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.

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Euro 2012 | Preview: Group B

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?

The Teams

Denmark

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

Germany

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

The Netherlands

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.


You down with RVP? Yeah, you know me…

Portugal

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.


Ronaldo scores goals. Lots of goals.

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.


Mario Gomez: He Scores When He Wants To

Group Prediction
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.

Previously
Group A Preview