The initial verdicts are starting to come in from the European championship. Germany, Spain and Italy have shown verve and talent in their first outings. England and France gave signs of guarded brilliance in a 1-1 tie that serves both teams. Russia and Ukraine both won their opening matches in good form.
The revelation of the tournament has been my great friend, striker Andrei Shevchenko who at 37, scored two magnificent headed goals versus Sweden to send the home crowd and coach Oleg Blokhin into ecstasy. Few soccer fans would have imagined that Holland, having lost its first game to Denmark would now be playing for their survival versus favorites Germany in their second match.
Portgual also has a must win game versus Denmark. Dutch Coach Bert Van Marwijk has come under a lot of criticism for not bringing in striker Huntelaar earlier and insisting on Barcelona’s Afellay. However, he can rue his bad luck as well, as Holland had 26 shots on goal and Robben missed at least 3 goals. Germany was able to win 1-0 over a battling Portugal thanks to Gomez’s headed goal. A tie would almost certainly see Germany through to the quarterfinals from Group B.
Stekelenburg will start off in goal for the Oranje, with Heitinga and Vlaar again in central defense. 18 year old Willems did well against Portugal and will play on the left ,while Van der Wiel will hopefully do better than he did on the right. The Dutch holding midfielders De Jong and Van Bommel are no spring chickens and might fare poorly against the quicker Ozil and Khedira of Germany.
Van Marwijk must be able to count on the brilliant form of Sneijder who was inspirational in his first game, while Van Persie and Robben will have to finish at least 50% of the chances they get if they are to beat the solid German defence. I think Van Marwijk will start the veteran Kuyt instead of Affellay as left forward to add consistency to the front line.
Coach Loew of Germany will start the same team that played Portgual. Neuer is solid in goal and Boateng, Hummels, Badstuber and Lahm work well together in the back line. Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Muller and Ozil are quicker in midfield than the Dutch and could overun them.
Up front Podolski and Gomez, though not perfectly synchronized, are lethal in front of the goal. The edge in this game most certainly goes to the German team who can play for a tie and is younger and better constructed than the Dutch. Youth will have its day and in all probability this day will belong to the Germans.
The other game of Group B features Denmark versus Portugal. Although not overwhelming, Denmark could qualify with a win over Portugal. Ronaldo has to find a way to lead his team to victory if Portugal hope to advance. Another loss would most certainly find Portuguese heading home for Lisbon.
The best player for coach Olsen’s team is the 28 year old Brondby striker Kron-Dehli. He gave the Dutch fits scoring a great goal and the Portuguese defence of Pepe and Bruno Alvez must stop him. Coach Bento will probably start Rui Patricio in goal, Joao Perreira as right back, Pepe and Bruno Alvez as center back and the excellent Coentrao on the right.
Chelsea’s Meireles will play with Veloso, Moutinho and Nani in the midfield while Oliveira and Ronaldo will lead up front. Coach Bento will have to find a way like in basketball to isolate Ronaldo with the Danish defence. The Danish have a solid defence with in Andersen in goal, Jacobsen, Kjaer, Agger and top player Simon Poulsen in the back.
Kvist, Jorgensen, Zimling and Rommedahl do a lot of running in the midfield while Bendtner and Krohn-Dehli are solid threats up front. The most logical result would be a draw but this is a must win game for Cristiano Ronaldo and his teamates who will have to pull out all the stops. These two crucial games will determine who will advance from Group B into the quarterfinals.