Unpredictability gives way to incredulity
If tonight is anything to go by, all bets in this tournament are off. Germany and Spain can fall over the next two days, Ukraine can go onto win it.
That was how displacing Group A’s decisive results felt. Before them, there was a fair argument that the Czechs and the Greeks were the two worst teams in the tournament. By the end of the night, both found themselves in the last eight.
The stats from the Russia-Greece game only add another layer to that: in the closing stages, they had up to 80% possession; that gave way to an eventual total of 31 shots – the highest they’ve ever hit in the European Championships. Indeed, in Group A, they had the most shots per game (19.7), the highest average possession (59.3%) and the best passing accuracy (84%). None of it mattered, though, as they couldn’t get the goal that would have put them through.
Worse, Poland couldn’t get the goal that would have put them through either. By the end of their match against the Czech Republic, though, that was much less of a surprise. It soon became apparent that Poland lack true innovation in midfield In fact, it could even be argued that it was only nervous energy – in the first halves of their opening and closing games and in the second half of their match against Russia – that accounted for such positive performances.
As it wore off, a moderate Czech side were allowed pick them off.
Who, beforehand, would have picked all that out though?
The onus is now on Ukraine. Poland are the third hosts in a row – after Switzerland and Austria – and the fourth of the last six to go out in the first round.
Could Ireland have got through Group A?
Bear with us… because it’s an eminently fair question. Greece, after all, are of a similar level to Ireland (although the manner in which they were willing to innovate and alter should be of note to Giovanni Trapattoni). The Czechs are a very average side and, although only a friendly, Ireland didn’t allow their slow possession to truly penetrate in February. Russia, meanwhile, couldn’t actually convert all of their chances in the key game against Ireland… something which happened again tonight.
And, if there is something in Trapattoni’s argument that it was the exact elite level of the Group C teams that caused the Irish players to freeze, then it’s possible they might have remained steady against less renowned opposition. Sadly, rather than ever know, we’ll have to watch Greece and the Czechs enjoy a rare stage.
Milan Baros may be much maligned and, despite what his international strike rate says, he’s never been truly prolific. But his build-up play is hugely underrated. It was his hold-up and touch that created the opportunity for Steven Gerrard inthe 2005 Champions League final and it was his intelligence that allowed Jiracek to surge through to score tonight.
Good day for
- Greece and the Czechs
- Those who get blinded by the height of the odds rather than the likelihood of the outcome when betting.
Bad day for
- Poland and Russia