Euro 2012: Netherlands vs Germany Players to Watch
Time flies. With the blink of an eye, the opening group games for all the participating teams at Euro 2012 are over, and the next crop of matches already underway.
Traditional rivals Netherlands and Germany square off in Kharkiv, Ukraine on Wednesday, both seeking victory, albeit for different purposes.
The Dutch need the three points to stay in contention for a quarterfinal berth. They were wasteful in their loss to gutsy Denmark. That defeat puts them in a position where another slack showing against Germany will spell catastrophe. Even a draw cannot be deemed good enough in the present state of affairs.
Die Mannschaft, meanwhile, would all but seal their spot in the last eight with a win. There was little eye-catching about their performance against an equally lacklustre Portugal, but they got the job done, and that's what matters most. The Germans will hope to grow in stature as the tournament progresses, and beating their neighbors would represent a massive step in that direction.
With both sides finding themselves placed among the pre-tournament favorites by pundits and experts, it is only natural that Netherlands and Germany each have in their ranks some of the finest players on the planet.
Some have impressed in their first games, while others have a lot to prove. Here we shall have a look at some of the players who could go on to have a huge influence on the final score. These men will be the ones to watch ahead of what promises to be a feisty affair in Ukraine.
This man played ever so well in his first game. Sneijder finished on the losing side, but if one takes into account the number of occasions on which he teed up his teammates with good chances, one just has to feel the fellow deserved better.
Sneijder was in his element against the Danes. He was crossing well, slipping the ball in between the centre backs, and playing some delightful long balls.
Robin Van Persie and Klaas Jan Huntelaar had glorious chances that were all the creation of Wes Sneijder. Had they fared better up front, the Inter playmaker could have bagged as many as four assists.
Against a possession-based side like Germany, Bert Van Marwijk will expect his star man to deliver more of the same, and maybe even take over scoring duties himself.
The towering centre forward Mario Gomez is clearly Jogi Loew's first choice for the striker's slot. Gomez rewarded his coach for the faith showed in him with a priceless goal and a good all-round game against Ronaldo-led Portugal.
Having had two great seasons with Bayern Munich, the prolific Gomez is high on confidence, and will hope to leave his mark on the international game too.
With Germany also possessing the dangerous Miroslav Klose, Mario will have to be on his toes at all times. But age plays a big part, and he is in his prime, so it all looks good for the big guy right now.
Die Mannschaft have strong players in all positions, but winning games is all about scoring goals. Having said that, have no doubt about this: Mario Gomez will have a huge say in Germany's fortunes at the European Championships. Next stop: Kharkiv.
If we talk about players that can turn a game on its head, few come better than Arjen Robben. The Flying Dutchman has the speed and technique to exploit even the smallest gaps in defense.
In spite of it all, Robben has endured a difficult last month. One feels he has not fully gotten over the Champions League heartbreak and his role in it.
Robben has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism lately. His shooting has been wayward, to say the least. He has been slated by the media and pundits alike for his poor decision-making in the final third.
Coming off a bad game, this chap will have to be back to his best if he wants to give his country a serious chance of winning. He will likely be up against clubmate Phillipp Lahm on the right wing.
I look forward to seeing a less selfish Robben in the next game, against an opponent he knows all too well.
Some of the readers must be very surprised with Khedira's inclusion in this list. I would advise them to catch a repeat of the Germany-Portugal match.
For me, Khedira and Jerome Boateng were the best performers on that day. Sami delivered a typically robust display, with his grit and determination really shining through.
He played some good attack-minded passes through the game as well.
The reliable Khedira sporadically ventured outside his territory, but on one occasion he set up Mario Gomez for the goal that clinched the game.
Germany's next opponents have players who relish physical battles. With Netherlands boasting world-class midfield destroyers in Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong, Khedira must focus and do the best he can to win the 50-50s in the middle, that can so often be decisive.
At the same time, he will also be tasked with negating the threat of Sneijder, so expect Khedira and midfield partner Bastian Schweinsteiger to be busy men tomorrow.
Both the Men Between the Sticks
Both teams are strong in this department, and they will need to be, too. With all the attacking talent at their disposal, Germany will keep Netherlands' goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg pretty occupied. And I wouldn't expect it to be any easier for Manuel Neuer against Van Persie and the gang.
Stekelenburg has been the No. 1 for his national team since Edwin Van Der Sar's retirement. His performances at the World Cup were par excellence. However, his first game at the Euros didn't go as planned. He was beaten by Michael Krohn-Dehli against Denmark, and through his legs at that. The Dutch custodian needs to pull up his socks for the next hurdle.
Neuer, meanwhile, had a good game against the Portuguese. He was rarely called into action, and whenever he was, the beast was up to the task. In a rich vein of form, Neuer must remember there's no looking back, and carry on delivering top drawer performances.
Other than the aforementioned six players, there are so many other important men who will take the pitch tomorrow.
There's Bastian Schweinsteiger, whose performances are almost always decisive. Germany are able to dominate the opposition with ease when the Bavarian-born midfielder is at his best, pulling the strings in the middle of the park.
Let's not forget Mats Hummels, who had a great game the other day, winning all his aerial battles. He will have his hands full, as will Johnny Heitinga at the other end. The Everton man must really improve on his last showing, though.
Nigel De Jong's importance is also understated. He is crucial to the Dutch machine, and provided he doesn't break any bones, I'm sure we will be praising him for doing his part of the job with minimum fuss.
Robin Van Persie, Lukas Podolski and Thomas Müller are all capable of making a difference when they have their shooting boots on. And Mesut Ozil is to Germany what Sneijder is to Netherlands. The list goes on.
In the five slides before this one, I have picked the six players that I think will have the greatest influence on tomorrow's game. Who do you think will be the most influential when these two European giants lock horns?
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