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Euro 2012: Russia tops power rankings
by Paul Kennedy, June 11th, 2012 6:24PM

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TAGS:  european championship

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The first eight games at Euro 2012 produced one surprise -- Denmark over the Netherlands -- several good games -- Spain-Italy, in particular, stood out -- and lots of end-to-end action. The finishing touch was often lacking, as evidenced by the 2.5 goals per game average, by most teams except lethal Russia, No. 1 in Soccer America's Euro 2012 Power Rankings.

1. RUSSIA. The Russians produced Day 1's best performance with a 4-1 demolition of the Czech Republic. The great Peter Cech in goal for the Czechs never knew what hit him. Andrei Arshavin showed the form that convinced Arsenal to shell out big money for him after he burst on the international scene at Euro 2008. The new star is 21-year-old Alan Dzagoyev, who scored two goals. The speedy Russians used the slick turf in Wroclaw to great advantage. Up next: a highly charged match against co-host Poland on Tuesday in Warsaw.

2. GERMANY. The Germans were the only pre-tournament favorite to win its first game, but it was not that easy. Mario Gomez, preferred over veteran Miroslav Klose, rescued Germany with the late goal in the 1-0 win over Portugal. Thomas Mueller and Lukas Podolski didn't exactly light it up in Lviv, but Coach Joachim Loew has plenty of choices if he wants to make changes in midfield. Youngsters Mario Goetze, Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle are among the options. Next up: The Germans could feast on the suspect Dutch defense on Wednesday in Kharkiv.

3. SPAIN. Say what you want about Spain's 1-1 tie in its opener against Italy, it was a lot better result and lot better performance than in its opening game at the 2010 World Cup, a 1-0 loss to Switzerland. The big question will be: can Spain win consistently with a 4-6-0 formation? It will dominate possession against any team it faces with Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and David Silva -- all midfielders by inclination -- in the roles of the most advanced players, but every game will be close. Too close for comfort?  Next up: The Spaniards complained about the turf in Gdansk, where they will be back in action on Thursday against Ireland.

4. ITALY. A good start for the Italians: 1-1 with Spain. More important, the Azzurri deserved the result, so their confidence will grow. The clinical finish by sub Antonio Di Natale off a through ball from Andrea Pirlo was one of the best goals so far.  Daniele De Rossi will only get better in his new role as a libero in the three-man backline, the defensive alignment of choice for most Italian clubs. Next up: Italy moves on to Poznan, where it will face Croatia on Thursday.

5. DENMARK. The Danes pulled the big surprise of Day 1 with a 1-0 victory over the Netherlands. Michael Krohn-Dehli scored midway through the first half, and Denmark goalkeeper Stephan Andersen held off the Dutch the rest of the way. "It was the only dangerous action of Denmark," Netherlands captain Mark van Bommel said of the goal. "I'm speechless." Fact is, the Danes put all eight of their shots on target, the same number as the Dutch had on 28 attempts. Next up: The Danes will be out for another upset on Wednesday against Portugal in Lviv.

6. UKRAINE. Until 35-year-old Andriy Shevchenko rescued Ukraine with two goals seven minutes apart, all of Coach Oleg Blokhin's criticism about his players' poor shooting and poor defending seemed spot-on. Shevchenko certainly justified Blokhin's decision to stick with him, and the former AC Milan and Chelsea star and his teammates rode the wave of support from the Kiev crowd to an emotional victory. Next up: The Sweden result certainly turns things around for Ukraine. Its confidence will be sky-high heading into Friday's game against France.

7. CROATIA. "A dream start for the nation" was the way sports daily Sportske novosti put Croatia's 3-1 win over Ireland, and it was certainly that. Mario Mandzukic's goal in the 3rd minute was the fastest goal at Euro 2012 in eight games, and his shot deflected into the Irish goal by goalie Shay Given made it 3-1 three minutes into the second half. Next up: With Spain in its final group game, Croatia needs at least a tie against Italy.

8. FRANCE. With a 15-1 edge in shots on goal, the Bleus will rue their 1-1 tie with England, but they did at least "get down off the bus," as UEFA president Michel Platini said. This was the France of old, enterprising, skillful and full of life, not the cynical team of two years ago that refused to get off the bus and train when things didn't go its way in South Africa. Franck Ribery was excellent for France, Samir Nasri less so except for his goal, and Karim Benzema was always dangerous. Concerns remain, though, about Adil Rami and Philippe Mexes in the middle of the backline. Next up: The Bleus stay in Donetsk, where they will face Ukraine on Friday.

9. PORTUGAL. You always get the sense the Portuguese can do a little better. A little better against Germany would have been a tie or even a win. The Portuguese played well and were a bit unlucky not to score. Pepe hit the crossbar in the first half, and German keeper Manuel Neuer stoned Varela late in the game. Still, Portugal needs more out of Cristiano Ronaldo. Next up: The Portuguese shouldn't make the same mistake as the Dutch did and underestimate the Danes, whom they meet on Wednesday.

