Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Making a splash at big tournament

Play tops, stars perform and rain provides relief after a week in the heat

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It was a hot, muggy week in Poland and Ukraine, the skies overcast and pregnant with the anticipation of rain, of relief.

 

Then Friday the clouds exploded, cascading a torrent of water on the French national soccer team as they sang La Marseillaise. Even the stadium loudspeakers sputtered as thunder cracked overhead. After a few minutes of splashing through the pools collecting on the pitch, the French and Ukrainian sides contesting a Euro 2012 Group D match in Donetsk were ushered off the field.

Thunder and lightning; colour and sound. This European Championship has had a multi-sensual appeal.

Put plainly, there has been something for everyone. The goals have been good, the matches played at a high level. Even the tacticians were given some meat to chew when Italy faced Spain. And the hooligans, ever a sideshow, managed to get themselves on the newscasts ahead of Tuesday's Russia-Poland match.

Players who were expected to entertain have come good. Mario Gomez, carrying the weight of the German attack, has scored in consecutive matches, and Fernando Torres, the often-maligned Spanish forward, bagged a brace against Ireland on Thursday.

And, of course, there have been the rising talents. Russia's Alan Dzagoev, already a star at CSKA Moscow, is using this tournament to showcase his abilities on the biggest stage. So, too, are Ukraine's Andriy Yarmolenko and Germany's Mesut Ozil -- perhaps one of the sport's top playmakers and just 23 years old.

Andriy Shevchenko, meanwhile, has reminded us all that the very best footballers remain forever in their prime. In our memories, they never grow old.

Shortly after the referee led the French and Ukrainian players into the tunnel, a reverberating image: a solitary man, drenched from head to toe, sitting alone in the stands, in the rain. He might have been any of us, enjoying a bit of pause and reflection while the skies opened and refreshed the earth below.

Sometimes it takes a storm to reveal the things we truly enjoy.

 

Euro 2012 notebook

-- Twenty-three Poles have been convicted of hooliganism and assaulting police officers in unique, expedited court sessions special to Euro 2012. The charges were laid following violent clashes between fans and police ahead of Tuesday's Group A match between Poland and Russia in Warsaw. More than 180 people were arrested in connection with the violence and more charges are expected. The fast-track courts are a new feature of Poland's criminal code that was introduced prior to the tournament. Sentences range from three to 12 months and are subject to appeal.

-- The Croatian FA can expect to be punished, or at least issued a warning, by UEFA after several of its fans burned a European Union flag ahead of Thursday's Group C match against Italy in Poznan. A section of the Croatian support hurled racist insults at Italy striker Mario Balotelli during the match and halted play on several occasions during the second half after tossing flares onto the pitch. Earlier in the week, the Russian FA was handed a suspended six-point deduction for Euro 2016 qualifying that will come into effect if their fans cause any more disturbances at Euro 2012.

-- Italy defender Andrea Barzagli has returned to full match fitness and will be available for Monday's match against Ireland.

-- Czech Republic manager Michal Bilek is hopeful captain Tomas Rosicky, who picked up a leg injury against Greece, will be fit to face Poland today.

jerradpeters@gmail.com Twitter@peterssoccer

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 16, 2012 C8

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