Europe’s finest stepped up their preparations for UEFA EURO 2012 in a raft of friendly internationals on Friday evening. Tournament co-hosts Poland and Ukraine enjoyed contrasting fortunes, with the Poles coming off second best at home to a compact Italy side and the Ukrainians playing out a pulsating 3-3 draw with Germany. FIFA.com picks out the highlights on a busy night of friendlies across the old continent.
Having become synonymous with goals and entertainment of late, Joachim Low’s Germany found themselves upstaged in a dramatic first half in Kiev. Playing a counter-attacking game to perfection, Ukraine struck three times in the opening 45 minutes, twice from textbook breaks, one of which was capped by a surging 60-metre run and cool finish by Konoplyanka. Though hampered by the absence of Bastian Schweinsteiger, a reshuffled Mannschaft managed to turn things around after the break. Seizing control of the game and making the Ukrainians pay for some slipshod defending, they eventually pulled level thanks to Rolfes’ cleanly hit drive and Muller’s late shot.
Deprived of first-choice strikers Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano for the next few months, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli will have been delighted to see their replacements fill the breach with élan as his side disposed of Poland 2-0 in Wroclaw. The stand-in front duo of Mario Balotelli and Giampaolo Pazzini proved more than handful for the Polish rearguard, with the Manchester City man unfurling his talent once more and scoring a classy opening goal. Striking sidekick Pazzini was no less of a threat, as Italy strolled to victory, the Poles spurning their best chance when Gianluigi Buffon kept out Jakub Blaszczykowski’s penalty.
Denmark took the honours when they faced Nordic rivals Sweden for the 102nd time, goals from Nicklas Bendtner and Michael Krohn-Dehli at the end of each half giving them victory over their fellow EURO 2012 qualifiers. The win was the Danes’ 39th in the fixture, with the Swedes having won 45 times and the remaining 18 games ending in draws.
Caught cold by Roman Shirokov’s second-minute strike, Greece had to work hard to earn a draw with Russia, Kostas Katsouranis hitting their leveller on the hour mark, while a much-changed Netherlands were held to a goalless draw by a solid Switzerland side in Amsterdam.
Elsewhere, France laboured to a 1-0 win over a USA side now rebuilding under Jurgen Klinsmann, and Hungary thumped Liechtenstein 5-0, with Tamas Priskin scoring twice in the opening 20 minutes. Scotland also tasted victory, putting their failed EURO 2012 qualification campaign behind them with a 2-1 win in Cyprus, the same scoreline by which Belgium overcame Romania at home.
Player of the night
The scorer of 46 goals in 104 appearances for his country, Andrei Shevchenko has lost none of his inspirational powers, despite being the wrong side of 35. On the field for an hour against Germany, the Ukraine captain once again set the tone, tirelessly exploiting gaps in the visiting defence and bringing his team-mates into play at every opportunity. His side’s first line of defence, the old warrior showed why he remains so important to Ukrainian hopes.
Collecting possession in the midfield, Claudio Marchisio laid the ball off to Mario Balotelli, who strode forward and struck his first goal for La Nazionale with a 30-yard drive that dipped over the head of the stranded Wojciech Szczesny.
16 - The number of goals Nicklas Bendtner has now scored in 44 games for his country. Since becoming the third-youngest player to be capped by the Danes at the age of 18, the rangy Sunderland striker has gone from strength to strength. Named Danish Footballer of the Year in 2009, when he was still only 21, the former Arsenal man is sure to prove a threat in Poland and Ukraine next year.
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