As expected, Group B has proven as tight as a goalkeeper’s buttocks when facing up to a Cristiano Ronaldo free kick. Portugal go into their final group game against the Netherlands knowing they can win and still get knocked out, or lose and still go through. All four teams are in with a shout of making the quarter-finals, but any of the four could be on their way home come Sunday night.
That said, it would need an unlikely combination of scorelines to prevent Germany from progressing, and of the three other teams, Portugal, currently sitting second in the table, would appear to be the best placed. Not least because they are facing one of their favourite opponents. Ten times Portugal and Holland have met, and only once have the Oranje prevailed. The Selecção have won six times, with three draws.
Moreover, the two times the two nations have met in tournament play, Portugal have prevailed - in the Euro 2004 semi-final and the infamous “Battle of Nuremburg” at the 2006 World Cup. On both occasions Maniche scored the winning goal, and the ex international happily quipped to the Portuguese press this week that “In Holland people can’t bring themselves to look at me!”
This time round it is again a midfielder who could hold the key for Portugal. Miguel Veloso’s career promised so much when he burst onto the scene as a teenage sensation for Sporting. Fast forward half a dozen years to 2011/12 and Veloso was not even a regular for a Genoa side struggling to avoid relegation in Serie A. His place in Paulo Bento’s starting eleven was far from consensual going into the tournament.
That is no longer the case. Two superb performances saw Veloso keep first Mesut Özil, then Christian Eriksen firmly in check. As well as shackling two of Europe’s most lauded creative midfielders, Veloso’s razor sharp first-time passing was often the starting point setting Portugal’s attacks in motion. And that is not to mention his pinpoint set-piece delivery from that wonderful left foot. The 26-year-old could well be playing himself into a lucrative move to a more prestigious club.
However, it doesn’t get any easier for Veloso. Holland’s big names up top have disappointed so far, but the fact they have zero points from two matches cannot be attributed in any way to Wesley Sneijder. The Inter Milan schemer has been the focal point of everything the Netherlands have done right from an attacking perspective at Euro 2012, and with a two-goal winning margin required, the Dutch will be striving to give him as much of the ball as possible.
It sets up a fascinating individual battle in the middle of the park, and one which could have a huge bearing on the outcome of the match.
I would also suggest looking to Veloso should Portugal earn a free kick within striking range of the goal on the right-hand side of the pitch. The whole world will be expecting Cristiano Ronaldo to have a blast, but Veloso could well surprise the goalkeeper with a good old fashioned up-and-down over-the-wall curler into the corner. It was a ploy executed to perfection against Bosnia-Herzegovina in the play-offs.
Veloso has scored numerous goals direct from free kicks. What Portugal would give for one more on Sunday…
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