Villa, Others Light Up Euro 2008
A SUPERB hat-trick from Spain's David Villa and goals of beauty from Portugal, Germany, Netherlands and Sweden have put an extra sheen on a bright opening round of matches at Euro 2008. One hugely debatable goal plus defeats for the reigning world champion, Italy, and European champion, Greece, and co-hosts - Switzerland and Austria - have also added to an intriguing first four days of competition. The action has been relatively clean too, with such high stakes - after eight games till yesterday, one had not seen a single red card. Only one match, the sterile Group C opener between Romania and France, has failed to produce a goal or an outright winner. Unusually in all four groups, the top two teams are due to meet in the second round of games over the next few days, including France, which is second behind the Dutch in Group C over Romania for alphabetical reason. Depending on how the results go, four teams could reach the quarterfinals with a match to spare and while it is still early days, some likely favourites appear to be emerging. Portugal, Germany, Netherlands and Spain impressed in their openers, and Portugal's coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, summed up the feelings of all his colleagues after his side's impressive 2-0 win over Turkey in Geneva in Group A at the weekend. Portugal, runners-up on home soil four years ago, look as though they can reach the later stages again with Pepe contributing an outstanding goal after excellent build-up play. The game of the tourney so far came when Netherlands beat Italy 3-0 in a match that evoked memories of Dutch Total Football of the 1970s. Its second goal, a counter-attacking move ending with a volley from Wesley Sneijder, was simply breathtaking. The first, when Ruud Van Nistelrooy scored from what looked like an offside position was ruled as valid, because Italian defender, Christian Panucci, was deemed to be playing him onside even though he was off the pitch. It was the biggest talking point. It could well lead to a clarification of the law by FIFA's International Board. David Villa's hat-trick in Spain's 4-1 rout of Russia has been the outstanding individual performance, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic's incredible right-foot thunderbolt for Sweden against Greece is another contender for goal of the tournament. The only blot for the two host nations were the defeats for their teams, with Switzerland falling 0-1 to Czech Republic and Austria beaten 0-1 by Croatia. They now look set to struggle to survive.
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