Where we at? A preview review by @tom7p

Group A.

Russia
Took the Czechs apart in swashbuckling style. Kerzhakov missed a record-breaking hatful, but Dzagoev picked off his chances. Arshavin pulled the strings to great effect and Pavlyuchenko came off the bench clinically, finding the form that has eluded the mercurial ruskies in North London. They did though have spells of poor ball retention, allowing the Czechs chances. Overall though, Russia look incredibly strong and sudden semi final contenders.

Czech Republic
Royally exposed defensively by the Russians, particularly at left back. Had spells of good possession but often failed to find a good quality link between defensive midfield and Baros. Expect the Poles to exploit that defensive weakness on the left flank. Gebre-Selassie (not the Marathon runner) impressed at right back, particularly going forward. Should struggle to get out of the group though.

Poland
Started brilliantly against Greece. Pisczek and Blaszczykowski combined to superb effect down the right flank, carving out numerous gilt-edged chances for their Dortmund colleague Lewandowski. However fell apart to dramatic effect in the second half. Poor protection from midfield, defensive confusion and chaotic goalkeeping let Greece snatch a well-earned draw. Tyton did very well in goal after his napalm baptism and should be a solid base for the Russia fixture.

Greece
An abysmal first half, taken apart in fairly straight lines by Poland. Samaras toiled and ran to good effect, but Salpingidis was their star of the show. Salpingidis made fantastic, incisive forward runs. Completely overshadowing the underwhelming Ninis in the process. The Czech game will be key for them, impossible to see such a limited team getting anything against the slick Russians.

Group B.

Denmark
A surprise victory against the Netherlands. Conceded 28 shots, but many were from wide or from distance. Kjaer and Agger defended fantastically well, always applying pressure to Van Persie. Eriksen’s performance was fairly anonymous, roaming around the pitch, but never getting a huge amount of the ball. Quite lucky to nab their victory, but a fantastic platform to get out of the group with.

Netherlands
Dominated the game, peppering Andersen’s goal. Van Persie had eight attempts and failed to even truly look like scoring once. The Dutch concerns of the pressure getting to him rang visibly true. The uncertainties on Dutch forward selection which led to that pressure will almost certainly continue. The inexperienced defence performed more soundly than expected, and Sneijder was glorious in midfield, but the Dutch will have to beat their ultimate enemy, Germany, to have any real chance of progress.

Germany
In a word, impressive. Mertesacker wisely cast aside after a woeful run of performances. Hummels steps in as the defensive fulcrum and performs to his very best Dortmund standard. The sometimes flaky Boateng defended to near perfection against Ronaldo. The only disappointments will be the multiple missed chances from Gomez, and Podolski’s anonymous performance. With so much competition for places, Podolski will need to raise his game quick (Götze waits in the wings). Looked real contendors for the trophy.

Portugal
A very limited set-up, as advertised. Ronaldo and Nani performed ably, and Postiga exceeded expectations, but there was the predictable lack of link between defensive midfield and the forward line. Moutinho and Veloso looked great, but expect to see Portugal gambling on a more attacking option than Meireles.

Group C.

Spain
Collapsed into self-parody with their striker-less formation. For the bulk of the game, it didn’t really work. Their passing hummed along as ever, but very few of those cut through into the final third. For the bulk of the game they were outsmarted by Prandelli. When Fabregas was pushed further forward it started to work, and hence their goal resulted, but it only occurred when forced. The introduction of Torres worked even better, if only he had the balls to finish. The cries for Llorente will grow louder. Their double defensive midfielders didn’t actually protect the back line all that well, posing a tactical challenge for Del Bosque. The full backs were exposed defensively a number of times, particularly Arbeloa. This will be no cake walk for the Spaniards.

