The Danes go into their final fixture needing to better Portugal’s result against Holland to progress to the final eight of the competition. Should the Netherlands win, a draw would suffice. Rather than assessing the permutations which may affect Denmark’s chances of reaching the quarter finals of a major international tournament for the first time since Euro 2004, a simplistic, distilled view of the task lying in wait will suffice. Denmark require a positive result against Germany, the European Championships’ most impressive performers thus far, to stand a chance of remaining in the tournament beyond Sunday evening. Needless to say, it is an unenviable assignment.
It is a task which would have been made a little easier should Morten Olsen’s men have displayed the same caution, the same discipline and positional sense which nullified the significant threat of the Netherlands in their opening match.
A repeat of October’s seminal performance against Paulo Bento’s men in securing their ticket to the Ukraine and Poland would have secured Denmark’s passage – and more importantly still avoiding those of us lacking in mathematical proficiency the hardship of ruminating over the countless combinations of results which may secure or destroy the dream of progression.
Sadly, the sense of positional awareness, the concentration and the intelligence which characterised their defeat of the spendthrift Dutch was notable by its absence. In its place was a generosity of nature, a profligacy of character, which allowed Portugal more time on the ball, more space with which to manoeuvre, than they could ever have dreamed of.
This carelessness manifest itself in Portugal’s opening two goals. The lack of time coaching staff have to spend with their squads necessitates that international football is predominantly reactive by nature. It is, after all, far easier to drill into players defensive positional awareness, and to dictate to them the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition than it is to work on developing one’s own style of play. With this in mind, it is a cardinal sin to concede from a set piece.
Lamentably, Denmark did. The argument between the relative merits and pitfalls of man-marking and zonal marking systems in such circumstances is misguided. What is important, irrespective of the chosen system, is that each individual is attuned to their role – clear in the knowledge of where they must be in relation to teammate, opponent and the ball. Conceding from a set piece is the clearest intonation of a team lacking in concentration and direction – two criticisms one thought would not be attributable to the Danes in this tournament following their victory over Holland.
Sadly, the second goal, another near post strike courtesy of Helder Postiga – yes, Tottenham fans, him – was equally as avoidable. Whilst the courage and tenacity of spirit which dragged Olsen’s men back in to the game through two Niklas Bendtner strikes is to be commended, one sensed that a third Portuguese goal was inevitable. And eventually, through Silvestre Varela, it came.
A return to the values which confounded the Netherlands is essential if Germany’s unstoppable force is to be resisted. The midfield screen of Niki Zimling and William Kvist must be uber cautious of Bastian Schweinsteiger’s attempt to dissect the defence. Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer are faced with handling Mario Gomez; a man who has transformed from big-time bottler to the prime candidate to land the Golden Boot. Easy chances must not be conceded. Defensive perfection is required. The alternative is a ticket home.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Portugal