Why You Should Be Watching: Round Two

Ireland need to beat Spain or Italy, preferably both, but will Trap change enough? Also, if there's anything better than Germany v Holland, it's Germany v Holland with high stakes...

Last Updated: 13/06/12 at 08:26 Post Comment

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Denmark v Portugal
Here's the weird thing about Denmark's win over Holland. When an 'underdog' beats a bigger team (although the disparity between the sides wasn't nearly as big as some would have you believe) you would expect some heroic, backs to the wall defending that repels the marauding enemy armies, but the Danes actually didn't defend that well. A couple (Daniel Agger in particular) were excellent, but they allowed the Dutch a whopping 32 shots, and it was Oranje profligacy (only five of those efforts were on target) that ensured Stephan Andersen's goal was not breached. So, with Portugal occasionally very threatening, it would only take a few adjustments from Paulo Bento's boys for them to punch through and really make the Danes look silly.

Netherlands v Germany
You shouldn't really need too much persuading to cancel all other plans and settle down for one of the biggest rivalries in international football, but even if age-old hatred doesn't get your trousers stirring, there's plenty to get excited about here. For one, neither side were particularly convincing (to varying degrees) in their opening games, so seeing how each will adapt and improve will be interesting. While Germany won, they were some ropey Portuguese finishing away from a draw or even defeat, but obviously their opponents have bigger problems.

'What's worrying is that Oranje struggled when it mattered most,' wrote Johan Cruyff in a column for De Telegraaf after the game, pointing out that there was far too much distance between their 'defensive' six and attacking four against Denmark. The old boy might be a bit of a blowhard these days, but he had a point - Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong did a good enough job of tackling and whatnot, but their instincts undoubtedly slowed the Dutch play down. Not that the attackers were much better, with Arjen Robben turning in the sort of performance that makes you want to put your foot through the telly. The defeat to Denmark means the Dutch need to win this, and if there's one thing better than Germany v Holland, it's Germany v Holland with plenty at stake.

Italy v Croatia
Plan A, or Plan B for Italy? Mario Balotelli has a habit of doing one daft thing that will provoke a substitution. He's just that sort of player - one for whom one horrendous action cause a manager to snap and decide he isn't worth the trouble. For Cesare Prandelli, Balotelli's dither and failure to score when he carved himself a golden chance against Spain seemed to be that moment, and what's more Italy's attack simply looked much more settled when Antonio di Natale came on. Indeed, the Udinese forward bagged within a few minutes and his goals record (26 in 36 last season) suggests, nay demands that he should play ahead of Balotelli. For Prandelli, a big call.

Spain v Ireland
Oh Ireland, Ireland, Ireland. The big problem with losing to Croatia is that they now need to beat either Spain or Italy. Preferably both. Oddly, in theory they might have a better chance in this game, given it's becoming easier and easier to stop Spain, as Italy showed with a packed narrow defence, and especially if they pull the 'no striker' trick again. The trouble is, all the things that Ireland are theoretically good at were not really present on Sunday. Their defending looked shaky and easily beatable, while on the counter-attack they were a little blunted.

Still, Giovanni Trapattoni was optimistic, and with some degree of logic. "Until now, we have not conceded a situation like this evening," said Trap of the incredibly sloppy set-pieces from which Croatia found success. And he's right - Croatia could be a blip, the exception that proves the rule. Paul Little suggested a number of changes for Thursday (including, horror of horrors, dropping Robbie Keane), but Trap has shown himself to be so slow to change from his pre-conceived ideas, you wouldn't place a great deal of money on someone like Shane Long, or even James McClean starting, although he has hinted at a couple of key alterations. Whatever changes, it must work, because if they lose to Spain, Ireland are going home.

Ukraine v France
Are France as good as we think they are? In her 16 Conclusions on England v France, Sarah Winterburn wrote that, man for man, France simply have better players. That's certainly true of the attacking three of Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery, and probably Yohan Cabaye, but behind that? I'm not so sure. Would Roy Hodgson trade his back five for the French equivalent? You can make a decent case for Mathieu Debuchy over Glen Johnson, but the rest? I doubt it. After the draw in Donetsk, Group D will probably come down to who can do better against Ukraine and Sweden, who on the basis of their game on Monday, are two reasonably limited sides. That French attacking line could well give Laurent's garcons the edge, and a battering of Oleg Blokhin's hosts would do their chances of topping the group plenty of good.

Nick Miller - join him in watching these games on Twitter. Well, you won't watch them on Twitter, but he'll probably say something terribly witty/clever/make some puerile joke.

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