Euro 2012 Day 2: 5 Takeaways from Group B Round 1
After the action and controversy of Opening Day, Day Two of Euro 2012 provided fewer goals, but perhaps more intrigue.
A pair of 1-0 results marked the unveiling of the Group of Death, with Germany and Denmark placing themselves at the head of the Group B pack (for now).
In Saturday’s opening fixture, the Danes upended the Netherlands with a win that will go down technically as an upset, but was in actuality anything but. Morten Olsen’s men earned all three points with a mixture of opportunistic attacking and timely defending, benefiting mightily from Dutch impotency in front of goal.
In Lviv, Germany eked out a victory over pacey Portugal in a game that could have gone either way. The Germans were stalwart in defense, allowing Mario Gomez’s headed effort to remain the game’s deciding goal.
With no clear favorite, and the possibility of all four teams entering the final round with three points apiece, football's Grim Reaper must wait before claiming his two lives.
At the end of Round One, Group B stands as follows:
Here are five takeaways from Day Two of Euro 2012.
The Road out of Group B Goes Through Denmark
By defeating the Netherlands in a fixture few gave them a chance in, Denmark proved what many onlookers of the sport had suspected for some time: The Danes are for real, and they will decide who escapes the Group of Death.
Perhaps caught up in the prospect of facing their two hated rivals in the coming days, the Netherlands overlooked Denmark, even though they had been warned one major tournament beforehand.
The Dutch and Danes opened up Group E of World Cup 2010, and although the Netherlands emerged victorious 2-0, Denmark acquitted themselves well against the favored Oranje. If not for Daniel Agger’s own goal and the electricity of flying Dutchman Eljero Elia, the tale could have been different.
Fast forward to Euro 2012, the Danes certainly conceded heaps of shots and possession to their Orange opponents, but led in ultimately the only statistic that matters: goals.
Michael Krohn-Dehli collected a deflected cross from a streaking Simon Poulsen, sprinted past the Dutch defense and placed his shot right between the legs of Maarten Stekelenburg for the game’s only goal.
The move exemplified Denmark’s overarching philosophy of pragmatic football. They were out-shot, out-possessed and out-gunned, yet they emerged victorious with straightforward passing, tight defending and few mistakes across the park.
To their credit, the Danes opted not to keep what they had and park the bus, instead pushing men forward at every opportunity. It was a positive take on a usually conservative first round of matches, but also likely the correct move tactically.
The way the Netherlands were creating chances, they would have equalized sooner or later if the game had been played solely in Denmark’s half. By going forward, Denmark kept the Dutch from finding a consistent attacking rhythm, and cut down their possible looks on goal.
Now tied with Germany atop Group B, Denmark are in control of their own fate. Wins over Portugal and then the Germans would be nice, but unnecessary if this group continues to tear itself apart. A win and a draw, or even two draws might serve to see Denmark into the knockout stages.
More importantly, Denmark’s win put Germany and Portugal on notice. You won’t be going anywhere without a result against the Danes, and you won’t get one without your best effort.
An Inexperienced Backline Cost the Dutch
The exclusion of defender Joris Mathijsen due to injury seemed and innocuous storyline heading into the Denmark fixture, but it surely did not stay that way.
Without Mathijsen and his 80 caps, the Dutch backline featured three starters (Gregory van der Wiel, Ron Vlaar and Jetro Willems) that had less caps combined (41) than their fellow starter Johnny Heitinga (78). Small wonder that when Denmark moved into the final third, the marking was less than adequate, especially on the wings.
Danish players like Michael Krohn-Dehli were afforded far too much time and space outside the box. Had the Danes been more precise with their crosses (as the Germans and Portuguese no doubt will be), the slashing runs of Nicklas Bendtner and Christian Eriksen could have been exploited for clear shots on target.
In fact, poor marking was at fault on the goal. While the deflected cross was unlucky, Krohn-Dehli should not have been able to blow by two defenders at the top of the box, and then have a clear shot almost at the endline.
Left side, right side, it didn’t matter; the Danes efficiently worked every bit of space to harass the Dutch backline. The Netherlands will need the services of Mathijsen if they hope to hold off more polished attacks in the Group of Death.
