After the lovely refreshing glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice on Wednesday, we can now add to that a rather nice Danish pastry – though at times it did taste a little half-baked. But the statistics speak for themselves: a maximum nine points for the first time in a European Championships group phase, fourteen competitive wins on the trot, and a quarter-final in the friendly city Polish city of Danzig against Greece.
I don’t think we can ask for much more than that.
With Portugal beating the Netherlands on the other side of the Ukraine in Kharkiv and all sorts of permutations being thrown around things may have felt a little hairy at times – particularly when Holger Badstuber escaped the eyes of the officials in gently tugging Nicklas Bendtner’s shirt – but when Lars Bender rolled the winning goal in there was a palpable sense of relief. The last ten minutes were easy, and for once felt like ten minutes rather than twenty – even with four minutes of added time.
Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw would avoid any experimentation in naming the same side that had started the first two matches – with the exception of the suspended Jérôme Boateng whose slot at right-back was given to Bayer 04 Leverkusen’s Bender twin. Usually a right-sided defensive midfielder, Bender would be something of an unusual choice: before the tournament most observers would have seen Schalke 04’s Benedikt Höwedes as a shoo-in for the right-back slot.
Clearly the Maharishi Jogi knew something we all didn’t.
1 min. Germany get things under way. After all of the recent turbulent weather in the Ukraine, it is a clear evening with the temperature a touch over 25 degrees Celsius. The Nationalmannschaft are in their traditional colours of white shirts, black shorts and white socks, while the Danes take to their field in their recognisable red/white/red ensemble.
2 mins. Some neat play by Germany down the left, and Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil combine effectively to send in a nicely-timed cross to Thomas Müller, who narrowly clears the crossbar on the volley.
3 mins. This has been a fast and encouraging start from Joachim Löw’s side, who are setting out to be the first German team to win all three of their group matches at a European Championship – and extended a winning record in competitive matches that stretches back to the third place play-off against Uruguay at the 2010 World Cup finals. That’s thirteen matches.
4 mins. Simon Poulsen tries to working his way down the left, and replacement right-back Bender passes his first test with a crisp challenge. The corner ends up in the arms of Manuel Neuer.
5 mins. A fantastic move from Germany as Mario Gómez finds Mesut Özil, who in turn rolls it into the Danish box and Lukas Podolski. Podolski slips the ball across across the Danish goal to Müller, who has a great opportunity top open the scoring only to scuff his shot straight at Danish ‘keeper Stephan Andersen.
11 mins. Özil and Khedira combine brilliantly, but Danish skipper Daniel Agger slides in to save the day for the Danes just as Khedira is inside the area and about to pull the trigger.
12 mins. Gómez tries a shot from the edge of the box with his left foot, which flies just over the crossbar.
13 mins. Nicklas Bendtner has a shot for the Danes, but is well wide of the target. Meanwhile in Kharkiv, the Netherlands have taken the lead against Portugal. As things stand, Germany and Denmark are going through to the next phase.
16 mins. Özil is brought down and is awarded a free-kick midway inside the Danish half, but his floated effort cannot find anybody and floats harmlessly wide.
19 mins. Here it is. Great work by Müller, who charges into the Danish box before playing a delicious cutback. The ball is slightly behind Gómez who gets the slightest of deflections, and arrives at the feet of Podolski who slams the ball with his right foot – yes, his right foot – almost through Andersen to give Germany a deserved lead. Poldi celebrates his 100th international cap with his 44th international goal. 1-0.
Lukas Podolski marks his hundredth international cap with a cracking goal, and Germany are on their way to a third group win
23 mins. Denmark win another corner, and it is swung out to Bendtner, who intelligently nods the ball into the box for Michael Krohn-Dehli to power it past Neuer to pull an equaliser out of nowhere. 1-1, and the Danes are back in it. Once again the German defence shows its weakness against set-pieces, particularly corners from the right. Krohn-Dehli is only 5′ 9″.
28 mins. Krohn-Dehli tries his luck from distance, and is narrowly wide. Meanwhile in Kharkiv, Cristiano Ronaldo has equalised for Portugal against the Dutch to bring everything back to how it was at the start of the evening.
31 mins. Özil finds Müller with a delicious long ball out on the right, and the Bayern man is wrestled to the ground. Özil swings in the free-kick which is cleared behind, and from the resulting corner Podolski plays the ball into Gómez, who makes a complete mess of the attempted volley with the goal at his mercy.
