Hello and welcome to the Euro 2012 match review! As the teams clashed against each other in a battle of wits and possession, we take a look back at the top matches that were played over the three match days. From Spain notching up 75% possession to the brace from Dirk Kuyt, we review and analyze the matches as they unfolded.
Slovenia 0-1 Italy (March 25, 2011)
Italy went on this trip to the beautiful city of Ljubljana without their star names like Mario Balotelli and Danielle de Rossi, after both were dropped by coach Prandelli for breaching the team’s code of conduct while competing for their respective clubs. Prandelli fielded Cassano and Pazzini as the front men with Lazio midfielder Mauri slotting in the hole.
The visitors went on the attack from the start of the game and Slovenia keeper, Handanovic was successful in keeping out Motta and Cassano. Italy dominated possession but failed to convert their chances in the first half. Interestingly, it was Buffon who was put under the scanner by Ljubijankic, but was equally up to the task. Slovenia slowly found their way into the match, but Italy scored in the 73rd minute via a left-footed strike from Motta. The game ended with each of the teams sharing exactly 50% possession.
Luxembourg 0-2 France (March 25, 2011)
This game saw the return of Patrice Evra and Frank Ribery, both of whom were sidelined from the national squad after their shenanigans during the World Cup. Luxembourg started off as the more attacking of the two and tested Lloris. Neither of the teams did anything noteworthy in front of goal till the 28th minute, when the game got its first goal. A Nasri free-kick found the head of Mexes, who obliged his teammate by putting the ball into the back of the net from only 6 yards away.
That goal fuelled France and they took on Joubert. Even though shots were fired on him, they score line remained the same and the teams headed off to their dressing rooms one-nil. After the restart, France dominated possession and Benzema had a chance to double the score only to shoot wide. The see-saw encounter was finally put to rest in the 72nd minute when Gourcuff fired home from close range. During the entire game, France did not use even one of their substitutes.
Hungary 0-4 Netherlands (March 25, 2011)
The World Cup finalists took on Hungary at Budapest as the captain’s armband went to Rafael van der Vaart. Netherlands were in no mood to thank Hungary for their hospitality as they took the game by the scruff of the neck. Tackles and cards were the order of the day and even the usually level-headed Van Persie was booked as early as the 18th minute. Among all the luminaries on the field, it was van der Vaart who opened the floodgates with a wonderful strike in the 8th minute. Sneijder threaded the ball into the box and van der Vaart was quick enough to finish it low. The Dutch were crisp and their play made for some delightful watching. The onus of scoring then fell upon the recent Barcelona-signed Affelay, who scored his third goal just before the break.
Dominating possession and dominating the match, it was now time to turn up the style, and Netherlands did precisely that. Kuyt made it 3-0 soon afterwards when he tapped in an open goal. Van der Wiel turned provider for the second time in the match and this time it was van Persie who got his name on the score sheet. The game ended on an amusing note as two pitch invaders got closer to Netherlands goal in stoppage time, than any of their national team stars. It seemed like they were the only ones in Hungary who got some goal-mouth action.
Spain 2-1 Czech Republic (March 25, 2011)
The World Champions were at home for this fixture as they took on the Czech Republic at the Santiago Bernabeu. The game started off in a typical Spanish fashion as they started off with their brand of “tiki-taka” football. The onslaught on the Czech goal started in the 2nd minute itself and Cech realized it will be a long night as soon as he saved Iniesta’s opening shot. Shots rained on the Czech goal as Spain found some way or the other to test or tease Cech. It took an astonishing effort on part of Plasil to score the opener and stun Spain the way he did. His long-range effort was breathless to say the least and Casillas found no reply to it.
Trailing one-nil was not how Spain imagined it and perhaps unsurprisingly, their effort and intensity only increased after the opening goal. Iniesta, Capdevilla, Xavi, Pique, Villa all tried their luck but Cech stood firm. After the break, Spain started off as the slower of the two, and when Ramos missed a header, it only increased the frustration within the Spanish camp. Villa, Iniesta and Pique did all they could but score and finally the equalizer came in the 69th minute from Villa, who with this goal overtook Raul as Spain’s all time leading scorer. A penalty from Villa four minutes later effectively ended the game. In typical Spanish tradition, they ended the game with a whopping 75% possession.
Germany 4-0 Kazakhstan (March 26, 2011)
Germany went into this game knowing that a win would take them eight points clear at the top of Group A. Coach Loew’s request for an early goal was granted by Klose when he scored with his first touch of the game in the 3rd minute. His chance to double the lead soon after proved futile though, as he couldn’t find the back of the net from a Muller pass. The game got its second goal in the 25th minute with Muller making himself useful at the receiving end of a Ozil free-kick.
Both of them again combined for Germany’s third goal in the same half. A lofted ball was controlled well by Muller who coolly slotted the ball into the bottom left corner. With the game going Germany’s way totally, Kazakhstan found it extremely difficult to gain any sort of foothold in the match. For the entire duration of 90 minutes, only two of their shots were on goal, making it a forgettable night for the visitors. Klose even found time to score Germany’s 4th in the 88th minute, which took his tally to 61 goals for his country, just 7 behind the legendary Gerd Muller.
Wales 0-2 England (March 26, 2011)
This game was all about the return of the England captaincy to John Terry, who led the team after a gap of 17 months. Capello’s reinstatement of Terry as captain was not greeted too well by certain sections of the media and a potential defeat to Wales would only add more pressure to the experienced manager. England started off as the more dominating team and Lampard scored from the spot to put England in the lead in the 7th minute. England doubled their lead in the 14th minute when Bent scored from an Ashley Young cross.
The only downside for England in this match was the booking of Rooney, which ruled him out of the next qualifier against Switzerland in June. The game saw the first ever professional start of Arsenal prodigy, Jack Wilshere playing in midfield. His relative inexperience was hardly noticeable as he played like a veteran, and has proven to be a real find for English football after the likes of Lampard and Gerrard. The match also saw another first for a youngster, when Aaron Ramsey became Wales’ youngest ever captain.
The Netherlands 5-3 Hungary (March 29, 2011)
The return leg saw a much competitive fixture as the Hungarians were determined not to become punching bags for the second time running. Van Persie opened the scoring in the 13th minute and The Netherlands were almost cruising before Hungary decided to play out of their skins and take the game to the hosts.
Nistelrooy was brought in for Van Persie at the break. Rudolf equalized in the 46th minute, and minutes later, Gera made it 1-2 with Dzsudzsak playing the provider on both occasions. Sneijder equalized just before the hour as both of the teams fought tooth and nails for the defining goal. Veteran striker Nistelrooy put Netherlands ahead in the 72nd minute, only to find his effort neutralized by Gera. There’s an old adage that says ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’ and up stepped Dirk Kuyt, the Liverpool front man. His brace in the 78th and 81st minute ended Hungary’s resolve. A thrilling encounter ended with Kuyt being the toast of the nation, for leading The Netherlands to the brink of qualification.