Sharp shooter | Antonio Di Natale proved he at least has a cool head, converting Italy’s first after Mario Balotelli had missed a golden chance against Spain. (Image | NBC Sports Media)

The European Championships have been in motion since Friday, and already the tournament has dispelled a few myths, and confirmed a handful of uncertainties. Last night’s victory for Ukraine verified the extraordinary power of the talisman: Andriy Shevchenko is his country’s all-time leading goalscorer, and netted twice against Sweden to send the joint hosts top of Group D. A remarkable achievement, and one entirely against that old footballing cliché, the “run of form.”

Furthermore, it became apparent on Sunday that Spain are not the indestructible force some pundits have painted them as. Italy dominated against the World and European champions, who in the absence of the injured David Villa played an unconventional 4-6-0 formation which was predictably ineffective.

Following the 1-1 draw between England and France last night, Patrice Evra came out and criticised Roy Hodgson’s side for “playing like Chelsea.” The Three Lions frustrated Laurent Blanc’s France, nullifying the threat of Karim Benzema for the majority of the game, and preventing the French imposing themselves upon proceedings. Perhaps somebody ought to remind Evra that this season Chelsea lifted the Champions League trophy via this strategy, while his own club surrendered the Premier League to Manchester City. Hodgson’s players executed his pragmatic, largely defensive strategy perfectly, and in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, England have a player able to take people on and provide a spark of inspiration on the flanks.

Golden boot? | Russia’s Alan Dzagoev netted twice in his country’s demolition of the Czech Republic, proving his pre-Euro 2012 credentials as one of the tournament’s hottest young talents. (Image | Metro)

Unlike the previous World Cup, this time around the hosts both have a chance of emerging from their respective groups. Ukraine’s victory last night moves them above both England and France in Group D, while the comparative “ease” of Group A means Poland only have themselves to blame should a side other than them emerge alongside Russia (they will qualify, and the reasons why will be stated below). Despite dropping two points against Greece, and lacking the suspended Wojciech Szczęsny (for tonight’s match), the Poles will be confident of taking care of the Czech Republic should they fall to defeat against the Russians, and four points will be enough to emerge from Group A and into the knock-out stages.

As for the Russians, they weren’t half bad on Friday were they? In particular Alan Dzagoev, everyone’s “surprise” pick prior to the Championships, who at the tender age of 21 is surely bound for a move to the Premier League or one of the “major European divisions.” Almost certain to win the group, the Russians will have to wait to find out whether finishing as group leaders or runners-up will be more beneficial in the long term, with the Group B “group of death” unclear thanks to Denmark’s victory over the Netherlands.

Unexpected | Michael Khron-Dehli took the form book and ripped it up in front of our eyes to score the only goal of the game in Denmark’s 1-0 victory over the Netherlands. (Image | Tumblr)

Moving on to the men in orange, in every opening week of a major tournament, there is a shock result. This was it. Denmark taking care of the team many thought were unbeatable and would saunter through to the knock-out stages (particularly after destroying Northern Ireland 6-0). The Danes were excellent, and pressed extremely well, while the Netherlands looked scared of their own reputation. For nobody was this more evident than Robin van Persie. After his incredible season for Arsenal, the Dutchman scuffed a shot when clean through, and from early on there were calls for him to be replaced by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Now, van Persie will come good, with quality like his it’s impossible not to. But we ought not forget that “Golden Boot” hype and pressure can translate into a dearth of goals for some strikers. See “Mario Gomez and the tale of the missed chance(s)” for more details (circa Euro 2008).

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