Believe it or not, despite wins in its first two group matches, a scenario exists in which Germany could still miss out on the knockout phase at Euro 2012.
Those chances are extremely remote, but hey, they didn’t call this the “Group of Death” for nothing.
Group B action concludes Sunday with a pair of matches in the Ukraine, with all four sides still alive for spots in the knockout phase. About all we know for sure is that no scenario exists for both the Germans and Dutch to advance from this quartet. All other combinations, however, remain alive.
A check of the group table illustrates the potential logjam. At this stage, Germany is clear on top on six points, with the Danes and Portuguese level on three points apiece. Meanwhile, Netherlands is on the ropes with no points to show from its first two matches.
But the scenario in which the Dutch advance isn’t particularly far-fetched. A win on Sunday vs. Portugal and a loss by the Danes vs. Germany opens up all sorts of possibilities. In those developments, a two or more-goal win by Holland could send it through. For Germany, a draw will be good enough to send it through. Portugal and Denmark could each advance with the latter depending upon developments in the other match.
Now, regarding Holland, the question is if the Dutch can conspire a multi-goal effort after being limited to just one goal in each of the first two group matches.
As with the third and final cycle of all group play matches, kickoff times will be simultaneous at 2:45 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. Following are look-aheads to Sunday’s Group B contests. Previews continue through the weekend at Don Best as group plays works toward its conclusion next Tuesday.
Holland vs. Portugal (Kharkiv)
The Dutch have boxed themselves into a corner and need to not only win this match but do it in multi-goal fashion to have a chance to advance to the knockout phase.
Crazier things have happened in international football, so don’t dismiss the possibility.
European oddsmakers think the Dutch have a chance to grab the three points, establishing Holland as a 6/4 favorite on the win. The take-back on Portugal is at 9/5, with the draw priced at 12/5. TV coverage in the states for this battle in Kharkiv will be provided by big ESPN.
The Dutch offense has not been running at full capacity in the first two outings and we believe we know why. And, from the looks of things, so now might coach Bert van Marwijk.
The decision to sit top Bundesliga and Euro 2012 qualifier scorer, Schalke ace Klass-Jan Huntelaar, at the beginning of the first two matches has baffled us, although van Marwijk brought on Huntelaar in each match, doing so in place of Barcelona's Ibrahim Affelay after halftime of Monday’s 2-1 loss vs. Germany. Huntelaar had to wait until the final 19 minutes to come on in the opening 1-0 setback vs. Denmark.
On both occasions, the offense perked up with Huntelaar’s inclusion. Van Marwijk has options with his varied components, and his best bet would seem to employ Huntelaar as the target man in his 4-2-3-1, with Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie withdrawn slightly to a position on the wing, from where he can also terrorize opponents with incisive cuts into the box and service to Huntelaar.
This combo worked nicely when deployed in the qualifiers and the two top scorers are perfectly compatible in such an arrangement. We would be stunned if van Marwijk again opts for Barcelona’s Affelay ahead of Huntelaar in the starting lineup.
Holland’s problems extend a bit further, however, as Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben has not been at his best. Moreover, he’s looking again like the younger, headstrong and selfish Robben from Euro 2004 who doesn’t like to pass the ball. It has added up to lots of ineffective possession for the Dutch in the first two matches.
Holland’s best bet is for Wesley Sneijder, who has had a good tournament thus far, to have more possession than Robben. We’ll see if van Marwijk feels the same.
Meanwhile, Portugal has to be encouraged by the 3-2 win over Denmark on Tuesday. More so because it was done without the expected contributions from Cristiano Ronaldo, who had another tepid performance on the wing. But manager Paolo Bento found other scoring options, and Silvestre Varela’s strike in the 87th minute proved the winner.
Man of the match for Portugal had to be the Real Madrid fullback Pepe, who scored the first goal and bedeviled the Danes with his bombing runs down the flanks, one of which helped result in the first goal. Real Zaragoza striker Helder Postiga, a hero eight years ago in Euro 2004, also opened his account at Euro 2012 with a goal in the 36th minute.
The Danes, always liable to unravel from within, do not appear to be a reliable recommendation here. The best bet on the board might be ‘over’ 2½ goals, although there is not a lot of value in that 8/11 price tag.
Denmark vs. Germany (Lviv)
Not quite yet home and hosed for the knockout phase, Germany still has some work to do in this opening round, but should at least be able to secure the one point it needs to guarantee advancement as the winners of this group.
Euro oddsmakers do not expect any surprises on Saturday in Lviv and have posted Jogi Low’s squad at 8/11 on the win, with the take-back on the Danes at a hefty 9/2. Draw prices lurk at 12/5 for this matchup to be televised in the states by ESPN2.
The Danes seem to at least have a puncher’s chance thanks to the contributions of striker Nicklas Bendtner, the Sunderland striker who has defined “streaky” throughout his career. His brace against Portugal gave Denmark a chance to split the spoils on Wednesday before Varela’s late goal decided the outcome.
Tactically, this is not the worst matchup for the Danes, who can stretch the field width-wise and attack incisively from the flanks with the Brondy wing pair of vet Dennis Rommedahl (whose Danish career extends back as far as Asia’s World Cup 2002) and Michael Krohn-Dehli and their ability to swing the ball into the box in Bendtner’s direction. Well-organized, expect Morten Olsen’s squad to make Germany defend for long stretches.
Olsen could also opt for a more defense-minded 4-3-3, with his wings in a more-withdrawn role, and hoping to catch Germany on the counter.
That, however, might be asking for trouble, as Germany seemed to relocate its rhythm in the 2-1 win on Wednesday over the Dutch. The link-up between the Bayern Munich pair of midfielder Bastian Scheweinsteiger and striker “Super” Mario Gomez is clicking, especially for Gomez, whose brace against the Dutch brings his goal haul to three at the Eruos. Thus far, he’s the only German to score in this event, but the machine seemed to operating more smoothly against Holland than in the opener.
Like Spain in Group C, Germany might be playing itself into top form in this tourney. Still, we are tempted by those long win odds on Denmark at 9/2, but we’re not sure we have enough confidence in either Dane goalie (Stephan Anderson or, if healthy, Stoke City’s Thomas Sorenson) after Portugal put three past Anderson on Wednesday. The draw price might provide better value, as Germany would be satisfied with the result, and at 12/5 you’re looking at a much better return than with a Germany win.