EURO A-Z: Part 1
Although UEFA EURO 2008 has largely followed the form book thus far, there has been plenty to interest the neutral spectator; fine goals, controversy, star performances, and, of course, plenty of fan colour. FIFA.com reviews the events of the tournament's first four days.
A is for Absentees, notably Russia's suspended
Andrey Arshavin, without whom the Russians struggled in front of
goal against a Spanish side determined to fulfil their massive
potential in a EURO tournament at long last. Few will have
forgotten Arshavin's stellar performances with Zenit St.
Petersburg as the Russian club swept all before it in claiming the
UEFA Cup; how Guus Hiddink must have been wishing he had the
stylish playmaker at his disposal against Spain.
B is for Birthday Boy Wesley Sneijder, who marked his
24th year with a match-winning performance against world champions
Italy. Sliding a piercing pass through to Ruud van Nistelrooy for
the Netherlands' controversial opener, he then scored perhaps
the goal of the tournament so far, a precise right-footed volley
that beat Gianluigi Buffon at his near post, and polished off a
delightful counter-attacking move by the Dutch.
C is for Captain Courageous Michael Ballack, who has
carried his Chelsea form into the German national team. His
driving, commanding display in the German midfield was at the heart
of their opening victory over Poland, and proved that two screening
men in midfield aren't always needed - especially when you have
a supremely energetic box-to-box man in your ranks.
D is for Defence, which served Romania particularly
well in their 0-0 draw against 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™
finalists France. Although Victor Piturca's men were helped by
the absence of Thierry Henry through injury and the surprisingly
subdued performance of Karim Benzema, the close marking and
tireless work of the Romanian back four and midfield ensured that
the feared French attack was reduced to surprisingly few
E is for Easy Matches: there are none! Many expected
Austria to crumble against the more established big-tournament side
at the event, but they proved in their opening match with Croatia
that they are no pushovers. Following Luka Modric's early
penalty, Josef Hickersberger's men gave the Croatian defence
plenty of trouble, and may well have scored but for a couple of
alert saves by Croat goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa.
F, of course, is for Frei. The abiding image of the
tournament so far has been Switzerland's unfortunate striker,
tears welling in his eyes, being carried along the touchline by his
team's medical staff after tearing ligaments in his left knee.
The prolific striker, was was relishing the chance to shine in a
major tournament in front of his home fans, will feel more than a
twinge of sadness when he watches his colleagues stroll out onto
the pitch prior to their upcoming clash with Turkey.