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Day 12: Group Boring
Spain and Denmark contrived to make their 'winner takes all' match as soporific as possible
If you hype something up, you should probably expect to be disappointed. But Group B ended up being exceptionally poor. We thought we would get fun and fireworks from Germany, Spain, Denmark and Finland, and instead Germany found themselves making easy progress whilst Spain took second spot almost by default.
In hindsight, the signs should have been there because none of these teams are particularly exciting. Spain certainly have the pieces to be exciting but their constant passing without purpose is more likely to create opportunities as a result of sending opponents to sleep. Small moments of magic from players like Mariona Caldentey have been limited and the fact that their two most impressive players have probably been central defenders Irene Paredes and Mapi Leon tells you all you really need to know.
Denmark’s tactic of relying on Pernille Harder to do something good only got more pronounced as the group stage went on. By the time they were facing Spain in a must-win final group stage, they had given up on all their other attackers, playing a 5-4-1 with Harder forlornly galloping around. It didn’t stop her from single handedly getting past four Spain defenders to take a shot that unfortunately sailed over the bar, but she was always fighting an uphill battle with so little support.
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Germany to be fair have tried to hold up their end of the excitement bargain. They have unfortunately just been too good for everyone they have come up against. Whether it was Felicitas Rauch smashing shots off cross bars or Klara Bühl running players ragged, they have shown plenty of attacking intent but also the defensive fortitude to wrap up a tough game. The question for Germany will be the same as it has been for England: have they been tested sufficiently to be prepared for what comes next in the knock-out stages? But at least for the quarter-finals, both teams might look at each other’s group stage performances and be quietly confident as they swap opponents.
Maybe that is why ‘Group of Death’s do end up being disappointing. Exciting football matches normally stem from teams lacking an element of control. Group C, which wraps up tonight with all four teams still technically able to reach the quarter-finals, has been so much fun because none of the teams have been capable of controlling a game enough to ram home any advantages they might have.
Sweden and the Netherlands will still be favourites to go through but Switzerland and Portugal have shown that they at least have the ability to make both teams nervous. That is what Spain and Denmark really seemed to be missing in Group B. There was never any fear factor and for Spain, that might become a problem as they looked ahead to a quarter-final against England, who are full of swagger. Perhaps the most important thing for Jorge Vilda’s team to discover over the weekend is some bite.