After such a good start on day one the second day of games had a lot to live up too. The day promised the first look at some of the big guns and produced the first shock of the tournament. Away from the matches the rumblings of racism continued with as news broke that sections of the Russian fans had attacked stewards and allegedly racially abusing one of the Czech Republic players on day one.
Netherlands versus Denmark
Oh how quickly predictions can go wrong. I fancied the Netherlands, I thought they would start well, score goals and win the group is a flurry of brilliant orange. To their credit, they didn’t actually play badly. Wesley Sneijder is one of the best midfield players in the world and he pulled the strings. His passing was superb but the Dutch problems came with their finishing, or basically the complete lack of it.
Robin Van Persie showed how easily confidence can disappear on the international stage, having banged in goals all season for Arsenal he did his best impression of Marouane Chamakh, miss-kicking, shinning, and generally wasting every chance that came his way, adding weight to the calls of those who thought Klaas-Jan Huntelaar should have started ahead of him. Well Huntelaar did get his chance, coming off the bench and missing what was probably the best chance of the game.
Arjen Robben did that thing he does where he cuts in from the right-hand side and shoots. Usually when a team lets him do this over and over again they get punished at least once, but on this occasion the closest he came was striking the post after a truly shocking pass from the Danish keeper gifted him the chance. His performance summed up the Netherlands, on any other day they would have won with ease, but it simply wasn’t their day.
For Denmark, Nicklas Bendtner held the ball up well and when the chance came, Michael Krohn-Dehli tucked it away with a calmness and composure that was lacking from Netherlands. But the real stars of the show were the Danish centre-backs Simon Kjaer and Daniel Agger, who blocked, tackled and stood strong in the face of serve pressure.
The game was a perfect example of why international football and more specifically tournament football is so hard to predict. Every team has the ability to score a goal, every team has the talent to have a good day and spoil someone else’s. If you can keep it tight and nick a goal you’ve always got a chance. This is very much how I expect England to play in the tournament and the Danish display should give them hope for their game against the French. It’s looking difficult for Netherlands who may well need to win their last two games to qualify, could the group of death have already produced it’s first fatality?
Germany versus Portugal
The first big clash of the competition and what a surprise the first slightly disappointing game. Portugal are a team that don’t like to get beat, which is a polite way of saying they play very negative defensive football. The thing is, you’ve got to do what works for you, if they had opened up the game and gone for it, they may well have come away with a heavier beating than they eventually ended up with and you could tell that the strategy was not to lose the first game, there’s no guarantee they will continue to play like this.
The BBC pundits were quick to point out that when you’ve got a player like Ronaldo in your side you should go for it, but I’m of the opinion that when you’ve got a player of such fantastic individual ability, better to try and keep it tight and hope he produces something spectacular for you out of nothing, sadly this is never going to make for the most entertaining game and things didn’t really get going till the last twenty minutes.
The Germans did what they always do. They kept the ball, looked super organised and very at home on the international stage. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira were hugely impressive. There is a misconception that they act as holding players for Germany. This may have had some truth to it during the 2010 World Cup when they were mostly trying to hit teams on the break, but it simply isn’t the case now. They are both capable of stepping into the final third and delivering a killer pass, beating a player with a dribble or smashing in a shot, while continuing to offer solid protection to the back four.
When they got their goal it was Mario Gomez, who has finally found the net at a major competition, keeping a man out of the team in Klose who knows all about scoring at Euros and World Cups. The telling sign was that when Gomez scored, Klose was about to replace him. Upon scoring, Joachim Loew changed his mind and told Klose to sit down. A lot of players wouldn’t have taken this particularly well, but Miroslav Klose showed his class, not only did he not make a fuss but he made sure to congratulate Gomez as well. It’s this kind of unity and spirit combined with their ability and organisation which makes the German side such a daunting prospect to play against.
When Portugal finally had a go the Germans hard to dig deep and work hard for their win and the man of the match was undoubtedly Mats Hummels. He started with a few nerves, especially in possession but grew into the game and by the end was organising and commanding the German back line and making sure they didn’t leak a late leveller.
At the end of the day… two
A shock from the Dutch but no surprises from the Germans in a day dominated by defending. It certainly makes for an intriguing second round of games for group B. The downside to the day is definitely the empty seats which crept into the picture, as the tournament progresses I fear this is something we’re going to see more and more especially if the local favourites fail to progress. The blame can only be placed on UEFA for their extortionate ticket pricing.
The most awkward moment of the day goes to Harry Redknapp when Gary Lineker asked him about the England job. Fair play to Harry, he could have sat on the fence but he was open and honest showing yet again why so many in the media were keen for him to land the top job. How he’ll cope during the England games will be interesting. Will he go down the “this is what ‘Arry would ave done” route? I’m certainly looking forward to hearing not only what he has to say but how he says it.
Highlight of the day: Miroslav Klose being a proper team-mate. Think of the team first, congratulate your counter-part, celebrate the goal he’s just scored and put the good of the team before your own ego, it’s always good to see.