10. NETHERLANDS. The Dutch were very disappointing in their 1-0 loss to Denmark. Yes, they created a ton of chances -- with a 28-8 edge in shots -- but they should have done a lot better. Robin van Persie, in particular, had a very poor game. Many Dutch would prefer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar over van Persie, and the Arsenal star didn't help matters when he was seen talking on his cell phone right after the game. Central defender John Heitinga was exposed badly on Krohn-Dehli's goal for Denmark. Next up: The loss to Denmark makes Wednesday's game against Germany a must-win match for the Oranje.

11. GREECE. The Greeks did not let the pressure of the opening game get to them -- even when everything went against them against co-host Poland in the first half. Down to 10 men after a questionable red card to Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Greece came out and attacked and was rewarded with a 1-1 tie thanks to Dimitris Salpingidis' goal. It should have won but captain Giorgos Karagounis missed a penalty kick after a red card on Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny for a foul in the area. Next up: The Greeks face the Czech Republic in Wroclaw in Tuesday's first game.

12. ENGLAND. The English will be happy with their 1-1 tie, but Jolean Lescott's goal on a header off Steven Gerrard's free kick was England's only shot on goal and one of only five shots in the game. Manchester United's Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck up front and 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the left wing showed some promise, but England's lack of possession meant they hardly got the ball. Next up: Wayne Rooney will serve the second game of his two-game suspension on Friday when England meets Sweden in Kiev.

13. POLAND. It was a tale of two halves for the Poles, quite good for the first 45 minutes but then ... Szczesny was at fault on Salpingidis' equalizer, and there was no question about his straight red for taking down Salpigidis in the area shortly thereafter. Luckily, Karagounis shot poorly, and goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton saved the penalty with his first touch of the game. Next up: Emotions will run high when the Poles host Russia on Tuesday in the tournament's high-security match. Warsaw authorities have banned Russian fans from marching to the stadium in celebration of Russia Day.

14. SWEDEN. Zlatan Ibrahimovic won't get many easier chances than the one he put away to give the Swedes the lead, but he was at fault on the second Ukraine goal, giving Shevchenko space at the near post to put away a header in the 62nd minute. Next up: The Swedes need to beat England on Friday to remain in contention.

15. CZECH REPUBLIC. The Czechs didn't start off badly against Russia, but it was all downhill after the first goal by Dzagoyev in the 15th minute. Vaclav Pilar gave the Czechs hope with a goal early in the second half, but they never looked like they'd even things up after that. Next up: The Czechs will be out for revenge for their loss to Greece in the Euro 2004 semifinals, a loss current captain Tomas Rosicky calls the most painful of his career.

16. IRELAND. “Brave boys in green take a Croat thumping" was the headline in the Irish Sun after the 3-1 loss to Croatia. Brave? Yes. But the fact of the matter is, Ireland isn't good enough and now has little chance of advancing. Luck certainly wasn't with the Irish, who gave up goals on either side of halftime off unlucky deflections. Next up: The Irish looked sluggish against Croatia, and that is not a good sign with Spain on the schedule for Thursday.



2 comments
  1. Rick Figueiredo
    commented on: June 12, 2012 at 9:45 a.m.
    As Wayne Gretzky said "100% of the shots you don't take will never go in." The amazing lack of some countries to shoot is staggering. Less than 3 goals a game. Wow. I saw this in the Premier League too. I understand that shooting from 25-30 yards is harder but trying to get into the penalty box before you even consider shooting ends up more often than not with a turnover. Do we need to smell the goalie's underarm before we consider a shot? So what's better. Losing the ball or taking a shot on goal. Who thought this one up? At least the Brasilians and South Americans are not afraid to shoot from the outside and score at times and more importantly, have developed the foot strength to get a good shot off frequently. It also by the way brings the defense out of their "bunker" a little more. I think Spain started all this passing ad nauseum without going anywhere significant. As for the Ukrain - Sweden game. Absolutely awesome game. I would actually put them at No. 1. It was by far the most exciting performance of the competition and the most significant. England is a boring team. Spain's use of 6 midfielders was actually how Barcelona beat Santos 4-0 in the club finals last year. And remember David Villa is out plus it gave Pirlo more traffic to work through; and Torres is in a horrible state of goal scoring mind. If Spain can find a target man then Torres can be the support forward and be successful. I hope The Netherlands' recovers. The games have been excellent on the field overall (other than shooting). Ireland was a surprise as they traditionally are disorganized. Trappatoni has done a good job there. Play on. You have my attention.

  1. Carlos Thys
    commented on: June 13, 2012 at 4:03 a.m.
    Spain is playing without a number "9" up front because, for good reason (see his shots against Italy), no one can trust Fernando Torres. Vincente del Bosque is a crafty guy; he'll just let Torres in at the end where his fresh legs might make something happen in the final 12-14 minutes. Though del Bosque would prefer to just leave him as the 22d guy on the roster. Forward Llorente of Bilbao is good, but less of a known harmonizing teammate for the Barca and Real players. Maybe we could see Pedro? I agree with the horrid shooting comment (above) wholeheartedly. First, they don't shoot at all, and then, when they do, they are usually closer to striking the corner flag than a goal post (Cassano, Torres, Ribery, Robben, Podolski, even Shivo, Barros, the Russian guy up front who has underperformed massively for 130 combined minutes).


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