deVos: Group of Death lives up to its name

Jason deVos
6/9/2012 11:16:18 PM
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The Group of Death lived up to its name on Day 2 of Euro 2012, as the powerhouse Netherlands fell 1-0 to underdogs Denmark in the opening game of Group B.

Truth be told, the Dutch had only themselves to blame. Wasteful finishing and some slack defending saw the Netherlands lose a game that they dominated in the early stages.

Despite creating a number of goal-scoring opportunities in the first half, the Dutch never really troubled Danish goalkeeper Stefan Andersen. Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie both wasted good chances to put the Netherlands in the lead, and they were made to pay for it at the other end of the pitch.

John Heitinga dove into a challenge on Michael Krohn-Dehli on the edge of the Dutch penalty area, allowing the Danish midfielder to skip past him unopposed. From there, Krohn-Dehli rifled a low shot through the legs of Maarten Stekelenburg into the Dutch goal, giving the Danes a lead that they would not relinquish.

For the Netherlands, it was a shocking wake-up call that their fragile defence will need to improve - vastly - if it is to make its way into the knockout phase of the tournament. The Dutch have an array of attacking options that are a handful for even the best defenders. But unless they tighten things up defensively and stop conceding preventable goals, the Netherlands will be heading home early once the group stage is complete.

In the second game of the day, Portugal frustrated the Group B favourites Germany for long stretches of their game. Portugal coach Paolo Bento set his team out in a 4-3-3 formation, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Helder Postiga and Nani as his attacking three.

In reality, Portugal spent most of the game in a 4-5-1 formation, as both Ronaldo and Nani tracked back into midfield to deny the Germans time and space in which to play.

It very nearly worked for Bento and his charges, as it wasn't until the 72nd minute that a deflected cross was expertly dispatched by German striker Mario Gomez. His header, back across Rui Patricio's goal, was all that separated the two sides when the final whistle blew.

German coach Joachim Loew will not be happy with his team's performance, though, as they failed to trouble a stubborn Portuguese team whom set out their stall to defend in numbers.

Given the strength of the German midfield, teams will view Portugal's strategy as an option against one of the tournament favourites. Deny time and space in the midfield by congesting the area in front of your back four, and perhaps you can sneak a goal on the break or from a set piece.

It is a difficult strategy to pull off, though, as the German midfield is balanced to perfection.

Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira work like pistons in front of the back four when Germany is in possession of the ball. When one goes forward to support the attack, the other drops back to protect against the counter attack in case possession is conceded. They often combine in midfield when in possession, which allows Podolski, Ozil and Muller to push further up the pitch in support of Gomez.

At the World Cup in 2010, the interaction of these five players was breathtaking to watch, as they moved the ball with speed and precision. Today, against Portugal, their play was far too deliberate and predictable.

If Germany is to reach the final - and lift the trophy - their midfield needs to increase the tempo at which it moves the ball. Then we will see the true strength of this German team, rather than the lukewarm performance we saw today.

Jason deVos

Jason deVos

As one of Canada's most accomplished soccer players, Jason deVos spent nearly 20 years on the pitch playing competitive soccer at the highest professionallevels in Canada and around the world. After retiring from international play, deVos began his broadcasting career as a soccer analyst with the CBC and GOLTV. Most recently he provided commentary and analysis for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa for the CBC.

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