Silvestre Varela’s 87th minute goal secured three crucial points for Portugal in their second group league game against Denmark. Portugal, who had lost their opening game against Germany, needed to win this in order to proceed to the next round. On the other hand, Denmark will be in real trouble after this loss. They were high on confidence after defeating the Dutch in their opening game, but a loss here leaves them to test their luck against Germany in the last game of the group stage.
Things were not particularly in favor of Denmark, who lost Niki Zimling within the first 16 minutes of the game due to a calf injury. Pepe opened the score for Portugal when he converted from a corner in the 24th minute. It was surprising why the Real Madrid defender was kept totally unmarked at the near post by the Danish defense. Portugal doubled their lead 12 minutes later when Nani’s square pass reached Postiga, who impeccably placed the ball in the net. The Real Zaragoza forward, who failed to make an impact in the first game against Germany, made sure his presence is felt in the field. Michael Krohn-Dehli, the goal scorer in Denmark’s solitary goal win over the Dutch, assisted Niklas Bendtner to score the first goal for the Danes within 5 minutes. The game went to half time with a score of 2-1.
Within 5 minutes of the second half, Nani’s pass reached Ronaldo, who could have easily scored, but preferred not to. The Portuguese captain, considered one of the best footballers in the world, was pathetic to say the least today. At about 78 minutes, Ronaldo received a ball from Nani when the only object separating him from the goal was the Danish keeper Anderson. Quite surprisingly, Ronaldo hit outside and probably registered his name for the miss of the tournament. Minutes later, this act was punished as Niklas Bendtner scored again to equalize for Denmark. This was Bendtner’s sixth goal from his five internationals against Portugal. If Portugal would have drawn the game from there, Ronaldo had no one else to blame. However, an excellent shot from substitute Silvestre Varela in the 87th minute helped Portugal win this crucial game.
Portugal will have to devise their strategy wisely in order to progress through the group stage. Their last match is with the Dutch, who having lost both games, are virtually at the edge of being eliminated from the group. The Dutch will definitely try to win their game, while a draw probably would be good enough for Portugal (expecting Denmark’s loss against Germany). Pepe was in great form today and he should be equally instrumental in the game against Netherlands. If Nani and Postiga also play with the same flamboyance, Portugal doesn’t need to worry. Today was perhaps a bad day for Cristiano Ronaldo, who can surely get back his lost confidence in the next game.
Things do not look great for Denmark. Their next game is against Germany, who are, perhaps, the best team in this group, having won both their games. Denmark has to depend on the Dutch in order to defeat the Portuguese and then can try to draw their game with Germany. It will be impractical to expect Denmark defeating the Germans, but certainly a draw can earn them a vital point towards progression to the quarterfinals. However, if Portugal wins against the Dutch, Denmark doesn’t seem to have any chance. The Danes need to strengthen their defense, which looked miserable today except Daniel Agger. Thomas Sorensen, the regular goalkeeper for Denmark, is expected to be back for the last game.
Denmark: Stephan Andersen Simon Poulsen, Daniel Agger, Simon Kjaer, Lars Jacobsen, Niki Zimling (Jakob Poulsen 16’), William Kvist, Michael Krohn-Delhi (Lasse Schone 90’), Christian Eriksen, Dennis Rommedahl (Toblas Mikkelsen 60’), Nicklas Bendtner
“The equaliser was unjust but we didn’t bow our heads; we showed character and got the winner we deserved” – Paulo Bento, Portugal coach
“We struggled to find our rhythm but we really improved in the second half and in the last ten minutes we came into our own.” – Morten Olsen, Denmark coach
Oranje look for redemption against their old rivals Die Mannschaft
Group B: Netherlands vs.Germany
Wednesday, 13 June 2012
21:45 (local time); 14:45(EST); 00:15(IST)
Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv
After the final draw of the tournament was done this was one of the most eagerly awaited matches. It was supposed to be the match between two favourites to decide who would top the group. The match was worthy of a final. The long history between the two teams was at the forefront of the media. After the first round of matches it is a much different proposition.
The Dutch have lost their opening match against Denmark and have to get a positive result in this match. They have their back to the wall and a defeat may see them eliminated if Denmark beat Portugal in the other game. Netherlands need to be the masters of their destiny and they have the personnel to do so.
