How we’ll remember …
Denmark 2-3 Portugal – As Portugal’s Euro 2012 high point. The Danes fell two down after a lackluster start and gave Portugal a route into the quarterfinals. Unfortunately, the route goes through the Netherlands. Should the Seleccao survive (they’ll likely only need a point to do so), they’re in line to face Russia. Portugal beating Russia wouldn’t be shocking. It also wouldn’t be shocking if Portugal just got their only win of Euro 2012.
Netherlands 1-2 Germany – As the moment we started digging a six foot-deep hole for this era of Dutch soccer. With Euro 2012 unlikely to be salvaged (whether they bow out to Portugal or Russia), the Netherlands are going to have undergo a huge re-think. The clearest point of concern, the one that has been raised throughout the Bert van Marwijk era, is the simultaneous use of Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel – the characteristic that has defined the last four years. If Dutch soccer changes, that will be the first thing to go.
Team of the Day
G: Manuel Neuer, Germany
LB: Fabio Coentrão, Portugal
CB: Holger Badstuber, Germany
CB: Pepe, Portugal
RB: Jerome Boateng, Germany
M: Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany
M: Sami Khedira, Germany
RW: Nani, Portugal
AM: Mesut Ozil, Germany
F: Mario Gomez, Germany
F: Nicklas Bendtner, Denmark
Subs: Michael Krahn-Dehli, Denmark; Thomas Müller, Germany; Mats Hummels, Germany
Three lessons to take home
1. Always have a Plan B – When Germany and Portugal faced each other on Saturday, we saw two teams that had clear Plan Bs. Germany’s passing couldn’t find a way through Portugal’s deep, compact midfield, so they went wide, eventually finding a winner on a Thomas Müller cross for Mario Gómez. Portugal then came out of their shell and played so well that analysts advocated promoting Plan B to Plan A.
Today, neither Denmark nor the Netherlands showed viable Plan Bs. For Denmark, it almost didn’t matter, as staying the course and just playing better brought them to the brink of a draw. For the Netherlands, however, their Plan B saw Klass-Jan Huntelaar and Rafael van der Vaart brought on a halftime, though it was unclear that change had more influence than Germany protecting their lead. The Germans were content to let the Dutch pump shots in from beyond 22 yards, the Netherlands’ goal coming when Mats Hummels lost Robin van Persie, allowing the Dutch sniper to get a few feet closer.
If Germany need alternatives (which, against Portugal, they had to use), then every team needs alternatives. For Spain and England, this will be an issue as their tournaments progress. For the Netherlands and Denmark, it may be too late.
2. Three substitutions aren’t much – In fairness to Morten Olsen, his hand was forced. The early first half injury to Niki Zimling was a major loss, and when Dennis Rommedahl pulled a hamstring in the second, Olsen’s subs were almost spent. If Denmark was going to come back, the team in the field was just going to have to do it.
Greece has also been hamstrung by misfortune, seeing players injured in the first half of each game. The Czech Republic had to burn a substitute at halftime on Tuesday, something that may become more common in group stage’s third round, when teams will be playing their third game in nine days. When you see a planned substitution pattetn like Germany’s (who seem set to bring on Miroslav Klose, then Toni Kroos, then Lars Bender in every game), you can also imagine how much an injury can disrupt a coach’s plans.
Morten Olsen very well may have had a Plan B. It may have depended on Zimling or Rommedahl. It may have also depended on substitutes he couldn’t bring on, seeing his changes burned.
When you’re trying to change the course of a game, three substitutes may not be enough. Injuries and red cards have the final say.
3. Success doesn’t depend on your stars – We talked about this on Monday, where Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Samir Nasri walked off with disappointed teams despite putting on enthralling displays. Today’s lesson is slightly different, but the moral’s the same: You don’t need your stars shining to be successful.
The most obvious example is Cristiano Ronaldo. In Portugal’s first game, Ronaldo was fine, considering he didn’t have many chances on goal. Today, Nani provided him with those chances, but Ronaldo wasted them. Proving their tournament survival is not at their captain’s mercy, Portugal still beat Denmark.
Mesut Ozil is another example, though unlike Ronaldo, he had a great game. The only issue: Little of the greatness contributed to goals or chances. Nailing a post (as he did early) is still missing goal, though the ball he served to Lukas Podolski was as good as Andrei Arshavin’s assist on Tuesday’s goal by Alan Dzagoev. While Ozil’s ability on the ball was crucial to Germany controlling the game, he didn’t contribute a ton defensively (though he did contribute some).
If Ozil didn’t play on Wednesday, Germany would have still won. However, they type of performance he gave makes it far more likely Germany will not only win games going forward, but he’ll be a major part of why they do.
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