Wednesday June 20
By Nick Ames in Kiev
And then there were six.
Tomas Rosicky, Laurent Koscielny, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Per Mertesacker and, for the sake of a few days, Lukas Podolski will all be flying the flag for Arsenal in the last eight of Euro 2012 - an impressive tally that means all four quarter-finals are imbued with genuine Gunners interest.
Our English and French representatives made sure of their places last night in rather differing fashions. I was at the Olympic Stadium, Kiev, to witness a match in which France never reached anything like the required level of intensity, ending up well beaten by good Swedish goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and ex-Gunner Sebastian Larsson.
Nobody from the French side came out with much credit, and if Ukraine had made their early dominance count against England in Donetsk we might have seen a very different story unfold.
France’s troubles did have one Arsenal-related benefit, though. Philippe Mexes’ second-half booking rules him out of their mouthwatering clash with Spain, and next in line is a certain Laurent Koscielny. It would be a great surprise if the in-form Gunner, whose presence in the side had been widely called for, did not line up alongside Adil Rami at the Donbass Arena on Saturday - his mobility and timing could well be the ideal complement to his more rugged defensive partner.
Theo and Alex will be involved for England here in Kiev against Italy a day later, having made cameo appearances in the win over Ukraine.
First of all come the two Polish quarter-finals. A reasonable chunk of yesterday afternoon was spent queuing at the station to book my train ticket for the 18-hour trip to Warsaw, which I’ll commence at around 4pm today. Whether I do see much of Tomas at the other end remains unclear as he spent Monday in Prague undergoing treatment on his Achilles, but is back with the squad now and, encouragingly, has been put up to speak to the media today.
Current suggestions are that he will be able to play a part from the bench if needed, and there’s little doubting that his experience would be a huge boost against the in-form Portuguese.
Per, Lukas and Germany will play Greece in Gdansk on Friday, and what price a meeting with England in Warsaw for what would be a wonderfully poised semi-final?
The group stage of this competition has been tremendous fun - a joy to cover, with barely a dull game along the way and plenty of stories to be told. The tournament’s narrative becomes a little more staccato now with short, sharp bursts of high-octane knockout drama.
It keeps journalists guessing too. I have no idea where I’ll end up after the Czechs have sought to cause a shock in Warsaw, but as long as there’s genuine Arsenal interest in the second phase of Euro 2012 I’ll endeavour to bring it to life for you.
EURO 2012 BLOG ARCHIVE:
- D-day for England and France
- Per proved right on Podolski
- Czechs keep their composure
- Electric Walcott makes his mark
- Kiev gets ready for England
- Dejected Dutch on the brink
- A decisive day for the Dutch
- Beaming Ox makes his mark
- Sun, streams and slagheaps
- Diligent Danes reap reward
- The Dutch and the Danes
- Running the rule over Robin
- From Gatwick to Kharkiv