The ‘Group of Death’ kicked into life on Saturday night, with heavyweights Germany and Netherlands taking on Portugal and Denmark in Group B. The bigger nations were expected to start their campaigns with victory, and although Joachim Low’s men did prevail 1-0, Bert van Marwijk’s Oranje side were surprisingly beaten 1-0.
Netherlands vs Denmark
Much is expected of a golden generation of Dutch footballers, with Netherlands entering the competition as one of the favourites for glory. However, a blunt and frustrating start means that the Oranje’s dreams of tournament victory could be over before they have been given a chance to be realised. A goal on 24 minutes by Michael Krohn-Dehli ensured victory for the Scandinavians and a result that has thrown the pool wide open.
Denmark entered the game with a positive outlook, with Morten Olsen looking to get men forward to support lone forward Nicklas Bendtner. Christian Eriksen and the evergreen Dennis Rommedahl proved something of an early threat for the Danes, whilst the Scandinavians looked to get the ball down and play out from the back. This footballing mentality must be commended, but at times it threatened to get them into trouble as possession was repeatedly given away on numerous occasions in their own half.
The goal from Krohn-Delhi was taken well, as a shimmy and powerful low shot sent the Danish fans into ecstasy. In truth Maarten Stekelenburg will be disappointed that he let the effort go through his legs and will not enjoy watching the replays of getting beat at his near post.
The real story of the game however was Netherlands’ lacklustre finishing, with Robin van Persie in particular guilty of missing gilt-edged chances. With the Arsenal captain, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Ibrahim Afellay all starting, and Rafael van der Vaart, Dirk Kuyt and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar coming off the bench, the Dutch are not short on firepower. However, despite chances being created, long period of possession being controlled and opportunities to equalise presenting themselves, the Oranje looked toothless, with Van Persie having a decidedly off-day.
Sneijder was a ray of light for the Dutch, as clever passes and through balls fashioned chances for the misfiring frontmen. Robben was hugely disappointing as he continually cut inside to shoot aimlessly high and wide. Huntelaar may well have had a case for a penalty late in the game, but all up Denmark were good value for victory.
Denmark will look to beat Portugal next up to assure unlikely qualification, whilst Netherlands are fighting for their lives when they face Germany.
Germany vs Portugal
This is being tipped by many as the year that Germany win an international tournament once more, and looking at their starting XI against Portugal on Saturday night it is evident why. Joachim Low’s men have class, experience and ability from front to back and will take some beating this summer.
That said, Portugal actually managed to contain their opponents well and arguably in the first-half in particular had the better chances to score. Pepe’s effort agonisingly stuck the corner of the bar and post close to half-time, whilst substitute Silverstre Varela had a glorious chance to convert at the death. Despite this, Germany look tournament ready and ground out a 1-0 win in a banana-skin fixture.
Mario Gomez got the nod ahead of seasoned campaigner Miroslav Klose, and the Bayern Munich hitman proved his worth half way through the second 45 with a well-taken header to prove the difference between the sides. The attacker was actually just about to be replaced by Klose before the goal, and as such luck was seemingly on the side of the Germans. Mesut Ozil stood out above the rest of the players on show, with excellent poise on the ball and a fantastic range of passing showing why he is so valued at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Portugal coach Paulo Bento will be cursing his luck after the result as his side did enough to get a point, but he will be encouraged at a plucky performance by a team being written off by many. Fabio Coentrao was the Iberian nation’s best player, with the left-back looking assured in defence and very able and threatening going forward. Nani had a solid game, as did Joao Moutinho, but Cristiano Ronaldo continued his lacklustre performances for the nation with a muted display.
Germany can qualify for the knockout stages and also eliminate one of their main rivals if they beat Netherlands on Wednesday, whilst Portugal will look to exact revenge on Denmark after defeats in qualifying.