Portugal’s Euro 2012 ambitions were hanging by a thread after throwing away a two-goal lead in Lviv. First-half goals from Pepe and Helder Postiga looked to have secured the three points well before the break only for a Nicklas Bendtner brace to peg back Paulo Bento’s side and leave Cristiano Ronaldo & co in shock. But substitute Silvestre Varela found a late winner to keep Portuguese dreams alive. Here we explore the issues that emerged from an absorbing match.
The result was particularly cruel on Bendtner who looked like being the Danish hero after netting with a header in each half. His second goal came with just 10 minutes remaining and if Denmark could have held on they would have been in a strong position to qualify for the quarter-finals. But with a daunting final group game against Germany to come this could be the result that Morten Olsen’s men look back on and rue. We discuss just some of the many talking points that came out of this contest.
Out in force
The Arena Lviv is the smallest of the eight venues, but there was no shortage of atmosphere in the 35,000 capacity stadium. And the Danish fans were out in force, outnumbering their Portuguese counterparts by at least three to one. The supporters dressed in their nations’ colours and painted their faces red and white around three corners of the ground and swayed from side to side in scenes which were more reminiscent of Oktoberfest in Munich.
Few people fancied Denmark to make much of an impression at Euro 2012, especially after seeing them placed in the so-called Group of Death. Well, they have already given Holland a bloody nose and came agonisingly close to snatching a share of the spoils against Portugal. Danish heads did not drop even after they went two goals down and they were good value for a draw when Bendtner made it 2-2. They will be disappointed to see a point slip, but they have every chance of making the quarter-finals if they can produce another performance against Germany.
When the heavily tattooed midfielder Niki Zimling came off the field holding his left calf, the Danes lost their concentration. Olsen’s side became badly organised at the back and struggled to do the basics from set-pieces and corners. They also became very exposed with nobody marking front positions from corner-kicks. The two centre-halves allowed Postiga to dance in-between them at times. One problem was that Olsen had decided not to use Michael Silberbauer to man mark Ronaldo. The midfielder, who can also play left back, did a good job of keeping Ronaldo quiet during a Euro 2012 qualifying match in October, which Denmark won 2-1, and had been tipped to play instead of defender Simon Poulsen. It’s a move Olsen may regret.
Denmark had beaten their opponents three times and drawn once in their last five meetings and the Arsenal striker scored in all of those games. Bendtner, who was on loan at Sunderland last season, is not exactly short of self-confidence and he showed that he can be a world class striker when he wants to be, scoring his 19th and 20th international goals on his 50th appearance. Firstly he nodded home a Michael Krohn-Dehli header back across goal before grabbing the equaliser when he lost his marker to head past goalkeeper Rui Patricio. He will now be looking forward to facing the Germans in a winner-takes-all clash.
Stubbornness over Dynamite
Olsen’s side are likened to the team which came from nowhere to win the 1992 European Championship as late replacements for Yugoslavia, although they failed to live up to the hype after going two goals down. It is certainly not like the outfit which was regarded as Europe’s answer to Brazil. One which lit up the 1986 World Cup in Mexico with world-class players such as Preben Elkjaer, Michael Laudrup, Soren Lerby, Jesper Olsen and Jan Molby. They did show plenty of grit and determination to fight back though and are still in with a real chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals. Now they face the same country that they defeated in that final in Gothenburg 20 years ago if they hope to advance in the tournament.
One of Portugal’s main weaknesses is upfront, where they lack an out-and-out frontman who can play with his back to goal and feed off the mesmerising runs and deliveries of Ronaldo and Nani. However, their centre-back, Pepe, demonstrated all the movement and technique of a seasoned centre-forward in scoring the game’s opening goal. In a strike startlingly similar to the one Andriy Shevchenko scored against Sweden on Monday, Pepe lost his marker, darted to the near post and powered a fizzing header beyond Andersen in the Denmark net. Opposition defenders would do well to keep a closer eye on the Real Madrid defender in future.
Postiga answers critics
Speaking of strikers, Postiga is one of those whose place has been at risk in recent matches. Anonymous against Germany in the group opener, failing to muster a single shot at goal, the former Tottenham man justified his inclusion and repaid the faith in him by Bento with a sweetly-taken strike to double Portugal’s advantage after 36 minutes.
To the left, to the left
As Denmark pushed forward in chase of an equaliser in the second half, it became clear their best chance of success was down the Portugal left against an increasingly exposed Fabio Coentrao. Ronaldo was supposed to be playing on the left-wing but his tendency to wander infield in search of the ball meant he failed to track the runs of marauding Denmark full-back Lars Jacobsen. This allowed the Danes to double up on Ronaldo’s Real Madrid team-mate Coentrao, himself doing his best to resist his attacking urges. Portugal paid a heavy price for their slack marking with Jacobsen afforded acres of space to put in a pinpoint cross onto the head of Bendtner for the equaliser.
His frequent shrugs, grimaces and generally negative body language suggest all is not well with Ronaldo. The Real Madrid man missed two gilt-edged chances to put the game beyond Denmark in a performance at odds with his scintillating displays for Real this season. Thirty-two goals in 93 international appearances puts paid to the theory that he doesn’t perform at international level, but is it clear something isn’t quite right with the superstar winger at present.
Porto forward Varela kept Portugal in the European Championship – and showed Ronaldo how it’s done – with a brilliant winner three minutes from time. The 27-year-old made an impact from the bench against Germany last Saturday and would have grabbed the equaliser if it wasn’t for a wonderful save from Manuel Neuer. He went one better this time, his smart half-volley meaning Bento has a selection headache for their final group game with Holland at the weekend.