Complicated times in the ‘Group of Death’

The Globe and Mail

Arjen Robben from the Netherlands reacts during the Euro 2012 soccer championship Group B match between the Netherlands and Germany in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 13, 2012. (Associated Press)

The “Group of Death,” as we all knew it would, has come down to the third and final group games for each country, with everything still to play for, and mathematics firmly in play.

Despite two wins out of two, including a very creditable victory over long-time rival the Netherlands last Wednesday, Germany is still unsure of its place in the last eight, and could still be eliminated if they lose to Denmark by any result other than a one-goal defeat in which Germany score at least two and Portugal defeat the Dutch. Fair enough, it’s not the most likely of scenarios, but it could still happen.

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Of far more pertinent interest is what’s going on below the three-time European champion in the Group B standing. The Dutch, despite going 0-for-2 so far, are still with a mathematical – or should that be miracle? – shout at the quarter-finals, but it will require a strange, and altogether unlikely, set of circumstances for that to occur. The Netherlands has to beat Portugal by a two-goal margin and then hope that Germany beats Denmark in order for it to claim second spot in the group behind the Germans.

Things are far simpler for Denmark. A win and it’s through, although it will still qualify with a draw providing Portugal loses to the Dutch. However, a loss will eliminate the Danes.

And Portugal also will also progress with a win, unless Denmark wins by a one-goal margin and scores at least three goals in the process. A draw will also book a quarter-final berth if the Danes fail to win, and Portugal will also qualify with a loss providing it is be a one-goal margin and that the Danes also lose.

So, with that out of the way, let’s look at those most likely to influence the outcomes.

Germany’s player to watch: Bastian Schweinsteiger

Mario Gomez may have got the goals so far, but by and large it’s been his Bayern Munich teammate pulling the strings from the middle of the park. Schweinsteiger set up both of Gomez’s strikes against the Dutch, and his playmaking ability may not be the be all and end all against the Danes on Sunday, but will be priceless if, as expected, the Germans go deeper into the tournament.

Denmark’s player to watch: Christian Eriksen

Much was expected of the Ajax whizzkid heading into this tournament but he hasn’t really done justice to the hype. Depending on what happens Sunday, he may only have one more change to make his mark on Euro 2012.

Portugal’s player to watch: Cristiano Ronaldo

Held off the scoresheet until now, the 60-goal Real Madrid man has suffered in the spotlight, particularly when held up to the highest of standards - ie, those set by rival Lionel Messi. Still, with the quarter-finals in sight, there is still time for the Portugal captain to redeem himself and shrug off the unwanted mantle of big tournament underachiever.

The Netherlands’ player to watch: Rafael van der Vaart

The Tottenham Hotspur midfielder has been unhappy with his role thus far in the tournament, and had no problem going to the press to say so. Handed a second-half role against Germany, Van der Vaart helped the Dutch give the Germans cause for concern as the game developed and will now get his chance to prove to his manager he was right all along with a start against Portugal.

Predictions

Germany 1-1 Denmark

Portugal 1-2 Netherlands

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