After going 4-4 in my Quarterfinal predictions, I am confident that I am due to get one of these wrong. But here we go anyway… my semifinal predictions. Run of the mill, but I have to follow my gut.
Portugal v Spain
Germany v Italy
"Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen…"– Robert Bresson
After going 4-4 in my Quarterfinal predictions, I am confident that I am due to get one of these wrong. But here we go anyway… my semifinal predictions. Run of the mill, but I have to follow my gut.
Portugal v Spain
Germany v Italy
Germany 4-2 Greece
The Euro Zone, har har, debt, har har, single currency, har har. The masters vs the servants, heh. Austerity vs punishing the banks, mmhmmm.
Now that all of the clichés about this match are out of the way, it can be said that Germany just absolutely owned Greece… on the pitch (oh.) The 4-2 scoreline flattered a Greek team who saw little of the ball in the first half and who literally scored with their first two touches in the German box. Down 4-1, a late penalty made the numbers look respectable, but the match was anything but.
Greece came out of the box and invited the Germans forward, hoping to press them into a mistake and launch a counter. The problem? Whenever the Greeks touched the ball, they immediately gave it back. The first 45 minutes were all Germany and it was completely tactical; unable to match the Germans in skill, the Greeks tried to lock the door with defense. It worked until it didn’t; when Philip Lahm got on the end of a cross field pass from Mesu Özil and lashed the ball into the Greek net in the 39th minute, things had to change.
And in the 55th minute, they did; a four pass move saw the Greeks break on a counter attack and score, a shocking moment that was a stark reminder of the cruelty of the game; you can run the show and still get caught out with lightning speed. When Giorgios Samaras tapped in a perfect cross with a slide into the mouth of the German goal, it was 1-1.
Hey, lookie there, it’s Samaras
It didn’t take long for Germany to respond; three quick goals from Sami Khedira (61st minute) and Miroslav Klose (68th minute) and Marco Reus (74th minute) put Germany up 4-1 as they ripped Greece apart. When Jerome Boateng completed the amazing task of jumping with his back to the ball and still intentionally (cough) handling it*, Dimitirs Salpingidis took a lovely penalty and made it 4-2 in the 89th minute, Too little, too late, Toodle-oo.
The goals? Nope. UEFA are locking down video highlights, because who wants to be able to review the game online? Who wants an official, linkable set of highlights to share around the world? How do you make money on that? Assholes.
* Try this, turn your back to your friend and have him kick soccer balls at you and see how many you can get a hand on. Ahem.
OK, have a long day of work ahead, but wanted to get my quarter-final predictions in under the wire…
Portugal v Czech Republic
Germany v Greece
France v Spain
England vs Italy
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…
… 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.
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
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…?
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.
The Group of Death is living up to the name; at the end of their second round of matches, all four teams are still alive (one, just barely) and the unexpected results keep coming. And where the first round featured a pair of tight 1-0 games, this time around things got real, with two entertaining games that delivered the goods; these teams have everything to play for on the final day. It’s on Group of Death…. it’s on!
Denmark vs Portugal
Aftrer looking dangerous (and frankly better than expected) against Germany, Portugal finally got their shit together in this match, pulling off a thrilling last minute 3-2 win against an unlucky Denmark. Any game that features five goals gets the full match highlights treatment (who has time to post five individual goal clips?), so let’s get the goals out of the way. We watch the game for goals don’t we? Yes we do…
Portugal dominated the chances and the run of play, but the self-proclaimed “best footballer in the world” Nicklas Bendtner was clinical with his head in front of goal, erasing Pepe’s smart header and Postiga’s sweeping strike to tie the game in the second half. Bendtner’s quality was the polar opposite of Cristiano Ronaldo’s poor play; once again, the all-universe Real Madrid winger had a mare, missing several chances and dogging it on defense a few times. At club level, Ronaldo one on one vs the keeper is almost automatic, but as an international, Ronaldo can’t seem to find the right side of the post. As much as I enjoy watching him struggle (and I do), 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.
