Euro 2012: Group B Preview, Analysis and Predictions for Historic Tournament
Whether it's the World Cup or the European Championships, no team wants to end up in the "Group of Death." That's the case for the squads in Group B at Euro 2012, which features four dangerous sides capable of making a deep run.
The group consists of Denmark, Germany, Netherlands and Portugal. Denmark might seem like an outsider compared to the other three elite squads, but the team's aggressive approach has a chance to cause problems, making things even closer.
Here's a break down of each team in the group, some things to watch for throughout the stage and a prediction for how things will turn out in Group B.
Previous Group Previews:
Biggest Strength: Midfield depth
Denmark has a nice mix of midfielders. From wily veteran Christian Poulsen to future star Christian Eriksen, the squad has plenty of versatility in the middle. It helps De Rod-Hvide play at a quick pace that puts a lot of pressure on the opponent.
The wide variety of options also allows manager Morten Olsen to play matchups. If he wants a more defensive midfielder for the Germany game, he can start William Kvist. If he's looking for offense, Eriksen will feature prominently. That's a nice luxury to have.
Biggest Weakness: Inexperienced goalkeepers
The three goalkeepers on Denmark's roster have a combined 15 appearances for the national team. In a different group, that might be less of a concern. But having to go up against three quick-strike attacks with players who haven't faced that type of pressure before will be a problem.
It's an issue that arose when top keeper Thomas Sorensen went down with an injury during one of the warm-up friendlies. Sorensen is the type of player who might have been able to steal a couple points for Denmark. The same can't be said for his replacements.
Key Player: Nicklas Bendtner
If De Rod-Hvide wants to pull off a shocking advancement, they will need to generate plenty of offense to hang tough against teams with more talent. The key to the attack will be Bendtner, who scored eight Premier League goals while on loan to Sunderland.
The 24-year-old striker still hasn't developed into the elite goal-scoring threat Arsenal was expecting when he was moving up the ranks. That said, a breakout performance at Euro 2012 would propel his career to new heights, and that's what Denmark needs.
Make-or-Break Match: Portugal (June 13)
The easiest path to the knockout stage for Denmark includes picking up all three points against Portugal. Stopping Cristiano Ronaldo won't be easy, but the more time De Rod-Hvide can spend on the attack, the less time Ronaldo will have to take over the game.
It's the second game of the group stage for Denmark, and it has to finish against Germany. So by the time the Portugal game ends, the team will want to find itself in a position where a victory over the Germans isn't necessary to advance.
Biggest Strength: Elite offense
Germany is one of the top contenders to win Euro 2012 due to the numerous players that can have a major impact at any given time. There won't be room for all of them on the pitch at once, which means Joachim Low needs to find the right combination quickly.
It all starts with Mesut Ozil. The dynamic playmaker, who had another terrific season with Real Madrid, has to jump-start the attacks with pinpoint passes. From there Lukas Podolski, Mario Gomez and the rest of Germany's offensive threats will take care of the rest.
Biggest Weakness: Defensive depth
The combination of Philipp Lahm and Per Mertesacker should give Germany stability along the back line, but the players who will round out the defense aren't as experienced and could cause issues, especially in a tough group.
Besides the aforementioned veterans, no other defender on the roster is older than 24 and none of them have more than 21 caps. If two of them don't rise to the occasion to alleviate the concerns, things will get shaky for the otherwise solid Germans.
Key Player: Manuel Neuer
Playing off the previous point, Neuer will be under pressure quite a bit throughout the group. The 26-year-old goalkeeper helped Bayern Munich reach the Champions League Final before losing in a penalty shootout to Chelsea.
He's an imposing presence between the pipes at 6'4", and that size allows him to make difficult saves look routine at times. Because of that, he probably doesn't get the respect he deserves, but a strong showing at Euro 2012 will change that in a heartbeat.
Make-or-Break Match: Portugal (June 9)
Getting off to a quick start is the biggest key for Germany because it will take a lot of pressure off the final two games. The Germans are a more talented team overall, but Portugal has enough top-end talent to make it close.
Lahm and Mertesacker will be charged with making sure Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani don't break loose. All told, it's a game Germany should win, but don't be surprised if it's more difficult than most people are expecting.