That, and youngsters Willems and van der Wiel will need to grow up fast. At only 18 years old, Willems has undeniable confidence, but he was beaten more than once down the right side. Likewise with van der Wiel, a player who did little to distinguish himself.
The Netherlands Need to Solve Their Scoring Issues Now
Just as too many cooks spoil the broth, too many all-star attackers might have spoiled the Dutch offensive.
Robin van Persie. Arjen Robben. Wesley Sneijder. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Rafael van der Vaart. Dirk Kuyt. Ibrahim Afellay. On paper, the Netherlands have the best attack in the tournament, but unfortunately (or fortunately for us) the games are played on the pitch.
Fascinatingly, this group of Dutch masters seem unable to find the right balance between having a selfish killer instinct and playing unselfish football. Against Denmark, we saw what happens when players veer to the extreme in either direction.
At one end of the specturm, we saw strikes from 30-plus yards out amongst multiple defenders go sailing off target. At the other, clear scoring chances were wasted by players trying the extra pass in the box when perhaps they should have shot themselves.
Solving issues in the Dutch attack not only means melding many egotistical personalities into one flowing unit, but to have them understand when or when not to try their own luck. They have to be better at reading what the situation demands, and not chew each other out afterword for not getting touches.
I have no doubt that the Dutch are capable of it—they didn’t lead all Euro participants with 37 qualifying goals by sheer chance—but it has to happen immediately. Their Wednesday fixture against Germany is absolutely a must-win, and they’ll only be able to do it if they can attack and finish as a team.
Germany Seems Good, Not Great
The Germans did just enough to earn three points against Portugal, but in doing so they hardly impressed as they did in South Africa.
For most of the game, Germany seemed content enough bombarding Rui Patricio’s goal from the wings, but found little success. The Portuguese cottoned on to Die Mannschaft’s act and battened down the hatches, but it didn’t stop Mario Gomez from eventually finding the winner.
Given the inventiveness and vision bestowed on players such as Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller, it’s not a bad strategy, and credit to the Germans for sticking with it until the payoff. However, they didn’t execute as well as we’ve seen from them in the past, and Joachim Low knew it.
All through the first half, Low could be seen screaming at his players to get into the box, for what good are crosses without reception? The Germans seemed most dangerous when they did just that. Now that the first game jitters are past, expect to see a much more clinical front line from Germany as the tournament goes on.
Words of praise must be bestowed upon the embattled German defense, who repelled advance after advance for the clean sheet. Jerome Boateng did a magnificent job containing Cristiano Ronaldo and his many step-overs, a job few are capable of.
In the center, Holger Badstuber and Mats Hummels cut imperious figures, stonewalling many a promising Portuguese opportunity. On the left, captain Philipp Lahm had his hands full with Nani, but kept the renowned dribbler off the score sheet.
All in all, a good performance from Germany, but not their best. Tied atop Group B with Denmark, they control their fate heading into a massive showdown with the Netherlands. A win would almost surely see them through.
Portugal Looks a Dangerous Side Despite Loss
Likely disconsolate that they couldn’t manage even a draw with Germany after playing so hard, Portugal shouldn’t be too down on themselves.
Quick, dangerous and physical, this Portuguese side had more than a few chances to equalize, and might have if not for timely German defending. Wing play by Nani and Fabio Coentrao was respectable even though it produced no goals, and the backline defended ably.
And then there’s Cristiano Ronaldo, a man who more than deserves (and got) the attention of an entire defensive unit. Though Ronaldo didn’t open his Euro 2012 account or receive as many touches as he might have wanted, every time he got on the ball, the tension rose noticeably.
In the future, one would hope Ronaldo would test the keeper more instead of re-enacting his iconic step-over routines, but for an opening effort it wasn’t bad.
The problem for Portugal has always been that they rely too much on Ronaldo, often tethering their tournament fates to his acutely muscled thighs. It was encouraging then to see the side play a half-decent game of football without relying on the Real Madrid man much.
Ronaldo must be complimented with other danger men to increase his effectiveness, and Portugal have them. They now need to work on their finishing and hope to scratch out a win over Denmark on Wednesday. Anything less might send them home early once again.