Five things from Day Five at Euro 2012...
1. What on earth is wrong with Greece?
For a team that conceded just five goals in 10 qualifying games, Greece have been woefully inept defensively in this tournament. In both of their games so far at Euro 2012, Greece have opted for a 4-3-3 formation. While this formation gives them options going forward, it also requires that the wide attackers do a job defensively – something that hasn't happened in either of their games.
Greece's three central midfielders are being stretched across the width of the pitch, and are struggling to cover the overlapping runs from the fullback positions because they are getting no help from their wide attackers. Both Lukasz Piszczek from Poland and Theodor Gebre Selassie from Czech Republic had free reign down Greece's left side in the first two games. That all three of the goals conceded by Greece in the tournament have come down their left side is a problem that head coach Fernando Santos must address if Greece is to have any chance against Russia in their final group game.
2. The Czech Republic bounced back nicely
Two goals in the opening six minutes of the Czech Republic's game against Greece today was enough to give them the three points they needed to stay in contention in Group A.
Facing elimination if they lost, the Czech's came out flying, with Tomas Rosicky playing an integral role in all of their attacking moves. His ball to the overlapping Gebre Selassie for the second goal was sublime – timed and weighted to perfection.
With so many teams playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, the role of the attacking midfielder is crucially important. Rosicky fills this role for the Czech Republic, and if they can find a way to get him on the ball in dangerous areas, they could very well get the result they need in their final group game against Poland to get through to the knockout stage.
3. Headed goals aplenty
Nearly 40% of the goals scored so far in the tournament have been headers – a significant increase over previous tournaments. Granted, it is still early in the tournament, but there are a few reasons for this.
First and foremost, some of the delivery from set pieces has been superb. Steven Gerrard for England and Andrei Arshavin for Russia are just two examples. When the ball is delivered at pace behind defenders, all that is needed is a slight glancing touch – from either a defender or an attacker – and the ball is in the back of the net.
Second, many of the teams have utilized the space in wide areas really well. Overlapping fullbacks, such as Piszczek and Gebre Selassie, as well as the predominance of the 4-2-3-1 formation, means that more and more teams are looking to deliver quality balls from wide areas into the penalty box for their strikers to attack.
4. Dzagoev looks the real deal
Russia's 21-year old attacking midfielder, Alan Dzagoev, looks like the real deal. With three goals to his credit in just two games, he is quickly making a name for himself as a rising star.
Critics will point to the fact that his goals came against lesser teams – Poland and the Czech Republic – but with the quality of the teams at Euro 2012, I don't buy this argument. While Group A is without doubt the weakest group in the tournament, with none of Europe's traditional powers in the group, Dzagoev has still shown poise, skill and confidence. It will be interesting to watch how he performs if/when Russia get to the knockout stage.
5. Poland will be happy so far
If you had offered Poland one game to decide whether they would make it to the knockout phase – the situation they are in going into their final group game against the Czech Republic – they would have taken it. Win, and the Poles are going through to the quarterfinals. Lose or draw, and the Poles are out.
I like their chances, as they will be buoyed by the home support, and have some exciting players like Lewandowski, Blaszczykowski and Obraniak. If they can tighten things up defensively, I like my pre-tournament prediction of Russia winning the group followed by Poland in second place.