The final group matches were kicked off with the tightest group of the lot as the co-hosts Poland had the momentum going into their match at Wroclaw with Czech Republic, both needed to beat the other in order to qualify, a draw wouldn’t guarantee safety for either nation.
Russia looked the team of the tournament after their first performance in which they caned the 2004 semi-finalists Czech Republic thanks to a double from Alan Dzagoev, a shoe in for the player of the tournament. However, after adding a third, Dzagoev couldn’t add another against Greece as Karagounis, who was a key figure in the 2004 side which won the European Championship for the Greeks, scored the winning goal. However, the Greek midfielder would be ruled out of the quarter finals due to his yellow card suspension which will put a bitter-sweet tint on their tie with Germany in Gdansk on Friday.
Greece had propped up the table prior to both contests and just a mere few hours later they were preparing for a quarter final clash against the Group B winners thanks to a solitary 1-0 win over the pre-tournament Group A favourites, Russia.
The more important match pitted the co-hosts Poland against Czech Republic. The Czechs needed to win to be certain of qualification but a draw would equally do if Russia did them a favour.
In hindsight, Petr Jiracek’s second of the tournament was necessary or else Russia would’ve replaced them as a qualified nation for the final eight. It was a poor and scrappy game between the two who were desperately in search for a win which would ultimately be followed by triumph and qualification, Jiracek was that man who got the solitary goal which saw two of 2004’s semi-finalists through to 2012’s knockout phase.
There were no certainties, just like the opening group, to who will qualify. Holland looked as though they were paling into insignificance after two opening losses, they would need a lucky string of results to seal their qualification into the knockout phase. Germany were the only side with the possible hope of maintaining a 100% record going into the knockout stage.
However, they were against a Danish side who could spring a surprise as they proved in the opening match where they beat World Cup finalists Holland in Kharkiv. Germany were far from safe, however, if they lost to Denmark and Portugal beat Holland which were perfectly possible and likely circumstances then one of, if not, the favourites of the tournament would be dumped out of the tournament, along with Holland.
Holland, under Bert van Marwijk, looked terrible especially in their loss against Denmark but in their second defeat to 1996 champions over Germany. The Germans would ultimately record a victory against Denmark, who would be eliminated thanks to a Portuguese win over Holland which rendered them with no points which left them without a point from a Group Stage for the first time in their history.
Cristiano Ronaldo who had been poor in previous matches for Portugal, especially in their 3-2 win over Denmark where he missed a hatful of chances. When you compared his campaign to Robin van Persie, the two had been prolific during the season for their clubs but lost form for their nations, with Van Persie having the upper hand over Ronaldo with that consolation goal against Germany in Kharkiv on Wednesday night.
When Rafael van der Vaart struck a curling effort past Rui Patricio, it looked as though Holland would rectify their previous errors in the tournament, another goal compounded with a Germany win would qualify the Dutch in bizarre circumstances. Just eight minutes after Holland’s opener, Lukas Podolski opened the scoring for Germany which left the other three clubs on three points and left Holland needing a second to complete their qualification.
However, just five minutes later in the 24th minute, Michael Krohn-Dehli doubled his tally for the tournament with a header from a corner to give Denmark the initiative to push on to beat Germany. Holland’s misery was doubled as Cristiano Ronaldo finally kickstarted his Euro campaign with a clipped finish halfway through the first half which gave Portugal some momentum to go on and snatch a victory in the second half.
Holland were becoming desperate for a victory and pushed all of their men forward, with bare minimum left to be exploited by the counter attacking play of Nani, Joao Moutinho and Cristiano Ronaldo who would proceed to run riot against the Dutch.
One counter attack in question saw Moutinho and Nani link up before the Man United winger play a low cross into Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid attacker had the time and space to skip round a Dutch defender before hammering a close range effort home which killed off any aspirations of Holland’s to qualify and in turn heaped on the pressure for Denmark to find a winning goal to in turn eliminated Germany.
For all of their pressure, Denmark could’ve had a penalty when Bendtner had his shirt tugged in the area. The tables soon turned when full back Lars Bender, on a counter attack, was free in the box and a simple side foot sent the Danish and Dutch dreams into dust, sending them packing before the knockout stages.
The 1988 and 1992 champions would be sacrificed for Germany and Portugal who would face Greece and Czech Republic respectively in the quarter finals later in the week.