Euro 2012: To play for a win or a settle for a draw in opening group games?
Two days into the European Championship, once again it seems defensive football is going to dominate the tournament. The famous (infamous?) success of Greece in 2004 has definitely inspired teams to focus on defence.
It is not wrong to be conservative in the first match of the group stage. After all, getting one point is better than getting none, but giving your opponents the edge in the relatively short three-match group stage could be costly.
In fact, there were only two teams each in the 2008 Euro and 2010 World Cup who have won the first match failed to qualify the group stage. The statistics have spoken; this ought to be a strong enough reason for teams to go for victory in the first match day.
Poland could only draw 10-men Greece in the opening match; with Russia bagging an emphatic victory, Poland has now put themselves in a situation where only a win could get them back in the race. However, if Smuda had decided to keep pressing for the second goal to clinch the game while playing with one more man, rather than giving up the ground to Greece even when they were 1-0 up, they might be going into the second match day targeting only a draw against Russia – which is a more realistic target – not to be forgotten they should be on a high note if they came on top of Greece.
The Netherlands, being drawn into the group of death, faced the “weakest” team in Group B, Denmark. Gaining an upper hand in a tough group could pile up the pressure on your opponents, particularly when Germany is already a tournament favourite and Die Mannschaft would play against Portugal with a heavy mental burden to avoid a group stage exit.
However Van Marwijk decided to play safe to start both Nigel De Jong and Van Bommel against a less-offensive and it turned out, unsurprisingly, De Jong ‘hardly sweated’ while his teammates up front were often out-numbered, as full-backs van der Wiel and Willems hardly linked up with attacks. Although they still had full control of the game, the lack of urgency only allowed Denmark’s confidence to grow. As a result, they were defeated and deflated and the Oranje will know face an all-or-nothing fixture against Germany.
When you’ve spent so much time and effort in bringing your team into the finals, nobody would want the tournament to end at the group stage, as well as considering the pride and expectation of your country. Finding the right balance between playing attractive and entertaining football and ensuring qualification to the quarter-finals is perhaps the most difficult task for each and every manager, and while we could not estimate the pressure they are under, our expectation is just as immense.