Euro 2012 Week 2 Preview
Municipal Stadium, Wroclaw
Saturday 16th June 2012
Group A may have looked like a yawn-fest waiting to happen before the tournament got underway, but it has in fact proved to be hugely entertaining and Saturday’s clash between Czech Republic and Poland promises to take the excitement and drama to another level.
Victory for either side would secure them a place in the Quarter-Finals, while the Czechs could also qualify with a draw as long as Greece do not dish out a real hiding to group leaders Russia when they meet in Warsaw.
And it’s not easy to predict who will be preparing for the last eight and who will be heading for the holiday sun loungers given that both sides have thrilled and disappointed in equal measure in the two games they have played thus far.
The Poles were superb in the first half-hour of their opening game against Greece, but subsequently went off the boil completely and failed to secure a victory that was there for the taking.
They then made a painfully sluggish start against Russia and could have been out of the contest by the break, only to rally in the second-half and come very close to snatching all three points.
The Czechs, meanwhile, were run ragged by a rampant Russia in their first game of the tournament, but came flying out of the blocks against Greece and despite fading badly after the break, still managed to bag the three points that kept their qualification hopes alive.
So it’s crunch time in Wroclaw and with the passionate and vocal home supporters behind them, Franciszek Smuda’s men are likely to be installed as warm favourites to get over the line.
They will have noted how Russia took the Czechs apart out wide, especially down the left and although they reshuffled their rearguard for the Greece game, Michal Bilek’s side still looked decidedly vulnerable. Their cause was not helped by another disastrous performance from Petr Cech who compounded his woeful display against the Russians by gifting the Greeks their goal and in doing so, confirmed the fears of those of us who feel that the Chelseaman’s best days are behind him.
The Poles will need to press high up the pitch as they did in the second-half against Russia in order to try and stifle Tomas Rosicky who remains the Czechs’ creator-in-chief, while their full-backs will require some assistance from their midfielders in shackling widemen Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar, both of whom featured prominently against Greece.
In terms of their own strengths, the co-hosts have looked very threatening going forward in both of their games thus far, although they will be a touch disappointed that they have only managed to convert two of the host of chances that they have created. At times, star striker Robert Lewandowski has been too isolated a figure and with a victory on Saturday essential, the onus will be on skipper Jakub Blaszczykowski, Ludovic Obraniak and Eugen Polanski to get alongside and even beyond the Borussia Dortmund man in order to exploit the Czechs’ flimsy defence.
As far as his team selection goes, Smuda does not appear to have any fresh injury concerns to contend with, although he does have to decide whether to retain Przemyslaw Tyton in goal or recall Wojciech Szczesny who will be available having served his suspension.
The Czechs, meanwhile, will have taken plenty of positives from the attacking promise they showed in the win over Greece, but will also be conscious of the need to tighten up considerably at the back.
While full-backs Theodor Gebre Selassie and David Limbersky look great going forward, they appear far less composed when asked to carry out their bread-and-butter defensive duties and although Michal Kadlec appeared more comfortable in the middle than he did at left-back against Russia, his partner, Tomas Sivok, is still struggling for form.
On a more positive note, Tomas Hubschman played a key role in the win over Greece, with his presence in central midfield allowing Jiracek and Pilar the freedom to weave their magic down the flanks and if Milan Baros can find his shooting boots, the Polish defence could face a real test inWroclaw.
Of the last five meetings between the two countries, the Poles have won three to the Czechs’ two, but it’s fair to say that none of those clashes have had anywhere near as much riding on them as this one.
With little to choose between the two sides, it promises to be tense, tight and probably a little tetchy and the co-hosts should just edge it to qualify alongside Russia.
Prediction: Czech Republic 1-2 Poland
National Stadium, Warsaw
Saturday 16th June 2012
If there is one country that has genuine cause to feel hard done by at Euro 2012, it is undoubtedly Greece. Two awful refereeing decisions saw them reduced to ten men in the opening game against Poland, they have lost several key players to injury and had a perfectly good goal against the Czech Republic incorrectly ruled out for off-side.
Throw in the fact that they now have to beat group leaders Russia to stand any chance of making the last eight and it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Fernando Santos’ side.
They do have one or two reasons to be cheerful, however, namely the return from suspension of defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos and the fact that they have displayed an impressive never-say-die attitude in both of their group games to date.
And with a victory essential to avoid an early return to Athens, Santos will surely have to consider starting Fanis Gekas rather than employing him as an impact substitute as he did against the Czech Republic.
The 32-year-old veteran may only be fit enough to manage an hour of the game, but he remains Greece’s sole genuine goal threat and the Russians will be far warier of the Samsunspor man than of Georgios Samaras whose two performances thus far have simply confirmed that he is out of his depth at this level.
A starting place may also be handed to diminutive midfielder Giannis Fetfatzidis who is yet to feature in the tournament but whose skill and pace out wide could seriously ruffle Russian feathers, provided his team-mates can get the ball to him in dangerous areas.
