Portugal 3 Denmark 2 (Lviv)


Portugal 3 Denmark 2 (Lviv, 13th June 2012)

I’d only picked up two tickets for Euro 2012 in the initial application phase, but a 2nd phase allowed the chance to pick up another game between those two. With games available in the charming UNESCO-listed neoclassical Lviv or the Soviet-rebuilt Kharkiv, it wasn’t a difficult choice.

Lviv is every bit as picturesque as the likes of Krakow, not too far away across the Polish border, but without the crowds. Or at least usually without the crowds. On this day a few thousand Danes and Portuguese had taken over the city, adding a lot of colour to the place, but also making it a little bit more difficult to get a seat in the cafes and bars that give the place a central european rather than ex-Soviet feel.

Red & White clad Danish fans certainly dominated the central square, making a colourful scene, with period-costumed lollipop sellers and even the odd tram rattling through to complete picture-postcard worthy spectacle.

A slightly different spectacle was to be had at a bar around the corner, directly opposite where I had a meal before departing to the game. The only thing that stands out about the bar from the street is a life-size bronze statue of Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch. The name, and even the image of this old-fashioned dressed man will mean nothing to most, but the fact that he gave his name to Masochism gives a hint to the theme of the bar. In an interesting sales pitch, waitresses took it in turns to wait outside next to the statue, and playfully whip the backsides of passers-by. It’s all apparently quite innocent, but as theme bars go, it’s certainly unusual.

Maybe the memory of Mr Sacher-Masoch lived on in the planners of Lviv’s brand new stadium for the tournament. As lovely as Lviv’s centre is, the planners decided to stick the stadium around 6 miles out, in what could generously be described as the outskirts of the city. The shuttle buses plonked fans down in the middle of bleakest nothingness, with little but barely landscaped wasteland between there and the communist housing blocks in the distance. A little more masochism, for those who like that thing, was provided by the detail that the buses not only stopped over a km from the stadium, but the signs showed it to be and estimated 17 minute walk, uphill, to get there.

In a better location Arena Lviv would be a cracking venue. It’s certainly unusual from the outside, with an irregularly angled awning over the stadium draping over the concourses, as if the original cardboard design model got squashed in transit, and nobody noticed.

Squashed or not, it’s a really good design, and it’s hard to think of many stadiums holding around 35000 that are better. It actually looks slightly bigger due to much of one side being given over to executive boxes, but two steep tiers of yellow and blue seats sweep round the oher three sides, offering a terrific view. The top tier is even steep enough that handrails are considered necessary at the front of each row.

With the high roof letting in plenty of light, it’s certainly not a gloomy venue. As in Donetsk, the exposed lattice-work of the roof adds a certain something to the stadium that we lose in England, with our habit of hiding the steelwork away above a false ceiling. It just looks far more imposing this way.

While Euro 2012 is completely unsegregated, each nation’s official allocation – the tickets from the nation’s FA – is located in one corner of the stadium. I had hoped to be in or near the Portugal section. Not because I favoured Portugal in any way, but purely because I remembered how good their fans were at Portugal v Iran in Frankfurt in 2006. I was in the other end though, and although there were still loads of Portuguese fans in this end too, there wasn’t the critical mass that would allow “Portugal, Olé!” to be great sight and sound it was six years earlier.

Never mind though, as the game took care of that. Portugal came out looking the most effective and most determined, even if Helder Postiga did annoy by seeming more concerned with looking for free kicks than trying to actually score. It wasn’t a surprise when Portugal went in front. For all their flair it was an old-fashioned almost British style set-piece that saw Portugal take the lead – a corner headed in at the near post by Pepe. Ten minutes before half time Portugal doubled the lead. Postiga, with no chance of falling over before getting to the ball this time, stayed on his feet for once, and connected perfectly from six yards to side-foot in at the near post.

Perhaps Portugal thought that was game over, because they switched off a few minutes later to allow Denmark back into the match. A cross seemed to be drifting too far wide, but it was nodded back across to a completely unmarked Bendtner to head in the kind of goal grandmothers are said to be able to score.

If that slip was to prove critical, Cristiano Ronaldo would probably have felt it more than most. He seemed to be one a one-man mission to go from champ to chump. Twice he attempted direct free kicks from positions which were a great angle for a cross, but hopeless ones for a shot. He then managed to miss a one on one when clean through, somehow putting the ball a good metre wide of the post.

It looked like it would indeed be critical with ten minutes left. Bendtner scored another header at the back post, this one safely beyond the limits of all but the most exceptional grandmothers, to tie the game up at 2-2 and leave Portugal facing probable elimination.

Portugal threw on sub Silverstre Varela with 6 minutes left to give them something extra up front, and it paid off dramatically. At first he look to have been struck by the same wastefulness though. A cross from the left picked him out and he shaped for a left-foot from just past the penalty spot. Rather than what he’d hoped for though, he performed a perfect Sunday Pub League air-shot, with the ball hitting his standing leg, and rolling slightly behind him. If anyone in the Danish team temporarily relaxed though, they were badly mistaken. Varela is clearly rather better with his right than his left, as he turned, spun and shot in one movement, firing the ball in at the near post. Three minutes left, and there was no coming back this time.

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