Russia denies racist claim

Russia’s sports minister Vitaly Mutko has rejected claims that the country’s football fans racially abused Czech player Theodor Gebre Selassie, instead suggesting the allegations were the result of a misunderstanding.

“I attended this match and watched everything with my own eyes,” Mutko was quoted as saying by number of publications in Russia. “There wasn’t any racial abuse. It’s all rubbish and untrue.”

Mutko said travelling Russian fans had been unhappy at the Czech fans’ refusal to take part in a “Mexican wave”.

“Our fans launched the wave but the Czechs refused to stand up. Our fans began condemning the Czechs in reply and that’s all,” he said.

We’ll have to take his word for it.

Press gang

Headline of the day

The Irish Sun scoops this with their ‘Shay it ain’t so’ headline – a reference to Irish keeper Shay Given, who enjoyed a torrid evening in Poznan.

Try not to get too carried away

Reaction in Croatia to the performance was almost overwhelmingly positive.

Glas Slavonije enthused: ”After last night’s victory over Ireland, anything is possible … Ireland is not Germany, but the way in which Croatia has opened the tournament in Poland indicates that the order of European football may again be greatly threatened.”

“This was the best opening ever game from the Croatian national team at a major competition,” said Croatia’s  Sportske Novosti. “The score was the same as against Jamaica at the 1998 World Cup, but this was a much more persuasive presentation.”

Mutual love affair

Reaction to Spain and Italy’s 1-1 draw was largely positive in both countries.

“Don’t discard the idea that we may meet Italy again in the final,” said Spain’s AS. ”

Italy, desperate for a good news football story, seized upon their impressive display.

“What’s that old story that the Italians, when they are cornered, bring out their best?” asks Correire della Serra. “Well, it happened again. The Azzurri troubled Del Bosque’s dream team for large stretches of the match.

Heart of the matter

Miguel Delaney , writing in the Irish Ezaminer, made a pertinent point about Trapattoni’s Ireland team: the rigid system requires Ireland to defend solidly. If they don’t, they are in big trouble.

“Here, allowances have to be made for the conditions. But that also raises a larger point. Trapattoni’s approach essentially invites teams on. For that to pay dividends, the backline needs to be dependable. More than any other system, it simply cannot allow errors. As such, on wet nights like last night, it is inherently hostage to fortune.”

Zero tolerance

Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin has once again demonstrated his unique grasp of sensitive, political and racial issues.

Blokhin put down his headphones and stopped listening to the translation of a question about racism during a news conference ahead of his side’s opening game against Sweden.

“I don’t want to talk about racism. There is no racism in Ukraine,” Blokhin said.

“This is a political matter. I don’t think it has anything to do with football. If there are any incidents, they will not be in Ukraine.”

With Blokhin, it’s not so much a case of zero tolerance towards racism, as zero tolerance towards people asking him questions about racism.

Lowering expectations

From zero tolerance to zero expectations and that can only mean England are about to join the Euro 2012 party.

Rarely has an England campaign been accompanied by such an absence of hype and and newly appointed manager, Roy Hodgson, aware that expectations are unprecedentedly low, is doing his bit to keep them there.

“We have not won as many tournaments as we should have done. We all feel that weight,” he said.

“There is nothing we can do to take that weight from our shoulders, except to embrace Euro 2012 and make certain we are not afraid of it.

“You’re ready, you’re good enough, now have the confidence and the belief in yourself to get out there and show it. Don’t get suicidal if for some reason things don’t work out for you.”

As rallying cries go, it’s not exactly Churchillian.

Tika-taka tactics

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque says he might repeat Sunday’s experiment of playing without strikers.

Against Italy, Spain employed a novel 4-6-0 formation, with Cesc Fabregas nominally playing the ‘false No. 9′ position, while Andres Iniesta and David Silva completed an attack-minded midfield trio. Fabregas did score in the 1-1 draw, but the experiment could hardly be described as an unqualified success. Nonetheless, del Bosque says he may use the system in Spain’s next game against Ireland.

“We have a lot of confidence in what we did,” Del Bosque said on Spanish radio station Cadena Ser. “We have three fantastic forwards but Cesc is also a good forward. It’s possible we’ll play the same way.”

To be honest, on the evidence of Ireland’s performance against Croatia on Sunday, Spain won’t need a striker. They could play without strikers, midfielders and even defenders and you’d still fancy their chances. Just launch the ball in the vague direction of the Irish penalty area and Shay Given will be there to offer a helping hand, or head.   

Goal of the day

Not a vintage performance from Spain, but their goal was a gem. Quick exchange of passes and a delightful flicked pass from David Silva into the path of Cesc Fabregas, who swept the ball past Gianluigi Buffon.

Quote of the day

“Steven Gerrard’s humility has stopped him stamping his authority on England group in the past. He carries himself with understated authority, preferring to lead by example rather than walk around like he is God’s gift to the England shirt. Confident within himself that he is exactly where he was always destined to be but feeling no obligation to broadcast it so openly. Despite his enormous talent he has never behaved in a fashion to suggest he felt superior to anyone else in the squad. (If England were awarded a penalty) Frank Lampard would have picked up the ball. I’d be thinking to myself “Stevie has as much right to be taking this as Frank”, but he’s allowing his modesty to work against him.”

Steven Gerrard in the words of his mother. Actually, somewhat incredibly, it was Liverpool team mate Jamie Carragher, writing  in today’s Telegraph, who penned the eulogy.

Trap floored

There’s been plenty of coverage of the fan skirmishes that have taken place in Poland and Ukraine over the past few days, but footage has emerged of a shocking attack on a defenceless pensioner during Sunday’s game between Ireland and Croatia.

To be fair to Trapattoni, he got closer to Mandzukic last night, than any of his players managed all night.

Dutch prank

A couple of Dutch supporters decided to play a prank on the Germany team ahead of the sides meeting on Wednesday. One fan filmed while the other attached a bright orange wheel clamp to the Germany team coach. If it wasn’t for the pesky security guard, they’d have got away with it too.

Excuses excuses

Vicente del Bosque and several of his players have blamed the state of the pitch in Gdansk for Spain’s lack of fluency against Italy.

Before Sunday’s game, the holders asked for the pitch to be watered but Italy opposed the request and the appeal was turned down.

“A pitch that is so dry does not do football or the spectators many favours,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque told a news conference.

“If the pitch had been a bit quicker it would have been better for both teams and a better match.”

Spain’s goalscorer Cesc Fabregas complained: “It is lamentable that we have to play on a pitch like this. I don’t want to complain but we deserve much more.”

Man-of-the-match Andres Iniesta was another to criticise the playing surface.

“I think that for the spectator a pitch in good condition is always better,” he said.

Spanish forward Fernando Torres, who missed two wonderful chances to score the winner after coming on for the last 15 minutes, said the team had “complained a lot” to organisers about the dryness of the grass before kick-off.

“In the end they [Italy] were able to benefit a lot from the pitch,” Torres said afterwards.

They benefited even more from Torres’ hesitant finishing.