Thursday, June 14, 2012

Euro 2012 Thoughts Part 3


Portugal 3 – Denmark 2: Ronaldo chokes but Portugal Does Not
Last night’s encounter between the Portuguese and the Danes was for me the most entertaining match among those I’ve seen all-tournament. Was it a case of both teams eager to ‘go for it’? or was it a case of both teams being too porous when attacked?
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I commented after their first game that Portugal needed an ‘attacking platform’ – some form of a ‘9’ or a ‘10’ when they attack after seeing them lose to the Germans: and it seemed that Paulo Bento was thinking something similar. Instead of using Ronaldo to run at the Danish defense hugging the left touchline as he usually does, we actually found him making quite a few of those runs more to the middle of the pitch where we saw him attempt a couple of through balls (albeit missed) ala-Ozil to Helder Postiga. This ‘extended’ Portugal’s ‘spine’ further forward and made them look even more menacing when on attack.
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Too bad for Ronaldo, that it was his teammates’ work that would be credited for the win. Pepe, imitated Shevchenko’s second goal (in Ukraine’s 2-1 win over Sweden) by making a similar horizontal run, completely free of a marker to head into the near post. The second goal on the other hand was borne of wing play from Nani, crossing to Postiga to score. The third and winning goal was scored by Varela, whom I thought gave a good account of himself in the Germany game. While the credit for the goals will go directly to these players, I’d have to say that it was Ronaldo’s adjusted position on the pitch (and the way he played this role) that made it possible: Portugal to me looked far more dangerous and attacked with so much more intent with Ronaldo in this semi-central role.
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It’s just too bad for Ronaldo that this game will be remembered for the three gilt-edged scoring chances he had where he all failed. Once again: let me repeat this. Ronaldo should give Raul a call this summer and get our Eternal Captain to teach our current ‘7’ the art of the chip shot.
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The Danes should be given credit (massive loads of it) for turning a game that looked to be a lost 3 points into what almost turned out to be a draw. They worked the flanks beautifully, taking advantage of Ronaldo’s non-existence on defense as their cue to pounce. They almost got away with it too.
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Conclusion: Portugal’s hopes of getting to the quarterfinals has gained new life. They will be facing a dejected Dutch team next where Ronaldo, Nani and Postiga will face the Dutch’s weak defense. If the Dutch further help the Portuguese further by playing their stale defensive midfield (Van Bommel + De Jong) again: it will be once again a battle of the flanks which the Portuguese might fancy winning. Ronaldo vs. Van De Weil , Robben vs. Coentrao. For their sake however, they must hope and pray that Ronaldo shows the world the qualities he added to his game this past season at Real Madrid (clutch play and defensive work) for them to win.
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It will be more complicated for the Danes who face a German team that’s slowly clicking into gear and gathering momentum. One thing’s for sure though: in this Group of Death, Denmark have proven that they aren’t the poor sacrificial lambs many wrote them off to be before the tournament started.
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Germany 2 – Netherlands 1: Sour Oranjes
Mario Gomez looks like a 'Biffed Up' version of George Mcfly. ('Biff pun' intended: Back to the Future Fans would get the joke :) )

OK – Maybe we all jumped the gun when we all once said that the Dutch were among the tournament favorites. They may boast the attacking potency of Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder, but behind them is a clumsy slow-footed defense with an attack-minded right back and an 18 year old left back fronted by cavemen-in-football-boots (De Jong + Van Bommel): so what’s so great about that? Huntelaar, Van Der Vaart, Kuyt, etc. you may say – but they’re all on the bench! And on the flipside, I have yet to see Ibrahim Affelay do anything of note from his 2 starts in this tournament thus far. So let’s all admit what we may have been too shy to concede all along – might have we over-rated the World Cup 2010 finalists this whole time?
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For the second consecutive match in this tournament, on a night where the Netherlands NEEDED to be on attack mode against the Germans, Bert Van Marwijk once again  opted to relegate half of players that makes his squad to potent to the bench (Huntelaar, Van Der Vaart, Kuyt, Strootman) – opting instead to employ thugs-in-boots like Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong in the lineup. For what? To prevent Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Ozil from dominating the midfield? Clearly that didn’t work – as both of Germany’s goals were created by Schweinsteiger whose space was in turn created by the great work of Mesut Ozil (Michael Cox explains it brilliantly here).
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The Germans played far more fluently and Mario Gomez (whose striking resemblance to ‘Back to the Future’s’ George Mcfly was hilariously pointed out by the Guardian’s Barry Glendenning) is now showing the goalscoring form that eluded him in Euro 2008. With a bench that features goalscorer par excellence Miroslav Klose and midfield dynamos Toni Kroos and the yet-to-be-used Mario Goetze, the German Machine is truly beginning to hum in this tournament.

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Verdict: The Germans look to have one foot now in the quarterfinals needing only a draw against Denmark to book their place while the Dutch have it all to do against the Portuguese. I really feel that the Dutch need to have a close look at the Portugal’s lineup and think twice before fielding 2 holding midfielders again – who are they supposed to shadow if Portugal don’t even have a ‘10’? The Dutch need a WIN – by 2 goals at least if they even wish to have a chance to going through. In the past, Dutch sides would reach finals playing their brand of attractive attacking football – showcasing their players’ jaw-dropping technical skills. 2 years ago, the managed to reach a final again – only this time playing functional, brutal and even dirty football. Neither side lifted the cup – but the 1974 side however, is celebrated to this very day as if it had won the cup.
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A note to Bert Van Marwijk – no one likes Sour Oranjes.

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