In the meantime, the Portugese savior on the day was the young attacker Silvestre Varela, who whiffed on a strike before gathering himself and scoring on a second kick of his leg. Which, ooof; where was the vaunted Danish defense on this strike? I can understand not being in position for a quick shot, but for Varela to miss, collect himself, try again and score without someone getting in front of the ball is a shame. Watching that goal again, I am not so sure that is Poulsen gets a leg out, he doesn’t save the day. Still, Varela earns the spoils for a sweet strike and a match winner in the final five minutes. And if the timing of the goal left the Danes feeling hard done by, there was no doubting that Portugal played the better match, had far more chances and could have made this one much worse. Both teams leave the match with 3 points and a zero goal differential with 3 goals scored. Portugal has the advantage of winning the head-to-head match, which is huge, but more on that later.
Get a leg on the winner? Block? Something? Hello?
Germany vs The Netherlands
Mario Gomez does it again. What can you say about him in this Tournament? He has been absolutely great in taking his chances. After scoring the winner in a rather docile performance in the 1-0 win against Portugal, many were calling for Miroslav Klose, Germany’s second leading goal scorer of all time, to replace the on again/ off again Gomez in the starting line up. But why fix what isn’t broken? This is the match, one of the most anticipated of the entire Tournament, that will silence all of the doubters. Gomez was pure class.
Goals and strikers will steal the headlines, but for me, this match was all about the midfield pairing of Sami Khedira, who was my man of the match in the German’s first match against Portugal and who was excellent again, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who put in an unbelievable performance from his deep lying midfield position. It was Schweinsteiger who assisted both of Gomez’s goals, who partnered with Khedira to boss the Dutch defensive midfield pairing of Mark van Bommel and Nigel De Jong. Even in the first half, he was operating a lot of space, which is unforgivable with two– TWO!!– defensive midfielders on for the Dutch. After coming out at halftime down 2-0, Dutch manager Bert van Marwijk pulled van Bommel out of the game and replaced him with a more attack minded Rafael Van der Vaart, and all that did was open up the universe for Schweinsteiger to boss things, with the Germans dominating long stretches of possession as the Dutch chased the game. There was a ten minute stretch when the Dutch seemed to find their hearts and during that time, Robin van Persie showed his quality with a super strike that brought the game back into question…
…but the Germans took things from there, running out the clock and keeping the usually possession happy, attacking Dutch off the ball and out of the game. It was a dominant performance all in all from a team that seems harmonious on the pitch; as I said after the first match, each player knows his role and plays it to perfection. Interestingly, the Germans have never won all three of their Group stage games at the Euros, so it will be curious to see how they do against a Danish side looking to get a result and advance. Should be great.
On the other side of the pitch, what the fuck? The Netherlands looked almost incoherent; after van Persie was put in alone on goal and saw his strike saved, the air seemed to get sucked out of the team. 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. His positional responisbilities are, in his mind, a one way street; you can’t cut inside and fire over the bar on defense! This allowed Philip Lahm to pwn the overlapping runs on the left wing. Lahm knows Robben very well (they face one another all the time at Bayern Munich) and is anyone knows which areas of the pitch Robben couldn’t be bothered to defend, it is Lahm. He exploited the Dutch winger on offense and shut him down on defense. It got to the point where van Marwijk was screaming at Robben to get back on defense with the winger giving his manager an earfull of dissent. Pitiful performance.
Off you go.
And for all of the Dutch fans deriding van Persie and wanting Klaus Jan Huntelaar to start, well, you can have that as well. RvP got his goal with a great strike while the rest of the team struggled to even see the ball in dangerous areas. Huntelaar and RvP were pretty much starved for service, but this is primarily because the Dutch feature wingers seemingly incapable of passing the ball in the box. Sneijder did his best with some dangerous crosses from deep and a wicked strike that just missed the top corner, but where was Affelay? Where was Robben? Where was the beautiful interplay in and around the box, the head up look for the open man, the penetrating run? The Dutch inability to play a second or third ball in the attacking third has been shocking and the German backs, particularly Lahm and Boateng, knew what was coming and played their roles perfectly.
