Germany all but sealed qualification to the quarter finals of Euro 2012 with a 2-1 victory over old rivals the Netherlands.

A first half brace from Mario Gomez was enough to secure the win for Joachim Löw’s men, despite Robin van Persie pulling a goal back in the last quarter of the game.

Both sides created chances early on: van Persie shot straight at Manuel Neuer when put through; Mesut Özil hit the post.

Like Germany’s goal against Portugal, their opener was made by Bastian Schweinsteiger, and finished with aplomb by Gomez.

Schweinsteiger strode through the middle of the park unchallenged, teeing up his teammate to turn superbly and fire past Maarten Stekelenburg.

The movement of Germany was too much for Holland to handle, with Müller, Özil, Schweinsteiger and Khedira all proving too difficult for the Oranje to pick up.

It was this that led to the first goal, and so it was for the second. Once more it was Schweinsteiger who orchestrated it, and once more it was Gomez who finished it, with another cool strike past Stekelenburg.

Bert van Marwijk changed things up at half time, going more offensive with the introduction of Rafael van der Vaart and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

They certainly looked sharper going forward, and looked more than capable of getting a goal back.

However, pulling two back – and preventing Germany from scoring again – looked beyond them. They managed the second; they could not do the first.

Germany were still hitting them on the counter-attack, perhaps sensing the need to attack in the face of a possible Dutch onslaught. Defender Mats Hummels forced a double save from Stekelenburg.

Holland did get a goal – their first of the tournament – when van Persie turned away from his man and shot through the legs of Holger Badstuber and past Neuer.

It gave them hope, briefly, but it was not enough and the Germans held on to their lead.

Joachim Löw, speaking to Uefa.com after the game, said: “With this victory I think we’ve opened the door to the quarter finals. It’s now in our hands to make everything clear on Sunday [against Denmark].

“It was a very intense game today, a very tight game. The temperatures were extreme and it was difficult to keep a high tempo for the whole match. We did really well defensively as Holland’s game is to play on the attack – they have four or five top guys up there.

“What is clear in this so-called group of death is that we’ve already got six points. There is always room for analysis after a game, though.

Advertisements

Germany put an early nail into Portugal’s coffin with a 1-0 win in the opening round of fixtures in the ‘group of death’.

A Mario Gomez header was enough to hand the nationalmannschaft victory, as they cemented their billing as favourites to top the group.

It was Portugal who fired the first warning shot though, serving as a reminder that they were anything but underdogs. Fabio  Coentrao wove through the German defence, although – as has often been the problem for 2004s runners-up – he had no end product.

Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski both had half chances for the Germans, before the former actually put the ball in the net. However, play was brought back for a foul on Mesut Özil, and the resulting free kick could not replicate the goal they’d been denied.

Germany’s focus was on the counter-attacking and quick transitions that had served them so well at the World Cup two years ago, with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira – now aided by Dortmund defender Mats Hummels – linking up defence and attack to good effect.

However, while they enjoyed plenty of possession, with Podolski and Özil looking in particular lively, the failed to carve out any real chances.

That was almost punished on the stroke of half time, when a corner fell to Pepe. He curled it towards the top corner in a strike you wouldn’t normally associate with the no-nonsense, oft-insane defender. His shot bounced off the underside of the bar and onto the line. Despite Portuguese protests, it was deemed not to have crossed the line – which TV replays proved to be the correct decision.

Germany came out quickest after the break (figuratively speaking, I actually have no idea which team was back on the pitch first), with Thomas Müller causing problems down the right.

For Portugal, while Pepe went close in the first half, it was the other two-thirds of their Real Madrid trio – Coentrao and, more pertinently, Ronaldo – who looked the most likely to make something happen.

It was Jerome Boeteng charged with stopping the world’s second best player, and he managed to do so twice in succession – albeit in very different ways. First, a brilliant challenge; second, he had to resort to harsher methods, picking up a yellow card in the process.

It was, though, the Germans who took the lead with a goal scored in Ukraine, but made in Munich. Schweinsteiger’s deflected cross was met by the head of Gomez and, as he did 41 times for Bayern last season, he found the net.

That was to be Gomez’s last contribution, as Joachim Löw sent on birthday boy Miroslav Klose.

It may have been Ronaldo who looked the most dangerous (no mean feat for a player who seemingly changed his hairstyle at half time), but it was 20-year-old Nelson Oliviera who had the best opportunity to equalise. He latched on to Ronaldo’s pull back across the box, only to be denied by the imposing figure of Manuel Neuer.

Germany held on to claim an all-important victory, in a group where one win could be enough to see a side through.

After a game with the 10th best side in the world (according to FIFA, anyway), you’d think things might get easier. Their next game: Holland, ranked 4th. Although in fairness, against Denmark they were just rank, and Germany will not be losing any sleep over the prospect of facing Oranje.

Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Tim Wiese (Werder Bremen), Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover).

Defenders: Jerome Boateng, Holger Badstuber, Philipp Lahm (all Bayern), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal), Mats Hummels, Marcel Schmelzer (both Borussia Dortmund), Benedikt Howedes (Schalke).

