My favourite word in the English language is ‘nostalgia’. It’s a word that gives you that warm funny feeling in your stomach of days gone by, and prompts the obligatory words ‘It’s not like it used to be’. The word can cover a plethora of subjects, from old TV shows and films, to family members and town cities. But for me, I get the warmest feeling whenever I recall football from the past; after all it was always better ‘back in the day’ wasn’t it?
The only downside to nostalgia is that in truth it blinds you to the facts and realism of the matter. Was Roy Wegerle really as good as I remember him? Probably not, but because you hold that emotional attachment, you convince yourself of the truth. Take the World Cup in 1990, for me that alongside the event four years later in the USA were the two best World Cups I’ve ever seen. However in reality, they were just the first two I remember and in truth Italia ’90 is regarded as one the most defensive tournaments there’s ever been, while World Cup 94 had one of the worst ever finals. Which is why now every time a tournament now comes around, I try desperately to be unbiased and hope that what I see makes me feel as every bit warm inside and entertained as recall 90, 94 and of course Euro 96 doing.
Usually I’m disappointed, major tournaments seem to have decreased in quality over the years, so much so that I thought the World Cup in South Africa two years ago was arguably the worst of my lifetime, with a bad-tempered and scrappy showpiece at the end. But was that really true or has nostalgic thoughts of Schillaci, Romario and Pearce clouded my adult day judgment? Well Euro 2012 has thus far answered that pondering thought.
After the first round of group games I have been thoroughly impressed with Europe’s first Eastern European finals. It feels like the shackles have come off what was a dire World Cup in 2010 and in just six games we’ve already had high drama, surprise results and top quality entertainment. Even ITV have got their punditry team right, Roy Keane and his ‘angry man’ gimmick aside (we get it Roy you were hard, move on mate!).
Things kicked-off in Poland on Friday with the traditional opening ceremony, where bonkers in the name of the game, so we had everything from dancing musical notes to a pianist whose ball skills made Diana Ross look talented. It was soon down to the action though, and while we used to opening games being tight and cagey affairs, this tie between the co-hosts and 2004 winners Greece was anything but. Two red cards, a penalty save, 10 men fight back and a goal from potential star Robert Lewandownski saw Group A open with a bang. Later that night an similar explosion occurred in the group’s other game, as the rampant Russian’s lived up to their dark horse tag by thrashing Czech Republic 4-1. With Alan Dzagoev staking an early claim to be this year’s Schillaci thanks to a brace that leaves Dick Advocaat’s team strong favorites to progress to the knock-out stage.
The ‘Group of Death’ then took centre stage on Saturday, with Gary Lineker trying to dilute now familiar phrase by calling it the ‘quite difficult group’ – not really the same ring to it, eh Gary? Either way, the group lived up to it’s billing with the finals first shock result. Denmark, no stranger to giant killing, rolled back twenty Euro years to hold off the fancied Dutch and sucker-punch them with a 1-0 victory thanks to Krohn Deli’s neat first half strike. In the other half of the Group B fixtures, Germany many peoples pick to win Euro 2012 discarded their new vibrant and entertaining feel with a classic and efficient 1-0 victory over Portugal. Mario Gomez perhaps exorcising some of the Ghosts from the Champions League Final by netting the winner. Not that they had it all their own way mind you, and Portugal remain a threat – especially if a certain Mr. Ronaldo can find his shooting boots.
Group C has always looked the most fascinating to me, and I’ve constantly changed my mind on who I think will progress. The opening fixtures haven’t helped me decide any further either. On Sunday, Spain and Italy provided an enthralling affair with two lovely crafted goals. Italy drew first blood, when Andrea Pirlo pulled one his trademark passes out the bag to set-up Di Natale to open the scoring – which was no more than Italy deserved too. But Spain, who actually played without a recognized striker, are favourites for a reason and leveled-up through Cesc Fabregas thanks to an exquisite touch from David Silva. Lessons learned? Italy are perhaps better than we thought and Spain are there to be got at. The less said of Fernando Torres cameo however, the better. In Poznan, Group C was completed with a very un-Trapattoni performance from Ireland, conceding sloppy goals at the start of each half and right on the break, giving Croatia a 3-1 win and a real foothold in the group. It means the Green Army will have to do it the very hard way against the last two world champions if their tournament is to progress into the knock-out phase.
Lastly it was the turn of Group D and Roy Hodgson’s England. Like me, you’ve probably become sick of hearing about the Three Lions ‘low expectations’ to the point that it sounds like a front and the country is just bursting to go back to the usual car flags and prayer mats as soon as possible. Well, it maybe sooner than we think as although their opening clash with France was easily the least entertaining game of the finals thus far, it was an effective and positive opening from Roy’s boys. It wasn’t pretty no, but as the players said after the game, it’s a platform to build on. France would probably be equally happy with the point too. The first round of fixtures was completed in Kiev with a memorable night for co-hosts Ukraine. The Andrei Shevchenko of AC Milan rather than Chelsea proved that old adage that class is permanent, and led his team to a 2-1 win over Sweden with two classic headed goals to send his country into delirium. Scenes like those at the final whistle are usually saved for later in the tournament, but it meant that much to Ukraine and it rounded-off what has been a bright opening week of tournament football.
Could Euro 2012 be about to break the nostalgic barrier and be a tournament to remember? Let’s just hope it’s not peaked too early, I’m rather enjoying it and have yet to say those almighty words, ‘back in the day…….
You can follow Ash Rose on Twitter here – www.twitter.com/Ashrose83