The Netherlands haven't actually played poor football in either of their matches at Euro 2012, but they find themselves at the brink of elimination on Sunday. A win is the only thing that gives them a chance to progress, and their fate is not in their own hands. They need to defeat Portugal, they need Germany to defeat Denmark, and they need the two results to make up three goals for them. It's not a highly unlikely scenario, but there won't be too many predicting that scene to unfold based on their failure to get results thus far.
Portugal has three more points than the Netherlands, but their highs have not been as impressive as those of the Oranje. Cristiano Ronaldo's poor performance against Denmark and Portugal's two goals conceded to Nicklas Bendtner stuck out more than anything positive Portugal did in their last match, even including Silvestre Varela's winner. It seems unfair to say, but Portugal somehow managed to score three goals in a game even though they haven't played their best football yet.
Conventional wisdom is that Portugal need to play better to beat the Netherlands and that this will start with Cristiano Ronaldo, but it's possible that wisdom is not true. They did, after all, defeat a very good Denmark team (and score three goals in the process) without Ronaldo doing anything positive. Even though it wasn't a memorable performance, it didn't feel like a fluke either. Between Holland's poor finishing, poor defending, and just plain bad luck, there's a reasonable chance that Portugal could claim three points without even playing that well.
The Netherlands have started both of their games with a defensive double pivot of Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, and that's likely to change on Sunday. Van Bommel was removed in the match against Germany, and the Dutch looked much better going forward with Rafael Van der Vaart in the midfield instead. When both van Bommel and de Jong start, there's a massive gap between them and the next band of three in Holland's midfield with no one to bridge it. Van der Vaart normally plays as a No. 10 who does very little defending for Tottenham Hotspur, but he helped to provide that necessary bridge in the second half of the Germany game.
If Holland are looking for a passing player who is a little more defensively solid than Van der Vaart, they still have the services of PSV midfielder Kevin Strootman available. They have yet to use him, and he could be exactly what their midfield is lacking. Bert van Marwijk could also opt to replace the tricky Ibrahim Afellay with two-way work horse Dirk Kuyt, who will do more to help transition between defense and attack going in both directions than Afellay.
And then there's the curious case of Klass-Jan Huntelaar. Is he worth squeezing on the pitch? His substitute performances in the last two games suggest that he isn't, and Robin van Persie's goal against Germany suggests that moving him out of the center forward role is a bad idea. There's been a lot of fuss that van Marwijk needs to find a way to fit both in his team, but Huntelaar hasn't done much to prove that's actually the case.
Portugal, meanwhile, are likely to be unchanged. What they're doing doesn't look spectacular, but it's working. Ronaldo is bound to come good sooner or later, and it's not like benching him would be feasible even if Paulo Bento thought he had no chance of coming around to form. The three central midfield players have performed adequately, and none of the options on the bench look like improvements. Nelson Olivera might have a bit more natural talent in him than Helder Postiga, but the incumbent took a bit of the heat off himself by scoring against Denmark. There's no reason to switch up the team at the moment.
Everything in this game is up to van Marwijk and the Netherlands players. Portugal will field the same 11 players that they did in the first two games, and they will be solid, if unspectacular. They play a 4-3-3 where the wingers don't defend, the central midfielders are all very average but steady, and their central defenders are physically imposing behemoths. There's no mystery in Portugal, other than which version of Cristiano Ronaldo is going to show up. Van Marwijk has the talent at his disposal and the knowledge of the other team to mastermind a winning gameplan, but he hasn't proven yet that he can get it done.
Projected Czech Republic Lineup (4-2-3-1): Maarten Stekelenberg; Jetro Willems, Joris Mathijsen, John Heitinga, Gregory Van der Wiel; Nigel de Jong, Rafael Van der Vaart; Dirk Kuyt, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben; Robin van Persie.
Monty the Psychic Metal Disk says: Perhaps the substitution of one bash brother for a player that does things going forward will make a difference? 1-0 Netherlands.
Game Date/Time: Sunday, June 17th, 2:45 p.m. ET, 9:45 p.m. local
Venue: Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv, Ukraine
TV: ESPN (U.S. - English), ESPN Deportes (U.S. - Spanish), ITV 1 (U.K.), TSN (Canada)
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