Euro 2012 Day One: Arsenal's Szczesny Turns Clown And Other Things We Learned

The stopper had an absolute mare, but even more surprising was that Howard Webb isn't the worst ref and that Arshavin could be bothered...
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The stopper had an absolute mare, but even more surprising was that Howard Webb isn't the worst ref and that Arshavin could be bothered...

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Euro 2012 Day One: Arsenal's Szczesny Does A Seaman And Other Things We Learned

Stats Mean Nothing

Coming into this tournament the pundits kept harping on about how mean the Greek defence was, how they’d only conceded five goals in their ten qualifying games. Given that statistic you would have expected to see some sort of organisation in their back four. Instead, in a bid to lift their nations spirits in these troubling times, their defence put on a display of slapstick that was only lacking a few custard pies.

Full backs going walkabout, centre halves in the wrong place at the wrong time, blundering into each other, trying to play a diagonal offside trap, it was not the stoic rearguard that the pundits had built up. Had Poland not been so wasteful it could have conceivably been three goals to nil at the break. On this showing Greece will certainly come unstuck against much better opposition and it’s a miracle that today they only managed to concede one.

Howard Webb Isn’t The Worst Referee Here

Few will have believed what they saw from the Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo yesterday, a man who seemed intent on a mission to take an already tense environment and turn it into a powderkeg. He comes into the tournament with some statistics that already suggest that he is something of a zealot when it comes to applying the perceived letter of the law. Last season he showed 16 red cards and 178 yellow cards in 29 La Liga matches officiated.

It was clear the partizan crowd played a part in influencing his decisions. First booking Papastathopoulos for a perfectly good aerial challenge, he then issued a second yellow to the player for the capital crime of being close to a Polish player as he slipped making a turn. The Greeks were absolutely distraught, emotions that threatened to spill over when moments later he flatly declined a debatable hand ball in favour of the home side.

The game could have turned ugly although one suspects he saw some replays at the half time interval because he returned to the pitch with a much toned down attitude. He must have breathed a sigh of relief when Szczesny had his meltdown allowing him to level things up on numbers. Still, if this is to be the standard of refereeing this competition you can expect plenty of controversy.

Few will have believed what they saw from the Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo

Samaras Is An Awful Enigma

Celtic fans already know this first hand, but the man leading the Greek line, Georgios Samaras, is quite simply atrocious on a technical level, yet still capable of the odd moment of unexpected brilliance.

Blundering around up front, the Russell Brand lookalike had the first touch of a concrete wall and absolutely no control when the ball was at his feet. He was at his most effective when resorting to the old kick and chase he did get past a few defenders but it was in the lap of the gods whether or not there would be any end product. Even his team mates never knew whether to gamble on him getting it right or not and it lead to so many moments where if they had banked on him to actually do something, they could have been in a good position.

Perhaps most comical of all is his complete inability to control a volley, sticking out a skinny leg and making contact with the ball with almost any part of it except the top of his foot, the result is something that never ceases to amaze just how bad it actually is. The only thing you know you’re going to get for certain is height.

Yet in patches he actually looked like he could be the one to unlock the Polish defence, somehow, and continued to get himself into good scoring positions. When a ball finally came his way he responded in the way only Samaras knows how – by scuffing an easy tap in from three yards out.

Wojciech Szczesny Is Done For The Tournament

If you were to ask the average Gooner what they thought about Wojciech Szczesny and they’d tell you he was one of the plus points of their mixed season. A solid goalkeeper capable of making spectacular saves he was given the number one jersey for Poland at just 22 and came into the European Championships as a guaranteed starter despite only having ten caps to his name.

However in the proud tradition of Arsenal keepers before him (yes, you David Seaman) withering at a major international tournament, he had a collapse that was as spectacular a display of ineptitude as you’re likely to see this tournament.

Single-handedly costing his team any chance of victory he caused the first goal by completely misjudging the flight of the ball allowing Greece to prod the ball home into an empty net. Bad enough for sure but that was then followed up bringing down Salpingidas in the box with a desperate lunge that saw him issued with a straight red.

Georgios Samaras is quite simply atrocious on a technical level, yet still capable of the odd moment of unexpected brilliance

Not even arguing with the referee’s decision he plodded off the pitch sadly watching his replacement Premyslaw Tyton come on. The second choice stopper saved the penalty enabling Poland to take a point from the match and the rapturous reception he received, coupled with the suspension for Szczesny makes it unlikely we’ll see the Arsenal man again in the Euros.

Russia Are Dark Horses

Playing in the later game, Russia put on a masterclass of counter-attacking and expansive football, suggesting that they – if they weren’t already – should be favourites to top their group. Their 4-1 mauling of the Czech Republic was a result few foresaw but it was the manner of the victory that impressed the most, the football showing the kind of flair that hasn’t been synonymous with the Russian game for some time.

Under the guidance of the still hilariously named Dick Advocaat (would you drink it?) the team look like being truly capable of upsetting the apple cart this tournament, a midfield full of industry and flair and strikers that are as capable of bringing others into play or going it alone. The passing and movement was an unexpected surprise.

If they boasted a truly clinical striker this game would have finished with a much higher margin of victory but it’s not as if attacking midfielder Alan Dzagoev looked incapable of filling that void with two goals that showed his versatility. On this showing they have to be considered among the dark horses for the tournament and it’s now inconceivable that they wouldn’t go on to top this group on the strength of that showing.

Czech Republic’s Glory Days Are Long Gone

The Czech Republic have had some great teams down the years, filled with individuals who were immensely talented and Milan Baros. At international tournaments they were always considered one of those teams that could never lay a claim to having a chance of winning it but would be one of those lesser teams that decide who would by way of the scalps they take.

Since being loaned back to Russia by the London club he clearly has got his groove back

Punching above their weight now seems completely out of the question as their blend of aging stars, underachievers and Milan Baros struggled to compete with Russia. It started well for the first ten minutes but slowly it became clear just how far removed from the teams of old this one is and they were cruelly exposed in all areas of the pitch today. Even the usually reliable Peter Cech looked hapless, lacking faith in his woeful defence.

Given what we had seen from Greece earlier it looks like it will be between those two teams for who the wooden spoon but certainly it’d be a real chance who put money on the Czechs getting out of the group now.

Arshavin Belongs In Russia

His move to Arsenal should have been a match made in heaven. His sublime skills slotting into the side that play the most attractive football in England? Everyone watched and waited. What they got instead was a player who dimply drifted in and out of games, the occasional flash of brilliance, coupled with a slovenly nature that made him look more like a modern equivalent of Matt Le Tissier as opposed to a Soviet Messi.

Since being loaned back to Russia by the London club he clearly has got his groove back and today he was the beating heart of his national side today, almost everything good starting with him. A bundle of tricks and energy he was in his element as the Czech Republic defence gifted him the freedom of the ground. His flair was coupled with a high workrate, a sight that must have left Arsenal fans wondering if they had bought the twin that was kept in the basement and fed nothing but fish-heads.

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