In goal, meanwhile, Santos may well persevere with Michalis Sifakis even though he failed to impress after replacing the injured Kostas Chalkias against the Czechs, but talented Palermo shot-stopper Alexandros Tzorvas is also available and is not without a chance of claiming the gloves.
Russia, meanwhile, have proved to be something of an enigma so far, hugely-impressive in both their 4-1 demolition of the Czech Republic and the first-half of their clash with Poland, but decidedly below-par in the second period of that draw with the co-hosts in Warsaw.
And no single player have personified that dramatic variance in performance level than midfield kingpin Andrey Arshavin. Much of the former Arsenal man’s approach play has been scintillating, but his final ball delivery against Poland was simply appalling, as was his point-blank refusal to help out defensively when his side were under the pump.
Fortunately for the Russians, they have been able to turn to rising star Alan Dzagoev whose three goals and superb overall performances have arguably made him the player of the tournament so far.
Happy to both drift out wide and drop deep and blessed with the uncanny ability to time his runs into the box with split-second precision, the CSKA Moscow man has more than lived up to the pre-Championship hype that surrounded him and will surely be the subject of interest for a host of top Spanish, Italian and English sides later this summer.
The same cannot be said, however, of striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov who missed a host of gilt-edged chances against both the Czechs and the Poles and will almost certainly be replaced by former Tottenham man Roman Pavlyuchenko come Saturday evening.
At the other end of the field, meanwhile, outgoing coach Dick Advocaat will have been delighted by the form of Vyacheslav Malafeev who has been one of the stand-out ‘keepers of the tournament thus far.
On the evidence of their previous two games, Russia shouldn’t have too many problems opening up a Greek defence which has been decimated by injury and suspension. Without the rock-solid foundation that served them so well during qualification and indeed during their shock Euro 2004 triumph, the men in blue and white have found the going tough and while they clearly aren’t lacking in character and resolve, they don’t appear to possess the level of creativity needed to down a side of Russia’s calibre.
The jury is still out on whether Russia are a serious chance of winning this tournament, but they should take all three points on offer in Warsaw this weekend and none of their prospective opponents in Group B will be exactly jumping with joy at the prospect of facing them in the Quarter Finals.
Prediction: Greece 0-2 Russia
Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv
Sunday 17th June 2012
If there’s one team making a bold bid to take out this tournament’s biggest disappointment award, it is Netherlands. Having failed to pick up a single point from their opening two games, Bert van Marwijk’s men stand on the brink of making an ignominious early exit, the fallout from which will doubtless be both bitter and prolonged.
As it stands, the Oranje have to beat Portugal on Sunday, making up a two-goal goal difference deficit in the process and hope that Germany defeat Denmark in Lviv.
It’s a big ask and with internal divisions yet again emerging within Dutch camp, punters won’t exactly be falling over themselves to put money on van Persie and co sneaking into the last eight.
One glimmer of hope for the travelling orange hordes, however, is the fact that their side has not struggled to create chances in either of their two games to date and that Portugal continue to look anything but secure at the back.
van Persie finally found the net in Wednesday’s defeat against Germany and both Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Rafael van der Vaart looked lively when introduced as second-half substitutes in the same game, so van Marwijk must surely now throw caution to the wind and play all three from the start in a bid to seize this must-win clash by the scruff of the neck.
Such an approach will almost certainly see Mark van Bommel restricted to bench duties, with the Dutch likely to field a 4-1-4-1 formation and it will be interesting to see if van Marwijk makes further changes at the back where Jetro Willems and Joris Mathijsen both performed particularly poorly against the Germans.
There is also a case for Maarten Stekelenburg to be axed after another shaky display between the posts, with Swansea’s Michel Vorm and Newcastle’s Tim Krul waiting in the wings and full of confidence following fine seasons in the EPL.
The Dutch will certainly have noted how the Portuguese struggled to cope with high balls into the box during their win over Denmark and also how much joy the Danes enjoyed down the right courtesy of Lars Jacobsen’s overlapping runs.
With Cristiano Ronaldo granted licence to wander in-field from the left flank, Fabio Coentrao often found himself exposed, a situation the likes of van Persie and Arjen Robben would surely need no second invitation to exploit.
van Marwijk’s immediate tasks, however, will be to fend off the attacks of a furious Dutch media pack and then attempt to quell the mutiny in the ranks in a desperate bid to keep his side in the tournament and himself in a job.
No such internal issues seem to be affecting Portugal who bounced back from their unfortunate first-up defeat at the hands of Germany with a hard-fought 3-2 win over Denmark.
They may have left it late in terms of sealing the deal, but Paulo Bento’s men deserved to claim the points in Lviv and now know that even a point against Netherlands would be enough to secure a Quarter-Final berth provided the Danes do not spring a major surprise against Germany.
And yet it is hard to back the Seleccao with any great confidence.
Yes they looked lively going forward against the Danes and scored a couple of fabulous goals, but if they are to become a serious threat at this tournament, they need Cristiano Ronaldo to be at the top of his game and thus far, the Real Madrid man has been anything but.
