There’s still all to play for as we approach the final round of Group B matches on Sunday. All four teams are still in with a chance of qualifying for the quarter finals, with World Cup finalists Holland surprisingly looking the least likely to finish in a top two position.
As it stands after the first two rounds of matches, Germany are firmly in the boxseat, with two wins, six points and, on paper, their most straight-forward match still to come. They need only a point against Denmark to win the group. Lose, however, and they might not even qualify for the quarter finals.
The Danes have three points from their excellent win against Holland in the group’s first match, but are not guaranteed to qualify even should they beat the Germans. That is because Portugal will also have amassed six points if they beat the Dutch in their final game and goal difference will become the factor that decides both first and second positions between Portugal, Denmark and Germany.
In order for Holland to qualify, having lost both matches so far, they need Germany to beat Denmark while they themselves beat Portugal by at least two goals. The Dutch are the only side who can’t possibly win the “group of death”.
With the two final matches running simultaneously each team’s fate is constantly subject to change in what should be a thrilling 90 minutes.
NETHERLANDS v PORTUGAL 19.45 Metalist Stadium (Kharkiv)
The Netherlands against Portugal conjures up memories of the infamous “Battle of Nuremberg” in the 2006 World Cup round of 16. An
astonishingly bad-tempered encounter saw 16 players booked and four sent off, a record in the competition, and resulted in a 1-0 win for Portugal. The two sides have recent history In the European Championships too, specifically a Euro 2004 meeting, held in Portugal of course, that again was won by the Iberians, this time 2-1. The Dutch have in fact won only one of their last 10 against the Portuguese and failed to score in six of those.
Holland have been unquestionably the biggest disappointment of the whole competition. Woeful finishing cost them in their opening defeat to Denmark, with 30 goal attempts failing to yield a single goal. Against Germany in the second match they were beaten more comfortably than the final 2-1 scoreline suggested. In my preview of Group B at the start of the tournament I concluded that although it was the most evenly matched foursome in the tournament, in reality Holland and Germany were huge favourites to go through. That such an expectation has proven so misjudged is little to do with the strength of the two less fancied sides and more the failure of most of Holland’s attacking talents to turn up.
Wesley Sneijder has still looked a class act with his range of passing, but Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie have looked jaded after long domestic seasons and it’s their final product, i.e, their shooting, that’s been most out of sorts. Holland’s profligacy, combined
with a perhaps previously underexposed defensive fragility and an immobile central midfield is what’s put them in the position they’re in and the reason it’s very hard to see them beating Portugal by two clear goals.
For Portugal the task of finishing in the top two is considerably more achievable, they simply have to better Denmark’s result against Germany. Portugal have been a mixed bag so far and in more ways than one. So outrageously negative were they in their opening defeat to Germany that the explosive creative talents they have in Cristiano Ronaldo and, at times, Nani were completely nullified.
It was only once Germany took the lead that Paulo Bento’s side expressed their attacking capabilities and in fact, they would’ve drawn with surer finishing. In their next match, Portugal adopted a more cavalier approach from the off and were appreciably the stronger side against Denmark. However, after surrendering a two goal lead they were forced to rescue a win in the last five minutes. Ronaldo’s misses in this match perhaps even topped any of Van Persie’s against Denmark.
If Portugal can become more clinical I could easily envisage them reaching the semi finals of this competition. They face a quandary though in that when they play a more attacking game it highlights how average their defence is, but the cynical approach stifles their best players. Portugal are by no means a great side, but can prove the equal of the down-on-their-luck Dutch.
Prediction: 1-1 (Portugal qualify for quarter finals)
DENMARK v GERMANY 19.45 Arena Lviv (Lviv)
These two sides have not met in a competitive fixture since Denmark shocked the world by beating the Germans in the 1992 final in Stockholm. Morten Olsen’s team will require another fairytale in order to qualify from this group considering they’re up against a German side who’ve looked as impressive as anyone in the competition thus far and that they’ll also probably need Portugal to lose to the misfiring Dutch.
The Danes have appeared by far the least accomplished of the four teams in this group, but have equally shown an ability to grasp the few opportunities you get at the apex of international football, most notably in the case of Niklas Bendtner’s two predatory goals that brought them level from two goals down in their last match with Portugal.
When Helder Postiga netted Portugal’s second in that game, before half time had arrived, a sound beating had looked on the cards. Instead the Danes persevered, identified the opposition’s weakness on crosses and drew level. They were five minutes from an unforeseen draw and had they recorded it they would have been in a position going into this match where they only needed a point to qualify.
The defeat instead means it’s hard to see the Danes pulling it off, owing mainly to the fact that their opponents are looking far less merciful than Portugal’s. The most likely scenario that would see Denmark go through is a draw with the Germans-and, perhaps to Denmark’s advantage a point is all the Germans require to seal first place – accompanied by a Portuguese defeat to Holland. This combination of results would determine that the Danes take second place on four points, while the Portuguese and Dutch go home with three points each.
What’s more likely is that the Germans march on through to the quarter finals having won all three matches. Joachim Loew’s men have not been thoroughly exceptional thus far, only in glimpses. It’s those few moments that have been pivotal in instilling in people’s minds the belief that Germany can deliver success this year.
Against Portugal they did what was required by beating a defensively-minded team, but it was hard to excite against such spoilsports.
Against Holland they showed real guile. They dealt comfortably with what their neighbours threw at them and then exposed Dutch defensive naivety with minimum warning. Bastian Schweinsteiger really came to the fore with his eye for a threaded pass and Mario Gomez exhibited clinical finishing ability to effectively put the game to bed by half time.
Germany have fitness and finesse all over the field to go with their traditional efficiency and willpower and in Mats Hummels have perhaps the world’s newest emerging world class central defender. They will take some beating.
Prediction: 1-3 (Germany qualify for quarter finals as group winners)
Tags: Denmark, Euro 2012, Germany, Group B, Holland, Portugal