To the envy of many, I am sure, I have watched every single game of the European Championships in its entirety thus far. Live, too, with only one 30-minute-delay PVR-enabled exception. In other words, at the conclusion of the first round of group play, I have seen each of the 16 teams in action exactly once.
At the top of the draw, both Portugal and Germany looked confident and solid. Their respective opponents, Turkey and Poland, started out well enough, especially the Turks, but simply did not have enough talent to compete. The supposed second-best teams in these two groups, the Czechs and the Croats, looked utterly unconvincing in scraping out minimal wins against lesser opposition, Austria and Switzerland, respectively, who were supposed to be hopefully outclassed but compensated with heart and effort for what they lacked in ability.
In the bottom half of the future knockout bracket, sit the two teams that impressed most so far – Holland and Spain. The Dutch played a well-rounded team game in dismantling surprisingly unhinged Italy, scoring an instant classic of a counter-attacking goal in the process. The Spanish had a comparative walk in a park against an opponent who played intelligibly only for short stretches; that does not diminish the quality of Spanish display.
The remaining traditional “grand”, France, put in disappointing 90 minutes of failing to create anything of consequence against a Romanian team that clearly played for the goalless draw from the start. It looks like Holland will be unexpectedly comfortable in the “group of death”.
Greece played the most unattractive and unimaginative game, but their version of anti-football inexplicably led them to win the whole thing four years ago, so at least one can understand their insistence on clinging to that approach. They lost to a mostly unimpressive Sweden, on the strength of the most beautiful pure strike seen in the tournament so far.
Russia, playing a hapless foil to a well-oiled Spain squad, put forward a candidacy for the worst display of the first round. Porous defense, lack of movement, limited technical ability, surprising inertness of a couple of players – it all contributed to a pretty humiliating result. The Russians created chances (even hitting a post with what could have been a 1:1 equalizer) and had a few short spells of activity, but the Spaniards won too many balls and created too many opportunities to score for this to be a close contest. At 3:0, Spain let up a bit, and Russia scored a pretty good consolation goal off a corner, and then had a great chance to double their tally moments later, but instead, another half-hearted defensive effort led to the fourth goal for Spain, albeit ultimately from a clear offside.
Fortunately for the Russians, their two remaining opponents (Greece and Sweden) did not exactly set the world on fire, so this is not yet the end of the road.
In summary, it looks like Portugal and Germany in one semifinal and Holland and Spain in another, with Germany and Holland thus far making the strongest claims.
I won’t be keeping up my perfect record in watching games, going forward. Only one game for me today (recorded), same tomorrow, and none Friday or Saturday, on account of a planned getaway (yes, I’d take a travel opportunity before any football game anytime!). I should be back by the start of the final round of the group play on Sunday.