By Marc Serber
Denmark 2- Portugal 3
Portugal’s victory not only keeps them in with a chance of surviving the group of death, but it also has to be vindication for boss Paulo Bento who had come under criticism for his tactics in the Germany game. There were more harsh words on twitter during match-day 2 but it was his inspired substitution of the more attack and creative minded Silvestre Varela in place of the tenacious tackling and midfield holding skills of Raul Meireles that ultimately saved Portugal.
The Portuguese started well enough with Pepe getting the opener 24 minutes in, from a corner that looked like a carbon copy of Andriy Shevchenko’s winning goal for the Ukraine two days earlier.
The only thing that soured the opening strike was that it was scored by a player who minutes earlier had gone to ground, seemingly in tremendous pain, only to bounce right back up when the referee inexplicably blew his whistle with Denmark on the attack.
Portugal looked to be cruising 12 minutes later when Hélder Postiga finished off a beautiful team move.
After winning the ball in their own end the Portuguese moved the ball from side to side with the rock eventually reaching Nani in the right-hand channel. As the play developed, Postiga made a brilliant run. Starting from the penalty spot, he made a quick lopping run to the near post. Nani fed him the ball and the Real Zaragoza striker thundered it into the roof of the net. It was a very tidy finish considering most players would have skyed it from that angle.
While Nani was sparkling on the right, Cristiano Ronaldo was virtually absent over on the left hand side. The only times CR7 was present (and dangerous) in the first half was when he went inside looking for the ball, looking to create. With the Real Madrid Striker seemingly content, however, to let the game come to him, the rest of his team decided to attack down the other side.
His influence could have put the Danes to the sword inside the first half, but instead the Scandinavians battled their way back into the affair five minutes before the interval.
With Ronaldo seemingly uninterested in getting back to defend it was a free cross from his area, which unlocked the Portuguese back-line. On the other end of it, Joao Pereira was beaten to the back post by Michael Krohn-Dehli. Denmark’s hero from the Holland game had the presence of mind to head the ball back across goal where Nicklas Bendtner was all alone to nod home.
In the second half, Portugal seemed content to sit back and defend their one goal lead, allowing the Danes to see more of the ball and systematically try to break them down. Denmark seemed to have some trouble though as young Christian Eriksen drifted out of the game just a bit.
At the other end, CR7 begin to cut inside more, leading to two glorious chances on the counter attack. Twice Ronaldo was in alone on goal, but the man who scored 60 goals for Real Madrid this season looked more like Fernando Torres as both of his shots were saved by a rather relieved Stephan Andersen.
Those misses looked even more costly ten minutes from time as Bendtner once again headed home at the back post to level the score. Yet again, the cross came from an area in which Ronaldo could have occupied to help out his defense.
Conceding the equalizer forced Portugal back on the attack and one had to wonder why they didn’t just continue to go forward at 2-1. The blushes were spared in the 84th minute as Bento got his tactics right, throwing on Valera for Meireles. Three minutes later, Valera became Portugal’s newest hero, giving them a real chance at qualification, while sparing Bento, Ronalado, ET AL from what would have surely been a media inquest throughout the Iberian nation.
Holland 1- Germany 2
Other than a few nervous moments where a sleepy Mats Hummels was beaten by long balls over the top, the first half belonged to the Germans.
The 2008 finalists were having their way in midfield, especially down the right hand side against Holland’s Jetro Willems. It was asking a lot of the 18-year-old to man the left flank against a smooth operating German side. He, nor the other defenders, was not at fault for the goals. Instead both of Germany’s strikes originated in the center of the pitch.
Holland gaffer Bert Van Marwijk selected two holding midfielders to play in the central line of three, yet neither Nigel de Jong nor Mark Van Bommel where anywhere to be seen as Bastian Schweinsteiger twice made late breaking runs from deep in midfield into a wide open space 30 yards from goal.
Twice Schweinsteiger had all the time in the world to settle the ball and slip it in for Mario Gomez for two confident finishes that he would have squandered in previous tournaments.
As the match continued into the second half, the Germans continued to attack (just as Portugal should have done with their lead) and should have put the game to bed. This time it was Sami Khedira’s turn to enjoy the freedom of the middle of the park when he raced in on goal, only to be denied on a glorious double save by Maarten Stekelenburg.
The Dutch meanwhile remained stagnant. Running on seemingly heavy legs, there was no combining and interchanging of positions that the Dutch patented 4-3-3 and “Total Football” requires. Instead, it seemed the men in orange were banking on a piece of magic from the likes of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, or Robin Van Persie.
Ironically, the Dutch began to pass and move fluidly once they switched to a 4-4-2. Holland got the magic they craved when Van Persie turned sweetly before unleashing a shot past Manuel Neuer in the 73rd minute.
The men in orange had picked up their play but never looked like getting back into it, nor did they deserve to.
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