Euro 2012: Biggest Winners and Losers from First Matches

Michael DoyleContributor IIIJune 12, 2012

Euro 2012: Biggest Winners and Losers from First Matches

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    The first round of matches in Euro 2012 have finished after Ukraine's success against Sweden last night. 

    It is fair to say that nobody predicted everything that happened. Many of the favorites slipped up and in general the games were more exciting and attacking, and less conservative than expected. 

    There were no goalless draws in any of the eight games, and all of the teams have reason to believe that they can still qualify for the knockout stages of the competition. 

    While some teams and players in particular shone in the first week, others failed and the first four days of the tournament can be summed up by looking at the biggest winners and losers so far.

LOSER: Wojciech Szczesny

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    Wojciech Szczesny is one of the brightest young goalkeepers in the world in his first international tournament. On Friday evening he was playing in his home city, with the best part of 50,000 Poles cheering him on.

    His team was one-nil up and the opponents were down to ten men at half-time. What could possibly go wrong?

    Well in twenty minutes, the game turned on its head completely.

    Firstly, he clattered into his own defender Marcin Wasilewski when trying to collect a routine cross, allowing Greece's Dimitris Salpingidis to tap in to equalise. 

    Then with Salpingidis through on goal, Szczesny tripped him before the Greeks could take the lead, knowing that a penalty would be conceded and he would automatically receive a red card. 

    Szczesny was clearly delighted two minutes later when he saw substitute goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton save the resulting penalty on a television monitor, and his side defended well to draw the game. 

    But Szczesny will miss tonight's massive game with Russia, with the new hero Tyton set to start ahead of him.

WINNER: Dimitris Salpingidis

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    When Greek Dimitris Salpingidis took the field at half-time in the first game of the tournament against hosts Poland, his team were in trouble.

    A goal down and a man down, after a questionable decision by the referee to send off Sokratis Papastathopoulos, left his side in trouble. 

    But 30-year-old Salpingidis helped his side out of trouble within ten minutes, firstly by scoring the equaliser, pouncing quickly from a mix-up in the Polish defense. 

    Then he earned his side a penalty when he was through on goal and tripped by Wojciech Szczesny. 

    Unfortunately for Salpingidis and Greece, captain Giorgos Karagounis' resulting spotkick was saved, but the game was turned on its head thanks to the efforts of the super-sub. 

LOSER: Czech Republic

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    In a difficult opening fixture, everything that could go wrong for the Czech Republic did. 

    They faced a cohesive and dangerous Russia, who attacked with numbers and simply bombarded the Czech goal. 

    The Czechs simply couldn't deal with the pressure put on them by the opposition's forward players, with Dzagoev, Kerzhakov, Arshavin and Shirokov giving them nightmares. 

    Petr Cech could do nothing to stop the Russians, and now the Czechs face a must-win game against Greece, knowing that anything but a win would be devastating.

WINNER: Russia

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    The favourites to qualify from Group A, Russia proved why they are considered by many to be the dark horses in the tournament with a very convincing 4-1 win over the Czech Republic. 

    Early goals by Alan Dzagoev and Roman Shirokov put them in control, despite a response by Czech Vaclav Pilar at the start of the second half. 

    In an entertaining second half, Russia took control once again and made the game safe late on, with a second Dzagoev goal and a final one from substitute and Tottenham outcast Roman Pavlyuchenko. 

    The result leaves the Russians in total control of the group before a huge game with Poland tonight, taking place on a Russian national holiday. 

    Another win will see them become the first team to secure their place in the knockout stages. 

LOSER: Netherlands

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    With Group B as tough as it is, it is imperative that you avoid defeat in the opening game. 

    Especially when, with no disrespect to Denmark, the first game features the lesser of the four in the group. 

    But the Dutch wasted their chance to put three points on the board, and missed many glorious chances to cancel out an early Danish goal, which turned out to be the winner. 

    Considered third-favourites by many before the tournament began, the Netherlands will now realistically have to beat both Germany and Portugal to progress to the knockout stages. 

WINNER: Denmark

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    Having said that, credit must be given to the Danes.

    Considering that they have been placed in the Group of Death alongside three of the best teams in the world, it is understandable that some gave them no chance before they started their tournament against the Netherlands on Saturday. 

    But a Michael Krohn-Dehli goal midway through the first half was enough for the Danes to beat the heavily fancied Dutch, despite being on the back foot for most of the games and having limited chances of increasing their lead. 

    Now Denmark, who play Portugal tomorrow in Lviv, are realistically one win away from the knockout stages against all odds.

LOSER: Mario Balotelli

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    Nothing against Italy themselves, who should be happy with the point they got against the World and European Champions Spain. 

    But Mario Balotelli won't be pleased with his personal contribution to the side. 

    He had a glorious chance to put his side in front about ten minutes into the second half when he stole the ball from Sergio Ramos and was through one-on-one with Iker Casillas. 

    He had plenty of time to shoot, and could even square the ball to an open Antonio Cassano but seemed to run out of battery before he could do anything, and Ramos made the tackle. 

    He was substituted two minutes later, and just to rub it in further, his replacement, Antonio Di Natale, was the one who put Italy in the lead on the hour mark. 

    Di Natale could start in Italy's next game against Croatia thanks to his efforts, leaving Balotelli on the bench.

WINNER: Croatia

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    The Croatians were one of the hardest teams to predict before the tournament began. 

    While they have impressed at times, including in the last European Championships, they didn't even qualify for the World Cup, and finished second in their qualifying group for this tournament to Greece. 

    So after Sunday night's win over Ireland, we know that they are as dangerous as they have ever been. 

    Similar to the Russians in their game, the Croatians simply put their opponents under too much pressure for them to cope, with Luka Modric maintaining possession for them in midfield, and allowing the front four to push forward and create chances. 

    Admittedly, the goals they scored were helped by poor Irish defending, including free headers and slow defending, but in terms of controlling the game the Croatians weren't lucky, and if they perform this well against the Italians they could secure their place in the knockout stages before they face Spain. 

LOSER: Shay Given

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    I could've included Ireland as one of the losers, seeing as they lost in a game they had to win considering the calibre of the two teams they face next in Spain and Italy. 

    But I thought goalkeeper Shay Given, through no fault of his own but merely bad luck, deserves a mention. 

    With his side 2-1 down just after the start of the second half, a well-placed header by Mario Mandzukic hit the post. 

    The ball then rebounded onto the head of Given and into the goal. 

    There was nothing that Given could've really done about the goal but the goal meant Croatia had a two-goal lead that never really looked like slipping. 

    Given and Ireland now have a massive task on their hand if they want to qualify, beginning with Spain on Thursday.

WINNER: Andriy Shevchenko

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    I thought Andriy Shevchenko couldn't become more of a legend in his home country. 

    But in one of the biggest nights in his country's footballing history, the nation's hero showed up to cancel out out Zlatan Ibrahimovic's strike at the start of the second half to give Ukraine a win in their first ever European Championship match. 

    And of course, he did it in front of near enough 60,000 Ukrainian supporters at the stadium where he made his name. 

    More importantly the goals helped Ukraine to a win which has left them in a very strong position in Group D before they face France in Donetsk on Friday night.