It may be that the burden of the captaincy is getting to him or that he is simply feeling the effects of a long, gruelling season in Spain, but either way, Portugal need their talisman to contribute more than just skilful approach play.
With neither Helder Postiga nor Silvestre Varela the most reliable of international goalscorers, the men in red and green can ill-afford Ronaldo to miss the kind of regulation chances he squandered against the Danes. And his negative body language isn’t a good look either.
Equally, Bento will be demanding far more from star centre-back Pepe who has actually been more effective going forward than he has defensively. The Real Madrid man has been caught out of position on numerous occasions in both ofPortugal’s games to date and should never have been beaten in the air by Nicklas Bendtner for Denmark’s second-half equaliser in Lviv.
It’s hard to imagine that Portugal will show many changes to their starting line-up when they take the field in Kharkiv, although Varela may feel that the time has come for him to be handed a first start of the tournament and the experienced Ricardo Quaresma could also come into Bento’s selection considerations.
In terms of historical precedents, the two countires have met ten times since 1990 and the bad news for the Dutch is that they have beaten the Portuguese on only one of those occasions.
Given the defensive shortcomings of both sides, there should be some goals to enjoy amidst the tension on Sunday and it’s worth backing the Dutch to finally come good and sneak through to the last eight via the backdoor.
Prediction: Portugal 1-3 Netherlands
Arena Lviv, Lviv
Sunday 17th June 2012
Big on commitment, attacking intent and extravagant tattoos, it’s hard not to take a shine to Denmark who remain a decent chance of emerging from Group B despite their midweek defeat at the hands of Portugal.
Morten Olsen’s side now know that a draw against Germany in Lviv on Sunday could be enough to secure a last eight berth depending on the outcome of the Portugal – Netherlands clash and given the way they have performed in both their tournament outings to date, such a scenario cannot be completely ruled out.
Effective rather than spectacular, the Scandinavians defended doggedly to surprise the Dutch in their opening game and were within three minutes of securing a vital point against the Portuguese before Varela popped up to break their hearts.
Now they must re-focus their attentions upon stopping a German side who were irresistible in the first-half of their win over Netherlands and have already all but clinched their place in the knockout stage.
It promises to be a tough night at the office for the men in red and white, but they clearly relish their underdog status and if they can remain organised and disciplined and retain the high level of work rate and commitment that has become their trademark, Germany will have to work hard to beat them.
And the Danes have also shown that they have a few attacking tricks up their sleeve, with Nicklas Bendtner terrorising Portugal last time out, Michael Krohn-Deli impressing with his movement and Lars Jacobsen helping support the argument that attacking full-backs are becoming an invaluable commodity in international football.
But what they really need against the Germans is for Christian Eriksen to confirm his superstar potential by producing a match-winning performance on the biggest stage.
If the Ajax midfielder can outshine the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and Thomas Mueller, his side may well join their near-neighbours in the Quarter-Finals and the 21-year-old himself will surely be catapulted into the football stratosphere.
Eriksen has been a little subdued thus far, perhaps weighed down by the level of expectation surrounding him, but should he explode into life on Sunday, the whole tournament would receive a boost.
In terms of early team news, Olsen will almost certainly be denied the services of defender Niki Zimling whose premature exit from the Portugal game seemed to unsettle the Danish rearguard for the rest of the opening period. Midtjylland man Jakob Poulsen is again expected to fill in at the back, with the rest of the line-up set to remain unchanged.
Germany, however, may opt to make several changes as coach Joachim Loew bids to strike a balance between resting some of his stars ahead of the Quarter-Finals and making sure that his side emerge as group winners.
Mesut Ozil, Thomas Mueller and Mario Gomez are among those players poised to be wrapped in cotton wool, with Miroslav Klose, Lars Bender, Toni Kroos and Mario Gotze vying to replace them in the run-on side.
With such quality replacement at his disposal, Loew shouldn’t feel too anxious about tinkering with his side which arguably produced the best football seen at the tournament thus far in the first-half of Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Netherlands.
The Dutch simply couldn’t cope with the pace and mobility of Germany’s attacking quartet and if the Danes allow themselves to be similarly pulled out of shape, they will be in for a long, long night.
Olsen’s charges also need to keep a close eye on Schweinsteiger who regularly rampaged forward from his holding midfield role last time out, laying on two assists for Gomez and generally creating mayhem among the Netherlands defence.
Defensively, Germany are yet to fully silence their doubters, but Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber seem to be forging a decent understanding at centre-back and with Schweinsteiger and the tireless Sami Khedira providing a comforting extra barrier just in front, the Danes will be hard-pressed to provide ‘keeper Manuel Neuer with any meaningful work.
The game will be played almost 20 years to the day since Denmark shocked the world by beating Germany to claim the European Championship title and from the five games played between the two countries since then, they have picked up two wins and a draw.
Historical omens aside, however, it’s not easy to make a strong case for the Danes securing a win or even a draw from this fixture. They will have the support of the neutrals and won’t die wondering, but Olsen’s likeable crew are almost certain to be on their way back to Copenhagen come Monday.
Prediction: Denmark 0-2 Germany823 views