Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My Euro 2012 Preview Part 2: The Group of Death

The Group of Death
by rick olivares

Lost in all the subplots of revenge, redemption, and groups of death in Euro 2012 is a curious congregation of three countries.

Group B is comprised of (in alphabetical order) Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, and Portugal. For sure none of these countries are happy to be lumped in one group with one another as surely as “lump” is the operative word. These teams will bring everything to the pitch including the kitchen sink.

For Germany and the Netherlands to continue their date with Spain, first there’s the matter of some payback.

Memories are long when it comes to football. One can say that the Dutch’s ages-old enmity towards Germany was lessened when they beat Die Mannschaft in 1988. Not true.

After Spain eliminated Joachim Low’s side in the semifinals of the 2012 World Cup, a German publication suggested that their countrymen should root for the Netherlands in the finals. Quite a few Dutch newspapers thumbed their noses down and made remarks about how many of their homegrown stars are making names for themselves in the German Bundesliga. Consider this rivalry still smoldering.

But the two countries, separated by the Rhine River, have a common foe.


Not a fairy tale win
Two weeks prior to the kickoff of the 1992 European Football Championship, FIFA responded to the United Nations’ call for sanctions against Yugoslavia that erupted in a fractious civil war with wanton killing unseen since World War II. Denmark had finished second to Yugoslavia in their group and received their call up as they were preparing for a friendly match with the Commonwealth of Independent States (Russia that was in the midst of the breakup of the Soviet Union).

What followed was something that Danish fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen could have not penned. Star Michael Laudrup, who was playing for Barcelona at that time, ignored manager Richard Moller Nielsen’s invite to join the national squad. Defender Kim Vilfort was reluctant to leave his leukemia-stricken daughter but joined the team (he would leave the tournament for a match then return in time). It even bordered on the comedic when Moller Nielsen, instead of saying, “good luck and get a win,” told the team before their first match against England: “Make sure you don’t go out there and embarrass yourselves.”

The figured in a scoreless draw with England then fell to Sweden 1-0. Needing a win to advance, the Vikings did just that as they ousted an Eric Cantona-led French team 2-1.

Once in the semifinals, Denmark valiantly held tournament favorite Holland at bay and went into a penalty shootout after a 2-2 draw. Even in the shootout, the score was even heading into the final shot. Dutch striker and Ajax/AC Milan great Marco van Basten trooped to take his spot kick against the Vikings’ keeper Peter Schmeichel who minded the nets for Manchester United. The Dane tipped van Basten’s shot and to eke out an incredible win.

Schmeichel remembered that when they beat France, they got a massive dose of confidence. Keeping abreast of the erstwhile defending champions, Netherlands, every step of the way also added to their belief that they could pull off the incredible and improbable.

The European trophy would be theirs… if they could beat Germany. Despite missing three players in the final because of seriously injuries, the Danes struck early with John Jensen’s 18th minute strike. With Schmeichel repeatedly denying Jurgen Klinsmann’s shots, Denmark scored a deciding goal Kim Vilfort (!) poached one inside the German box.

Denmark were crowned European football champions in a most incredible run (Moller Nielsen was knighted in Denmark while Michael Laudrup looked foolish).

That was 20 years ago.

Déjà vu all over again?
In Group C of the qualifying matches for Euro 2012, Serbia (the largest of the former Yugoslavian federation), was once knocked out of the running by its own doing. Against Italy and only six minutes into the game, Serbian fans were rioting in the stands when officials abandoned the match and controversially awarded Italy with a 3-0 win (that was also unfair to the other countries in the same group).

The abandoned match cost Serbia three points as they finished third behind Italy and Estonia.

Estonia finished their group stage with 16 points as opposed to Serbia’s 15 points. 

In the meantime however, Denmark topped Group H that included Portugal. The Danes lost 3-1 in a first round meet with Portugal (the Vikings’ lone goal was an own goal by Portugal’s Ricardo Carvalho) but in the return match in Copenhagen, they won, 2-1. That enabled them to top the group with 19 points while Portugal finished with 16 (they also lost 1-0 to Norway in an earlier meet).

And now the Group of Death
The Netherlands are on a mission to restore Dutch pride. Ever since the advent of ‘total football’ as taught by Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff, the Dutch have been credited for this beautiful kind of play. FC Barcelona’s past and current success has the Dutch’s fingerprints all over them. But after the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa, Holland sharply rebuked Bert van Marwijk for destroying the style they espouse with something out of the NBA Detroit Piston’s Bad Boys playbook.

This tournament, the onus is on van Marwijk to restore that pride and old faith. Easier said than done. They lost 3-0 to the Germans in a friendly in November of 2011 and not many expect them to get past Joachim Low’s side and Portugal.

Luckily for them, many of their key players had great seasons. There’s Rob van Persie and Klaas Jan Huntelaar who had astounding seasons scoring goals with Arsenal and Schalke 04 respectively. Arjen Robben did well with Bayern Munich (just don’t remind him of the finals against Chelsea). Nigel de Jong helped Manchester City to its first Premier League title.

The task for van Marwik is how to translate all the individual great football his wards played for Euro 2012.

Germany is my favorite to not only win the group but to unseat Spain. This team is ready and ripe to win it all. The two great batches that played in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups have grown up and are more mature in their approach to the game.

Their passing game, movement, and goals make them a joy to watch. And can you believe this – attacking flair. And whom have they trampled on – England, Argentina, and Uruguay on two occasions, Brazil, and Holland. Not exactly instant road kill there.

Look for Joachim Low’s side to raise its fourth European trophy at the end of this.

Portugal has played much better under Paulo Bento as opposed to the stifling Carlos Queiroz. There is no denying the talent on this Portugal squad that will be led by Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Pepe, and Raul Meireles. The problem for this squad is can they play defense? They conceded 14 goals in their qualifying and playoff stages. And how's that central midfield?

Some say that Portugal can make it out as evidenced when they advanced from Euro 2000 in a group that included Germany, England, and Romania. My problem with that is none of the current players for Portugal were on that squad. They made it to the finals of 2004 where they were piped by Greece on their home soil. This time it’s now or never for Ronaldo and Portugal.

Unfortunately, my take? Germany and the Netherlands will advance.

* The Denmark team that won Euro '92 included Henrik Larsen, Peter Schmeichel, Brian Laudrup, Flemming Pvlsen, Lars Elstrup, Henrik Andersen, John Jense, Torben Piechnik, Kent Nielsen, John Sivebaek, Kim Vilfort, Lars Olsen, Kim Christifte, and Bent Christensen.

Here's Part 1 of my Euro 2012 Preview: The Grudge Matches

And watch out for Part 3 of my Euro 2012 preview!


  1. the dutch and the germans will advance.....and my fearless forecast, these two teams will meet in the finals for the euro trophy!!

  2. I think Denmark is the Germany of World Cup 2010. Germany and Netherlands are top teams , but Portugal might pull something against any team along with Denmark. this group has 4 good teams. if one of the team are placed in other group it could qualify .