35 mins. More nice interplay sees Müller skip one challenge before he is charged into by Simon Kjaer at the edge of the penalty area. The free-kick is rolled back by Özil for Podolski, who smashes it just over the crossbar.
41 mins. Sami Khedira is everywhere at the moment, and he makes his way into the box to chase a pass from Gómez. The Danish defender makes a hash of things to allow Khedira a shot at goal, and his effort with the outside of his right boot flies just wide of the target.
43 mins. Gómez is almost in on goal as he tip-toes himself into a shooting position, and a flying challenge from Agger is just enough to put him off his stride. He could have easily gone down under the challenge, as the ball finds its way to the grateful Andersen and the stumbling German striker clatters into the Danish ‘keeper.
45 mins. Simon Poulsen is again free down the left, and is well challenged again by Bender. The Danish corner from the left is not as good as the one that produced the goal from the right, but the Danes still manage to keep possession before the ball is finally cleared by Holger Badstuber.
45+1 mins. The Spanish referee blows for half-time in what has been an energetic match, with Germany dominating but unable to convert the chances into a bigger lead. The Danes’ equaliser seemed to come out of nowhere, but once more highlighted the danger posed by set-pieces to the German defence. It’s also 1-1 in Kharkiv, meaning that Germany and Portugal are in position to claim places in the last eight.
46 mins. The red-shirted Danes kick off the second half.
48 mins. A speculative long back into the box from Philipp Lahm has just a little too much pace on it for the chasing Müller.
50 mins. Gómez picks up the ball inside his own half and charges forward before releasing a low shot from distance that rolls wide of the Danish goal.
51 mins. Denmark produce their best build-up of the match so far, as Simon Poulsen hares down the left to find Bendtner, who sets things up neatly for Jakob Poulsen whose low shot skims the outside of the left-hand upright.
54 mins. Another neat German build-up with no result. Gómez works well in the box to lay the ball back for Özil, who slips on the turf before he can gain control of the ball.
57 mins. Denmark playing keep-ball at the moment as the game appears to wind down just a little. It is warm and humid out there.
62 mins. Germany are making hard work of this, and while the ball is being passed around nicely there is no obvious sign of anything coming out of it. It’s a little like watching Spain in Schwarz und Weiß.
65 mins. Goalscorer and new centurion Podolski is replaced by André Schürrle, who is making his first tournament appearance.
67 mins. Schürrle gets his first touch, and almost gets on the scoresheet as his low slightly curling shot is on target and well parried by Andersen.
71 mins. Niki Zimling has a speculative effort from distance, and the ball’s awkward bounce sees Neuer palm it behind for a corner. The corner is taken short however and comes to nothing – it might have been more effective just to thump it into the box.
73 mins. Its tiki-taka from the Mannschaft at the moment, but the final ball continues to be poor.
74 mins. Gómez makes way for Miroslav Klose, who comes on to win his 119th cap. Meanwhile in Kharkiv Portugal have taken the lead – meaning that a Danish winner will send Germany out of the tournament. Things are back on a knife-edge now.
76 mins. A long Danish ball out of almost nowhere is met by Bendtner, but Neuer is on hand to collect. Germany are actually lucky not to concede a penalty as Badstuber appears to get away with a slight tug on the Sunderland man’s shirt. This Spanish referee has acquired a somewhat unsavoury reputation for dishing out cards, but thankfully he’s keeping them safely in his pocket at the moment.
77 mins. Zimling departs and a third Poulsen joins the fray, Christian.
80 mins. Germany counter-attack at pace, and Özil charges down the left flank. His pass into the box is just too strong for the fast-advancing Klose, but as Jakob Poulsen slips Bender is on hand to calmly roll it into the net to score his first international goal and restore the Mannschaft’s advantage. With Andersen completely wrong-footed it is an easy chance – well, Bender makes it look incredibly easy. 2-1, and no more jangling nerves.
After a few jittery moments, Lars Bender would settle everyone’s nerves with an ice-cool finish
82 mins. Poor Jakob Poulsen is pouled off and replaced by Tobias Mikkelsen as Denmark make their last throw of the dice. As things stand now, Germany are going through with Portugal.
84 mins. It’s heart in mouth time as Denmark swing in another corner from the right, but Badstuber just about does enough to put off the impressive Agger, whose header flies over the bar. Toni Kroos is on now on for the hard-working Müller as the German coach looks to tighten things up in midfield.
