For those of us who have always followed the European and World football tournaments, a ‘group of death’ shouldn’t come as a surprise. In any World Cup or European Championship, even in the Olympic Games or in qualifying groups there is usually a ‘group of death’. It then evolves in its own way, there are no guidelines for this kind of thing, but that’s why it has this name, for something to talk about as the games take place. And we have one in this Euro 2012, a ‘group of death’. And this time the name is apt when you realise that the teams playing for the two qualifying spots are no less than Germany, Denmark, Holland and Portugal. Let’s see how this team poker game will start.
The German squad was the first to qualify mathematically from their group for the Euros, obviously apart from the host nations, who reserve their places by right. Moreover, and it this quite significant, Germany went through with a good goal average, something to bear in mind.
It seems from the outside that the Germans may be reaping the benefits from the good structure created in their country, stressing the importance of their academy players. It may be that thanks to that base we are seeing a lot of young players with real talent appearing in their league, working to a common goal and acquiring an understanding, and, given their quality, getting results. It looks like it as we can cite many examples.
We can see they play ‘good football’ and they are usually successful because they combine the traditional physical power of the Germans with the ability of their many good young players. You cannot ignore this squad.
Their normal system is 1-4-2-3-1 with a good defence-attack balance, playing with intensity when out of possession and pace in attack in the opposition half. They usually have control of the game with dangerous support in attack from their second line who offer options when attacking. They manage the game and adapt well. Maybe, if we are looking for a weakness, it will be behind their centre backs, as they are usually attacking, getting involved in their open play and can leave space behind them.
A player who I believe will be absolutely key is Bastian Schweinsteiger as he seems to have recovered and will be dying to play after a year haunted by injury and a disappointing end to his club season. Alongside him, Khedira will be a key piece in midfield, where Toni Kroos, another Bayern Munich player, can also play an important role. In front of them will be Ozil with his ability and desire to show how good he is. Up front Mario Gomez is always a threat in front of goal, as everyone has already seen. Along with this offensive strength, Hummels and Lahm make the Germans serious candidates to win the competition.
It’s true that the Portuguese team had problems, a lot, to qualify in the end. They couldn’t win their group where they finished second behind Denmark and sealed their qualification against Bosnia in a play-off. But this is all in the past and once here no-one would dare doubt their quality and potential that their players have.
With players like Pepe and Bruno Alves in defence, and Raul Meireles, Veloso or Moutinho in midfield, they will have experience and competitiveness. In attack they will have a good combination of Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo on the wings to give penetration with assistance from Helder Postiga as striker who can score goals. The aforementioned Cristiano Ronaldo with 60 goals for Real Madrid will have a lot to say in front of goal.
Their usual system is 1-4-3-3, although they have a few variations according to circumstances. Basically, they are a side quick in the opposition half with the ball and with good penetration in the wide areas as we said with the players there (Nani and Ronaldo). They build up well centrally with players like Moutinho, Meireles and Veloso, and aggressive defenders in the centre who are good in the air, again Pepe and Bruno Alves.
Despite all these qualities, the Portuguese squad is quite inconsistent and this could be a weakness in a short, intense competition as the Euros will be.
No less than 20 years have passed, two whole decades, since Denmark won their only European title, the one they won in Sweden in 1992 when they hadn’t even qualified. Obviously the Danish expectations are more modest this time. Or maybe not, as they have proved before. Their great achievement up to now has been to qualify as winners of Group H above teams such as Portugal.
The team coached by Morten Olsen usually plays with a 1-4-2-3-1. It is a well organised side, quite quick on the wings (with Rommendhal and Krohn-Dehli), with good build up centrally (mainly with Eriksen who is talented) and a good involvement of the players in the second line and in counter attacks. In defence the presence of Agger is an asset, without a shadow of doubt, for coming forward with the ball.
Their target up front, Bendtner, is powerful in the air and has good movement. He can lack precision in front of goal but he is a good striker which no-one can deny.
It is a classic team to spring a real surprise precisely because few expect them to do much. But you cannot ignore the fact that this group is very difficult and two of the three other sides would have to falter in the group as they will be favourites ahead of Denmark.
And now to Holland to finish the analysis of Group B. They have a good win record up to their last game, when they went down 3-2 in Sweden after they had already confirmed their qualification.
Their coach, Bert van Marwijk, relied on the top goalscorer in qualification (Klaas-Jan Huntelaar with 12 goals) and the best goal average: 3.7 per game. Their 11-0 win over San Marino was the highest score for the ‘orange’ team in an International.
They usually play with a 1-4-2-3-1 system but are also used to playing 1-4-3-3 in their domestic games. Also Robben and the great Dirk Kuyt can play on either wing. Up front, they have, as striker, Van Persie but as we mentioned, their top goalscorer, Huntelaar, can be an option at any time. Behind the striker they can use Van Der Vaart or Sneijder which says a lot of their quality and options in the squad. In midfield, to help the defence and balance the offensive players with talent, they will have Van Bommel and Strootman, with De Jong waiting for his chance. Any of these three is a good option for any coach selecting his team. This amount of players of this level and International experience makes Holland another of the favourites for this trophy but the fact that they have been drawn in the ‘group of death’ makes a prediction much more difficult.
Another thing that stands out for Holland is their ability at set plays with players good at free kick delivery.
Their main problem could be in defence, because of the number of attacking players they have, which naturally means their defence may be more exposed.
What we can agree on is that is there is equality and intensity in Group B, and this can only make it a better spectacle and more exciting for the competition. And we don’t want to miss any detail of the Euros. We will watch it here and we will continue to analyse the important issues. That starts now.
Personally, I can't see beyond a Semi Final line up of Spain-Holland and Germany-France where anything can then happen. Do you agree Rafa?
Certainly anything can happen in football and the four teams you mention are strong candidates.
You mention Schweinsteiger as an important player for Germany. When he played in the World cup in 2006 as a right mid he was average at best. In 2010 as a central mid he was one of the players of the tournament. Is this a case of him maturing as a player, or a positional thing?
I understand certain players are best played in one position only (you wouldn't play Xabi Alonso as a left back with his passing ability) but versatility can be a massive advantage for young players especially?
Thanks again for your insight.