The Dutch used to play brilliant, tactically superior football; the Clockwork Oranje knew that every player was a defender, an attacker, a passer, a potential scorer. Now, the clock seems to have been smashed on the floor, each beautiful piece spinning in its own direction, disconnected, badly in need of repair.
And yet, the Dutch, on zero points and staring at a -2 goal differential with losses to the Danes and Germans, are still alive in the Group. If the Germans can batter the Danes and the Dutch can absolutely batter the Portugese, they have a fighting chance to get through on goal diferential which is amazing and simply shows the parity in the Group of Death. Nail biting stuff, a race to the finish line; just what the doctor ordered.
So, this blog will get old in a hurry if every post begins with an obligatory “I told you so,” but it’s hard not to refer to my Group B Preview when looking at Match Day 2 in the Group Of Death. I’m going to begin each match review with a quote from well, me, because I can’t help myself. Get while the getting’s good, as they say….
Denmark vs The Netherlands
So Denmark. Ahem. And I quote…
“Inconsistency and a lack of fluid play in the midfield creates frustration, until a moment of brilliance, seemingly from nowhere, saves the day.”
and then The Netherlands…
“it is the back line where the Oranje have had a few concerns. Yes, the team are filled with quality players at every position, but somehow, the Dutch always seem prone to the sucker punch; look at their 2-1 loss to Bulgaria for the most recent example of the counter attack causing this team agony.”
So, that happened.
The Netherlands absolutely dominated Denmark and walked away 1-0 losers for a variety of reasons. First, the lights out Wesley Sneijder aside, the Dutch attack was dominated by chemistry-free “me first” play by Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Ibrahim Afellay; when the Robben wasn’t doing his usual “cut inside on the left foot and hammer the ball over the bar”, van Persie was slipping and falling, whiffing on shots, spraying open shots wide of the post and showing for the ball near post instead of pulling his defender away from his attacking teammates by making a far post run. Barn doors and banjos and never the twain shall meet.
Swing and a miss: Robin van Persie
Afellay provided the early threat with some classy runs and shots from the inside channel, but aside from putting in a game effort (unlike his mates up front) he was otherwise ineffective. Once the Dutch made the sensible move of replacing Nigel De Jong with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, their attack gained some bite, but it was too, little too late. Only barely though; Sneijder’s incredible ball from midfield that found Huntelaar in the box was one of the great passes of the year.
You have to wonder why Dutch manager Bert Van Marwijk stayed with two defensive midfielders after falling behind 1-0 to Michael Krohn-Dehli’s brilliant finish in the box; yes, the Dutch dominated possession, but the lack of chemistry in the attack was more than enough reason to make a change much earlier in the match. Obviously, you can’t expect Robben and van Persie to both have a terrible match at the exact same time, but lo and behold, they did. The Danes, on the other hand, did a brilliant job of smash and grab, then picking their moments to threaten again, primarily through the runs of their fullback Simon Poulson, who had an incredible game at left back. And full credit to Michael Krohn-Dehli, whose sweet cutback in the box put him in on goal, where he calmly hit the five hole.
Self-congratulatory quotes aside, I thought the Dutch would punish the Danes in this match; even as the minutes ticked by, I expected the Dutch to find the net and at least grab a draw. But full credit to Daniel Agger, Simon Kjaer and the Danish defense; they did their job, playing physical football and not putting a foot wrong all night long. Deserved winners and suddenly, right in the thick of it.
Agger gets a boot in…
Germany vs Poirtugal
OK, I can’t help myself… here we go again. In my preview, I suggest Mario Gomez was the man to watch in Group B…
…but one man who will likely be the one to decide the fate of his team is Germany’s Mario Gomez. The Bayern Munich striker is the definition of the poacher, always seeming to pop-up in the right place at the right time to grab a vital goal. That said, he runs super hot and, suddenly, super cold; hardly the most technically gifted player, Gomez can switch from assassin to absolute donkey at the drop of a hat. He’ll have some of the most incredible misses you’ll ever see, only to follow them up with a 93rd minute tap in to win the match.
