. Russia