The Uefa European Championships are underway at last and the first two games have been and gone. All in all it wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a bad start to a tournament and the quality on show pointed towards the likelihood of Euro 2008 being an exciting and entertaining competition.
After a particularly dull but mercifully short opening ceremony the host nation Switzerland opened the tournament with a tough test against those perennial Ã¢â‚¬Ëœoutside betsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ the Czech Republic.
The first half wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t great as neither side took control of the game but the best chances fell to the Swiss. Chelsea keeper Petr Cech needed to be alert on more than one occasion to foil the Swiss captain Alexander Frei, who was looking lively.
However, shortly before half time Frei crumpled to a heap on the ground following an innocuous challenge and the look of agony followed by almost immediate tears on his face confirmed that his tournament was sadly over before it had really got started. This was a major disappointment for Frei and a disaster for the Swiss side.
The Czech Republic had looked neat and tidy as ever, but had shown no penetration whatever. The thirty-five year old Jan Koller looked to be even more immobile than he has been before and unless the ball was played directly to him, he caused no problems for the Swiss at all.
The second half saw Switzerland bring on Hakan Yakin for the injured Frei and they began to take the game to the Czechs looking more and more likely to create goal scoring opportunities. At the other end, Koller was still statuesque and it was no surprise when the Czech Republic’s top scorer was replaced by Vaclav Sverkos.
Hakan Yakin had a glorious chance to open the scoring for the hosts but he managed to head wide of the right-hand post when it looked easier to score.
It was to prove a costly miss when, on 70 minutes, Czech substitute Sverkos finished tidily into the bottom corner after latching on to a ball over the top of the Swiss defence.
Still Switzerland went forward and they almost snatched a draw when Tranquillo Barnetta’s shot was superbly parried by Cech and Vonlanthen smashed the follow-up against the crossbar.
Those chances, together with two decent penalty appeals for handball against the Czech captain Ujfalusi, meant that Switzerland were a little unfortunate to not get anything from the game.
The second game of the opening day saw Turkey take on one of the favourites for the competition, Portugal.
The Portuguese side didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t disappoint and at times they played some sublime football. Deco showed that he can still dictate a game with some exquisite passing and Cristiano Ronaldo showed glimpses of the brilliance he has produced all season. With Pepe and Carvalho looking assured and untroubled at the back it seemed that there could only be one result.
It was surprising that the game was goalless at half-time. Pepe had scored with a header which was ruled out for offside and Ronaldo had produced a trademark free-kick which had been brilliantly pushed onto the post by Turkey keeper Volkan Demirel.
The woodwork denied Portugal again four minutes after the break when Nuno Gomes flicked a loose ball against the post.
Ronaldo then tested the excellent Volkan again, but the Turkey keeper was once more equal to the task.
Turkey had battled well, but they finally fell behind on sixty-one minutes when central defender Pepe surged forward and played a one-two with Gomes before sliding a finish past the onrushing Volkan from 12 yards.
Three minutes after Pepe’s strike Gomes hit the woodwork for a second time when he headed RonaldoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cross against the bar.
Turkey substitute Emre Asik wasted Turkey’s best and only real chance with nine minutes left, heading Nihat’s corner wide when unmarked only eight yards out. If he had made a better connection and equalised it would have been an injustice. Although Turkey were never totally out of the game, they were completely outplayed.
As Turkey tried push forward, Portugal broke away to add a deserved second goal in the dying seconds as Ronaldo found Joao Moutinho, who set up substitute Meireles for a side-footed finish to end a flowing move that summed up the Portuguese side on the night.
Portugal sent a powerful message to the other top teams in the tournament to say that they are here to win. It is now up to the other favourites to show that they too have what it takes.
Day one was enjoyable. I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wait for the rest of the tournament now.
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