The SFG team continues its post-mortem of Euro 2012 with a look at Group B, the pre-tournament Group of Death in the eyes of many.
Considering how bad the Dutch were, the only positive is perhaps the aftermath. Mark van Bommel, while not officially retiring, has stepped aside to make way for younger players. Bert van Marwijk has left his role as the manager and suddenly there is a genuine feeling that this could trigger a change. Many felt they were too rigid and they were right; despite playing 4-2-3-1, both van Bommel and Nigel de Jong were unsuccessful in linking the defence and attack. Though a new manager has yet to be named, fans must be optimistic as they enter a new era. In other words, it can’t get any worse.
The Dutch averaged around 5 shots on target per game in the group stages, so the chances were there. However, despite having the likes of van Persie and Huntelaar in the squad, they only managed to score 2 goals in the entire tournament. It’s hard not to wonder what might’ve been had they been able to put away the clear-cut chances. Against Denmark, especially, the game should’ve been put to bed but they lacked the cutting edge in the final third.
Egos are behind their demise yet again. It’s the same old story every tournament and despite being considered strong favourites beforehand, the pressure clearly got to them. One only has to look at Gomez’s opener in their second game to see how easily overwhelmed this team can get mentally. Bert van Marwijk took with him a squad full of experience – many who even played the World Cup final just two years ago, yet they failed to pull together when it mattered. Robben blamed the egos, Sneijder blamed the egos. The team had been diagnosed a long time ago. Alas, they still wait for a cure.
Competing in the Group of Death alongside Germany, Netherlands and Portugal was definitely going to be a tough task for the Danes. Some would have bet them to finish last in their group, gaining a maximum of 1 point. However, Denmark proved all of their critics wrong by opening their campaign with a solid 1-0 win against the Netherlands, which saw their left-flank bully the likes of Gregory van die Wiel on the Dutch right hand side. Although they lost their remaining two group matches 3-2 and 2-1 to Portugal and Germany respectively, both games were bravely fought by the Danes and their persistence almost paid dividends.
Defensive inconsistency seemed to be one of the factors that led to their downfall. In the first game against Netherlands, the center back pairing of Agger and Kjaer were solid as a rock. But from there, they became more vulnerable to counter-attacks in the final two group stage games, being unable to keep the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo quiet (to be fair, it is a pretty difficult task) which eventually led to their downfall.
Not progressing to the quarter-finals despite winning and gaining momentum against one of the group favourites, the Netherlands, in their opening game. Although they were in the toughest group of the tournament, they should have used their first win to their advantage and at least picked up a point against Portugal, who eventually progressed at Denmark’s expense.
The easy-on-the-eye football that has made Germany the neutral’s favourites and the drool-worthy, offensive combinations. The superabundance of attacking options was in full display when Andre Schurrle and Marco Reus were surprisingly included in the starting XI in the quarter-final with Greece in place of Lukas Podolski and Thomas Muller. Joachin Low’s prescient awareness of the type of player that would be needed to combat Greece’s non-porous defence and his boldness to introduce two youngsters with no international tournament experience should be lauded.
Aside from the brain-fart defending in the first half versus Italy, Mats Hummels, alongside Sami Khedira, was one of the standout performers for the Germans, his timing of the tackle immaculate and his penchant for an elegant dash out of defence arousing comparisons with Franz Beckenbauer in his pomp.
The defending of this Germany team left a lot to be desired for at times and remains the major weakness in a team glittered with exceptional young talents. It’s convenient to brand the likes of Boateng, Hummels, Badstuber and Neuer with the ‘inexperienced’ tag due to their ages, but they’ve played in their fare share of finals and semi-finals over the last few years, and are regulars in two of the biggest clubs in the world. What we can say is they are not finished articles – Hummels and Neuer certainly come with stardust, whilst Badstuber and Boateng seem solid yet spectacular at this point in time for a side of Germany’s stature, the latter is a solid right-back but it is not his preferred position.
The fatal first-half against Italy where Germany were unable to deal with the strength of Mario Balotelli, and the midfield was unable to deal with Andrea Pirlo and his two-man supporting cast in the form Danielle De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio for much of the game. The porous defending is something that has been evident throughout qualification and recent friendlies – coming into the tournament, Germany had only kept 5 clean-sheets in 20 games, 2 of which came against Kazakhstan. It just goes to prove that defences are the platform which allow the strutting attacking bees to flourish, and if this Germany generation are to fulfil their potential then they need to improve defensive on a collective level – in terms of minimising space for opposition midfielders, in the case of the Italy match – and on an individual level either by finding better options/combinations – moving Lahm to right back and deploying Marchel Schmeltzer at left-back, for example.
In two years, Cristiano Ronaldo won’t even be 30 yet. Nani will be in the prime of his career at 27 and the likes of Rui Patricio and Coentrao still have plenty of years left. Since 2010, Portugal have shown a great deal of improvement under coach Paulo Bento and, due to his performance in the tournament, will be exempt from any pressure – or so one would think (this is football, after all).
The players understand Bento’s 4-3-3 system and are talented enough, as seen this summer, to thrive under it. Joao Moutinho and Ronaldo have rightfully had the plaudits come their way but this is far from being a two-man team. In Veloso, Meireles and the aforementioned Moutinho, Portugal possess a very good midfield three. The work rate and ability on the ball is such, that they have been able to perform without a ‘natural number 10′ and are able to get the ball further up the field just as effectively.
Make no mistake about it, Portugal will improve even more by 2014 for the World Cup in Brazil. Will they win it? Probably not, but they can certainly impress and go far.
Euro 2012 has undoubtedly been a very good tournament for the Portuguese and it would be unfair to criticise them on the minor details. Having said that, minor details lose games, too, and there were some questionable approaches in Portugual’s campaign. The first 70 minutes of their opener against Germany, for one, was a game where they sat back and were fairly cautious. Ronaldo was quiet and there was little in the way of creativity and spark. It was only after Germany broke the deadlock that Portugal showed any intent in the final 20 minutes. Moreover, Bento’s decision to keep Ronaldo for the final penalty in their semi-final shoot-out against Spain is one fans will be questioning for a long time.
Bruno Alves, anyone? In all seriousness, Portugal’s performances have illustrated the lack of strikers coming through. Postiga has been given chances but hasn’t been able to perform, while Oliveira isn’t even first choice at Benfica let alone his country. At 20, however, he has time on his side and the fact that Bento used him as a substitute four times suggests that he has a role to play. He certainly did well with the time he was given but whether hopes are pinned on him due to talent or lack of depth is up to the cynics to decide; he, however, will hope he lives up to his potential and gets himself on the plane to Brazil.