Games from Group B have been a pleasure to watch. It’s a shame two of these teams will go out.
Denmark’s battle with Portugal was probably the most entertaining game of the tournament and even the technical quality wasn’t too far from the level that Italy and Spain have demonstrated. The Selecção took the lead through a set-piece and doubled it before half-time through a well-worked goal by Postiga.
They then made the mistake of dropping deep, abandoning the pressing game that was working so well for them. This allowed the Danes to push up the pitch and they came back into it with two goals from the world’s greatest striker, Nicklas Bendtner!
In all seriousness though, the first one was an excellent team goal, perhaps the best of the tournament thus far. It started with Bendtner cushioning a long-ball to his teammate with a controlled header before receiving it back and spreading it out wide to the right (It was an interesting ploy that the Danes used often to use the space Ronaldo left vacant with his inconsistent tracking). The cross from that side was stood up delightfully for a back post run. Krohn-Dehli’s header back across the face of goal was headed in by the Arsenal man. The second goal was a simpler one but again it was a cross from the right and this time Bendtner powered it in at the back post.
But Portugal were always going to be a threat once they started pressing higher up the pitch again as the Danes just weren’t tight enough at the back. Varela’s winner had a degree of fortune about it as his initial attempt was an air-kick but the quality of the finish more than made up for it. Morten Olsen must have been disappointed with the efforts of Christian and Simon Poulsen.
From an Arsenal point of view it was good to see Bendtner on the score sheet with an impressive performance. He isn’t a favourite amongst Gooners and understandably so but the guy has a presence in the box and can be a useful striker for many teams. Shame it didn’t work for him at Arsenal, things might have been different if he had had more chances down the middle. Nevertheless, a good tournament for him could potentially increase the value Wenger can extract from the transfer market and that is at least some sort of a positive.
This result left the two teams tied on 3 points and the Dutch could have brought all four level with a win over Germany. Unfortunately for Van Persie, his team just didn’t have the cohesiveness or defensive strength to get anything out of that tie.
The Dutchman did have an early chance when Van Bommel did a Song and chipped one into the path of his penetrating run. But RvP couldn’t quite guide it home while stretching. It was a much tougher chance that it looked because he was constantly looking over his shoulder to judge the flight of the ball and didn’t have the time to see the goal or the Keeper’s position.
In the other direction, Germany were extremely selective with their forward movements but also just as clinical. They might have identified the left-back as a weak link and targeted him by overloading the flank. This sucked De Jong out and Van Bommel just wasn’t alert enough to the presence of Schweinsteiger. Up front, Gomez left the defenders in a knot with his movement and scored with aplomb.
The second goal was again built up on that side and it was the same players who got the assist and goal. Holland’s defensive unit were found wanting. The central defenders couldn’t deal with the movement of Gomez, the defensive midfielders provided little cover in front, and the Keeper was just shocking for the second goal (even if that was a clever strike).
RvP did get one back with a right-footed blast through the legs of Badstuber after he found some space to turn into but the Dutch side couldn’t create much in the second half either. They had a couple of other chances but Germany got bodies in the right place.
I was impressed by the work rate of De Kapitein and the fact that he never gave up even when heads were dropping. Sneijder was the only other Dutch player who deserves some credit for his efforts. Their back five, defensive midfielders, wingers, and substitutes were all disappointing.
It wasn’t that Germany had better players or performed miracles but they had a crisp game plan. Jogi Low’s men identified the opponent’s weaknesses and hit decisive, fatal blows. They also did a good job of nullifying the Dutch threat through a collective effort. For instance, Robben was rarely allowed to run with a ball, the strikers didn’t get much room in and around the box, and so on.
Once again it was shown that it’s the system that is more important than the players. Germany played as if all individuals were moving parts of a single intelligent machine controlled by a common brain. Their opponents, on the other hand, often looked like they’d run out of ideas as they weren’t on the same page mentally. That led to sulking and further discord.
Despite all the criticism here, I don’t think the Netherlands are a bad team. The margins are very fine at this level and some could easily argue that with better finishing from RvP in the first game the group would have a very different look. Given the nature of competition in this group I do strongly feel any two of these teams would have qualified from Group A which doesn’t quite have the same quality.
On Tuesday, Rosicky’s Czech Republic secured a hard fought win over the Greeks. Little Mozart played a vital part in the first half, helping his side secure an early two goal advantage through persistent high pressing. He picked up the pre-assist for the second goal and generally had an excellent passing performance as he marshalled the midfield.
But an injury to his Achilles exposed the Czech midfield and the Greeks dominated the second half. The goal they got back was through a blooper from Cech. Fortunately for Rosicky and his countrymen, the opponents just didn’t have enough quality in the final third to convert the pressure into an equalizer. It was mostly about long-balls but this hit-and-hope style has limited chances of success.
While his manager hopes he might regain fitness quickly, if Little Mozart is absent from the final group game Poland will fancy their chances of beating the Czech Republic. They snatched a point from Russia in another game that was very entertaining even if the quality of football wasn’t the highest.
In a classic example of the midfield dullness when two counter-attacking sides clash, Russia and Poland produced little in terms of creativity. Arshavin was the only player who showed the ability to open the co-hosts up but his assist eventually came from a set-piece that bounced in off Dzagoev’s shoulder.
And the Arsenal man seemed to lose his incisiveness as he tired early in the second half. Interestingly, the equalizer for the Poles came from a counter-attack against a counter-attack in which Arshavin’s pass was short with Russia having a 4-v-4 in the box. On the balance of play it must be said the Poles did work some interesting combinations during the game and deserved their point.
One point of interest to Arsenal fans would be the way Arshavin performed his defensive duties and the amount of support he got from the midfield. The Russian did a decent job of tracking back when Poland had the ball but they never really engaged him in duels in that area so it was just a matter of hanging around in the right places which he did well. More than that though, it was the way the midfielders shuttled across to defend the left flank when Arshavin stayed up the pitch at times of quick transitions that intrigued me.
The diminutive winger rarely raced back to cover his flank even though that was the main creative channel for the co-hosts. He tended to stay up the pitch if he’d moved up for an attack, especially if he’d wandered into a central area or on the right. But the midfielders, Denisov in particular, were quick to move across to cover the space that a winger would normally be seen defending. This is an area where I often thought Arsenal could have done better.
Finally, I want to end by noting that while this tournament has thrown up many entertaining and dramatic games with moments of exceptional quality, there’s hardly been a game where someone has completely owned the pitch and announced himself as a candidate for the star of the competition. It’s early days indeed but given the abundance of talent at display it’s a tad surprising. Hopefully it’ll only get better.Follow @goonerdesi
P.S. What do you make of the Redknapp story? I think he’s done the best he could and reached the invisible ceiling. For Spurs the next appointment is going to be huge. They could completely crumble if they get it wrong.
P.P.S. : Completely forgot about Podolksi! Actually he had that type of a game. Did get into useful positions in attack but wasn’t involved in most of the big moments. Work rate on the left was good but wasn’t really stretched. Doubt any of the match reports will have a mention of his involvement but that doesn’t mean he had a bad game. Interestingly, he did make 30 odd passes which is not to bad for a striker and shows he can offer a technical outlet if needed. That isn’t enough to say he can perform for a ball-playing midfielder/winger but should offer decent balance.