Germany overcame Portugal by a single goal in their opening match. However, their performance was far from their billing of favourites. The Germans were lucky to come away with full points against Portugal. They can be the first side to cement their place in the quarter finals with a win. German national teams always seem to rise to the occasion in big tournaments and their winning mentality is a strength.
Robben versus Lahm: Key match-up of club teammates
Netherlands dominated for long periods against Denmark and had a staggering 28 attempts on goal the highest by any team in the first round of matches. The problem was that their strikers were wasteful and did not really test the opposition goalkeeper. The team just needs to sort out their finishing and they can do that being the highest scoring team from the qualifiers.
Germany has been a breath of fresh air in that last two major tournaments abandoning their traditionally dour style of play for an attacking style. The first match was a return to their old style of play with dour defending a lot of possession against Portugal. There was none of the crisp passing, movement and pace that have become synonymous with this team. Although Portugal sat back not allowing them to play their game, Netherlands with their style of play just might give them the opportunity.
Teams & Formations
The Netherlands had a problem with their strikers in the opening match. The manager Bert Van Marwjik is supposed to be facing a revolt led by the players left on the bench for the opener namely Rafael Van der Vaart and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Robin Van Persie who started the Denmark game failed to reproduce the form that made him top scorer in the English Premier League. Huntelaar may very well start this match as the first choice forward. It is unlikely that the manager will play both strikers although the current situation of the team seems to indicate so. The good thing is that Joris Mathijsen the first choice centre back is fit. Netherlands will start with a 4-2-3-1 formation. It is to be seen if Van Marwjik plays Van der Vaart or De Jong as the second midfielder with Van Bommel. For them Sneijder and Robben will be the key to unlock the opposition defence.
Netherlands(4-2-3-1): Maarten Stekelenburg; Gregory Van der Wiel; John Heitinga; Joris Mathijsen,; Jetro Willems; Nigel de Jong; Mark Van Bommel; Arjen Robben; Wesley Sneijder; Ibrahim Afellay; Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Manager: Bert Van Marwjik
Germany did not play the way their manager Joachim Loew would have wanted them to. They dominated possession but there was a definite lack of creativity in the attacking zone. In this match they will start with their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. The Germans will play for the win which will ensure qualification. However, they have a history of losing their second group stage matches which has happened in the last two major tournaments. They will also look to a better performance from Lukas Podolski who was not his usual self missing changes, giving away the ball cheaply and Andre Schurrle may start in his place. The defensive line-up with Boateng at right-back will always remain a concern. The clash between Philipp Lahm and his club team mate Arjen Robben on the right-wing will be fascinating. Mesul Ozil and Mario Gomez will be their key players along with Lahm in defence. Germany starts as a slight favourite but only just.
Germany(4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; Jerome Boateng; Mats Hummels; Philipp Lahm; Sammy Khedira; Bastien Schweinsteiger; Thomas Muller; Mesul Ozil; Lukas Podolski; Mario Gomez
Manager: Joachim Loew
“How do we beat them? Well I won’t tell you that because I’ll tell my own team that. The Germans are very strong but we can also beat them. How we do that and where we do that, I won’t tell you now.” – Bert Van Marwjik Netherlands Manager.
“They’re the most interesting and best matches of the last 20-30 years. It will be very intense, there’s a huge rivalry and technically it will be a very good, but what happened in the past is history now.” – Joachim Loew Germany Manager.
Chance to Pole up A Greek Tragedy
Group A: Poland vs. Greece
Friday, 08 June 2012
1800 (local time); 1200(EST); 2130(IST)
National Stadium, Warsaw
The Euro 2012 finally gets underway at the swanky new National Stadium which is the largest footballing arena in Poland. Built for the Euros, the National Stadium has a unique retractable PVC roof which unfolds from a nest on a needle suspended above the centre of the pitch. But while all talk should be focussed on the match at hand, controversies over anticipated racial abuse and law and order situation. However with the football finally starting, one can hope that the controversies will take a back seat.
The hosts have not won the tournament in almost three decades and for Poland to attempt anything contrary to this trend, have to drum up a win in the opener tomorrow. Arguably in the weakest group, Poland can ill afford to slip up against the 2004 champions, when they have a resurgent Russia and a rebuilding Czech Republic.
