More observations from the second and third day of action (lumped together because it’s a weekend and all):
First off, I’m shocked like most of you that Denmark got past Netherlands. Roger Bennett explored one of two possible explanations in this ESPN column — that the Netherlands are just too talented to have all its alpha dogs play together. It’s either that, or simply that van Persie and Robben have been slipping heading into the tournament — van Persie only scored four goals in his last 10 Premier League games this year compared to a nearly goal-a-game clip in the first 28. And, for Robben, his missed PK and his not scoring at all otherwise in the Champions League finals underscores the can’t-finish rap he’s acquired.
(Then again, Denmark did get away with a handball in the box. The video evidence begs the question: Why didn’t the refs see this one?)
Germany was a bit lackluster in dispatching of Portugal, though I’m sure it was a relief for German fans to see Mario Gomez convert a cross into a goal with a well-executed header. But Podolski and Muller each missed fairly easy goal opportunities (though, of course, it seems far easier to score when you’re watching from above rather than actually being on the pitch). Germany was lucky to escape; Varela had a perfect scoring opportunity late, but managed to deliver his strike directly into goalie Manuel Neuer’s crotch, when he could have peppered any corner of the net. Jerome Boateng had a masterful, game-long shutdown of Cristiano Ronaldo — he’s our pick for Man of the Match.
The Spain-Italy match was much anticipated, though the odd decision to play a 4-6-0 formation (which eventually sort of paid off with Cesc Fabregas’ pretty equalizer goal) was only compounded by the decision to put in Fernando Torres, who seems determined to become, if not the world’s worst striker, the striker who’s fallen the farthest from his former form. In 15 minutes of sub time, he managed to turn a perfect through-ball into getting stripped by Italian goalie Buffon (who came out to rightly challenge him), get booked for a wayward elbow to vatera an opponent’s face, and then taking another goal-scoring opportunity and turning it into a chip over the bar. And yet, the worst striker moment in the game goes to Mario Balotelli, who stripped Sergio Ramos, had a clear path to the goal, and then meandered until Ramos caught up to him, whereupon he dinked the ball over the end line for a goal kick. The most mystifying moment of a 1-1 tie that really could have been a win for either side with better execution. (Note to Spain: Llorente’s a striker with confidence. Maybe try him next match?)
There’s not much to say about Croatia’s rout of Ireland, except that Ireland’s possibly the worst of the teams assembled here (though Ukraine’s yet to play, and the Czech Republic had a terrible showing on Day One), and who would have thought that Dzagoev and Mandzukic would be tied for the Golden Boot right now?