Saturday’s pre-Euro 2012 friendlies: Dutch pre-tournament rituals

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Last weekend’s pre-Euro 2012 friendlies saw a handful qualified teams walk through some mildly interesting matches: Spain’s reserves strolled; Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark lost; and the metronomic predictability of Portugal gave us another goal-less performance.

This weekend, with most teams sprinting through their final Euro 2012 auditions, the results were noticeably better. Portugal even managed to score.

Netherlands 6-0 Northern Ireland

On June 5, 2010, the Netherlands were sent to South Africa 2010 only after villagers around Amsterdam sought the Tulip God’s World Cup blessing by bringing a ceremonial roe deer to the steps of the municipal windmill to be bludgeoned by clog. Some interpreted the ritual as a soccer game, reporting it as a 6-1 win over Hungary. The confusion led Arjen Robben to rupture a groin.

Today the ritual was repeated. This time, Northern Ireland played the roe deer and failed to scored. For the Dutch, Robin van Persie scored twice. So did Ibrahim Afellay. Wesley Sneijder and Ron Vlaar rounded out the Netherlands’ 6-0 victory.

Northern Ireland has now won only two of their last 26 matches.

Team capsule: Netherlands

England 1-0 Belgium

A second-straight impressive win for the Three Lions, having won by the same score in Norway last week.  Perhaps more important: Roy Hodgson avoided his librarian’s tendencies and started some players who could trouble an opposition’s defense.

In our England capsule, I speculated an “attacking” three of Andy Carroll, James Milner and Stewart Downing could would be “brutal.” There was an alternative: Starting Ashley Young and Theo Walcott wide, flanking Danny Welbeck. We didn’t exactly get that today (either in selection or formation), but the choices were encouraging: Welbeck was healthy enough to start up top (scoring in the first half); Young and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain were also in the starting XI. It was quite the victory for rational deduction.

England’s next game: Nine days from now, when they face France to open the teams’ Euro 2012.

Denmark 2-0 Australia

Morten Olsen’s team came into this match having lost two in a row, and while those losses were against respectable teams (Russia and Brazil), they weren’t by respectable margins, outscored 5-1 in two home games.

All that is in the past, now, though this was not a full-strength Australia, and Denmark let the Socceroos control the second half. Neither of the Danes’ goals came from open play: Daniel Agger scoring from the spot in the first while Andreas Bjelland banged home a corner in the second.

Read between the lines of Olsen’s post-match reaction and you see some worry.

“[Australia] were tired. They have had a tough week because they have been training all week long,” Olsen said. “It is important for us that we have a win at this moment.”

“[A]t this moment.” Subtext: A win is a win, and right now, we’ll take what we can get.

Silver lining: Stephan Anderson kept a clean sheet. He’s going to be Denmark’s starting goalkeeper next week, with Thomas Sorensen forced to pull out of the squad with a back injury.

Team capsule: Denmark

Portugal 1-3 Turkey

Portugal went 57 minutes without scoring (after being shut out in their last two matches). By the time Nani broke through, they were already down two. Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty kick. Pepe closed the match with an own goal. Most embarrassing: Ricardo Quaresema played.

Given what we’ve seen from Portugal and Denmark, is Group B even the tournament’s toughest group? Portugal’s tendency to be vastly-overrated (blame Ronaldo; blame memories of Figo) fueled most “Group of Death” talk, but general under-appreciation of Denmark made up for that. Group B could be the tournament’s toughest quartet without a decent Portugal. Denmark would make up for it.

But what if Denmark can’t? What if neither Denmark nor Portugal can scare Germany or the Netherlands? Is Group B really better than Group C (Spain, Croatia, Italy, Ireland)?

Probably not.

Team capsule: Portugal

Norway 1-1 Croatia

Eh, it happens. I’m sure Slaven Bilic would have loved to go into a tough Group C with a win in Croatia’s final game, but they’ll have to settle for a draw at a decent team who needed a stoppage time equalizer to salvage a result. That Croatia got a draw without their best player, Luka Modric, is also reason to be encouraged.

Bilic, however, may not see it that way. Yesterday, he spoke of the importance of this match as preparation for Ireland (against whom Croatia open Euro 2012). He was also expected a win:

“We couldn’t have a better warm-up for the opening match against Ireland. Norway are something like Ireland, they’re two teams very similar in their style of play and team ability. The match in Oslo will show us where we are a week before our first match … The result is always important and a victory here would bring a better atmosphere and confidence to the team.”

Team capsule: Croatia

Poland 4-0 Andorra

Andorra! An-dorra! FIFA ranking: 205. If you came across a crusty-spined Encyclopedia Brittania curated by an soccer fan who had it up to here with their stuffy editor’s job, you’d find an entry under “Spend-off Game”, and I guarantee you it says “usually played against an opponent highly unlikely to win and thereby ruin the send-off’s festivities (see: Andorra).”

Poland was up three after 40 minutes. Roberto Lewandowski scored. Ludovic Obaniak scored. Jakub Blaszczykowski scored from the spot.

Poland’s next game: Friday against Greece: Euro 2012’s opener.

Team capsule: Poland

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