Euro 2012 | Match Day 10

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…


1-1.

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.

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Euro 2012 | Match Day 2

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.


What. A. Ball.

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.


Krohn-Dehli slots it home

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.

Bang.


Go Go Gomez

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.


Coentrão attacks

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.