Day 4 proved to be very enjoyable, if not rich in goals, as Spain needed a late Gerard Pique goal to beat the Czech Republic, Italy lulled Belgium into feeling like favorites before stinging them twice, and Sweden finished in a one-all draw against Ireland in a match that was about pace, momentum shifting and plenty of crosses.
Spain 1 Czech Republic 0: Complete dominance from Spain, with 72% possession and 17 shots at goal. In the end, with the Czechs rarely able to break through the immense possession-pressure Spain put on them, it was Gerard Pique, who is something of public enemy number one outside Catalonia these days, with a late (87th minute) goal that helped Spain win their first opening match in a major tournament since Euro 2008.
Ireland 1 Sweden 1: A very entertaining match, that had early dominance from Ireland, followed by Sweden’s pressing to find the equalizer and then a mish mash of disorganized attacks in the finish. Wes Hoolahan scored the opener for Ireland in the 48th minute after fantastic work by Seamus Coleman down the right win. The goal finally forced Sweden to play something different than crosses to Ibrahimovic. Some nifty passing down the middle and the left flank led to Ibrahimovic making a cross, turning into an own goal by Ciaran Clark. In the final 20 minutes, both sides preferred useless crosses to more creative solutions.
Belgium 0 Italy 2: A fabulous win by Italy, combining everything you expect from a strong Italian side: Fantastic, disciplined defending and playing to their strengths: Attacking the Belgium wings time after time, taking advantage of a very weak defense and imbalanced squad. First it was Emanuele Giaccherini slipping through the cracks in the first half, and in stoppage time, with Belgium going all gung-ho to try and find the equalizer, it was Graziano Pelle scoring from close range, rocketing in one of those goals everyone loves to score when they’re little.
Group D Table
|1||Spain||1||1||0||0||1||0||+1||3||Advance to knockout phase|
|3||Czech Republic||1||0||0||1||0||1||−1||0||Possible knockout phase|
Group E Table
|1||Italy||1||1||0||0||2||0||+2||3||Advance to knockout phase|
|3||Republic of Ireland||1||0||1||0||1||1||0||1||Possible knockout phase|
What did we learn
- Spain remain Spain. Possession as a form of defense, with a bit more speed than usual upfront, but probably less quality than in previous tournaments. Andres Iniesta is still something magical, and you have to wonder when it’ll run out
- The Czechs will look different against less dominant teams than Spain, but their inability to play anything other than possession football could be their ruin against a more versatile team like Croatia
- Ireland aren’t the easy fixture they were four years ago (0 points, -8 goal difference). The more they play on the ground through Hoolahan, the better they look. And while Robbie Keane is their spiritual leader, he might not be good enough to make a difference at this level anymore
- Sweden continue to be Zlatan Ibrahimovic and not much else. John Guidetti needs to start instead of Marcus Berg, and while crossing is their strong suit, Sweden looked better when the ball moved on the grass instead of in the air
- Belgium might have a talented attack, but their defense might be the reason they end up being the most disappointing team in the tournament. However, things do get easier from here
- Italy don’t have big names outside their back five, but they play to their strengths, and make the most of their opportunities. Last time it was enough for a Euro final
- 17 players with one goal each