So the first round of the group matches at the European Championships closed with happy smiling faces in Kiev - well at least if you were a home fan, as the co-hosts beat Sweden 2-1. Looking at the crowd shots during the game and the ubiquity of yellow and blue shirts, scarves and face paint you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching one team play. In fact on closer examination I would say that the only apparent difference between Ukraine and Sweden is a better class of dentistry in the latter.
After the teams had made their way onto the pitch we had the national anthems, the Swedish one sounded as depressed as a psycholoigist from Malmo who has just discovered that his wife has run of with her best friend and forgotten to leave details on how to programme the microwave. Then we had the host anthem, a tune that seemed to go on longer than injury time on a Wednesday night at Old Trafford and which may have been extolling the virtues of bulk tractor buying such was the gusto that it was sung with.
After that we saw two teams which seemed determined to confirm there national stereotypes, the Swedes wanted to take their time, passing the ball methodically and with almost mathematical precision, it was the footballing equivalent of reading the user notes for a Nokia phone. The home side were by contrast in a hurry, sweating profusely under the warm Kiev sky they wanted to play as if filmed by Eisenstein himself, all jerky movements and exasperated looks when things went wrong. Sweden should have been leading at half time, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, (one of a long list of Johnny Foreigners whom Alan Hansen remains 'unconvinced' about) who was playing with touch of Eric Cantona outside the box and the touch of Carlton Palmer inside it, missed a couple of what pundits like to call 'golden opportunities' but which fans call 'open goals'.
The second half however saw the two golden balls on display both score with Ibrahimovic scoring first for Sweden before Andriy Shevchenko, the 35 year old elder statesman of the competition, scored two headers to send the home fans into the sort of frenzy that can normally only be induced by several glasses of the local hooch. It was fitting in a way that the co-hosts should end the first round of group matches with a win and set the group up for some interesting second round of matches next Monday.
If the home fans were delighted by Ukraine's win they would have been impressed by the Artisan performance of England against the artists of France. England huffed and puffed but couldn't blow the opposition maison down in a first half of few opportunities but Joleon Lescott scored a header from a cracking Stevie G free kick and with Danny Wellbeck playing like a seasoned international was given the central defenders a tough time of it. Of course the fragile lead couldn't last and in fact it lasted barely ten minutes before another Man City player beat yet another Man City player to even things up. As the second half wore on a combination of heat and a heavy pitch reduced the players to walking pace at times and in the end a draw was probably the fairest result.
In the other Group matches to take place over the first long weekend Russia and Denmark produced the two outstanding results, in defeating Czech Republic and Holland respectively, whilst the Spain v Italy game was the one that was most pleasing on the eye. Ireland showed that grit, determination and access, via dubious ancestry, to an Irish passport is no substitute for technical ability as they were both embarrassing and embarrassed in their defeat to Croatia. Germany beat Portugal with the minimum of effort and Poland and Greece played the sort of football you thought had long gone out of fashion.