In many ways the first round of games at the European Championship were always going to be a bit predictable, as teams sought to start their campaigns the right way and avoid defeat. The most progressive, attacking coaches may well have chosen to start by going for a big win and some confidence, but a lot of the men here are not at their first rodeo, and will know just what a huge blow a loss can be in such a short competition. There were a few results that seemed a bit shocking at the time, but with more games coming thick and fast players must simply pick themselves up, dust themselves down and do it all again, with gusto.
Possibly the best result of the opening matches was Denmark, who are a massive 40/1 as winner with Bet365 getting a win over the much-fancied Dutch. As a result of this BetDaq have Holland out at 73/5 as winners now, while Ladbrokes have pushed them out to 7/1 even to make the final, and the coach has some difficult calls to make. A lot of the trouble for Holland came from the selection, with Mark van Bommel starting alongside Nigel de Jong in midfield, and while those men are good players they are both defensively minded. Add to that the fact van Bommel is not quite the force he was a couple of years back, and a dodgy defence and you can see where the men in orange went wrong.
In their defence, it was hard to know how the likes of van Persie and Robben would deal with the pressure, and not many were predicting a blow-out of the proportions we saw. The Arsenal striker managed to make Grant Holt look like Messi at times, and the men around him could do nothing to help, partly due to his being the only striker on the pitch. However, German hitman Mario Gomez had no such trouble, netting against Portugal and securing a win that may well be important in an unpredictable group, and StanJames still like their chances at 10/3.
Group A produced probably the best actual performance, with a Russian side featuring the CSKA Moscow midfield demolishing the Czech Republic 4-1. Ladbrokes now have Russia at 12/1 as winners, and just 5/1 to make the final, and that central trio is crucial to their hopes of going far. Picking three men who play together every week as part of your national side makes good sense for a number of reasons, not least because it will lend your play a degree of fluency, and there were times in the opener against the Czechs where the football was simply brilliant, with Dzagoev and Arshavin impressive at all moments.
The big games in Groups C and D were a bit of a let-down, although anyone who watched England prepare for this will have been less than shocked about the pragmatic way their team was set up, and to be honest critics are just embarrassing themselves. The simple fact is that the French eleven is superior, especially in attack, to the one Roy Hodgson could pick and because of this it would be stupid to go out trying to match les blues pass for pass. Instead, like Chelsea in the Champions League, Hodgson took a route to preserve the position of England as 12/1 with BetFred to win the tournament, aware that while you cannot win the cup in your first games, you can definitely lose it.
Spain and Italy produced a similar sort of game, if there was a bit more quality, and looking ahead at the remainder of their group they’ll both have to win their remaining two games to be sure of their last eight berth. Italy are 17/13 with 32Red to beat Croatia next, and the 2/7 with SkyBet on Spain beating Ireland on Thursday shows you just how fancied that is as a win for the World and European champions. I wasn’t expecting the Spanish to come in and smash the tournament, as that is not how they have gone about being so successful, but I have to admit the decision to start without a striker was a baffling one and I wouldn’t be at all shocked if either Fernando Torres or Fernando Llorente are promoted to the eleven for what should be two more comfortable games.
The main movers over the first round were Russia and Holland, obviously, but the other major point that seemed to be illustrated is that there are going to be less easy games than expected. Teams like Ukraine, the Republic of Ireland and Poland were thought of as cannon-fodder before the show started, and while Giovanni Trapattoni’s Irish side let themselves down with a poor game against Croatia the hosts have proved remarkably resilient, with Ukraine actually topping Group D after beating the Swedes. I’d never back Ukraine for a home victory (44/1, BetDaq if you would) but they could seriously discomfit France or England.
With Spain having already played Italy and England drawing with France the next big match will be Germany against Holland on the 13th. After beating Portugal Germany are 6/4 with BoyleSports to win the game, and SkyBet have 13/2 on them doing so by 2 or more goal. If the Germans can beat the Dutch it will not only mean they are guaranteed to qualify, but alos give them a confidence boost that could be crucial in the latter stages of a very tough task.
The Dutch are 21/10 with VictorChandler to win, with PaddyPower rating Robin van Persie a 7/1 chance to score the first goal and put his performance against Denmark behind him. Their coach is in a very tricky position, knowing that a win is the preferred option but also that this is the opponent most capable of hurting his side. That match will go a long way to deciding the make-up of the quarters, and is also a must-see game for any fan.