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What I Learned From Watching Day 6 of The Euros 2012

June 14, 2012

A day of Group B action that promised to provide advancement clarity only muddied the picture, as no one has actually died yet in the “Group of Death”.  We dive in:

  • Portugal showed a lot more verve against a Denmark team playing with little to lose, and both attitudes showed in the final result, an entertaining 3-2 victory that the Seleccao absolutely needed to stay alive.  While the press love to narrow in on Cristiano Ronaldo’s struggles for his national side, including several blown chances in today’s match, Portugal’s other word class winger Nani more than picked up the slack, assisting on Portugal’s second goal, constantly threatening the Danish defense and creating chances on crosses and attacking runs.  Late sub Silvestre Varela put Portugal over the top with his fabulous strike in the 87th minute, and for a national side that has lacked a top quality striker seemingly forever, A New Hope may have been found just in time.
  • As for Denmark, they were perhaps too casual at the start, content to absorb Portugal’s advances which is a strategy I question considering how defensive Portugal was against Germany and how Portugal plays better the more enterprising they are in attack, finishing this match with a decided advantage in shots (17-9) and shots on goal (12-6).  The Danes didn’t seem to wake up until they were down 2-0 after 35 minutes, with goal poacher Nicklas Bendtner heading in a brace (an English soccer term meaning two goals) and the hero of their Netherlands win Michael Dehli-Krohn assisting the first goal and initiating the sequence on the tying goal, only to give it all back late.  Now their hopes of making it thorough rest on getting a result (win or tie) against an ascendant Germany, never an optimal scenario in any soccer tournament.
  • Before the tournament and from a neutral perspective, if I could only choose one group stage game to watch above all others, it would have been Netherlands-Germany in Group B.  As recently as last Friday I thought this game could be a preview of the eventual Final, a thought that perished immediately after the Netherlands’ largely listless performance in their opening loss to Denmark.  My question heading into yesterday’s game was how resolute would the Dutch Masters be with their backs against the wall against favored Germany at the Metalist (no, not “Mentalist”, although at this point the Dutch could use “The Mentalist”) Stadium in Kharkiv?  Not even their fan base was sure about the resolve of their side as according to a fan poll in the June 13 edition of the Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad, 42 percent of respondents predicted victory, 42 percent predicted defeat, and the other 16 percent predicted a tie. As it turns out, the answer to my question was “not very”, as once they fell behind in the 24th minute the balloon of a good start appeared to have deflated, and even the second half goal didn’t inspire the confidence that Netherlands were back in the match, the inevitability of German victory pervading the air like limburger cheese.
  • Getting to brass tacks, Netherlands have been too busy trying to cover for their weaknesses in defense rather than playing to their strengths in offense. Manager Bert van Marwijk has rightly come under criticism for his lineup and substitution choices over their two matches so far, offering proof of the definition of insanity; No changes in the attacking lines to start, resulting in the same ineffectual offensive execution, and making virtually the same substitutions as in the Denmark game (RVDV for a defensive midfielder, The Hunter for an ineffective Afellay, a late arriving Kuyt and no Kevin Strootman) that failed to adequately change that dynamic. At one point in the first half, Arjen Robben to over 20 seconds to make a throw-in, his teammates impersonating statues as he looked at throwing it everywhere but the stands, and that lack of decisiveness and commitment is emblematic of the Dutch experience in Euro 2012.  While they may still be alive in the Group of Death thanks to Robin van Persie’s goal in the 72nd minute, since no team has advanced to the knockout stage after losing their first two group games the Netherlands will have to do what has never been done, which might be too much to ask.
  • Mario Gomez came up trumps again for Germany, his play justifying Manager Jogi Low’s faith in him and rebuking Low’s critics who preferred goalscoring legend Miroslav Klose in the starting lineup. Both first half goals by Super Mario were clinical, almost effortless finishes that belied the skill required to achieve them, even as the lax Dutch defense were willing abettors.  Die Mannschaft was rarely bothered afterwards, controlling the match throughout despite a contrary statistical edge for Netherlands in possession (52-48%) and overall shots (13-12). Germany had more shots on goal (9-6) and committed less fouls (7 to 11 for Netherlands), further indicating their command and poise in a performance that has them on schedule for a deep run at the Euros.
  • There are too many permutations and potential outcomes to detail here, but the bottom line for Group B is that Germany (6 points) wins the group with a win, tie, or a high scoring, one-goal loss (like 3-2 or greater) against Denmark that preserves their goal scoring or differential advantage in a 2 or 3-way tie, Denmark and Portugal (3 points each) are guaranteed to get in with a win unless both of them win, and Netherlands (0 points) must beat Portugal by at least two goals and hope Germany beats Denmark to advance through a 3-way tiebreraker. My guess is Germany simplifies things from their end with a win, sending through the survivor of Portugal-Netherlands.

Up Next: Thursday June 14, Group C reenters the Euro stage with border rivals Italy vs. Croatia, 9:00AM PST, followed by the battle for my personal European Soccer Soul, Spain vs. Ireland, 11:45AM PST.

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From → Soccer, Sports

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