Monday, June 18

By Nick Ames in Lviv

Now that’s what Per Mertesacker was talking about.

Lukas Podolski had made a couple of similar runs in previous games, darting from his left-sided perch into the centre of the penalty area in the hope of meeting a right-sided cross. This time it was first time lucky - his persistence rewarded as another Thomas Muller ball was deflected perfectly into his path for a crashing finish with his weaker right foot.

It sparked the future Gunner’s Euro 2012 into life after a couple of quiet performances, and made good Mertesacker’s prophecy that Arsenal fans would soon see what he was capable of. I reminded Per of that after the game - he had warm words both for Lukas and a number of his other Arsenal friends at the tournament, which you’ll see on soon.

Germany, Lukas and Per left Lviv as winners of Group B - they’ll now face Greece in Gdansk, which is almost as near to Scandinavia as fellow host city Donetsk is to the Black Sea.

Nicklas Bendtner and Denmark go out with their heads held high - and certainly did enough to instil nerves in the Germans’ play before Lars Bender’s late winner. Nicklas set up Michael Krohn-Dehli’s 25th-minute equaliser, and once again impressed at the spearhead of the Danes’ attack.

He looks sharp, fit and strong, and few centre forwards at this tournament have impressed more through their all-round play. He joins another Arsenal forward, Robin van Persie, in returning home early – my monitor in the press box was tuned into the Netherlands’ defeat against Portugal, and few could argue with their ultimate fate after a set of brittle performances.

For all that it is located inconveniently out of town, Arena Lviv is the most compact of the Ukrainian Euro 2012 venues. Last night it pulsated to the sound of 35,000 German and Danish fans, and felt like a stadium befitting of the Bundesliga or the Premier League.

Those supporters had created a wonderfully good-natured atmosphere in Lviv’s charming town centre earlier in the day - although the German television presenter who received a soaking from a mischievous Dane’s pint glass, accidentally captured on camera by this reporter, might not necessarily agree.

I didn’t stick around to see any reprisal raid. Instead, I headed to the village of Vinnyky, 20 minutes outside Lviv. I’d heard a whisper that Europa League quarter-finalists Metalist Kharkiv were playing a pre-season friendly there late in the afternoon and, despite my taxi driver’s despairing exhortations to the contrary, my conviction was proved correct.

In a tiny stadium tucked behind a pretty row of cottages, I saw Myron Markevych’s upwardly-mobile team overcome the local part-timers 3-2 in their first warm-up of the summer. The football played by Metalist has been likened to Arsenal’s at times, and Markevych fits the mould of a Ukrainian Arsène Wenger. He paid tribute to the Arsenal boss when I spoke to him afterwards.

Arsène will be in the press box in Kiev tomorrow as France play Sweden, looking for the point that would see them through to the quarter-finals. I’ll be there too, my stay in Lviv having been far shorter than the city’s attractions merited.

Not for the first time, this blog comes to you from a high-speed train between Ukrainian cities, a service that has been one of the tournament’s true revelations from a practical perspective.

It’ll spirit me into town in time for the pre-match press conferences, before I settle down for this evening’s Group C deciders. Those games might hold little direct Arsenal interest, but there's no doubt that the Gunners have already made a major contribution to this tournament.


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18 Jun 2012