Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Group of Death Has Killed Holland (Kind Of)

I am irritated at this moment and Holland is to blame. It's not only the betting aspect as I kind of had predicted a Germany vs Holland final. It's also not because I feel bad for Robin Van Persie, captain of my favorite soccer team. I mean, I do wish him the best and would rather his team wasn't suffering so, but the team is to blame and that's why I'm annoyed. It is very frustrating to watch a team as talented as Holland lose their shit so easily. I'll break down the specifics of the Germany match later in this post, but here are a couple of reasons it's easy to get mad at the Dutch right now:

-Nigel De Jong is on the field.

Seriously? You have Dirk Kuyt, Rafael Van der Vaart, and Kevin Stootman on the bench because this karate kick specialist needs to be on the pitch? Shenanigans. De Jong isn't a first choice back as his club (granted, Manchester City is a bit of an all-star club), so why the hell is he starting in a major international tournament? Against Germany, I guess I get it. They're too good on the ball, you need someone to stay at home and clog the middle, blah blah blah. But he isn't particularly pacy, he isn't particularly clever, and his only real attribute is to add some steel. Call me crazy, but I'd rather see some talent.

-They have no fight

At no time during either the Denmark game or the Germany game did you think "oh man, Holland is coming for them, they better watch out." You had no belief as a fan because they had no belief as players. Heads down, not closing out defenders, not tracking back after the pass skips them, all kinds of very basic psychological signs. You just want to shake them and say "you have all the talent in the world! You can still win this! Why are you giving up?!?"

-It's still all there for them

This is probably the most infuriating part. You can't give up on them because they can still easily make the quarterfinals. Well, "easily" might be over-selling it, but it certainly is easy relative to the fact that they don't have a point yet. First, Germany needs to beat Denmark. Not to knock Denmark, but Germany looks like the best team in the world right now, so that's probably going to happen anyway. Then the Dutch need to beat Portugal by two goals.  That's it. To be honest, it might even just be one goal in case the tie-breaker after goal differential is head-to-head performance, but let's say it's two just to be safe. So after losing to the Danes and getting embarrassed for the majority of the match by the Germans, you're telling me that Van Persie, Huntelaar, Sneijder, Robben, Van der Vaart, and company just need to win by two goals in the final game? Oh Holland, why can't I quit you?

Denmark vs Portugal

This is one of those matches that made me happy to hate Cristiano Ronaldo. First of all, he had nothing to do with any of the goals, which is awesome. Second, he completely blew two breakaway chances in front of goal, and I swear I heard some fans chanting "Messi! Messi! Messi!" after the second miss. Hilarious. But in a very Ronaldoesque way, he still got what he wanted in the end: a win. But the joke's on him as a Portuguese win lets me keep hope alive for Holland, so he can't keep me down.

Enough about Ronaldo. This was one of those games where Portugal controlled things, but they didn't control things. For those of you grinding your teeth at that inane statement, let me explain. The goal by Pepe came before a half an hour was gone in the game and Postiga followed it up with one of his own before the half. Even though Nicklas Bendtner pulled one back shy of the break, Portugal was always more dangerous, always more likely to score, and always ahead. Except it never really felt like they were going to put the game away, never felt like everything had been written. They had chances, but they didn't dominate. They held the Danes to half chances, but didn't lock them down. The match felt like one sloppy passing mess in the middle third and Portugal just happened to be leading through most of it. Bendtner's second goal was a shock and in reality should have sealed the draw for Denmark as Portugal had come off the front foot and didn't look a threat (by the way, keep scoring them Nicklas; drive your transfer fee up even higher). But Varela had some luck after whiffing on one shot and struck the ball perfectly to push Portugal through. It's the kind of game where you wouldn't have hated if either team won by one or if it was a draw. All of that made sense. It was just a shame that someone had to win when you compared it to the performance Germany put on.

Germany vs Holland

Wow. And I do mean, wow. So Germany's the best team in the world, right? I understand that Spain is the defending Euro and World Cup champion. Totally get that and respect that, and respect them. Hell, I like that Spanish team a lot. But Germany... damn, they exude confidence and inevitability. When Spain struggled to find their attacking stride against Italy, you understood why but you still felt discouraged to a degree. You wondered why they couldn't put it together and dominate like you knew they could. Well, that's what Germany did. The two Mario Gomez goals of course made it easy to sit there all calm and cool since a two goal cushion makes your mistakes that much smaller. But even after Van Persie scored on that smash of a shot (a right footed shot!), the tide turned for about all of five minutes. One minute the Dutch were pressing for that second goal, looking a little dangerous for the first time all game, then the Germans were working the ball up the field, running down the clock, holding possession, and basically thumbing their nose at any Holland player foolish enough to try to take it away. Order had been restored and it quickly became obvious that Germany was always going to win this game, the exact opposite feeling from what you get watching Portugal. Like a force of nature, or maybe more the hand of fate, the Germans arrived, recreated the scene according to their desires, and then left victorious, leaving destruction in their wake (destruction in this case taking the form of Arjen Robben's head, both interior and exterior). It's amazing to watch and it's everyone that has it, none moreso than Bastian Schweinsteiger. Every time he received a pass, Schweinsteiger was able to consider his options for a calm second before freeing players for goals or just making the next logical connection. It was mechanical while still seeming artistic, like watching Roger Federer play at Wimbledon. And if that is the kind of comparison we're making, the rest of Europe had better watch out for what is coming their way.

So after two rounds of games, Group B looks like this:

Germany - 6 Points
Portugal - 3 Points
Denmark - 3 Points
Holland - 0

Germany isn't technically through yet, but they would need to lose to Denmark and have Portugal beat Holland by two goals or more, so expect them to come out determined and focused to put away the Danes and leave nothing up to chance. Then, it's down to Portugal or Holland to see who can step up and take second place. Odds are the Portuguese start out conservatively because Holland has to come out flying. Plus the Portuguese can wait to see if the Germans take the lead as expected and the decide whether or not they need to play for a draw or go for the win. Portugal still doesn't impress me that much so I think that Holland is able to nick a goal early and then grab another one somewhere along the way, propelling them through to the quarterfinals. Unlikely, I know, but I do love me some prop bets... Anyway, I'll be back tomorrow to break down the newest Group C matches so come on back.

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