Biggest Strength: Talented midfield
If Netherlands is going to make a run toward the title, it will be on the strength of the team's midfielders, which can challenge any other midfield group in the tournament. And most of them are in their prime, so this might be the team's best chance to claim a European title for a while.
Rafael Van Der Vaart leads the way after another impressive season with Tottenham. Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Mark Van Bommel and Nigel de Jong will all make their presence felt at some point as well. It's a nice advantage for the contenders.
Biggest Weakness: Defense
The team's two straight clean sheets in pre-tournament friendlies have calmed any fears that the team's defense will derail its championship hopes, but it will be interesting to see how they handle an increase in the level of opponent.
Netherlands opens with the hypothetically easiest game, against Denmark. That should make sure the back line are on the same page. But if they don't hold up against Portugal and Germany, the Dutch will be headed for a premature exit.
Key Player: Robin van Persie
Van Persie enters Euro 2012 off the best season of his career. He scored 37 goals and added 15 assists across all competitions for Arsenal, and often carried the Gunners to a Champions League spot for next season.
His future with the club remains unclear, however, which could have an impact on his mindset throughout the tournament. Netherlands needs him to perform at a high level, so he must make sure those issues don't become a distraction.
Make-or-Break Match: Denmark (June 9)
Netherlands will put itself in good shape with a victory over Denmark in the opener. But a loss or draw would put them on the brink of elimination heading into a game against Germany, so the Oranje must avoid a slow start.
It will be a matchup of strong midfield play, but Netherlands should still have an edge there. As long as they take advantage in other areas, three points should be the end result. Openers are always tricky, however, so it's not a guarantee.
Biggest Strength: Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani
The tandem of Ronaldo and Nani will give Portugal a chance to steal any group game. The opponent really doesn't matter, if those two superstars are able to find a rhythm, there isn't a back line in the world that can completely stop them.
Ronaldo's play will also be one of the tournament's biggest storylines. He's averaged more than a goal per game for Real Madrid over the past three seasons, but hasn't carried over that level of success to the national team. Now's the time to step up, and he probably will.
Biggest Weakness: Depth
The problem has been the same for Portugal at most major events lately. It has enough stars to hang with any team in Europe but, over time, the team's lack of overall depth comes back to haunt them against top-tier squads.
Unfortunately for a Seleccao das Quinas, those tough opponents are already waiting for them in the group stage instead of the knockout stage. If a couple players don't raise their level of performance, Portugal will find it tough to advance.
Key Player: Pepe
Pepe headlines an otherwise nondescript back line. The onus will be on him to make sure any goals the dynamic duo of Ronaldo and Nani do score aren't given right back by allowing a goal at the other end. A task that's easier said than done, of course.
The Real Madrid defender played a key role in his club ending Barcelona's three-year reign atop La Liga. He will hope to bring some of that momentum to his national team to at least give Portugal a boost at the back.
Make-or-Break Match: Netherlands (June 17)
To advance, Portugal will probably need at least one point—and potentially all three—against Netherlands in the group stage finale. Ronaldo should find some room to operate in the attacking third, but the game will be decided by his teammates' ability to slow down Holland's midfield.
Based on the way things are set up, there's a good chance Group B will feature some chaos. Denmark will likely steal at least one or two points to make things interesting. So if Portugal can get itself in a position where a win over Netherlands equals advancement, it should be happy.
Game to Watch: Germany vs. Netherlands
In a battle between the two most complete teams in the group, both sides will be gunning for a victory, but don't want to emerge with anything less than one point. That should give them both a little extra wiggle room heading into the final fixtures.
Both teams are title contenders, so it should be the best game of the group stage. Look for a tentative start for about 15 minutes followed by a couple quick goals around halftime. After that, I expect a lot of safe plays to ensure a draw, an acceptable result for each.
Prediction: Germany 1, Netherlands 1
Player to Watch: Dirk Kuyt
Kuyt had a disappointing season for Liverpool and isn't in top form entering the tournament, so he'll likely have to come off the bench to earn more minutes. For Netherlands to win the title, however, Kuyt will need to provide some support for Robin van Persie.
He'll have a challenge for playing time from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, but Kuyt has more experience and has played really well during international duty over the past few years. He also doesn't have much pressure on him right now, which should allow him to excel.
The veteran always performs better when he can be a supporting cast member instead of the main target. Having van Persie on the squad should help him settle in and find a way to give Netherlands a boost before it's all said and done.