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Great win for Italy

Mario Balotelli’s first truly brilliant evening of Euro 2012 football could not have come at a better time. Italy manhandled Germany behind Super Mario’s dominant performance.

Zidane praises Germany’s Mat Hummels

Earlier this week, Zinedine Zidane praised Germany’s Mat Hummels as “the only difference maker” in the Euro 2012 tourney thus far. That’s high praise indeed, coming from probably the best player the world has seen in the last 20 years.

Hummels, a brilliant defender whose play summons memories of Italy’s Alessandro Nesta, has been brilliant all tournament long and is a major reason Germany have a good shot at winning the tournament.

Greece moves onto round 2

In 2004, the Greek national team won the European Cup with a defensive minded squad.   At that time, many pointed out that the other factor in Greece’s favor was the fact that none of Greece’s players were subjected to the physical demands of the European season which for most star players means a difficult regular season combined with the rigors of the Champions League tournament.   By the time June rolls around, many of Europe’s best players are worn down.

With fresher players and a good strategy, Greece swept the 2004 title.

Could history be repeating itself in 2012?  Thanks to an impressive win against a very tough Russian squad, Greece has arrived to the elimination round of Euro 2012 so they find themselves 2 wins away from having a chance to once again be the champions of Europe.

Italy and Spain

Some were calling Spain a dynasty, while Italy was facing its regular match-fixing scandal. The scene was set for an epic battle between the last two winners of the World Cup, and Italy rose to the occasion with a 1-1 draw with mighty Spain.

It was an interesting match to watch, as Italy seems to be playing a more aggressive style under Cesare Prandelli. Fans love to hate the Italian side, but many acknowledged that Italy played well against Spain.

Italy has a long history of destructive soccer, a tradition of delaying tactics and primitive kick-and-rush counterattacks. One need only think of Marco Materazzi’s (nicknames “the animal”) goading of Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup Final.

The fact that this Italian side drew against the World and European champions–famous for the “tiki-taka” passing game that most Spanish players and coaches embrace–may be considered a defeat for soccer purists.

However, there are many subplots to this story.

In a departure from tradition, this Italian squad was far from their caricature of a defense-obsessed bunch of tricksters and instead worried about its own game; it played Spain fairly and squarely.

Despite relatively inferior players, Italy never allowed Spain’s midfielders to just pass the ball to each other and dominate possession as they tend to.

Spanish fans, never fond of the Italian brand of soccer, were impressed.

“A tie was the fair result,” Antonio Díaz, a Madrid policeman told us.

Is this the dawn of a new, viewer-friendly Italy?

We’ll see what happens against Croatia and Ireland, but the aggressive style will likely remain in place. The question is whether the Italians will go into lock-down mode after taking a lead. It was pretty shocking to see a goal scored so quickly by Spain after Italy scored, though we are dealing with the excellent Spanish team here.

Euro 2012 kicks off

The tournament is underway. There was some disturbing news about racist chants, but now we can focus on the games.

Robert Lewandowski scored the opening goal in the 2012 European Championship as co-hosts Poland settled for a draw against Greece. Hours later, Russia set the tournament for Group A with a 4-1 victory against the Czech Republic.

Poland may regain its footing after the draw. The squad features forward Lewandowski, midfielder Jakub Blascykowski and defender Lukasz Piszczek, all key players in Borrussia Dortmund’s Bundesliga triumph.

Greece pulled a major upset by winning the tournament in 2004, but is the weakest team in this tournament. The Czech Republic has neither the sufficient firepower up front nor a disciplined enough defense to get much further.

Meanwhile, Russia showed all of the discipline that the Czechs lacked. Its defense was well organized, its midfield effective and its offense comfortable. The Russians look unlikely to break under pressure, and may repeat their 2008 feat of reaching the semifinals, or do better.

Today we’ll see the group of death.