euro 2012 thus far

euro 2012: a few thoughts on the group of death, day two

Netherlands-Germany was arguably the most-anticipated match of the group stage. So, of course, the first match of the day, Denmark-Portugal, turned out to be one of the best matches of the tournament so far.

That match was an argument for the joy of goals. It’s not that there were no interesting tactics to discuss, but the frequency of the goals meant I was entertained throughout, no matter why the goals were happening. Meanwhile, I wonder if Cristiano Ronaldo could be compared to LeBron James. Both are players at the top of their game, at the least in the discussion for the best in their respective sports. And both get criticized every time their team falls short, no matter how well the player performs. Whatever … five goals, with the game-winner in the final minutes, was good enough for me. Stat that probably means something: Denmark had 58% of the possession, but were outshot, 17-9.

And then there was the Match of the Tournament. Except it wasn’t. The Germans have several top players, no matter if Rafael Van der Vaart thinks only three of them are worth mentioning. So it’s not easy to plan a strategy to deal with the team as a whole. Having said that, it’s hard to believe that Bastian Schweinsteiger (who even Van der Vaart admits is excellent) was given so much room to basically control the entire first half, with Mario Gomez and Germany the beneficiaries. Jonathan Wilson offered a convincing explanation, as he pointed out the ineffectiveness of Dutch midfielders Nigel De Jong (hasn’t he been banned for life, yet?) and Mark van Bommel:

With Mesut Ozil dragging the pair back and forth and creating space, Bastian Schweinsteiger was able to find unfathomable amounts of space in what Ottmar Hitzfeld terms "the red zone", that is, the central area 10-20 yards outside the 18-yard box. It is the space that defenses must protect above all else -- Roy Hodgson has based a career on it -- and yet Schweinsteiger merrily picnicked there in the first half, having time to measure his through-balls to Gomez. Whatever other problems plague the Dutch … this basic structural error undermines everything else.

Even with the goal that brought Holland within one, Germany never looked in danger. My bracket has Germany making it to the finals, and I’ve seen nothing yet to change my mind. (On the other hand, I have the Netherlands finishing second in the group, so things may fall apart for me very soon.)


The Shave

This probably is over-simplifying it, but the part I still can't wrap my head around is how the Netherlands were beaten exactly the way that they were built to defend. The only point of having NDJ and MVB as holders is to occupy that space. I'm not sure whether to credit Podolski and/or Ozil and/or Muller for dragging them out of the area, but for a team (country?) that puts such a premium on space and the utilization therein, I couldn't believe what I saw.

Steven Rubio

It was a definite head scratcher. It's possible the Germans were just that good, but just as likely their manager had his head up his ass. Or both.

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