I wasn't able to watch the games today, I dozed off during the second half of Ukraine - Austria and it's just the Belgium game that I paid any significant amount of attention to. So the ramblings below are based on extended highlights, impressions from the first two games, and - as always - unfounded personal bias.
Macedonia - Netherlands 0-3
Ally McCoist got the score right for once, though poor Macedonia deserved better faith. One of the two teams to leave the tournament with 0 points, but very contrasting impressions of the two. While Turkey is a huge disappointment due to history, expectations and my general sympathy for the Turkish nation, Macedonia is a team no one expected much from. Yet here they were, pulling back level against Austria and twice being close to open the score against Netherlands. Qualified for the first tournament finals ever in the country's history and giving a great account of themselves.
Only, when push comes to shove, big boys will shaft any notion of romantic football and punish you any way they can. Also, their defense has been really shaky, they are unable to close off games and can't deal with the speed and technique of quality players.
That's why Netherlands were able to wrap the game up after an hour, with three goals from three similar actions: ball to winger, pass in the box, find a free man or hit the rebound. I have been critical of Netherlands so far, but they seem to be improving game on game. Wijnaldum is a better footballer than I thought, and today he was merciless. Even Depay looked to have clicked, though it might have to do with the quality of the opposition.
It's still hard to predict the Dutch's route, as they will face a third place from the D, E, F groups, and either of those could be problematic (e.g. Croatia, Spain or Portugal). We'll find out in the next 48 hours.
Ukraine - Austria 0-1
This was unexpected. Either Austria was greatly handicapped by not having Arnautovic in the previous game, or they wrote that off gambling on a win against Ukraine. I'm hoping for the former, because if it's the latter, not only is it disrespectful to the fans, to the sport, and to themselves but also, that's the kind of karma that blows up in your face. Either way, they are through, and bound to be Italy's next victim.
As for Ukraine, I thought they generally played well, they're a decent team and have a few quality players. Dare I say - and I know this is blasphemy in Kiev - that Shevchenko might not be the man to get everything out of this team? Either way, with three points and a -1 goal difference, they'll have to wait and pray. Either for Croatia to draw Scotland or for Slovakia to beat Spain. Neither is impossible, both are tall orders.
Russia - Denmark 1-4
My main expectation in this group was for Russia to finish last. I'm not petty, I just think they deserve it. Their football is largely clueless, they are not making the most of the quality they have in the team and the football they played was next to Turkey and Sweden in terms of ugliness, only Sweden's is efficient. They were very lucky to bet Finland and the Fin's voided goal was questionable, and both Finland and Denmark are better teams. Their shirts were a nod to the great Russian team who reached the final of the 1988 tournament, but the football was nowhere near.
That's why I was happy to see the result, which was before I saw the goals. The Danes really went for it, and I'm not sure whether Eriksen's accident was lucky or unlucky for them. They lost the points on the day, but I always thought it was insanity to restart the game. However, the football they played against Belgium, and especially today, was far better than the first half against Finland. So either Eriksen's accident really motivated them, or they were slow to get off the blocks and would've probably been even better with a fit Eriksen in the squad. Never mind all that, 4 goals today ensure they finish second, and it will be a great game against Wales. I see Wales as slight favorites, but it's a very even game.
Finland - Belgium 0-2
|But I thought the line is from the sleeve?|
Finland on the other side has to pray even harder than Ukraine. Also, they should master some basic football notions, such as 'the keeper is meant to keep the ball out of goal, not put it in' or 'when you need a point, make sure you defend well'. I started out being sympathetic towards them, they remind me of Iceland of the last Euro and the last World Cup, a team that compensates technical inferiority with hard work. But in the end they didn't even work that hard and oh well, what do you expect then?
My guess for tomorrow is Croatia will beat Scotland, but England won't beat Czech Republic. Where is home?