How we’ll remember …
Portugal 2, Netherlands 1 – As an appropriate ending to a dire Dutch tournament. The changes Bert van Marwijk made paid off early, with Rafael van dar Vaart’s nice if unchallenged finish. From then on, Portugal were the better side, with Dutch defending proving no more reliable than in the team’s first two losses.
Germany 2, Denmark 1 – As Germany going through the motions, if we remember it at all. That Denmark didn’t exactly throw the kitchen sink at the Germans allowed this match to play out with metronomic monotony. Lars Bender’s 80th minute goal allowed the Germans to complete a perfect mini-tournament, though they seemed content with a potential draw.
Team of the day
G: Maarten Stekelenburg, Netherlands
LB: Philipp Lahm, Germany
CB: Daniel Agger, Denmark
CB: Pepe, Portugal
RB: Lars Bender, Germany
M: Rafael van der Vaart, Netherlands
M: Sami Khedira, Germany
AM: Mesut Ozil, Germany
LW: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
RW: Nani, Portugal
F: Mario Gómez, Germany
Subs: Fabio Coentrao, Portugal; Lukas Podolski, Germany; Michael Krohn-Dehli, Denmark
Three lessons to take home
1. Watch for Superman’s wrinkles – The path to this point started in 1974. Then, Johan Cruyff and the first great Dutch team minimized Germany’s world championship by implying the Dutch were the real winners. They’d played the better soccer. The view had such wide appeal that the Netherlands became the other nation many fans support (besides their own).
Almost 40 years later, the mythology surrounding the Oranje has made the Dutch national team into a super hero, if a caricature of one. The character’s bright orange, lithe, cruising their lead-footed defenses with their soft touches and artistic ambivalence. Predictably, his shirt’s too tight.
Their super power: The most beautiful brand of soccer on earth. Their kryptonite: Pragmatism and, at the end of tournaments, scoreboards.
The last four years, we’ve witnessed that hero’s slow decline. During the run up to the World Cup, that decline was sold as a newfound shrewd disposition that fans talked themselves into accepting in the wake of Euro 2008. Now, after a point-less group stage played out by a team whose formation fractured at the point and aesthetically-pleasing attack met their cynical backbone, it seems the Dutch compromised their history for nothing.
It’s a sad state to always be beholden to legacy, so perhaps this was a needed. At some point, the Netherlands had to move beyond Cruyff and Rinus Michels. And at some point, the hero would have to show a new weakness, grown a grey hair, or be drawn with a small wrinkle.
Now that the hero’s fallen, we can move on.
2. Don’t dwell on one result – Denmark was flying high after their opening round victory over the Netherlands. That, however, was their last lead of the tournament. They went down early to both Portugal and Germany, and while they fought back both times, they never built on the promise of Michael Krohn-Dehli’s first goal.
Portugal didn’t build on their first result, either. Not that they wanted to. While they came close to holding out for a draw against Germany, the tactics needed to change. They couldn’t play out the rest of group stage in a shell.
At the onset of their match with the Netherlands, they looked ready to cower again. The time Rafael van der Vaart had for his shot was gifted by midfielders collapsing toward the box.
After the goal went in, Portugal opened up and took advantage of a Netherlands defense they should have targeted from kickoff. Will Paulo Bento learn from that? We’re not likely to find out in the quarterfinals. The Czech Republic won’t scare them into their shells.
3. Easy answers are sometimes not answers at all – You could fall into a trap, if you’re a big Bundesliga fan. Marco Reus, Mario Goetze, Andre Schurrle – these guys are so good! Why is Lukas Podolski still playing? As his goal against Denmark showed, it’s not that simple. Podolski doesn’t match those three in league play, but for the national team, he’s a perfect fit.
The Netherlands’ Klaas-Jan Huntelaar also tore through the Bundesliga, with some incredulous that his Schalke form hadn’t earned him a place in the national team’s starting XI. As we’ve seen, Huntelaar isn’t the best fit, given other options at Bert van Marwijk’s disposal. Getting his first start of the tournament on Sunday, he was a non-factor.
Club soccer is one thing. The international game is another. Sometimes, there’s no intersection between the two. While Huntelaar seemed like an obvious answer, he actually didn’t help at all.
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