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Posted at 09:19 PM ET, 06/09/2012

Euro 2012: Denmark, Germany open Group B with victories

When talk turned to the difficult Group B at Euro 2012, Denmark was the equivalent of a veggie burger at a Big 12 football tailgate party: It was largely ignored.

But the Danes pulled a surprise 1-0 defeat of the Netherlands on Saturday in the first game of the appropriately nicknamed “group of death.”

In the second game, Germany defeated Portugal, 1-0.

The group is comprised of four teams ranked in the top 10 in the world. Moreover, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands all have won the tournament previously; and Portugal has an array of top-flight talent.

Denmark used an organized approach and a goal by Michael Krohn-Dehli in the 24th minute for its victory. Denmark was helped by a poor outing from the Dutch: According to the excellent, and free, FourFourTwo stats app, the Dutch had 32 shots. Twenty-two were off-target, five were on goal and five were blocked.

Denmark nearly was undone by poor clearing, especially early in the game. The worst attempt came when Denmark goalie Stephan Andersen directed a clearing pass straight to Dutch forward Arjen Robben; but Robben’s shot hit the crossbar and bounced away.

The Danes have a chance to improve on their performance, as playmaking midfielder Christian Eriksen, 20, had a relatively quiet afternoon. He took only one shot (it was from outside the penalty area) and attempted only 13 passes in the attacking third.

Meantime, it will be interesting to see how the talented but combustible Dutch team handles the loss. To paraphrase the old-school writer Bugs Baer, the Dutch team tends to “stick together like a wishbone in a pulling contest.”

On the pitch, the Netherlands opted for Robin van Persie as the striker rather than Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. van Persie had a remarkable season for Arsenal in the Premier League — he scored 36 goals in all competitions and Arsenal fans were known to sing of him, “He scores when he wants to.”

But van Persie had a poor match on Saturday — he particularly seemed to have trouble staying on his feet — and Huntelaar scored 47 goals in all competitions for Schalke of Germany.

One last note on Denmark. Much will be made of the country’s shock victory in Euro ‘92 when it was called in at the last minute as a replacement for Yugoslavia. In case you were as curious as I, the Danes earned the nod because they had finished second in Yugoslavia’s qualifying group.

In the second game, Germany forward Mario Gomez scored the winning goal in the 72nd minute. Gomez, who looks like a combination of Louden Swain from the 1980s movie “Vision Quest” and the domineering husband in a Hercule Poirot mystery, nearly scored again a few minutes later.

Again, improvement could be on the way. Germany forward Lucas Podolski had a long afternoon and the talented midfield was relatively quiet by its usual standards.

Portugal rarely got star Cristiano Ronaldo involved until late in the game. Once again according to the FourFourTwo app, Ronaldo took four shots and completed 22 of 27 passes, including 7 of 11 in the attacking third.

Portugal has a pair of excellent wingers in Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Nani of Manchester United and a strong central midfielder in Raul Meireles of Chelsea.

By  |  09:19 PM ET, 06/09/2012

 
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