Midfielders: Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira (both Real Madrid), Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger (all Bayern), Marco Reus (Borussia Monchengladbach), Mario Goetze, Ilkay Gundogan (both Dortmund), Lars Bender, Andre Schuerrle (both Bayer Leverkusen).

Forwards: Lukas Podolski (Cologne), Mario Gomez (Bayern) Miroslav Klose (Lazio).

Possible starting XI: Neuer; Boateng, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm; Khedira, Schweinsteiger; Muller, Ozil, Podolski; Klose.

Do you agree with Low’s choices? What would your starting XI be? Leave a comment below.

Player of the Season

Robert Lewandowski: Only Mario Gomez and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar bettered the Pole’s return of 22 Bundesliga goals this term, not bad for a man who started the season as second-choice striker for Borussia Dortmund. His goals, assists and link-up play as the lone striker have been an integral part of The Borussians title success. So much so, in fact, that Lucas Barrios, the man whose injury gave Lewandowski his chance, has been sold to Chinese Super League outfit Guangzhou Evergrande.

Eurosport’s Ian Holyman said: “22 goals is a great return for a man who started the season as second-choice to Lucas Barrios. The Pole seized his opportunity wonderfully when Barrios returned injured from the Copa America, and I think gave Dortmund more as their lone striker than the Paraguayan did in 2010-11.”

Young Player of the Season

Marco Reus: He’ll be a teammate of Lewandowski next season, having agreed back in January to play in the black and yellow of Dortmund from next season, with a fee of around £17.5m reported to have been paid for his services. If he carries on from this season, that will be an absolute bargain. Only Gomez, Huntelaar and Lewandowski have more ‘points’ in terms of goals and assists combined, with Reus delivering 18 goals and 9 assists for Monchengladbach – a remarkable return for a 22-year-old, and one that played a huge part in The Foals securing a Champions League spot.

Ian Holyman said: “Sensational for Mönchengladbach…He’s a player who I think will receive wider acclaim at EURO 2012, where he isn’t likely to start, but will be explosive when he comes off the bench.”

Manager of the Season

Jurgen Klopp: While honourable mentions must go to Lucien Favre (‘Gladbach) and Christian Streich (Freiburg) et al, Klopp deserves this for leading Dortmund to back-to-back league titles for the first time since the mid-90s. His role in the success of the side, and the development of youngsters like Mario Gotze, cannot be underestimated, and his reputation is now such that his name is linked with almost every top managerial vacancy. However, you’d imagine he’ll be at Dortmund for the forseeable (and very bright) future.

“Managed to find the rights words to inspire his team to hold off Bayern, who invested heavily last summer, once again.” – Ian Holyman.

Team of the Season (4-2-3-1)

Ter-Stegen; Piszczek, Hummels, Dante, Lahm; Bargfrede, Kroos; Harnik, Kagawa, Reus; Lewandowski.

Do you agree? Should someone else have won? Shocked Huntelaar was left out of the team of the season? Leave a comment and let us know…

The Champions League climax no one saw coming is final-ly (sorry!) upon us.

This was supposed to be the ultimate El Clasico; the grandest game on the grandest stage.

Not one, but two teams decided to spoil the party. And it could be even better for it.

Bayern’s role in the final was always set to be hosts. However, while it had long been known the game would be played at their home, no one expected them to be in.

Chelsea, meanwhile, thwarted their modern rivals Barcelona. They came through far from unscathed, but came through nonetheless.

Both sides have had casualties, mostly because of suspension. David Alaba, Holger Badstuber and Luis Gustavo miss out for Bayern. Chelsea’s losses were even greater: Ramires, Branislav Ivanovic, Raul Meireles and, of course, John Terry are all forced to sit this one out.

The defence of both teams is where the suspensions have stung the most, and could well have the greatest impact on the game. The loss of Badstuber and Alaba means the left half of Bayern’s back four is missing.

Philipp Lahm will switch to left back, where he is equally as excellent, but the incoming Rafinha at right back and Daniel van Buyten at centre half are less so, and the likes of Juan Mata and Didier Drogba will more than fancy their chances against them.

It’s the same story for Chelsea, who will likely see a centre back pairing of David Luiz and Gary Cahill, and are set to be in for a tough night against the freescoring Mario Gomez. Similarly, Franck Ribery will be licking his lips at the thought of running at Jose Bosingwa.

In midfield, meanwhile, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien will need to turn the clock back and play like their old selves against a midfield duo of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos. The former is rightly regarded as one of the best central midfielders in the world, and Kroos – who has had a stellar season – will surely be in time.

It’s likely to be a fairly tight affair, and Chelsea will need to be at their Barcelona-beating best to come away with their win. In my opinion, especially given the fact they’re virtually the away side, that will be a bridge too far.

Key Man: Toni Kroos. Talk will be of Gomez, ‘Robbery’, Mata, Drogba and so on. But it’s the young midfielder who is capable of pulling all the strings.

Prediction: Bayern Munich 2-1 Chelsea

Who do you think will win? Make a prediction in the comments section below…