The Group of Death finally lived up to expectations yesterday, with a thrilling match–probably the best of the tournament so far. But it wasn’t the big cross-border rivalry matchup that everyone was eagerly anticipating, but rather the Denmark-Portugal match. It ended 3-2 for Portugal, but only after former Arsenal man Nicky B nearly lived up to his self-image by scoring 2 headed goals to bring the Danes level–and after equally self-regarding superstar Cristiano Ronaldo choked on two breakaways that could have put the game away. It fell to Porto striker Silvestre Varela to recover a much-needed win for the Portuguese, via a spectacular 87′ strike.
In the late game, the Dutch were again very disappointing–failing to rise to the occasion. They missed a couple early chances–most conspicuously, again, by Robin Van Persie, who failed to connect with a lofted ball over the top from Mark van Bommel (unlike his memorable goals for Arsenal this past year, where the lofted ball usually came from the foot of Alex Song)Germany scored two too-easy goals. The finishes, both by Mario Gomez, weren’t easy, but the buildup that put him through was. In both cases, it was Bastian Schweinsteiger who unlocked the shaky Dutch without much difficulty–in great part thanks to the fact that he drifted into an attacking position completely unmarked. Back in the Netherlands, no doubt, there will be questions about the Dutch midfield, and about manager Bert van Marwijk’s decision to go with largely the same selection that failed to impress nor produce against Denmark–in particular his decision to start the destructive duo of van Bommel and Nigel de Jong in defensive midfield, while leaving Klaus-Jan Huntelaar and Rafael van der Vaart on the bench until the 2nd half.
So the Grim Reaper is knocking on the Dutch door (they’ll need an unlikely combination of events Sunday to claim 2nd place in the group–including help from the Germans). But on to today’s Group C fixtures–two interesting tactical matchups:
|Referee: Howard Webb (ENG) – Stadium: Municipal Stadium Poznan, Poznan (POL)|
|Spain||Republic of Ireland|
|Referee: Pedro Proença (POR) – Stadium: Arena Gdansk, Gdansk (POL)|
The early match has Croatian manager Slaven Bilic, who is “seeking one last hurrah from Croatia” before moving to Moscow in the fall, matching up his 4-1-3-2 formation against Prandelli’s much-discussed 3-5-2, which worked to great effect against Spain on Sunday. For Croatia, most of the focus is on Tottenham Hotspurs midfield playmaker Luka Modrić. But their squad is peppered with players who have made names for themselves at relatively “big” clubs abroad: strikers Nikica Jelavić (Everton), Mario Mandžukić (Wolfsburg), and Eduardo (now Shakhtar Donetsk, previously Arsenal); midfielder Niko Kranjčar (also Spurs), Ivan Perišić (Borussia Dortmund), Ivan Rakitić (Sevilla), and Danijel Pranjić (Bayern Munich); and defenders Darijo Srna (also Shakhtar) and Vedran Ćorluka (Bayer Leverkeusen).
Check back in between matches, when we’ll try to get some notes about Spain-Ireland up in this space. Meanwhile, join us in the comments below for match commentary.