Dogged Germans shepherd great Danes' run to a rough end
Germany 2 Denmark 1:GERMANY, IT turns out, do not do group stage nail-biters after all. On a clear, mild night in suburban Lviv, a 2-1 defeat of Denmark that was not without alarms ensured it would indeed be Joachim Low’s fluent and excitingly youthful nationalmannschaft who escaped Group B without the indignity of last-ditch convulsions. Germany will now play Greece, who may feel – in every sense – they owe them one.
For the neutral in a packed and partisan 35,000-capacity stadium, this was another high-drama night of knockout football. It was a fitting end to a group that had been anointed with instant death-status the moment it was drawn, but which had in fact fizzled with unpredictable life, with Holland the surprise tortoises and the Danes second behind Germany as the final matches began. The fates of all four teams were still undecided as Germany kicked off and settled more quickly.
Chief among this German team’s shared attributes are a wonderful athleticism and sense of balance in possession, and the Podolski-Philipp Lahm axis down the left looked effortlessly penetrative in the early stages. For Denmark there was just a Nicklas Bendtner shot battered well wide before Germany opened the scoring after 19 minutes.
The goal was created by Muller, who picked up a throw-in, skipped inside and crossed for Mario Gomez, who miscontrolled a ball fizzed at his feet. Podolski was in the right place to take the deflected cross and finish from close range.
These are resilient Danes, however, and four minutes later they were level from an expertly worked deep corner. Bendtner rose to head the ball powerfully back across goal and Michael Krohn-Dehli was alert to nod it home.
Suddenly the match and the group were, if not in the balance, then showing signs of intrigue. As it stood, Denmark would qualify behind Germany. Before kick-off, there had been talk of connivance between these two. Both teams knew a draw would see them progress to the quarter-finals, with Germany as group winners.
Would circumstances conspire to produce a laying-down in Lviv? Not on the face of it, as Germany continued to press; Mesut Ozil’s whipped free-kick from the right skimming the eyebrows of Gomez as he tried to force it home from three yards. Three minutes before half-time, Gomez almost walked the ball into the net, having picked up a pass from Muller, and ambled away from two defenders, only to see Anderson smother.
Denmark also pressed, and exposed a degree of give in Germany’s backline as Bendtner won the ball with ease in the air and Germany struggled to clear as ruthlessly as they attack.
With the score in the other match also 1-1, there were all possible scenarios to play for at the start of the second half: a goal for Denmark might be enough to put Germany out. The Danes almost had one on 51 minutes; Jakob Poulsen clipping the outside of the post from Bendtner’s lay-off after a fine run from Simon Poulsen. And briefly it was Denmark who looked more composed with Krohn-Dehli flitting purposefully.
Not for long, though, as Germany showed another side to their game, keeping the ball, at times at walking pace, and drawing for a while the sting of opponents who needed to score.
Denmark had one final opening. In fact, they should have had a penalty after 75 minutes: Bendtner was clearly pulled back by Holger Badstuber stretching for a cross from the left. Nothing was given and Germany exacted a merciless turnaround. Four minutes later, Ozil produced a swift diagonal pass to the onrushing right back Lars Bender and he finished clinically.
At the Arena Lviv
Germany – Schuerrle for Podolski (64 mins); Klose for Gomez (74); Kroos for Mueller (84).
Denmark – Poulsen for Zimling (79 mins); Mikkelsen for Poulsen (82).
Germany – Podolski 19, Bender 80.
Denmark – Krohn-Dehli 24.
Germany – None.
Denmark – None.
REFEREE Carlos Velasco Carballo (Spain).