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Germany took a big step toward the Euro 2012 quarterfinals, drowning the Netherlands 2-1 Wednesday night to leave the Dutch on the ledge. Mario Gomez was the hero scoring two goals to lead his side while Bastian Schweinsteiger was the architect.
In our other game of the night, substitute Silvestre Varela blasted home a late match-winning goal that saved the blushes not only of Portugal, but also of their star Cristiano Ronaldo in Lviv. The game was a stone cold classic that will also reinforce the perception that the Real Madrid striker simply cannot hack it on the big stage.
Let’s begin in Kharkiv, where Holland are close to completing an epic collapse. Someone had to go out of the “group of death,” but few pegged the Dutch as the team to flame out in such spectacular fashion – usually they wait until later in the tournament to descend into petty bickering and infighting.
Before Wednesday night, Wesley Sneijder said what many long-time observers of this team have thought. His call for his teammates to get rid of their “pathetic egos” wasn’t the greatest or the most successful rallying cry, but it was candid. And in that spirit, let’s be candid about what ails this team: they simply do not like each other.
How a team that plays Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel could give Bayern’s Schweinsteiger so much space to roam and create is hard to fathom. How Holland managed to get such limp performances out of Sneijder and Arjen Robben is not.
Germany simply tormented what stands revealed as a very average back line, running Gomez right through John Heitinga, and forced the Dutch to chase. Bert van Marwijk’s midfield stagnated as Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira sped past them. It’s difficult to see van Bommel continuing at this level past this game.
Robben looked like a man out on one of those islands Sneijder referred to, seeming more interested in personal glory than winning the game. History will be kinder to Robin van Persie – he single-handedly got a goal back after a missed chances and gave his side some needed hope.
But Gomez – who now has three goals in two games and stands as the co-leader in the golden boot race – was the man of the match. Both his finishes were ferocious and he seems to have exorcised the demons of that ill-starred Champions League final in May.
In Lviv, Ronaldo missed two wide-open sitters in the second half when Portugal was nursing a 2-1 lead; the last one a simple poke past an open net after he had beaten the offside trap. As a result, he was in line to be a famous goat of the tournament when Nicklas Bendtner's second goal of the night pulled Denmark level at 2-2.
Varela, a striker inserted to replace midfielder Raul Meireles, gave his country the lifeline with three minutes remaining in normal time; as Varela controlled a cross into the box, turned and whipped a powerful shot to the near post corner. The win kept Portugal alive in the chase for the quarterfinals and pegged back the Danes, for whom a draw might well have been the springboard to the same stage.
For neutrals, it was a thrilling climax befitting one of the better games of the tournament, an open contest that flowed across the 90-plus minutes.
Bendtner, playing his 50th game for Denmark, brought his side back after Portugal had taken what appeared to be a commanding early lead. Pepe's header off a corner opened the scoring, then Helder Postiga, the often-criticized point man of the Portuguese attack, first-timed a Nani pass into the top corner to make it 2-0.
Bendtner was left completely alone to head in his first goal just before halftime, then delivered a powerful header that flew through Rui Patricio's attempt to save. That one appeared to have changed the entire look of the group of death before Varela had the final word.
But the story is Ronaldo, and yet another night of international misery on the big stage. Both of the chances he squandered were like ones he put away with aplomb during his 50-goal regular season at Real Madrid. Thanks to his considerably lesser-known teammate, he'll get at least one more chance to silence his critics when Portugal wraps up group play against the Netherlands.
''No games go perfectly,'' Ronaldo said. ''I'd have liked to have had more possession but it just wasn't possible. Everyone has the right to miss chances, myself included.
“The goals will come. The team won, that is what matters."
Weird as it sounds, this group’s standings will remain open until the final day. Germany has six points, but Denmark and Portugal can also finish on six; Holland, Denmark and Portugal also can all finish on three.
Jamie Trecker is the senior editor for FOXSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclays Premier League.
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