87 mins. Denmark have to lift themselves to give themselves even the slimmest chance, but are getting nowhere. Schürrle sparks some life into the action with a nice little jinking run down the left, but Klose cannot collect the pass cleanly.
88 mins. Neuer runs out of his box and does a bit of a Réné Higuita act to clear. It is impressive work, but one stumble and he would have been left looking slightly foolish. Not that anyone can really criticise – Neuer can take a mean penalty after all, so we shouldn’t really be dismissing his abilities as an impromptu Libero.
90+1 mins. Özil is clipped by Christian Poulsen just outside the Danish box out on the left. Bastian Schweinsteiger’s free-kick is smashed straight into the Danish wall. Is that the really the first time I have mentioned Schweini? He’s had a solid but relatively quiet game.
90+3 mins. A nice reverse pass from Khedira is played out to Schürrle on the left, but the Leverkusen man is caught narrowly offside.
90+4 mins. The referee blows for full-time, and Germany are through with a full quota of group phase points for the first time. They are now heading for a quarter-final in Danzig, where they will now play Group B runners-up and perennial surprise package Greece. The Mannschaft are joined in the last eight by Portugal, who in a repeat of the famous “Poborský” quarter-final of 1996 will play the Czech Republic in Warsaw.
It has been another tough match, against a resilient and at times testing opponent that could very well have gone the distance in any of the other three groups. The game might arguably have been settled early on, but after a dominant start to proceedings Jogi Löw’s side were more content to pass the ball around and deny the Danes possession for long periods of the game.
It’s been a case of functional rather than fancy so far, but in all three games – apart perhaps from the last quarter of an hour in the opening encounter against Portugal – Germany have taken things easy to see things through. The goals have come when needed, and apart from the odd set-piece glitch the defensive has looked solid. The much-vaunted fluency in midfield of this German side has been slightly muted, but this may have more to do with the style of the opponent rather than anything else: watch out for more of the same against Greece, who will be making every effort to park the bus, stifle the German midfield and snatch a goal on the break – or from a set-piece.
While the defence and ‘keeper Manuel Neuer were not massively tested – the German Torhüter could do nothing about the Danish goal – there were contrasting performances from the two defensive midfielders. While Bastian Schweinsteiger had a quiet but not wholly unsuccessful evening, Sami Khedira was here, there and everywhere. He may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but Khedira is fast turning into one of those players who should be writing their own names on the team sheet.
The offensive midfield, while not spectacular, continued to be a source of danger for their opponents. Mesut Özil was able to find a little more space to do what he does best without quite hitting the heights, while Thomas Müller kept energy levels up on the right flank. On the left Lukas Podolski turned in a slightly better performance to mark his becoming Germany’s seventh and youngest centurion, but after scoring his goal retreated back into anonymity. Things would be sparked back into life out on the left when Poldi was replaced by André Schürrle.
Up front there would be nothing for Mario Gómez, but this was not for want of trying. He perhaps should have done better with a volleyed chance that ended up as a Euro 2008-era mis-kick, but was unlucky on more than one occasion as the ball didn’t quite break for him. He also got a little bit more of the ball too, and while his link-up play will never match that of Miroslav Klose he made a decent fist of things.
All in all, a decent enough display – a repeat of which should be sufficient to see of Greece and secure yet another semi-final spot. As always however, there should be no room for complacency. Of course, one cannot finish any article on the group phase without mentioning the dismal Dutch, who are going home with their points total still looking like a big, fat, round ball of Edam.
v Denmark, Arena Lviv, Lviv (First Phase Group B) 17.06.2012
Podolski 19., Bender 80. / Krohn-Dehli 24.
Germany: Neuer – L. Bender, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm (c) – Khedira, Schweinsteiger – Müller (84. Kroos), Özil, Podolski (64. Schürrle) – Gómez (74. Klose)
Denmark: Andersen – Jacobsen, Agger, Kjær, S. Poulsen – Jørgensen, J. Poulsen (82. Mikkelsen), Zimling (79. C. Poulsen) – Eriksen, Bendtner, Krohn-Dehli
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (Spain)
Assistants: Roberto Alonso Fernández, Juan Carlos Yuste Jiménez (Spain)
Goal Assistants: David Fernández Borbalán, Carlos Clos Gómez (Spain)
Fourth Official: Mark Clattenburg (England)
Yellow Cards: – / –
Red Cards: – / –
Attempts on Target: 6 / 4
Attempts off Target: 6 / 6
Corners: 3 / 5
Fouls Committed: 6 / 8