Another final day of Group play, another dose of drama. The Group of Death had its share of heart-stopping possibility heading into play; Denmark and Portugal stood tied on three points, Germany was top with six. If The Netherlands could beat Portugal by two goals and Germany could beat Denmark, the Dutch could come from nowhere (ala Greece) and claim second place in the Group. Knowing all of this going in, these games hung on every chance, but it was the missing superstar who stole the show and a team I expected to struggle found itself advancing ahead of a favorite. First things first, though, and that means Germany.
Denmark v Germany
Great game. The Danes played this entire tournament with a lot of guts and determination and their match against Germany was no exception. After falling behind 1-0 to a Lukas Podolski sitter…
Bang bang bang.
… Denmark stayed with their game plan and pressed the Germans, earning a corner and getting a goal to tie it 1-1. Ah, lovely set pieces…
The Danes were in it with a shout, barring a Portugal win which, doh. It all became moot in the 80th minute when Mesut Özil played a perfect, and I mean perfect, ball to Lars Bender, who slotted home the winner.
2-1 and done.
For all of Denmark’s excellent qualities, you have to love the Germans taking all nine points in the Group of Death as a good sign for them. Obviously. That said, hmmmm. 1-0, 2-1, 2-1; Germany have not been able to put a beating on anyone and they have some real strugglers in the side right now, primarily Thomas Müller who has been awful in front of goal (and scored none) and Lukas Podolski who, despite his hammer shot for 1-0 against the Danes, seems out of synch with the team on the left hand side; he is not providing crosses or balls into the box, leaving Lahm, Özil and Khedira to provide the danger. I like Germany’s toughness and their quality, but I see trouble ahead; if this team falls behind, I will be interested to see what they do. The good news is that Bastian Schweinsteiger continues to boss it in the middle of the park and the team are finding the right balance of attack and defense with their LB/RB combinations. Still, the Germans have yet to dominate anyone, which makes me wonder if they might not be opening themselves up for trouble in the later stages. I like this team a lot, but they seem to be missing a real cutting edge; I think Özil needs to take this team by the balls and play with Xavi-style authority. He can be a true leader for the side with his qualities, but too often seems to defer to more senior players and drifts around the final third trying to link play instead of running the show. Stay tuned; I think it gets interesting for Germany in the semi-final.
The Netherlands v Portugal
Hello, Cristiano Ronaldo. It is nice to see you again. I had been wondering aloud where you might have gone, but I see you’ve turned up now.
Great ball, great run, good finish
That’s how you counter attack. GREAT goal.
Last time around, when Ronaldo missed some chances in the team’s 3-2 win over Denmark, I wrote:
”…it’s a shame when one of the best players in the world is unable to produce for his country. Nothing would be better for this team than for Ronaldo to live up to his hype and get his teammates and his country believing in him, to be discussing his greatness. Instead, Ronaldo seems almost cursed by the expectations, which is so unlike him. Is it mental? I expect a goal from him against The Netherlands to get back on track.”
Ok, so a brace, a dominant performance an a match winner that sends the Portuguese into the knockout stages from the Group of Death. Well done, CR7. I am not a fan of the man, but he is an incredible player and you want to see great players play great. That’s just what he did against The Netherlands, and now Portugal looked primed and dangerous, with five goals in their last two games and a renewed sense that they can do some damage in Euro 2012.
And then… The Netherlands. Wow. Three matches, no points. The good news? Hey, Van der Vaart scored to put the Dutch 1-0 up…?
1-0. Looking good!
The bad news? Ronaldo scored two after that and the Dutch, finalists at the 2010 World Cup, are going home without a point in Group play. I am not sure anyone dreamed that this would happen. The team is utterly stacked with attacking talent and yet here they are, again, flashing back to the team of individuals that plays without any cohesion. All the Dutch supporters were complaining about Robin van Persie’s misses in front of goal, the conservative approach of two defensive midfielders, etc. So, in the final game, manager Bert van Marwijk brought on Van der Vaart (who scored) and Huntelaar (who did not) and the Dutch still struggled to find the goal.
Let’s be clear; the Portuguese counterattack that saw Ronaldo bang in two goals was a direct result of The Dutch pressing forward to bag a second goal and find a way into the knockout stages. If the Dutch had been in a better position in the Group, they might have had a more balanced approach to playing defensive football at 1-0 up. But the desperation they showed was of their own making; time and again, the Dutch attack broke down when it might have soared. As I said last time around:
“I said they played ‘me first’ football against the Danes, but this was a case of ‘who? me?’ football; even Wesley Sneijder’s typical excellence could not bring the front line together. For all of his pace and quality on the ball, Arjen Robben might be the most one-dimensional great player in the world; collect the ball, cut inside, fire over the bar. Collect the ball. Cut inside. Fire over the bar. Get back and play defense? Forget it.”
The Dutch suffered from the same malady the entire tournament– they had no chimestry. At all. Again. And now they head home as by far the biggest disappointment of the Euro 2012.
A shame, really.