The Matches That Matter…
We are now coming up upon the final matches in each group where things really hot up in most cases with nearly all teams still having hopes of qualifying, however slim they may be. So far I am slightly down overall on the match tips themselves, and I am positively livid about it. I underestimated the Czech Republic and overestimated the Greeks I think, as well as doing respectively similar with the Ukraine and Sweden. I never had any of these sides down as potential winners, but in head to head matches I think I was slightly too optimistic about the underdogs chances.
These last matches can be odd ones to predict so it may well be that once teams are released I may change, or add, tips via Twitter. You can follow me @TopTopTips for this purpose. This is because someone like Germany may give the back-up players a run out safe in the knowledge that they have already qualified for the knock-out stages.
Poland v Czech Republic, Saturday 1945
A huge match for both sides as the winner takes all. Poland have been underwhelming in the main for those of us that expected good things from them, especially with home advantage. They came back from 1-0 down against Russia to record their second 1-1 draw and leave themselves knowing that only a victory will be good enough in this match. Robert Lewandowski was my tip for an outside bet on Top Goalscorer and he has shown patches of the form that he showed for Borussia Dortmund this season, but not for long enough. In the absence of many goal threats or another creditable striker, Poland will be hoping he finds his shooting boots in this one. What has been noticeable to me has been how they have raised their game when they have had the loudest backing. This came at the start of the first match and after falling behind against Russia. If they can carry on playing the way they did in the second half of the Russia match then they should have enough to see off a limited Czech side, but any less and they will be out.
The Czechs followed their thrashing by Russia to record a 2-1 win over a poor Greece side. Both goals came inside the first ten minutes thanks to a horrendous start in defence by the Greeks and I would not expect this to be the same against Poland. As Milan Baros is now reaching the final throes of his top level career they are much more reliant on the wide midfielders and full backs for the energy in their play. The aptly named right back Gebre Selassie in particular looks full of running and can often be seen bombing on beyond the midfielders to support the attack. Even though they beat Greece they let them back in the match and it wouldn’t have been too unfair on second half performance if Greece had snatched a point. They will need to keep up their bright start for at least an hour to repel a Poland side who will be roared on by a large home backing.
Back Poland at 2.3 on Betfair.
Russia v Greece, Saturday 1945
Russia head into this match knowing that they have qualified for the knock-out stages already. This is a bit of a tough one now to predict without knowledge of the team and how they will line-up. The good thing is that we do know Russia have some good attacking players that should now get a run out and a chance to stake a claim for a place in the starting line-up later on. Dick Advocaat has started with Aleksandr Kerzakhov as his main striker in the first two matches, and the Zenit man has not been getting the rub of the green. He is making the runs, playing people in and doing all the graft, but he is not scoring. This does leave room for either Roman Pavluychenko or Pavel Pogrebnyak to come in and show the manager they can do everything he can do, but with goals. You also have Marat Izmailov who was long tipped to become the next big thing with possibly his final chance on a grand stage ready to play in a forward role as Arshavin and Dzagoev have so far with distinction. The reserve defenders are not as good so we may well see some goals in this match.
Greece have been, with the exception of the woeful Ireland, the worst team in the tournament. Their strength in recent years has been a rock solid back line and midfield keeping clean sheets and giving the forwards a chance to nick victories. So far here the defence has been shambolic. The goalkeeper Chalkias was every bit as rubbish as many will remember him from his short spell at Portsmouth and with injuries and suspensions robbing them of two of their first choice back four against the Czechs they were all at sea. Throw in disappointing attackers and the ageing Karagounis in his third Euros playing like he was stuck in treacle and you have a recipe for disaster. If Russia throw their back-up defenders in then the Greeks may well get some chances to at least add to their goals for tally, but with Russia’s wealth of attacking talent they will go home without a win.
Back Russia at 1.75 with Paddy Power and Back Over 2.5 Goals at 2.0 with William Hill.
Denmark v Germany, Sunday 1945
As previously mentioned Germany will qualify top of their group provided they avoid defeat to Denmark. The Danes on the other hand will be looking to better Portugal’s result if they are to progress from the group. Thanks to a shock win over the disappointing Dutch in their opener Denmark could well be the shock side in the knock-out stages if they can conjure up another performance. I had mentioned before the tournament that I did not think they were being given enough credit by the bookies and it seems I was right about that. They really should have held on for a draw against Portugal, but succumbed to a late goal by Silvestre Varela to lose 3-2 having scored twice through Nicklas Bendtner. The Arsenal man could never be accused of underselling his abilities, and for this he gets an awful lot of stick from fans and the press who label him as rubbish in reaction. The truth lies somewhere in between as he has shown here that as a focal point of a side he can perform very well and Denmark will need more goals from him as I don’t see how they can keep Germany out for ninety minutes.
The Germans may well bring in some of their reserve players for this match, at least from the bench. Marco Reus has had a fantastic season at Borussia Monchengladbach rewarded with a move to champions Borussia Dortmund and is a brilliant forward who scores plenty of goals. I’ve come to appreciate the role Thomas Muller plays for the national side after being massively underwhelmed by him domestically this season, but I would like to see someone like Reus or Andrea Schurlle let off the leash. Similarly I would like to see Miroslav Klose allowed a chance to start a match. I am of the opinion that whilst he is certainly a good striker, Mario Gomez is slightly over-rated by those who have not seen much German football and simply look at his goal statistics. He is a great goalscorer, but offers little else to a side. This is fine for most matches, but can lead to him being a disappointment when playing against the best defences. Klose is a man for a big match and I would not be surprised to see him given a run in this to keep him warmed up just in case he is needed later in the competition.
Back Over 2.5 Goals at 1.9 with StanJames.
Portugal v Holland, Sunday 1945
Another huge match with Holland knowing they must win to stand any chance of progression. Portugal recovered from an opening game loss to Germany to win 3-2 with a late goal against Denmark last time out. Cristiano Ronaldo was again pretty wasteful in front of goal and reacted angrily to the ‘Messi, Messi’ chants by the Danish fans after the match. He definitely struggles to impose himself on matches for the national side as he does for Real Madrid, but this is hardly surprising given the difference in quality of his team-mates in both cases. The Portuguese are basically set up to defend with eight players, and to let Ronaldo, Nani and Postiga forage for themselves up front. This is fine when Postiga is having one of his rare good days, but when he isn’t the whole thing tends to get very scrappy. They need to better Denmark’s result really so will have to repel a rampant Holland and try and create for themselves. I personally think they may find this very difficult.
Holland have been the biggest disappointment of the tournament so far and it is largely of their own making. They have always had defenders that were not up to the levels of their forwards, but in this tournament they are playing like strangers at times. This has forced manager Bert Van Maarwijk to start with both Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong in the centre of midfield and this in turn has led to the team almost splitting in two with six staying back and four attacking. We then get to the forwards, and only Wesley Sneijder has really shown anything like what he is capable of so far. Robin Van Persie did score eventually against Germany and Holland will be hoping this now opens the floodgates with them needing a large victory to get through. I would expect to see Van Bommel replaced by Rafael Van Der Vaart for this as happened in the Germany second half as he looks raring to go and was making things happen where Arjen Robben and Ibrahim Afellay have completely failed. Robben has been at his selfish worst so far and Afellay looks every inch a player who hasn’t played in over a year with any regularity. This all being said I still think the Dutch are capable of a performance, but I think this could be end to end stuff.
Back Holland at 2.62 with ToteSport and Back Over 3.5 Goals at 3.2 with BoyleSports.