It was always a little premature to hail Denmark’s victory over Holland’s as proof of a new defensive mood enveloping the European game. First Chelsea win the Champions League, then Denmark provide the tournament’s first shock by keeping a clean sheet against much-fancied Holland.
The Danes pulled off a memorable victory but they did it more through luck than defensive judgment. Morten Olsen’s side did not set out to stop Holland from playing. The Dutch had 28 chances in the match, but managed only eight shots on target. On another day, Holland would have won comfortably.
Portugal’s cautious approach against Germany has also been offered as proof of the new mood of negativity. For the first three-quarters of the game, Portugal were indeed less ambitious than at previous tournaments. However, Mario Gomez’s goal forced positive changes from coach Paulo Bento, and they nearly snatched an equaliser. Had Portugal started the game as they played in the final 10 minutes, we would have had quite a match.
Thanks heavens, then, for Italy and Spain. Instead, we had quite a game here in Gdansk earlier.
Spain’s experiment with a withdrawn striker – effectively a 4-6-0 formation – seemed ideal in theory. In practice, they lacked pace and penetration in the final third. In short, they lacked David Villa.
Vicente Del Bosque’s replacement of Cesc Fabregas by Fernando Torres for the final 15 minutes may have looked like a change of gameplan, but it may have been his intention all along, especially as he would have expected Italy’s midfield, well anchored by Andrea Pirlo, to tire in the final quarter-hour.
Credit, though, to Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, who took a number of risks. Some didn’t work; Emmanuele Giaccharini looked a little lost on his international debut. But other moves did work, notably, playing Daniele De Rossi as a third centre-back, where he was able to pick out team-mates with accurate passing, and also proved himself a capable tackler.
Credit also to Italy for continuing to attack in the final 10 minutes, when they could have settled for the draw. All in all, tonight’s game in Gdansk offered enough proof that the tournament is not about to be dominated by negative tactics.
Then again, England have yet to play.
It was a six-hour train ride up to Gdansk from Warsaw this morning. And Warsaw-Gdansk is supposed to be one of the easier trips to make during the tournament. It was certainly easier than travelling to Ukraine, where colleagues are enduring lengthy flight delays as they try to make it down to Donetsk for tomorrow’s France-England match at the Donbass Arena.
The Gdansk stadium is covered in distinctive yellow casing, an acknowledgment of the city’s role in the production of amber – as I’m sure the TV commentators have pointed out. The stadium is only two stops from the city’s mainline train station. In between is the city’s main tourist attraction, the dockyards which provided the setting for the Solidairity protest moment of the 1980s. The dockyards station was closed today, in recognition that there was a bigger show in town.
If you thought Luis Figo’s Just For Men TV ad was bad, you’d best give his Euro 2012 effort a miss. I can only hope Figo’s accountant is happy with the fee trousered from a Polish beer company.
The best that can be said about Figo’s performance this time is that at least he does not have a speaking role. Instead, he stars alongside Marco Van Basten and Zbigniew Boniek. The trio of legendary players – different nationalities, different eras, so obviously best mates – attend a match, with plenty of insincere camaraderie on show. It’s quite a performance from Van Basten, too, as he pats his new pal Boniek on the back.
By Gavin Hamilton