Sunday's games had everything the Euro 2012 organizer's wanted before the tournament started: All teams had a chance on the last day and that these top notch teams would have to do their best to get into the quarterfinals.
That was certainly the case Sunday.
The results from these games will have lasting ramifications for the World Cup two years from now as to who stays on the squad and who will be left behind in Brazil. All four teams being as good as they are exposed their strengths and weaknesses for all to see when Denmark played Germany and Portugal played Holland.
Before the game, Germany set on top of the group with 6 points. They still could still be eliminated with a Portugal win if the goal differential allowed it. Every goal mattered. For Denmark, no math needed..... win and you're in. For Portugal, they win and Germany wins, then they are in. If they lose, it would come to goal differential if Denmark loses. For Holland, they needed to win, have Germany win, and then do the math. Everyone understand? Thought the NFL wild-card teams were hard enough? By the way, this math stuff is thrown out the quarterfinals. Win and stay in, lose and go home.
Anyway, the games started and the tension could have been cut with a knife. Holland's Coach Bert van Marwijk [has a contract unil 2016] tweaked the formation using a 4-2-3-1, the same bone of contention as before to strengthen their weak defense. Also, he started Klaas-Jan Huntelaar thus benching Mark Van Bommel who wore the captain stripe for the last two games. As I said before, I would like to be able to read Coach van Marwijk's mind for that decision having seen the dissent on the bench after Van Bommel went out of their game with Germany.
For the Danes, having to beat the machine that is Germany is a tough thing to face. Having to deal with Ozil, was a problem they thought they could solve by playing a 4-5-1 and surround him with five midfielders. Germany countered this with potency.
Coach Low played three center halfbacks having Ozil, Khedira and Schwinsteiger in the middle with Muller and Podolski on the outside. Gomez again started as attacking striker letting him attract the attention of the Danish defense while Ozil went wherever he wanted to create absolute havoc. Ozil literally covered the entire midfield all game long.
Well, let's get on with the math. Holland scored first. With Huntelaar on the field, it left a deadly midfielder Rafael Van der Vaart open on top of the penalty box. Van der Vaart received a pass back from the edge of the right corner of the attacking third. He took a touch to the inside and then struck the ball in with great spin. Holland was winning 1-0 thus meaning that if the game ended at that moment, it would put Germany and Denmark through. It seemed to me, and to German coach Joachim Low, that this was what Denmark was hoping for all along.
That strategy would backfire. Germany's Lukas Podolski scored next in the 19th minute after Mario Gomez's near post pass [some say it was a missed kick being that he always likes to strike the ball] went back to Podolski who was lurking behind on the far post. Playing in his 100th cap [game for his country], he buried a driven shot that Danish goalie Stephan Andersen had no chance for. At that point, Germany would go through and the three way tie of the rest would have been decided by Portugal advancing because of beating Denmark previously and Holland being one goal behind.
Five minutes later, things again would change. Denmark's strength is their set pieces. The Dutch got a corner kick in the 24th minute and they took advantage of it. The ball was hit across the entire penalty box for a waiting Nicklas Bendter whose air prowess has been firmly established. Instead of heading the ball into the goal this time, he headed the ball to the near post where Michael Krohn-Dehli flicked it in. Now the score of that game was 1-1 and as it stood now, Denmark would be second with Germany finishing first. Back to plan A for Denmark.
Ok, now it's Portugal's turn to change the math. Four minutes later, Cristiano Ronaldo hasn't had much to celebrate this tournament..... until today. Portugal's João Pereira was able to get
a pass to Ronaldo who made a move the right making Holland's keeper Maarten Stekelenburg move in that direction. A moving goalie has no secrets at least to the greatest forward in Europe. This time, Ronaldo didn't over think the moment but put the ball where Stekelenburg couldn't get it.
Now, everything was back to the way it was before the game meaning that if the games ended at that moment, Germany and Portugal would advance.
At halftime, everyone regrouped and did the math for themselves. Afterward, it was obvious that Holland came out like a caged tiger. Six minutes in, Holland with a yellow card showed how hungry they were. Time after time, however, the Netherlands missed the target. More time passed. Frustration for Holland built and Van Persie gets a yellow card because of a foul.
The came the 74th minute. Time for the hero of Real Madrid to make the ultimate difference in the group. Nani played a ball across the box to Ronaldo. Except for the red jerseys, it looked just like a day with Real Madrid. Ronaldo received the ball and took a touch inside [sound familiar]. That touch caused Dutch defender Gregory van der Wiel to actually fall down. Then, Steklenberg had no chance. The Portugese were winning 2-1. What that meant was that Portugal would advance. What was also important was that if things stayed as is, Germany would also advance but if they would lose, they would be eliminated. Pressure on and time waining.
Then the controversy. It looked like every time Portugal did something positive, Denmark would step it up and stop playing for a tie. A long free kick was played into the box and found Bendtner getting open against Holger Badstuber who altered Bendtner's shot by pulling his jersey. The camera had a clear view of it but no official could see it. It still gives me a pit in my stomach for I remember when Germany's 'gamesmanship' set U.S. soccer behind for decades in 2002. For those of you who aren't aware of what happened then, the U.S. had put a shot on frame in the quarterfinals against Germany which the Germans hand-balled out.
Germany went on to win and I will always blame that as a reason soccer hasn't become a major sport in our country yet. Even now, the average American thinks that in order to compete globally in sport, we need to do well in the Olympics. The reality of sport in the world is that the Olympics are nice and all, but if Euro 2012 would have been played next month, the ratings would be in favor of Euro 3:1. If the World Cup were next month... try 9:1! I am not exaggerating. That is why the world sends its under-23 squads to the Olympics so the soccer competition wouldn't become a mini World Cup thus taking the luster off of the rest of the sports played. When America understands that, watch out! We will push to be the best in the world like the same spirit of the Apollo program.
Well, I digress. Denmark was looking bleak, but Germany was now beginning to realize that if a penalty would have been awarded, they would be going home! Imagine that. So... Germany kicked into 5th gear and stopped worrying about possessing the ball and focused on scoring it. Germany pushed forward. The ball went across the field from the left to the right and it found Lars Bender! Bender was able to shoot a wonderful low shot across to the opposite side of the goal. 2-1 Germany. Bender was Coach Low's surprise before the game for Lars took out Jerome Boateng who started the last two games.
In any rate, time ran out and the result was that Germany would be on top of the group with 9 points and Portugal would be in second place in the quarterfinals.
Group C will be today. See you then!
God Bless You. Also talk about the tournament tonight during monday Night Futbol on WGSO 990am. You can call 504-556-9696 at 7 p.m.
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