Germany is a slight 6/4 favorite for Wednesday’s match with Holland.
They didn't call this the "Group of Death" for nothing.
Just ask the Netherlands.
Indeed, the Dutch turned out to be the most surprising casualty of the first cycle of opening-round games when shocked by Denmark, 1-0, last Saturday. Now, Holland faces the prospect of an unlikely early exit form the competition unless it forges a result in a heavyweight showdown vs. Germany.
First, however, those spunky Danes get a chance to pull another surprise when tackling Portugal in the Wednesday opener.
Following are Wednesday's Group B previews.
Denmark vs. Portugal (at Lviv)
The heat is definitely on Portugal to get a result after a bitter first-game loss to the Germans on Saturday. The 1-0 finale also marked the fourth time in the last five major international tournaments (World Cup 2010 and now Euro 2012) that the Portuguese have been blanked.
Again we ask, what is Portugal trying to do on attack?
While we ponder, please note that Euro wagering outlets have posted the Portuguese as solid even-money favorites on the win, with the take-back on the Danes at 14/5. Draw prices are at 12/5 for the 12:00 p.m. (ET) kickoff, televised in the states by ESPN.
As we mentioned in pre-tourney previews, Portugal has been missing a string-puller since the days of Deco and Rui Costa in the middle of the pitch. Almost all of the Portuguese attacks emanate from the wings, which might prove to be the best strategy of this tournament. Except, that is, in the case of Portgual, where the ball often spends too much time on the feet of wingers Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo, who are not going to score points with ball tricks and other hot dog moves at this level of competition.
Counter-attacks must be better organized than they were in the opener; Cristiano Ronaldo is also going to have to do more work off the ball.
Ronaldo also has to touch the ball more than he did in the opener; at only 38 touches for the match vs. Germany, Cristiano ranked 10th on the Portuguese side. Still, the ball often died at his feet vs. the Germans when he gained possession. Regardless, we think the strategy of putting almost everyone behind the ball, and hoping Ronaldo or Nani can conjure up some magic on the flanks, is a losing one.
The style that worked for the Danes against the Dutch in the opener should pay dividends vs. the Portuguese, too. Ceding the wings and cluttering the center of the pitch would also seem a very effective elixir against the Portuguese strengths. As would slowing the pace. Forcing Ronaldo and Nani to send crosses into the box, where they would be met by Liverpool's Daniel Agger and Wolfsburg's Simon Kjaer, likely takes the sting out of the Portuguese attack.
Brondy winger Michael Krohn-Dehli rewarded coach Morten Olsen's faith with the winning goal vs. the Dutch, and AZ Alkmaar fullback Simon Poulsen made several sparkling runs, including one that set up Krohn-Dehli's strike. Functional and well-organized, the Danes are able to turn on a dime and attack effectively on the counter, from all 10 behind the ball to quickly reversing course and charging upfield in numbers. All bad news for Portugal.
Also, no apparent problem for the Danes if forced to utilize backup Evian GK Stephan Andersen, who effectively relieved an injured Stoke keeper Thomas Sorenson.
The tasty win price on the Danes is hard to bypass on Wednesday.
Germany vs. Holland (Kharkiv)
This match originally seemed to be the one that would decide this group. Instead, it might be the last chance saloon for the Dutch to stay alive in this tournament.
After losing its opener to Denmark, the Dutch can ill-afford to drop another three points in this showdown vs. the Germans.
Euro oddsmakers prefer Jogi Low's German side, favored slightly at 6/4 on the win, with the take-back on Holland at 15.8. Draw prices are at 23/10 for the 2:45 p.m. (ET) kickoff to be shown in the states by big ESPN.
Neither side, even the Germans, who beat Portugal 1-0, looked particularly good in their opening matches.
For the Dutch, more is certainly needed from Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben, who was not in top form, botching a couple of golden scoring opportunities in the first half. The same can be said of Arsenal striker Robin Van Persie, of whom more is to be expected after leading all EPL scorers this past season.
Expect Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk to make some not-so-subtle adjustments in Khirkiv. Namely, don't be surprised to see Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in the lineup from the outset as opposed to entering with 19 minutes to play as vs. the Danes.
Though the Dutch system is designed for one target-man up front with three supporters in wider and deeper-lying positions, Huntelaar and Van Persie are by no means incompatible. In qualifiers, both were often utilized in tandem, with Van Persie moved to wider role, cutting incisively from the left flank inward, and Huntelaar left to sniff out goals. Which he did effectively in qualifiers and last term's Bundesliga, leading both in scoring.
In its tepid win over Portugal, Germany surprisingly lacked pace in transition. Mario Gomez was ineffective up front until nodding home the game-winner just before his removal form the contest in the 72nd minute. Lukas Podolski and Thomas Muller must perform better as well. Low might be reconsidering his lineup that went away from vet striker Miroslav Klose.
The Dutch can be punished at the back and will likely be more prone to attack as they will attack Germany in greater numbers the opposite way than did the Portuguese, but their possession game was strong vs. the Danes, if the finishing wasn't. With Huntelaar and Van Persie in the fold, however, that should not be a problem, even against the Germans.
There looks to be decent value on the desperate Dutch in this one.