Group B will conclude action on Sunday, as Portugal and Holland will renew acquaintances at Kharkiv. It is a critical fixture for Portugal as they need a victory, to ensure a spot in the quarterfinals. After opening the tournament with a loss to Germany, Portugal scored a 3-2 result over Denmark in an enthralling match.
The Dutch have shown substandard form in the tournament, losing to Denmark and Germany in their fixtures, while scoring only one goal in that time frame. Holland will need a miracle to advance past the group stage.
Adding to Holland’s woes is manager Bert van Marwijk’s assertion following the Germany match, claiming his team “lacked courage” in the competition. This hasn’t gone over well with the Dutch players, and one must question their motivation coming into this fixture.
The Dutch have used a 4-2-3-1 formation, but it hasn’t generated the quality normally associated with Clockwork Orange. Robin Van Persie has started at the striker position, and has notched the lone Dutch goal in the tournament. Despite the goal, the Arsenal forward has strained in finding space. Many Dutch supporters have wondered why Klaas-Jan Huntelaar hasn’t made the team sheet as a secondary striker. Whether van Marwijk is loath to a 4-3-3 or 4-2-2 formation, or his stubborn in his use of the 4-2-3-1, questions will be asked afterwards about tactics and usage of his strikers.
Wesley Sneijder is likely to be on the team sheet as the talismanic midfielder, although his fitness is debatable. The Inter Milan star has been nursing a thigh knock and it has hampered his play. It hasn’t helped that Arjen Robben and Ibrahim Afellay have not played champagne football either. Robben hasn’t recovered from his abysmal performance in the Champions League Final for Bayern Munich, and it appears that performance has affected Robben psychologically. Afellay has been virtually invisible, producing scarce quality for Holland.
Mark van Bommel and Nigel De Jong will be the holding midfielders. They will be assigned to watch Cristiano Ronaldo’s every move. Both are cynical, pugnacious holding midfielders who aren’t afraid of using unseemly tactics to thwart their opponent.
The back has toiled in mediocrity, which is the main reason why Holland are at the bottom of Group B. Right back Gregory van der Wiel has had a forgetful competition, routinely getting overcome along the left flank. Left back Jeto Willems has struggled to maintain pace along the right flank. John Heitinga, Joris Mathijsen and Ron Vlaar have all laboured in the centre back positions.
Maarten Stekelenburg has been the starting keeper, conceding 3 goals for Holland. While he isn’t to blame for Holland’s sorrows, he hasn’t been good enough for Holland.
Portugal have an excellent chance of reaching the quarterfinals, despite Cristiano Ronaldo not opening his account yet. The Real Madrid superstar, has had some glorious chances, especially against Denmark, but has failed to convert on his opportunities. If Ronaldo can find his scoring boots, Portugal will be a force to be reckoned with.
Joining Ronaldo in the 4-3-3 formation Portugal favours, will be Helder Postiga and Nani. Postiga scored a wonderful goal against Denmark, thus silencing his critics after his agricultural performance against Germany. If one of them falters, expect Silvestre Varela to come on as a substitute. The Porto winger scored the winner against Denmark in wondrous style, as he screamed a shot from 20 yards out, finding the back of the net fashionably.
Raul Meireles and Joao Moutinho have been used as attacking midfielders for Portugal. Moutinho has been steady for manager Paulo Bento’s side. Meireles has had moments of clarity, but has had moments of suspicion as well. The Chelsea midfielder has to find a more consistent form, to stay on the sheet. Miguel Veloso will be armed with the task of tracking Wesley Sneijder, as he attempts to disrupt the creative form of the Dutch.
The backfield has been constant for Portugal. Pepe, Bruno Alves, Joao Pereira, and Fabio Coentrao have been on the starting eleven for both fixtures for Portugal. Don’t expect any changes, unless Bento has a different approach to this fixture.
Rui Patricio has been the keeper for both matches so far, which has been a surprise to some observers. The Sporting Lisbon goalie, has displayed decent form, despite conceding 3 goals in the competition. However, if Portugal are to go beyond the quarterfinals, Patricio must improve in order to keep his place on the team sheet.
Prediction: The Dutch are in disarray and the comments made by van Marwijk won’t help the cause. Portugal are brimmed with excitement following the Denmark match, and this should propel them in this match. Portugal are unbeaten in the last 8 fixtures against Holland, and it is expected they will stretch that to 9. Portugal wins this 2-0.
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