1-0 to Germany, from nothing, and that’s how it ended.
I also said
“For some reason, mental or tactical, I am just not sure, Ronaldo never turns it on for his country in the same way he does for his club…When playing for Portugal, Ronaldo is surrounded by good players who just can’t seem to put it all together.”
And so it was again; starved of service by his teammates, Ronaldo rarely threatened, but when he did have his chances, the German defense were there, throwing themselves in front of the ball, defending with every part of their bodies. Mats Hummels played lights out at the back for Germany, with Jerome Boateng doing a great job marking Ronaldo and covering the overlapping runs of Fábio Coentrão, who was Portugal’s best and most positive player on the night.
As for the Germans, they did not look likely champions in this match, struggling with the play of Lukas Podolski and Gomez, both of whom spurned numerous good chances to score. Thomas Müller and Mezut Özil were both okay for the Germans, but Müller was good when his strikers went missing and went missing when his strikers needed him most. Özil kept things ticking, but found himself marked highly for most of the match. Instead, it was Sami Khedira who was the man of the match for me, not only mopping up in the midfield but pushing forward at just the right moment, getting back when he was needed, getting in the way when the ball came his way and throwing in the cross that Gomez buried. He was everywhere on the night and was the glue that held his team together.
Portugal really suffered without a central midfield playmaker and a true striker; while Veloso did a great job of marking Özil and João Moutinho had a couple of good balls, the middle of the park was generally incoherent for Portugal, and it cost them. Hélder Postiga barely had a sniff in isolation up top; it was as if he wasn’t even there with Nani and Ronaldo almost ignoring his presence on the attack. He did make quite a tackle, though…
Postiga makes his mark
Still, this was a very close match; Portugal looked more organized than I feared they might and Germany, Özil in particular, found themselves in a tougher battle than I expected. They ground out a close win, which is a good sign for them. Clean sheets never hurt anyone. Wednesday’s games are now set up to be must see, with Portugal needing a win against Denmark to stay in the hunt, and The Netherlands needing the same against Germany. Group of Death, indeed.
Euro 2012: GROUP B PREVIEW
In my Group A Preview, I described the concept of the GROUP OF DEATH as
“a gathering of four teams so alike in stature and potential that any one of them might go on to win the group or miss qualification for the knock out stages. These groups usually feature perennial powerhouses, each a favorite, each impossible to look beyond. The GROUP OF DEATH means thrills, uncertainty, triumph and heartbreak. You can’t look away, each match having the potential to be a classic.”
Well. Welcome to the Group of Death, Euro 2012 style.
Group B has all the makings of greatness, with two of the tournament favorites, Germany and The Netherlands, battling it out for supremacy alongside an historically strong but underachieving Portugal and 1992 surprise winners Denmark (who actually beat Portugal and won Group H in qualifying). This should be a lot of fun to watch, with two of the best teams, perhaps the in-form striker in the world right now and the best European player of the season all colliding in a single group. Let’s get to the previewing, shall we?
Denmark are a strange team. Yeah, I said it. On the one hand, they are organized, disiciplined and have some very good players; defender Daniel Agger (homer alert: he plays for my Liverpool side at club level) and the exciting young talent Christian Eriksen of Ajax are the types of player that can turn a match with a bombing run forward or a beautiful ball from nothing. On the other hand, you watch Denmark play and the game often falls to the team trying to get the ball to striker Nicklas Bendtner, who can score but who is often isolated in attack. The result? Inconsistency and a lack of fluid play in the midfield creates frustration, until a moment of brilliance, seemingly from nowhere, saves the day. Unfortunately for the Danes, Group B won’t allow any “get out of jail free” cards; too much quality in the Group sees Denmark struggle.