The Greeks, never anyone’s favourite team, are probably a very grey horse for the tournament. They never inspire confidence, yet they went through the qualifying tournament unbeaten and only conceded 5 goals in the process. As has been their wont, they have built their team on a solid defence. On form, they shouldn’t have any problem in progressing from the group but countering a passionate host in the first tie should be crucial to any such ambition.
Poland has not had a good time at all in the European championships. In fact they have only ever qualified for one European championship – the last one and didn’t get out of the group stages. As hosts, they didn’t need to qualify and hence only played friendlies and their form wasn’t impressive enough, though they did beat lowly Andorra 4-0 last week.
The Greeks only ever qualified for 3 European championships, but can proudly proclaim to have won the trophy in 2004. Their qualification record was perfect but they have not really been dominant in the friendlies.
Teams & Formations
The hosts bank on Robert Lewandowski, who was the third highest scorer in the just concluded Bundesliga without scoring via any penalty kicks. Lukasz Piszczek is probably one of the top right backs in Europe and has been courted by clubs like Milan and Real Madrid. Coach Franciszek Smuda lines up his team in 4-2-3-1 formation and creativity of Ludovic Obraniak and his linkup play with Lewandowski should be crucial for the Polish chances.
Poland (4-2-3-1): Wojciech Szczesny; Lukasz Piszczek, Marcin Wasilewski, Damien Perquis, Sebastian Boenisch; Rafal Murawski, Eugen Polanski; Jakub Blaszczykowski, Ludovic Obraniak, Maciej Rybus; Robert Lewandowski
Manager: Franciszek Smuda
Portuguese born Fernando Santos was elected by the Greek Football League as the best coach of the decade. He favours a 4-3-3 formation which tucks into a 4-5-1 without the ball. Celtic hitman Giorgios Samaras has the same role as Angelos Charisteas from the 2004 squad. Schalke man Kyriakos Papadopoulos and former Milan flop, Sokratis Papasthapoulos form the central defensive pairing and how they cope with Lewandowski will probably decide the match.
“The first step is always the most important step, and the first step is the Greece match.”
Poland captain Jacob ‘Kuba’ Blaszczykowski
“We don’t have anything to fear against Poland. I believe we can repeat our effort of 2004 when we spoiled the opener for the home team.”
Giorgos Tzavellas, Greek defender.
A Sneak Peek: Stars of UEFA Euro 2012 Group C
We continue our build-up to the Euro 2012 with the rising stars of Group C. Debopam Roy profiles them
Goalden Times has started the countdown to Euro 2012 with the reviews of Groups (A, B, C, D). In this feature we bring you some of the players who have the potential to become stars in Poland & Ukraine. Here we focus on Group C.
Name: Iker Muniain
Club: Athletic Bilbao
National Caps: 1
Current Market value: €20m
Iker Muniain has been labelled a prodigy since he joined the cantera of Athletic Bilbao in 2005 as a 12-year-old. His diminutive stature alongwith his pace and dribbling skills had marked him out as a special talent. He has a host of youngest player ever awards – youngest player ever to wear Athletic’s shirt in an official game, at 16 years 7 months 11 days; youngest ever player to score a goal (16 years 7 months and 18 days) in an official match; youngest player to have donned the club’s shirt in La Liga and youngest player to score in a first division match for Bilbao. Having rushed through the Spanish age group squads in three years, Muniain finally got his senior debut in February this year. His goals and assists have propelled the club to their first ever European final in over 35 years. The virtuoso performance against the two finalists of last season’s Champions League viz. ManchesterUnited and Barcelona, has shown how he can fight with the big boys. He may not be a starter for Spain but on the back of his stupendous season, would definitely merit a call-up and play the role of an impact sub. Don’t count out some dazzling play from the “SpanishMessi”.
