National team football

Will the old “one-two” win the Groupe de la mort?: Euro 2012 Group B

Euro 2012 Group B Every major competition purports to having one, but in Euro 2012, the so-called “Group of Death” is Group B – Denmark, Germany, Netherlands and Portugal.

The favourites will undoubtedly be Germany and the Netherlands, in that order. But both Denmark and Portugal have the ability to shock. Both underdogs have had their moments in the past. Danish fans still fondly recall the Elkjaer-Laudrup combination that threatened to set fire to Mexico ’86 and then six years’ later, the surprise European Championship win in Sweden. As for Portugal, they’ve had their “Golden Generation”, led by Luis Figo, but those days are long gone.

Denmark and Portugal met in the qualifying group, topped by Denmark. That sent Portugal to the play-offs, but they easily disposed of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Portuguese are the one big footballing country never to have won a major prize. They’ve threatened to in recent years, finishing runners-up in Euro 2004 (having been semi-finalists in 1984 and 2000) and finishing fourth in the 2006 World Cup, but it could be that we’ve seen the best of Os Navegadores for the time being. They do have one of the world’s best players in the irritatingly good Cristiano Ronaldo, and he may consider that, at 27, this is his time as he’s at the peak of his powers. And then there’s Manchester United’s Nani, the usual selection of Benfica and Porto players and bit-part performers from Spain’s La Liga. Despite a useful selection, they haven’t scored a goal in 2012 and you can only see them vying for third place.

Denmark may have a say in that, though. The [Morten] Olsen Gang – Danish fans love a nickname for their team – is workmanlike and functional, especially at home in the Parken. Away from home, they are not so formidable – witness last year’s defeat to Scotland. Veteran goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen has pulled out due to injury and that may be a blow to Olsen’s team. But they have a promising young midfielder called Christian Eriksen who plays for Ajax and there’s solidity in the form of Liverpool’s Dan Agger.

They will need it against the Dutch, whom they start their Euro 2012 campaign against. The Netherlands scored 37 goals in their 10 games, including a record 11-0 win against San Marino. If I were Bert van Marwijk, I would try and make amends for a thoroughly uncharacteristic Dutch display in the last World Cup. They have some sublime talent in Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben and these players can still light up a tournament. But the Dutch have a history of underachievement. Time after time, star-studded teams have gone so far but failed to deliver. Too often personalities and a tendancy for “trade union behaviour” have stymied their preparations. The big question mark against them is their defence. If they can get that right, the Netherlands will go a long way.

Germany, understandably, will be highly-fancied to win this group. They qualified with 10 wins and 34 goals in 10 games. They are always there or thereabouts. They finished third in World Cup 2010, third in 2006 and runners-up in 2002. In the Euros, they were runners-up in 2008. It could be German fans’ time to learn the names of new heros in 2012. Players like Bastian Schwiensteiger, Mesut Ozil, Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos, Philipp Lahm and Lukas Podolski are at their best now. Coach Joachim Loew, who is rumoured to be on the move, could bow out with Germany’s first major honour since 1996.

This group will go to form: 1 – Germany, 2- Netherlands, 3- Portugal, 4- Denmark Man to watch: Robin van Persie (Netherlands)

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