Sports journalist and Newton Aycliffe FC reporter Glen Robertson writes a regular Euro 2012 blog for Aycliffe Today…
DAY THREE REVIEW
Spain 1-1 Italy
The game of the tournament so far as favourites Spain played out a very entertaining draw against Italy. The Spaniards sprung a surprise with their starting line-up by not naming a recognised striker, with Cesc Fabregas playing as their furthest forward player, while Italy played three centre-backs, one of which was midfielder Daniele De Rossi.
As expected, Spain dominated possession but a lack of movement in the final third meant Italy were never really threatened. Italy took the lead through second-half substitute Antonio Di Natale, after a terrific pass from Andrea Pirlo. But Spain were level when David Silva’s superb through ball was finished by Fabregas.
Thanks to some wayward finishing by Fernando Torres, surprise, surprise, the game ended in a draw. Both sides will still more than fancy their chances of making the knockouts. They could even meet again in the final.
Croatia 3-1 Ireland
Ireland came to this tournament boasting one of the meanest defences in European football. Croatia breached it inside just three minutes. Ireland’s hopes rested on getting a result against the Croats. The defeat means they must now beat Spain and Italy to make sure of progression.
The Irish were distinctly second best, so much so the ITV commentators were forced to spend time praising the loudness of their supporters rather than comment on the lousy football on show.
Croatia took the lead through Mario Mandzukic, before Sean St. Ledger equalised, sparking a ‘Poznan’ celebration at the Irish end, inside Lech Poznan’s stadium.
Everton striker Nikica Jelavic put Croatia ahead just before half-time, before Shay Given inadvertently headed into his own goal after Mandzukic’s header came back off the post.
Ireland were denied a clear penalty late-on as Robbie Keane was fouled in the area, though Croatia were well worth their victory.
Croatia picked up a vital victory, but they will have to improve if they are to stop Spain and Italy cruising to the quarter-finals.
DAY FOUR PREVIEW
Finally the game everyone has been waiting for, as co-hosts Ukraine take on Sweden at 7.45pm. It is the best chance of three points for both teams. Neither will be happy with a point, so we should get an exciting, open game.
Oh, and England play France at 5pm.
Game of the Day – England vs France: Yes, Roy Hodgson’s men are finally getting their tournament underway as they face Laurent Blanc’s stylish French side. England’s last European Championship campaign, back in 2004, also opened against France. Then, Wayne Rooney dazzled but Zinedine Zidane scored two late goals as France won 2-1.
A defeat for England again would not be a disaster, as victories over Sweden and Ukraine would all-but guarantee a quarter-final spot, while a draw will be a very good start to the tournament. If Hodgson manages to mastermind a third-successive 1-0 victory, expect the nation’s expectations to soar once again.
Key Battle: Glen Johnson versus Franck Ribery
The selection of the Liverpool full-back ahead of Micah Richards in the squad was met with despair from many. Johnson is better known for his marauding runs forward than being a solid defender and he opens the tournament against one of the trickiest wingers in world football. Ribery helped Bayern Munich to the Champions League final this season and will fancy his chances of giving Johnson a torrid evening. With Patrice Evra also bombing on from left-back, Johnson will need James Milner to offer as much protection as possible, or the French could have a field day down England’s right.
Bet of the Day: Sweden to beat Ukraine. 19/10
Longshot: England to be winning at half-time and the game to end as a draw. 16/1