Name: Angelo Ogbonna
National Caps: 2
Current Market value: €6m
The story of Angelo Ogbonna is not probably as colourful as other African origin players of Italy like Mario Balotelli, but it is a story played out of the prying eyes and in Torino’s youth academy, which he joined as a wide-eyed teenager in 2002. Apart from a loan spell at Crotone in 2007-08, his entire career has been with La Granata. In his first full season with il Toro in 2008-09, his club got relegated and has been in Serie B ever since. His progress has thus been not as documented as say some of the other defenders like Leo Bonucci of Juventus or Andrea Ranocchia of Inter Milan, but Ogbonna with his powerful displays and the technique and tactical acumen is probably the true heir to the generation of Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro. Ogbonna is comfortable in the centre of the defence but can also play on the left.. Torino is on the verge of returning to Serie A. But Ogbonna who has already been part of the Azzurri senior side quite a number of times can actually set a unique distinction of representing the Azzurri in a major competition while playing in the second division. And it will be a much deserved distinction too.
Republic of Ireland
Name: James McClean
National Caps: 1
Current Market value: €1.5m
Imagine being born in a country which has a furious political divide with a neighbour and then choosing to play for that neighbouring country when you come of age. James McClean was born in Northern Ireland and rose through the ranks, and was ultimately called up by the Northern Ireland manager for the senior team. But he rejected that and waited for the call-up from Republic of Ireland manager. He faced abuses for this decision from several Northern Irish tweeters. Giovanni Trapattoni, the Republic of Ireland manager, did ultimately call him up but hasnotsinceplayedhimfrequently. If Ireland are to cause an upset or two in this group of death, then Trap would have to change his opinion about this 23-year-old winger because he has been explosive for his new club Sunderland. McClean made his Sunderland debut in a 1-0 win over Manchester City on January 1, 2012. And since then, he has not been dropped for a single match – playing 20 matches to score 4 goals and provide three assists. That puts him on fourth for the club in terms of goals scored and third in terms of assists, though those in front of him have been playing for the whole season. Already he has been put on a new contract for three years which is triple of what he initially signed for, when he joined Sunderland in the summer. But if Il Trap does give McClean a chance, expect a display which would attract the top clubs and test Sunderland’s resolve to hold onto their starlet.
Name: Ivan Perišić
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Position: Attacking Midfielder
National Caps: 7
Current Market value: €6m
Of all the other players profiled in this group, Perišić is the one with the best chances of being a regular protagonist for his country in the Euros. He comes in as the latest in line of Croatian midfield playmakers. While two of them play for Tottenham and are well established, Perišić has made rapid strides to be counted as equivalent to both Niko Kranjcar and Luka Modric. Coming from the famous academy of Hadjuk Split, Perišić was courted by some of the biggest talent spotters (including PSV Eindhoven and Ajax) but ultimately signed for French club Sochaux. After a couple of seasons, he was on a move to Club Brugge where he was voted Player of the Year in Belgium by his fellow footballers on the back of his 22 league goals. German champions Borussia Dortmund, who had lost Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid, came calling and signed him for €5.5m. In 38 matches for the club, he scored 8 times with four assists but spectacular goals like the one againstArsenal in Champions League brought him to worldwide notice. He has been a key player for Dortmund retaining the title they had won last year. Such progress was noted by the national team boss Slaven Bilić. So even though Perišić played for Croatia U21 team in 2011 European U21 championships, he was promptly called up to be part of the senior team and has been a regular feature ever since. If Croatia is to get out of this group of death, then Perišić will have his role to play alongside the other established tenors of Croatian midfield.
Home Team Decisions
Eoghan McMonagle, brings up the tidbits of the two host nations of upcoming Euro 2012.
So the UEFA European Championship 2012 is fast approaching and it promises to be a very interesting competition. The favourites are well-known, with reigning champions Spain and a very strong Germany being mentioned along with perennial contenders Holland. Into that mix are thrown teams like Italy, England and France who may have fallen on hard times over the last few years but still have the players and the tradition to go all the way. But what of the joint-hosts, Poland and Ukraine? Are they there to simply make up the numbers or can (at least) either of these teams use home advantage to mount an unexpected challenge?
Poland have the honour of kicking-off the tournament when they face Greece on June 8th. So I shall start by looking at them. Drawn in Group A alongside Russia, the Czech Republic and the aforementioned Greece, they might just fancy their chances of making it to the quarter-finals. None of these teams are among the front line contenders for the title and this promises to be a very closely contested group.
Russia will be favourites to advance. They are, according to the latest FIFA rankings, the highest ranked team of the four and quite comfortably surpassed Ireland in the qualification group to top it. The Czech Republic are not quite the force they once were, having struggled in their qualification group but managed to clinch a play-off spot and dispatched Montenegro easily to reach the final tournament. The Greeks, however, will be very hard to beat and were highly impressive in qualifying – topping a group containing Croatia, that too remaining unbeaten.
