Ciaran Bonass gives us his best tips while he previews the second round Group B clash, Denmark v Portugal.
Of course there is always one instantly slapped with the label when groups are drawn but it may prove the case that Euro 2012 goes down as the tournament which had two groups of death. As far as FIFA and fans of the Highlander movies are concerned though there can only be one as Group B features four teams who are all sitting pretty in the top ten of football’s official world rankings, and, remarkably, three of the top five.
The second game for both pits group underdogs Denmark, who currently lie tenth in FIFA’s listings, against a potent Portugal side who occupy fifth spot, so although neither will not be expected by many to reach the knockout stages, both are hardly minnows of the beautiful game either.
Despite being 10/3 outsiders for the game, it should be remembered that The Danes have beaten their opponents three times in their last five meetings, all over the past five years and all under the stewardship of Morten Olsen. Denmark also finished ahead of the Portuguese in qualifying – just as they had done en route to the World Cup in 2010 – although Portugal still reached the finals after defeating Bosnia in the play-offs – just as they had done en route to the World Cup in 2010. It’s also worth bearing in mind, however, that Paulo Bento only took over from Carlos Queiroz after a disastrous opening to the qualifying campaign saw Portugal playing catch up following a 1-0 defeat by Norway and a bizarre 4-4 draw at home to Cyprus. Bento’s side were marginally better over the head to head encounters against Olsen’s charges in qualifying too, with a 4-3 aggregate scoreline, so it’s little surprise to see Portugal as clear 10/11 favourites for their latest clash.
Cristiano Ronaldo is obviously the biggest name on show here, and it’s fair to say Denmark’s success, or lack thereof, largely depends on their defender’s ability to contain a man who has, unbelievably, more goals scored than games played this season as the Iberians are suspect defensively and have lacked guile and cunning in midfield ever since Rui Costa and Deco bowed out of the international stage. At the other end of the pitch another charm school reject will pose the biggest threat to the Portuguese goal in the guise of Nicklas Bendtner, who hit three in five qualifiers and has a none too shabby overall record of 18 goals from 47 games for the Euro92 champions. Denmark aren’t found wanting for creativity though as Christian Eriksen and Michael Kvist can both pick a pass well, but they are likely to rue the loss of Thomas Sorensen from between the posts, as the Stoke keeper’s wealth of experience and assured presence won’t be easily replaced.
For those interested in such trivialities this will be the 13th meeting between the two sides with Portugal comfortably ahead with seven wins to the Danes three, along with two draws down the years, one of which came on the only previous occasion the pair have locked horns in a European Championship Finals in a group game at Euro 96, when a 1-1 draw was played out in Sheffield as Portugal went on to top the group before a quarter-final defeat to the Czech Republic.
With both teams likely to go for the jugular in a game which sees the group outsiders clash, and the likely scenario being that a loss would result in elimination or requiring other results to go in their favour, the onus will surely be on both sides to attack. On paper, certainly, that would appear to be of benefit to the Portuguese given their abundence of riches up front, but the 10/11 about them just seems a little short to me considering Denmark’s familiarity and impressive record over recent encounters against the Euro 2004 finalists. With this in mind the 10/3 available on Olsen’s side seems pretty generous but it would take a gutsy punter to take them even at such lucrative odds in a probable win or bust scenario. Portugal also conceded 12 goals in qualifying – more than any other team appearing in Poland and Ukraine – so the standout bet for me has to be the 4/5 odds for both teams to score, as has been the case in each of their previous four meetings, and for those with the cajones and wallet to justify such things it could be well worth a sizeable wedge with such porous backlines on show.
Those looking for juicier odds for their buck could find some value in the 5/2 for more than 3.5 goals to be scored in the match as even if there is only a goal separating the sides late on the losing team will have no option then to pile forward should their European Championship survival depend on it, making it far more likely for a late goal to be scored by either the side going gung-ho, or their opponents on the breakaway – Ronaldo and Co in particular would relish such an opportunity to seal a win on the counter-attack.
The Real Madrid hitman will also be fancied by many in the goalscorer stakes although likely odds of below evens to score at any time could prove prohibitive. Ronaldo’s equal when it comes to arrogance, if not quite in terms of achievement or ability, Bendtner, will be spearheading the Danish attack – unless a lack of humility and taste is seen as a red card offence in their previous group outing against Holland. The Arsenal striker who was loaned out to Sunderland last season has scored in all of his previous three competitive games against Portugal and once more in a friendly for good measure, so he looks well poised to take advantage of a slack rearguard. Another familiar name to many is another who could be worth a flutter to find the back of the net as Manchester United winger Nani has also enjoyed it when the two sides have met in the past with three goals in four games against Denmark, including two in the Lisbon qualifier for this tournament and on his international debut back in 2006.