DONETSK, Ukraine — Spain’s Xabi Alonso joins Cristiano Ronaldo at the head of the class in the European Championship quarterfinals.
At Euro 2012, where 20 headed goals have been scored, Alonso and Portugal star Ronaldo showed perfect technique to send their teams into the semifinals.
Alonso’s header to take the lead in a 2-0 victory over France on Saturday was nearly identical to Ronaldo’s goal that knocked out the Czech Republic on Thursday.
The Spain midfielder took up a good back-post position to meet a cross with an angled run into the goalmouth.
Then, with feet planted and a steady gaze on the ball, Alonso headed it powerfully down and bouncing back across the wrongfooted goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris.
For Spain to win with a header goes against type for a team whose short, neat passing typically keeps the ball skimming across the turf.
Yet it fitted perfectly with one of the strongest scoring trends in Poland and Ukraine.
In 27 matches, 20 of the 69 goals — well above the scoring average of recent World Cups — have come from scorers using their head. The previous record for a Euro finals tournament was 17.
Why is such an old-fashioned football skill making a comeback at Euro 2012?
UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh has declined to call it a trend based on a relatively small sample size.
Certainly, UEFA President Michel Platini believes attacking players have more chance to reach the ball if defenders are denied their sly arts of shirt-pulling and nudging.
UEFA’s championing of additional assistant referees beside each goal has apparently deterred defenders from fouling, for fear of conceding a penalty or being shown a yellow card.
Still, Alonso and Ronaldo scored from open play, using their superior wits, skill and positional sense to make the difference.
The standard of defending at Euro 2012 can also be questioned, with a succession of goals in early matches arising from moves down the attacking team’s right flank.
It took just 17 minutes of play in the opening game in Warsaw for Poland forward Robert Lewandowski to place a bouncing header into the Greek net and open the Euro 2012 goal account.
When co-host nation Ukraine entered the action three days later, iconic forward Andriy Shevchenko twice stooped to score and conquer Sweden in a 2-1, comeback victory.
Shevchenko showed a true striker’s classic sense of timing to make perfect runs to the front post, from a right-flank cross and a left-flank corner.
That exposed a weakness in the Swedish defense which England’s old-fashioned No. 9 Andy Carroll also exploited.
Carroll soared majestically into the air, unmarked and near the penalty spot, to meet a driven crossed ball by Steven Gerrard and guide his header into the bottom corner of the net.
In another throwback to 1950s fashion, Mario Gomez of Germany used his powerful neck muscles to generate speed on the ball, and score the only goal against Portugal in his team’s opening group match.
Copyright 2012 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use ordistribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and TheAssociated Press is strictly prohibited.
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Submited at Sunday, June 24th, 2012 at 12:00 am on Sports by jessica
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