One of the biggest challengers for any sports writer is trying to avoid the pitfalls of the overused cliché. Where Group B is concerned, the cringe worthy cliché seems almost inescapable. Germany have been ruthlessly efficient, the Dutch are on the verge of a spectacular implosion despite a myriad of world class offensive talent, the underdogs (Denmark) are proving worthy opponents of their supposed superiors and the Portuguese are scraping along like a side given more hype than they are worth.
That has really been the story of Group B thus far, and it is all set for a gripping finale when the final round of group games take place next week. The Germans have all but secured their place in the quarter finals, whilst Portugal must get at the very least a point against the Dutch, who have been spectacular for all the wrong reasons, if they are to beat the valiant Danish, who could yet emerge unlikely victors from a group that supposedly contains three favourites to take out the tournament.
The truth is, the only team that has looked anywhere near capable of winning the tournament has been the Germans. They’ve only played two games, but already they have seen off two of the competition’s highest ranked nations with a 1-0 win over Portugal and a 2-1 win over the Dutch. They might not have broken boundaries with their attacking flair or ability to out-pass their opponents, but there is something admirable about a team that is just so calculating in the way it outfights and strangles their opponents into submission. The Germans rode their luck on occasion against the Portuguese, who spurned a number of good chances and were denied by the crossbar on two occasions. Their next opponent, the Danes, have looked a side capable of punishing profligacy and mistakes, but if the Germans keep this form up, there simply won’t be a mistake to pounce on.
Should the Danish fail to make it out of the group, they will leave the tournament with their heads held high. No one expected anything from them in this tournament, and they will take plenty of pride from the win they enjoyed over the Netherlands, and the character they showed to pull Portugal back to 2-2 after falling behind 2-0, and seemingly being out of the game completely. The lack of expectation on the Danes perhaps had more to do with the teams they had the misfortune of being grouped with more than anything, but they were always a team with enough quality, no matter how sporadically spread across the pitch, to cause a stir and at the very least shape who makes it through and who doesn’t.
Portugal struck me as a side with a lack of cutting edge in front of goal, despite the presence of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, but scoring three goals against the Danes will undoubtedly be a massive confidence booster for the Portuguese. That Ronaldo didn’t score a single one will further buoy confidence amongst the other players. The team’s megastar has come in for the usual criticism that follows a performance in which he doesn’t score, particularly after missing two very good chances in the last game that almost came back to haunt his side. Ronaldo is a player judged in extremes, either sublimely brilliant or terrible. He’s been neither, but he’s been closer to the latter than the former. Ironically, Ronaldo has arguably been out performed by the player who has spent the majority of his career living in his shadow, with Nani laying on Postigia’s goal, as well as creating the two sublime chances Ronaldo conspired to miss.
The Netherlands have vastly underperformed, and will be furious with themselves after missing a plethora of good chances in their opening game against Denmark. Failure to even secure a point in that game was a terrible blow for the side, compounded by Valera’s last minute winner for Portugal against the same side. It seems criminal that heading into the final group game, a side with as much talent, particularly in the offensive third, as the Dutch won’t be in control of their own destiny. For the Netherlands to get through, they will need to beat the Portuguese by more than two goals, and hope that Denmark pull off the most unlikely of results against Germany. Bert Van Marwijk isn’t the most popular manger the Dutch have ever seen, with his preference for discipline over unleashing the creative players at his disposal, however it has been hard, up until this point, to argue with his results. Nevertheless, it would seem that next week’s game against the Portuguese could well be his last as head coach.