The first round of Euro 2012 ended today with England beating Ukraine 1-0 and France losing to Sweden 2-0. England thus advance to the quarterfinals as the winners of Group D with France in second. The English victory was a stereotypically English display–defend, defend, defend, and score on a set piece. Wayne Rooney had a good game in his first match of the tournament after a two-match ban for a red card received during qualifying, and scored the only goal on a header in the aftermath of a corner kick. Soon afterwards, Ukraine looked to have equalized as a shot went over the line momentarily before being cleared by John Terry. But despite the fact that the extra goal-line official was standing right there, no goal was given and the English held their lead. However, earlier in the play Ukraine clearly had a player offside, so it wasn’t terribly unjust that the goal was ignored.
Steve McManaman, the color commentator for ESPN, said the incident was reminiscent of the 2010 World Cup match between England and Germany when Frank Lampard clearly scored, but the referee didn’t see the ball go over the line. However, McManaman called that play “Frank Lampard against West Germany,” and his partner Ian Darke didn’t correct him! This verbal slip both shows which era they grew up in and is an example of an odd trend in soccer commentary to assume that the current German team are only the successors of the West Germans, not the East Germans. Whenever anyone speaks about Germany’s previous successes, they always say that “Germany has won three World Cups” (or, more negatively if you are talking to an Englishman, “Germany lost the 1966 World Cup final to England”) but that’s not true–West Germany won three World Cups. There is a difference. If you are going to give the Germans all of West Germany’s successes, you have to give them all of East Germany’s (relative) failures, too.
Anyway, Ukraine needed to win in order to advance, and their failure to do so makes this tournament the second successive European Championship where both co-hosts have failed to advance (Switzerland and Austria were eliminated in the group stage in 2008). It is always sad when the hosts are eliminated immediately, but there are some exciting quarterfinal matchups to look forward to nonetheless. Here are comments on each match in the order they will be played:
Czech Republic vs. Portugal–Both teams are somewhat shaky on defense, and both rebounded with two wins after losing their first match. Portugal looked especially dangerous in their final match against Holland due to the emergence of Cristiano Ronaldo from his mini-slump, and I think this momentum will carry Portugal through to the semifinals.
Germany vs. Greece–The Germans were the only team to win all of their three first round matches, and looked fairly at ease doing so even though they only won each match by one goal. Greece is a tough team to beat because they are strong defenders and they take their few chances well, and Germany is not a flashy offensive team, so Greece might give them some trouble. But the Germans have too much quality, and will go through.
Spain vs. France–The juiciest of the four matchups. France looked like the second-best team of the tournament behind Germany until their uninspiring loss to Sweden. Conversely, Spain won their group in rather pedestrian fashion. Spain should win this match, but it really depends on which versions of the two sides show up. If France play the way they did against England and Spain play like they did against Croatia, I like the French. But those are two huge ifs. If each team plays to the average of their performances thus far in the tournament, Spain will win, because France must play their absolute best to have a chance.
England vs. Italy–Both teams have had middling performances that were enough to get them through to the quarterfinals, with England looking slightly more impressive. This match will come down to which teams’ stars have the best game. I really liked the way Wayne Rooney played today despite being rusty, so I’m picking England to move on.