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What I Learned From Watching Day 2 of The Euros 2012

June 9, 2012

Euro 2012’s first “shocker” happened today as the “Group of Death” might have already claimed its first victim, and Ukrainian venues held their first games. Let’s get to it:

  • The day could not have gone much better for Denmark, who sits at the top of the Group B table after their 1-0 victory over the Netherlands. Yet I will not be among those who call it an “upset”.  Denmark is ranked 9th in the World according to FIFA (and yes, there are issues with the FIFA rankings, but there are issues with all such rankings in sports, so save them for now), they earned their berth in Euro 2012 by winning their qualifying group ahead of Portugal and Norway, and they have legitimate frontline talent from the top leagues in Europe and good coaching. Today, they played intelligently, got timely saves from goalkeeper Stephan Andersen, and made the most of their chances, with birthday boy Michael Krohn-Dehli’s goal the exemplar of opportunism on a broken play. Netherlands may have been the favorite, most people may have expected them to win today, the Dutch team may have been at a loss to explain their loss after the game – heck, I predicted they’d win both the group and the entire tournament – but on the field it was not (the) Danish slaying Goliath. And with three points in the bag, next up is Portugal, a team the Danes are quite familiar with from splitting two games in the qualifying round.
  • On the other hand, the Netherlands’ effort was a far cry from the squad that scored 37 goals in 10 Euro 2012 Qualifying round matches. It wasn’t for a lack of overall goal scoring chances, but rather creating true quality chances and ably finishing them – they out shot Denmark 28-8, but only 5 were on goal, and none in the goal. Observers prior to the tourney had concerns over their defense, and yes, the Dutch defense did break down on Denmark’s goal, most notably the goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg who was nutmegged, a grave sin for a keeper. However, with so many chances squandered, it’s reasonable to think the Dutch should have been able to overcome one goal. They weren’t however, and it goes beyond Manager Bert van Marwijk’s defensive tactics. In particular, Arjen Robben seemed to play with blinders on, Ibrahim Afellay provided next to nothing on the wing, and Robin van Persie couldn’t seem to get the correct foot on the right ball. Substituting in Rafael van der Vaart (hereinafter referred to as “RVDV”) an offense-minded switch for defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong and Klaus-Jan Huntelaar (hereinafter referred to as “The Hunter”) for Afellay came too late (while putting in Dirk Kuyt with five minutes left isn’t really an effective substitution either as Kuyt is a work-rate guy who gets better the more time he has on the pitch), and though they created (with apologies to Spike Lee) “’mo’ better” chances, questions remain over what offensive adjustments should be made.  What of starting RVDV alongside Marco van Bommel or on the wing instead of Afellay to give the team more punch? Maybe The Hunter, the top scorer in the German Bundesliga this season, should be given a start? What of using PSV Eindhoven starlet Kevin Strootman to help Wesley Sneijder orchestrate the midfield and create more chances? Whatever the moves to be made, Van Marwijk must make them now as the Germans lie in wait to end the Euros for the Dutch just as it really begins (Insert European common currency joke here).
  • At the risk of reinforcing some more cultural stereotypes, Germany engineered their 1-0 win over Portugal. It wasn’t the creative explosion many fans and observers were hoping for; rather it was old-school German efficiency that carried the day. I know one of the big storylines was starting Mario Gomez over Miroslav Klose at striker, and how long Manager Jogi Low would keep the high-maintenance “Super Mario” (don’t blame me, I didn’t give him that nickname) in there, and obviously the patience paid off with a strong header goal by Gomez that not many strikers would have been able to convert, but to me that wasn’t the most important story. Instead, the German defense won that game as much as anything, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer backstopping four defenders (Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Holger Badstuber and Philipp Lahm) that individually and collectively cancelled out the best wing tandem in the world and preserved a victory in the face of a late Portuguese charge.
  • Portugal has no one but themselves to blame, as like Netherlands they weren’t wanting for chances.  They hit the post twice, had a huge advantage in corner kicks (11-2) and in the last 12 minutes of regular and added time created half (6) of their bona fide chances on goal. Maybe that rise in intensity should have come sooner, maybe the other 10 players shouldn’t just wait for  Cristiano RonalGodot to produce some magic or inspire the side to victory, maybe they can’t overcome their lack of a world class striker up top (although things improved with the insertion of 20-year old Nelson Oliveira with 20 minutes left), but Portugal definitely lost that game as much as Germany won it.

Up Next: Sunday June 10, Group C kicks off with a match between the last two World Cup Champions, Spain vs. Italy, 9:00AM PST, followed by Croatia vs. Ireland, 11:45AM PST.

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From → Soccer, Sports

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