Republic Of Ireland
Way below their usual high standard defensively, but maybe created more going forward than expected. A number of defensive errors (particularly by Ward and Given) were ably-exposed by Croatia. Trapattoni will do everything he can to eradicate those defensive errors, dropping Ward might be a start. Andrews got forward far more than expected. A link from midfield to attack is missing, but there is no real option in this squad to fix that. McGeady and Duff performed well, and will surely keep McClean at bay. Walters did far more from the bench than the lumbering Doyle did, and will be a strong contendor to nab his spot. The dream isn’t over for Ireland yet, but it certainly got off to a very bad start.

Croatia
Clinical and adventurous. Modric linked play wonderfully well, with Jelavic and Mandzukic battering the Irish defence. Nobody expected Croatia to have such creativity and fun. The defence was not overly-tested, though Corluka did still find a few chances to look shaky. The verve and cutting-edge they showed could sneak a result for them against Italy or Spain.

Italy
A late tacitcal switch after experimentation in friendlies took them to the 3-5-2 utilised so effectively by the Serie A champions that make up eight of their squad. For a tactic they had not used a huge amount, it worked remarkably well. De Rossi performed superbly as a loose third centre back (bar one false offside glitch), providing deadly tackles and great linking, passing play. The wing backs performed as genuine wing backs and continually got forward to great effect, though Maggio was caught out too far forward by Alba once or twice. Pirlo passed beautifully, as always, and Marchisio got forward and made a real difference between the lines for Italy. Cassano and Balotelli linked up well, but Balotelli failed to take his chances and was hooked for the über-reliable deadly finishing of Di Natale…. who scored with his first attempt. This Italy side could go a long way with their experience and tactical adaptability.

Group D.

France
A fairly cautious line-up from Blanc. The defence were exposed at times, personnel changes may be sensible, but unlikely mid-tournament. Nasri jinked and linked very well throughout, with Ribery in able support. Debuchy got forward well and inched his price tag up a little further. Surprising to not see Giroud thrown on in an attempt to grab a goal, but Blanc seemed content with a draw at the end. They employed a high defensive line in the first half, which created a lot of space for England’s quick forwards. For the second half the defence was a lot deeper with the defensive midfield coming with them and cramping the space for the England quicks. France were also guilty of a lot of cynical pulls on the halfway line, preventing England’s counterattacks. It is clear that they are concerned about the defence’s lack of pace: somebody will pick that off.

England
Compact stuff defensively. The central midfield was always sat upon the back four. It was then predominantly left to Young and Welbeck to lead attacks. Welbeck had an outstanding game leading the line at such a young age. England’s defence performed pretty flawlessly. Hart had one or two early jitters, but became his usual commanding confident self in the second half. Hodgson will work on the positioning of Gerrard and Parker, but it certainly looks a solid base in defence. England will just need to find forward combinations and links that can unlock tighter defences than this suspect French back line. Oxlade-Chamberlain performed calmly and intelligently throughout. Flashes of brilliance showing the player he may be soon, but isn’t quite yet.

Sweden
Handsome they may be, successful they weren’t. Overwhelmed by the Ukrainians’ boundless enthusiasm and Shevchenko’s deadly finishing. Zlatan shrugged off lazy commentary to form a great pivot for the team as they managed to create a number of good opportunities. Their back line and defence were simply outpaced far too often though. Mellberg has been slow for years, and the full backs lack awareness. Sweden looked disjointed for most of the game, and will need to up their game dramatically if they are to have any chance in the tournament.

Ukraine
Started poorly. There are clear weaknesses at the back. Pyatov is a shockingly poor keeper in every department. He looked susceptible to everything, but particularly high balls. Khacheridi looked one of those centre backs who has all the skills required, but is a bit too bonkers to be a good, calm centre back. Their frenzied attacking play worked really well and often overran the Swedes. Konoplyanka had real drive and was very direct in his runs. All topped off with clinical finishing from a resurgent Shevchenko. The Ukrainian nation will be on a massive high, and this could sweep them to a second win and progress.

Germany, Croatia and Russia were the stand-out sides of the first batch of games; with the Netherlands the biggest underperformers. Poland v Russia and the monstrous Netherlands v Germany have to be the pick of the second batch of matches.

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By @tom7p

Follow us on twitter, @Feetballsblog

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