Denmark – Portugal
After their shock win against the Netherlands, Denmark have given themselves a realistic chance of getting out of the toughest group in the competition, something very few could have anticipated before it had began. The Danish back four put in a resilient display against the Dutch, and have gained many admirers after their performances in defence, nullifying the threat of Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben well. Portugal will also want to win this game after losing narrowly to Germany in the last round. Although they played a very conservative style against the Germans, they should try and assert more authority on the game today, as they undoubtably have the better players on the pitch.
Denmark’s best players against the Netherlands were unquestionably Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer. Even though the Dutch had chances, they were limited and Agger and Kjaer deserve great credit for that. The Danes also tried to showcase their own brand of football and although their insistence of passing the ball out of defence was commendable, not all the players seemed comfortable with it, goalkeeper Stephan Andersen in particular gifted Robben the chance to equalise in the 36th minute with a wayward pass. It is a high risk-low reward strategy and if they continue with it soft goals could be conceded, and questions will be asked whether it was worth the gamble.
Portugal were frustrating in more ways than one against the Germans last Saturday. They were frustrating to play against, sitting deep and defending in numbers, frustrating to watch, as none of their ‘flair’ players managed to impress and exhibit their talent, and frustrating to play for, as Cristiano Ronaldo’s expressions showed, when given too much to do and being marshalled impressively by Jerome Boatang. Their best spell came in the last 20 minutes when they had good chances to potentially win the game, although poor finishing cost them eventually. If they can replicate that intensity against Denmark then they have a good chance of winning and scoring a few goals in the process.
Prediction: Denmark 0 – 2 Portugal
Netherlands – Germany
Germany against Holland is one of history’s most longstanding footballing rivalries and tonights game in Kharkiv promises much. Already an intense game, the Netherlands will be desperate for a win against their fearstest rivals although should be wary of the fact, that if they lose they will be the first team to be eliminated from the tournament. A loss wouldn’t be a disaster for Germany, as they can still beat Denmark in the last game to finish first in the group, but they will want the advance from the group early so they can rest key players for the knockout stages.
The Netherlands weren’t as bad the 0-1 scoreline against Denmark suggests, and they can definatly take some positives from the game. They created plenty of chances for their forwards, but it was their finishing was terrible which let them down. Had van Persie managed to replicate his Arsenal form, they could have easily been 3 or 4 up and won the game easily. Wesley Sneijder had a storming game in the Number 10 role, and his intelligent passing created 8 chances for his teammates throughout, the highlight of which was exquisite, picking out Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s run into the box. That said, if Holland want to win this game, changes will need to be made. Joris Mathijsen will be a welcome addition to the starting lineup and his experience will be needed in defence. Elsewhere, two pure defensive midfielders weren’t really needed against Denmark, and Bert van Marwijk should consider dropping Nigel de Jong and playing a more creative player there to help the team retain possession and drive them froward when needed, Rafael van der Vaart has been a name mentioned. Up front, it was van Persie’s finishing which cost them and Huntelaar could play instead. He was the 2nd top scorer in the Bundesliga last season and will be desperate to play against his adopted homeland.
Joachim Löw is spoiled for choice in terms of the talent he has available to him, but will probably choose to name a similar team to the one the dispatched Portugal last round. While it took them 72 minutes to net the goal, they were always looked likely to score and despite a late rally from the Portuguese, controlled the game well. The only issue Löw could have with his starting XI is who plays the striker role. Mario Gomez was poor for the duration of the game and was going to be substituted had he not scored. The substitute ready to come on was Miroslav Klose, and after Gomez’s disappointing performance he may well start. He has a good understanding with the rest of the team and can create as well as score. Over the years he has developed a particularly good relationship on the pitch with fellow Pole Lukas Podolski, and they will both want to impress with the Poland being one of the tournament’s cohosts. Whoever Löw does decide on, will have to perform as goals are expected against a leaky Netherlands defence.
Prediction: Netherlands 2 – 1 Germany