BEIRUT

Football

Holland’s Euro chances in gutter, Portugal bag dramatic win

BEIRUT: One of the pre-tournament favorites Holland are all but out of Euro 2012 after losing Wednesday to Germany while Portugal kept their campaign alive with a dramatic 3-2 win over Denmark.

The Dutch will need a miracle to stay in the tournament after two losses to Denmark and Germany. Few expected Holland’s demise considering the pedigree within the Dutch ranks and their status as World Cup runners-up.

An already pulsating Euro 2012 moved into overdrive Wednesday after Germany and Portugal both picked wins in superlative games in Group B, the latter game being a dramatic roller coaster.

Germany beat Holland 2-1 thanks to goals from Mario Gomez, both of which were among the best goals scored so far in the tournament, in the first half before Robin Van Persie scored a screamer 17 minutes from the end.

The game began at a furious pace with Mesut Ozil and Robin Van Persie routinely threatening. The latter missed a sitter from close range that would have put the Dutch ahead while the former hit the base of the post with a dipping volley.

Gomez grabbed his first after 24 minutes, taking in Bastien Schweinsteiger’s throughball, spinning and slotting by Maarten Stekelenburg in one easy motion. Brilliant though Gomez’s finish was, blame surely fell at the feet of Wesley Sneijder who gave Schweinsteiger acres of room outside the Dutch penalty area.

Fourteen minutes later and Gomez had his second. The German striker exchanged a one-two with Schweinsteiger before breaking into the penalty area and smashing an unstoppable drive across the ’keeper from a difficult angle.

Holger Badstuber should have added to the rout but his point-blank header was saved by Stekelenburg.

The Dutch failed to garner enough gusto to overturn the deficit in the second half although Van Persie’s beautiful goal did momentarily swell hopes in the Holland ranks. The bizarre choice to substitute Arjen Robben late on – Dirk Kuyt was his replacement – was an uninspired decision that sucked the life out of Holland.

Portugal defeated Denmark 3-2 earlier in the day in an enthralling encounter. Following two first-half goals from Pepe and Helder Postiga, Portugal were pegged back with Bendtner bagging a brace. But a late Varela goal handed Portugal a much-needed win heading into their tie with Holland.

The first of Wednesday’s two ties served up a spicy prelude to the Holland-Germany showdown.

Ronaldo took to the field, sporting a steely look, and was the only Portuguese not to partake in the national anthem. Instead his unerring focus was on the task at hand, with his sights firmly set on avoiding another international competition failure at all costs.

With the match reaching the 20-minute mark, Ronaldo grew grumpier with every passing second, his pantomimes ranging from arm flailing to outright sulking. His plight though, would soon be appeased, as Real Madrid teammate Pepe ghosted in for a 23rd-minute header, following a delightful Joao Moutinho corner.

At the core of Ronaldo’s vexations was Postiga, who played like a fish out of water. Forward linkup play for Portugal was nonexistent, as Postiga failed to keep up with Ronaldo’s intricacies. He would, however, demonstrate his fox in the box ability, with a savvy 36th-minute strike into the roof of the net, following Nani’s intelligent fizzed in ball.

Denmark looked miles adrift, but the ubiquitous football themes that we are constantly afforded reared their heads once again, against the run of play, for a wonderful 41st-minute Denmark goal. An inviting Lars Jacobsen curled-in cross, found the head of unmarked Michael Krohn-Dehli, who cushioned his header across the face of the goal with Nicklas Bendtner pouncing on the easy chance to head home.

The second half presented Ronaldo a bagful of chances, with the usually lethal forward inexplicably spurning them all. And squandering his chances would cost his side dearly, as on 80 minutes, Bendtner once again darted in to level the tie with a piercing header.

Ronaldo was facing a myriad of defamatory headlines, with his wasteful showing looking like it would costing his side all three points and a place in the competition. The 2008 FIFA player of the year would soon be counting his blessings as second-half substitute Silvestre Varela bailed his teammate out with a wicked 88th-minute strike to give his side a much-needed win.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 14, 2012, on page 15.

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