The Group of Death kicked off today and instantly threw up a shock. A wasteful and lethargic Dutch side lost 1-0 to Denmark who effectively had one chance, and took it. The Netherlands had 28 attempts on goal but crucially made none count. In the later kick off, Germany overcame Portugal in a tepid affair.
Here are 5 things we learned today.
1. Expect the unexpected
To compare the Netherlands-Denmark game to Chelsea-Barcelona is inaccurate, the Dutch were indeed superior but the defeat was due to wasteful finishing and a lack of energy in the latter stages of the game. Denmark’s victory was more due to luck than grit and heroic defending, but the result is all that counts. If they can hold out against Portugal they have a real chance of qualifying second in the group, but I still expect them to be beaten in both their remaining games.
2. Opening games are important, but not definitive
OK, the Netherlands lost their opening game. As Jonathan Pearce pointed out, they did so in ’88 on the way to winning the trophy. Spain also lost their opening game in South Africa two years ago, and we all know how that ended. Whilst defeat to the weakest team in the group is a nightmare start, all is not lost for the Netherlands. However, they’ll need to take risks against the Germans and Portuguese and most likely start with a 4-4-2 with van Persie and Huntelaar upfront, meaning their vulnerable defence could be more exposed.
3. Marauding centre backs can unlock stubborn defences
With many teams set up to avoid conceding rather than trying to outscore opponents (Portugal, Denmark, Greece), space is hard to come by for attacking players. In situations like this, it can be a real advantage to have a central defender (or alternatively a deep-lying defensive midfielder) who is comfortable carrying the ball. Short bursts from centre back can expose the opponents midfield and allow attacking players to find space as their marker dispatches to close down the ball-carrying defender. Mats Hummels and Sami Khedira did this to good effect at times against Portugal, and England could benefit from the same if Scott Parker is prepared to venture forward.
4. European refs need to learn to let the game flow
There were several occasions during the Germany v Portugal match where rudimentary shoulder charges were called as fouls by the officials. Howard Webb showed yesterday how to referee a game; respect the players, allow physicality within the rules and keep the ball in play wherever possible. The French referee in charge of the 2nd of tonight’s games seemed hell-bent on preventing any physical content whatsoever, to the detriment of the game.
5. BBC coverage is far superior to ITV
This is something we all knew already, but worth pointing out anyway. Opinionated pundits, good analysis and insight from Alan Hansen, Linekar directs the conversation well and asks the right questions. Seedorf is interesting and offers a non-British perspective. Redknapp answers questions honestly and calls it as he sees it.
ITV, instead, offer dull-as-ditchwater Gareth Southgate, Roy “I hate everything and everyone” Keane and Adrian “fancies himself as Peter Kay” Chiles. No insight, no analysis, terrible puns and just a collection of generally awful humans. If I was rich, I would buy out ITV and shut it down.
So another day of entertaining football and talking points. Here’s Group B after the opening round of fixtures.
Tomorrow sees reigning champions Spain take on Italy in Gdansk, followed by the Republic of Ireland and Croatia in Poznan. I expect Croatia to surprise a few people and qualify from Group C, so am looking forward to another great day in the Euro’s.