As hosts, Poland did not have the rigours of a qualifying campaign to go through, being automatically seeded in Group A. They might have struggled to make it through as in the qualification campaign for the 2010 World Cup, Poland were truly awful. They finished 5th out of 6 teams with only lowly San Marino behind and Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czechs and even Northern Ireland ahead of them. Not exactly inspiring stuff! It begs the question as to whether Poland would actually have made it to Euro 2012 if they had had to qualify for it – the answer is probably not.
So can they turn their form of the last few years around and actually be competitive in front of their own people this summer? It will be interesting to find out – certainly the benefits of playing in front of a home crowd should lift a team, especially with the passionate support the Polish fans are known for. However, lack of competitive football during the qualification campaign for Euro 2012 may put Poland at a disadvantage. No amount of friendly matches can come close to the white-hot intensity of qualification for, or playing in, a major international tournament.
Much will depend on how Poland start the tournament – a result against Greece with the eyes of the footballing world on them in the first game will raise their confidence and really get the fans behind them. A point against Russia in the next game after 4 days would then put them in good shape for the final group game against the Czechs on June 16th. A tough ask but not impossible. Given how tight I expect this group to be one win may be good enough to go through. Poland’s recent record may not be particularly impressive but this is a new start and it’s a chance they might just take. In summary then, the Poles are a good outside bet to make it to the quarter-finals but there, I think, the adventure will end against the mighty Germany, Netherlands or Portugal.
So how about the Ukraine? They are still relative newcomers to international tournaments having only ever qualified for one – the 2006 World Cup. Their performance there was encouraging as they made it to the quarter-finals before being beaten by eventual champions, Italy. However, since then there has been very little progress – Ukraine failed to qualify for Euro 2008 and lost out to Greece in a play-off to get to the 2010 World Cup. The “”Golden Generation” of the early to mid 2000’s, drawn from the excellent Dynamo Kiev team of the same period, never really fulfilled its potential – can the class of 2012 fare any better?
As joint hosts, Ukraine will have the same advantages and disadvantages as those mentioned above for Poland. The passionate and numerous local supporters may go some way to offsetting the lack of match sharpness due to the absence of competitive football over the qualifying campaign. I fear for Ukraine however, that they have some extra issues to deal with, chief among which is the quality of the group in which they find themselves in. Ukraine begin their campaign against Sweden on June 11th, they then face France before finishing the group against England on June 19th.
That is a really tough series of games – the Swedes nearly always perform well at international level and often punch above their weight. They are a seasoned and well balanced team and have the unpredictable, but potentially brilliant, Zlatan Ibrahimović up front. The Swedes came second to the Netherlands in their qualification group but actually managed to beat the highly fancied Dutch in their final group game. France have been through a couple of bad years at international level having gone out at the group stages of both Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup but topped their qualification group for Euro 2012, losing only one game in the process. There is a growing sense that France have straightened themselves out and with players like Karim Benzema and Franck Ribéry they could go a long way at Euro 2012. England always seem to be less than the sum of their parts and this is, I believe, a fairly weak England squad. That said, they still possess some excellent players and it is unfortunate for Ukraine that the only game of the group stages which Wayne Rooney will be eligible for is the final game against them (Rooney is suspended for England’s first two matches).
So how do Ukraine compete with these heavyweights? The short answer, from my point of view at least is, they can’t. I don’t see the quality in their squad to sustain a challenge in Group D. The team is almost exclusively based in the Ukrainian league, which I do not believe is providing the highest standard of football at the moment. The fact that they still rely so heavily on the 35 year old Andriy Shevchenko in attack is a serious concern. I hope for Ukraine’s sake that they can raise their game and give a good account of themselves come June – but it will be very difficult for them and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them come bottom of the group.
Being the hosts of a major tournament can and should provide a major boost to the chances of the home nations – but only if they have sufficient quality to take advantage. It would be good for the tournament as a whole if one or both of the host nations can do well – Poland may just have enough to emerge from their group but I think Ukraine are seriously up against it.
Poland: 2nd in Group A behind Greece, eliminated in quarter-finals.