13 June 2012

Denmark 2-3 Portugal

Pepe 24'
Postiga 36'
Bendtner 41' 81'
Varela 87'

It's fitting that an excellent, narrow match was decided by a singular late moment of brilliance. Despite Portugal going two up with ten minutes left in the first half, Denmark diligently fought back, only to go down to Varela's 87th minute strike, just two minutes after he entered the fray.

Denmark started well, with as many corners in the first seven minutes as they had all game against Holland, but were unable to carve out chances from the early pressure aside from Pepe's excellent block after a broken corner fell to Eriksen. That Niki Zimling went off injured after 15 minutes, replaced by Jakob Poulsen, assuredly contributed to Portugal's ascendancy, but Portugal did well to exploit gaps down Denmark's flanks.

It was a simple set play goal for Portugal's opener. Pepe used Simon Poulsen and Nani at the near post to set a pick, releasing him from Agger's close marking, and cannoned an unstoppable header just past Andersen's flailing hand.

Portugal's second was even more unforgivable. Coentrao, perpetually dangerous coming forward from defense, was given the freedom of Lviv with Rommedahl caught upfield and neither holding midfielder covering in time. His cross only found Simon Poulsen, but Portugal picked up possession from the clearing header with both Nani and Pereira in acres of space. Nani crossed, Agger left Postiga to Kjaer, and the often goal-shy forward made a great run to easily get in front of the center-back for another near post goal.

Denmark looked unlikely to pull one back, let alone two, but were back in the game five minutes later, and fairly impressively at that. Jakob Poulsen's chipped cross to the back post found Krohn-Dehli behind a negligent Joao Pereira, selflessly heading across goal to Bendtner, catching Pepe and Bruno Alves flat-footed and Rui Patricio wholly out-of-position for a headed tap-in.

Aside from the 20-minute stretch after Zimling's injury until Portugal's second goal, Denmark had more possession and played more 'comprehensive' football, but the final ball frequently eluded the Danes. And thanks to the lead, Portugal spent the second half defending deeper and deeper, content to counter, bypassing the midfield and looking for quick, direct passes to Nani and Ronaldo on the flanks.

Honestly, it should have worked, as Ronaldo should have iced the game earlier. Nani's long cross-field pass found CR7™® wide open five minutes after the restart, with Jacobsen caught upfield, but, racing in on goal, he shot tamely at Andersen. Nearly through in the 64th after easily turning Kjaer, Agger recovered for a crucial interception on Ronaldo's pass to Postiga. The most egregious was in the 78th, when Nani's first time throughball again found Ronaldo running behind Jacobsen and Kjaer, but he somehow shot wide from 12 yards out, dead center, when 1-on-1 with Andersen. It was karmic that Bendtner's equalizer came less than two minutes later.

Jacobsen, given space time and time again because of Ronaldo's unwillingness to track back, finally found a target with one of his cross, as Bendtner out-jumped Pepe to head past Rui Patricio. But Denmark couldn't hold on. Six minutes later, Coentrao spun Jacobsen and raced past Kvist to the byline. Varela, evading Simon Poulsen, mistimed his attempted volley, but was first to react, spun his hips brilliantly to get over the ball, then somehow shot around Poulsen past a diving Andersen. Denmark threw Agger forward, the tried-and-tested "chuck the center-back up front and hoof hoof hoof" tactic, but when Denmark's substitute had his chance in injury time – Schøne open from the right side of the box – he blazed his shot high and wide. Those are the margins which decide these games.

Like Sneijder for Holland in Denmark's last match, Daniel Agger did not deserve to be on the losing side, despite his role in Portugal's first two goals.

All six of his attempted tackles in the last two games have been successful. He saved Kjaer (who, in contrast to the last match, was terrible today) multiple times, made crucial tackles, interceptions and blocks, and fervently threw himself around in attack in the dying stages. On form, he remains without peer. But without heroics from Krohn-Dehli, Poulsen, and Kjaer, the other stars against Holland – and despite Bendtner's – it was without reward.

As with Group A, this group will go down to the last day. Portugal and Denmark both have three points, as do Germany – about to play the Netherlands. Both Portugal and Denmark have incredibly difficult matches to come on Sunday. I guess they don't call it the Group of Death for nothing.

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