Denmark’s all-ink frontrunner Daniel Agger
Tipped by many as finalists at worst, winners at best, Joachim Low’s fluid, powerful German side have all the makings of a real contender. I am sure I could sit here and make jokes all day about how Germany are “mechanical” and “methodical” but the fact of the matter is, this is not your father’s Germany. Full of flair and chemistry, Low’s Germany team have many ways of beating you; in the air, on the ground, from crosses and through balls, set pieces and counter attacks. Just ask Group B rivals The Netherlands, who played a friendly with Germans back in November and took a 3-0 beating. One of the great things about watching the Germans play is the dedication of each player to his role in Low’s system; Lahm’s sweeping runs, Ozil’s patient and beautiful passing, Muller’s arrival at just the right moment, Schweinstiger’s control and disruption, Neuer’s distribution. Everyone on Germany plays just the right part, and I expect big things from them in this tournament. Of course, there is one major stumbling block on the way to glory, it’s probably…
Joachim Low keeps Germany ticking
Nobody is scoring goals right now like Robin van Persie; a classic center forward in every sense of the word, the Arsenal man has been unstoppable leading the line for his club and country. When you add a playmaker like Inter Milan’s Wesley Sneijder and the pace and skill of Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben into the mix, you have the makings of a deadly attack. Of course, that has never been a problem for the Dutch; it is the back line where the Oranje have had a few concerns. Yes, the team are filled with quality players at every position, but somehow, the Dutch always seem prone to the sucker punch; look at their recent 2-1 loss to Bulgaria for the most recent example of the counter attack causing this team agony. Of course, they can also play lights out, dominate the ball and they remain the best team never to have won the World Cup (losing the most recent 2010 final to Spain). Their match against Germany in the group stage will be the true test of the team; win that match, and suddenly, the Dutch will be looking like contenders to lift the trophy.
Portugal begin and end with one man, the most prolific European goal scoring machine of the past few years, Cristiano Ronaldo. When he is not battling Lionel Messi for the La Liga scoring title with Real Madrid, Ronaldo is turning in disappointing performances for his national team. For some reason, mental or tactical, I am just not sure, Ronaldo never turns it on for his country in the same way he does for his club. One factor is obviously that, at Madrid, he is surrounded by world class players in a league without much parity. When playing for Portugal, Ronaldo is surrounded by good players who just can’t seem to put it all together. This team are no exception; their form coming into the Euros is poor (0-0 with Poland and Macedonia, losing 3-1 to Turkey), their qualifying campaign was bizarre (a 4-4 draw with Cyprus, losses to Norway and Denmark) and they just don’t seem to gel as a team. Without a true #10 in the midfield to connect the play between the attack and defense (show pony Ricardo Quaresma wears the 10 for Portugal), they look lost. Unfortunately, Group B is not the place to go looking for an identity. Disappointment looms.
Must See Match
Is this even a question? Irresistible force, meet immovable object. It has to be Germany vs The Netherlands on Wednesday June 13th. Few Group stage matches ever feature this level of excitement. These two teams will bring down the house– position by position, player by player, they are about as equally matched as any two teams in the Euros. Any other year, this might be the final. It still may…
Players To Watch
Group B features several all-universe players– Ronaldo, Van Persie, Sneijder, Robben, Ozil– but one man who will likely be the one to decide the fate of his team is Germany’s Mario Gomez. The Bayern Munich striker is the definition of the poacher, always seeming to pop-up in the right place at the right time to grab a vital goal. That said, he runs super hot and, suddenly, super cold; hardly the most technically gifted player, Gomez can switch from assassin to absolute donkey at the drop of a hat. He’ll have some of the most incredible misses you’ll ever see, only to follow them up with a 93rd minute tap in to win the match. If Germany can get Gomez going, watch out; if he struggles, there may be others to pick up the slack, but it will take some doing to go all the way without him at the top of his game.
I like Germany to win the Group, with The Netherlands right behind them into the knock-out stages, Denmark to nick third against a very disappointing Portugal.
Group A Preview