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Friday, December 9, 2011

Euro 2012: Germany and Holland renew historic rivalry in Group B

Uefa may have made a song and dance of their European Championship draw, but as the host opined at the end of it all, "everything was done properly". There can be no debate about that. No mutterings about some balls being warm and others cold, some being heavy and others light. The presence of one group of ominous death, next to what can only be described as a miraculous group of life, is evidence of that.

For Germany and Holland to be paired together in Group B means that two of the favourites, who led the way as the most convincing in qualifying and therefore the most capable of challenging reigning champions Spain, will be under hot scrutiny from the off. Portugal and Denmark are hardly minnows making up the numbers. The team spearheaded by Cristiano Ronaldo, after a dreadful start, have made steady improvement under Paulo Bento. The Danes won an awkward group in qualifying for the last two tournaments. Both times, incidentally, at Portugal's expense.

There is added spice because Germany and Holland share one of the most intense rivalries in the European game – the worst of it symbolised by the spat between Rudi Völler and Frank Rijkaard at the 1990 World Cup. They have crossed swords at some famously high profile occasions, West Germany winning the 1974 World Cup final, and the Dutch victorious in the semi-finals of Euro 1988 which they went on to win. It is the most played fixture in the history of the tournament. And never dull.

More recently, Bert van Marwijk's team had the misfortune of being comprehensively trumped by Joachim Löw's fliers when they met in a friendly last month. Germany were outstanding, winning 3-0 thanks to a starring performance from the experienced Miroslav Klose, who scored once and made the others for two of the many exceptional youngsters at Löw's disposal, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Müller. It was the Oranje's worst defeat in 15 years.

Aside from that little pre-tournament booster, the reasons for Germany to not feel as overawed by the Group B challenge are manifold. They were the only team other than Spain to qualify with a 100% record, and they did so with a better goals-per-game record than Vicente del Bosque's side.

Franz Beckenbauer outlines the current confidence in the team that has only improved since the positive impression it created at the last World Cup. "Nothing can shock us when it comes to the Euro," he said. "The German team is solid and went through qualification without a problem. For the Euros Spain and Germany are the favourites. We will have lots of joy with our national team in the years to come, but we do need successes."

Löw is managing expectations well at the moment, and he did the sensible thing in his draw reaction by not underplaying the qualities of the two lesser seeds. He had a particular word for Denmark's "organisation and great mentality". The last time Germany met Denmark in a competitive fixture was at the Euro 92 final, memorably won by the Danes, who were not just underdogs for the final but for the entire competition as they were a late entry in place of war-torn Yugoslavia.

The Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder believes his team have nothing to be afraid of. "It is a difficult draw, but on the other hand we know the opponents very well. You are playing at the highest level, you are playing at Euro and then you want to play beautiful matches and I think this draw had delivered those beautiful matches for us."

Poland surely emerged as the happiest of all the nations after the draw in Kiev, the co-hosts picking up Greece, Russia and the Czech Republic as opposition in Group A – three former winners of the European Championship, but all of them struggling to find the kind of form that would make them contenders this time around.

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