This appears in philstar.com
Portugal & Germany will rue those missed chances
by rick olivares
It is invariable that the television cameras will pan from the victors to the vanquished and Euro 2012 has not been lacking in emotion and drama.
The Portugal side of Paulo Bento showed promise as not much was expected from them. It was after all a young side with only Cristiano Ronaldo and Helder Postiga the remnants of the side that made the finals of Euro 2004 (where they lost rather unluckily to Greece in the finals in their homefield of Lisbon no less).
This squad is firmly Ronaldo’s but the team received a huge lift when Postiga carried them in the group stages before CR7 got going. But the team does not have the depth of the previous teams as Bento jettisoned Ricardo Carvalho and Jose Bosingwa over disputes about roles and playing time.
Nelson Oliveira is to this squad what CR7 and Postiga were to Portugal back in 2004. Ronaldo was 19 years old then with the latter two years older. That squad was led by luminaries like Luis Figo, Deco, Rui Costa, Pauleta, Simao, and Maniche to name a few.
Against Spain, even if the defending champions dominated possession, the Portuguese show dangerous intent on many occasions. Spain wasn’t fluid all the time maybe as Xavi and Xabi Alonso were mostly quiet and not influential at all. Xavi is the player who must – at least in Barcelona’s system and the last World Cup title team – have at least 100 touches or else he’ll murder someone. Portugal’s maligned midfield of Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles, and Joao Moutinho played well enough to disrupt Spain’s midfield play.
Both teams started out with 4-3-3 formations but gradually switched to counter each other’s moves. Portugal played well in the first few minutes and had to chances before Spain got the bearings going. Credit should go to Spain’s Iker Casillas and Portugal’s Rui Patricio for making great stops and saves.
Come penalties, Portugal was handed a gift when Alonso flubbed his country’s first spot kick. Only Moutinho gave it back when he took a terrible shot himself. At this point, I figured Bento would let Ronaldo take the second or third penalty only he was slated to take the last shot.
There was confusion in the order of the PKs to be taken when Bruno Alves trooped to the line only to have Nani pull him back. I had no doubt Nani would make it but not Alves. The thing about penalties is it requires a lot of concentration and focus. The ‘sudden’ change in order, if you ask me, somewhat affected Alves’ concentration. And true enough he hit the woodwork. Cesc Fabregas closed out the scoring as Ronaldo never even got a shot off.
The look on his face said it all. They had Spain on the ropes but it was they who were going home for the summer. And that was loss #16 (the Portuguese have bean La Roja nine times and drawn on 13 other occasions).
If there’s anything about Euro 2012, it’ll be about missed opportunities. England had another ‘penalties, again’ moment that is sure to weigh heavy on their minds. The early exit of the Dutch will have to force them to reassess how they play their game and approach the tournament. The Danes, who narrowly missed booking a quarterfinals seat have served a great lesson – it’s not about the stars but the team. The French on the other hand have a promising team but the two orders of the day are consistency and the dire need of a leader to carry them. Sadly they have not had one since Zizou (pre-Materazzi).
And there are the Germans. No doubt they played one of the best attacking brands of football in this tournament. They sure were not of the same form as when they were in South Africa but they were exciting to watch. I did make note however of their weakness at the back. With an ailing Per Mertesacker, Jogi Low went with Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Philip Lahm, and Holger Badstuber. Not to so bad but lacking in resolve. Maybe I am wrong with that assessment but in this regard – their attacking style that stretched them all too far throughout the tournament – I’d staunchly back up.
They would attack in numbers and leave one or two central backs who were not exactly the speediest of players. Portugal exposed that from Day One. Denmark nearly made them pay. And well, Italy’s Mario Balotelli did his best impression of Didier Drogba by barreling his way to a pair of goals that saw Italy advance all the way to the finals against Spain.
I thought that Low would address the holes in the defense as the tournament went on but I didn’t see it. Maybe they though they could outscore the opponent into submission. Only when their offense bogged down their defense was all the more vulnerable to the Italian counters.
I was stunned. I shared that same look on Low’s face after Balotelli’s superb strike that left Manuel Neuer looking for a second straight time. The Bayern Munich goalkeeper could only applaud Super Mario’s goal for it was indeed wondrous and worth watching again and again.
Low’s got a grand plan but this was when the German’s ascended from their last few third place finishes. Looks like the tinkering needs more tweaking. They scored the most goals heading into the semifinals with 10. But the Germans also surrendered six.
Italy on the other hand do not score but they also do not concede a lot either. And it seems that every time there are problems on the domestic front regarding match fixing, they perform well.
In 1982, the Azzurri won the World Cup with Paolo Rossi, who was banned for two years for match fixing, leading the way. In 2006, following the calciopoli that saw Juventus return its trophy while relegated to the second division (not to mention their core scattering throughout Europe), Italy won the World Cup in Germany. Now that is resolve in the face of adversity and everyone else would do well to learn from that.
You can imagine what the drama and pressure will be like when two years from now these teams take their game to Brazil. Portugal and Germany hope the heartache and stunned looks and all will be worth the wait.