Three thoughts: Portugal's victory showcases great aerial play at Euro
After scores from Pepe and Nicklas Bendtner, 12 goals at Euro have been headers
Simon Kjaer -- though very talented -- continues to play maddeningly inconsistent
Despite his flaws, Cristiano Ronaldo showed he can be a team player for Portugal
|Final :: Lviv, Ukraine|
Three thoughts after Portugal's 3-2 victory over Denmark in Lviv, Ukraine.
1. Heading is the new shooting. Portugal's Pepe and Denmark's Nicklas Bendtner both scored on headers in Wednesday's Group B match, raising the total to 12 headed goals -- out of 30 -- at Euro 2012. It doesn't seem to be a coincidence. At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the quality of crossing was noticeably poor. Players blamed everything from the Jabulani ball to the high altitude in certain stadiums. Whatever the problem was, it seems to have been solved. Aerial assists from dead-ball situations and open play are markedly improved in this tournament, passes that gives forwards (and plenty of defenders, too) the opportunity to calculate flight paths and attack the ball accordingly. Are fullbacks attacking too much to defend properly? Or is the new Tango 2012 ball simply more stable? We certainly haven't heard the usual complaints from goalkeepers yet.
2. Simon Kjaer remains irritatingly inconsistent. When Wolfsburg signed the Danish center back in July 2010 for €12m from Palermo, many experts believed the German club had pulled off an extraordinary coup. Kjaer, 21 at the time, was widely regarded as one of Europe's most promising center backs. Unfortunately, at the Volkswagen Arena, Kjaer's athleticism and great technique were too often offset by lapses in concentration and bouts of lethargy. The German outfit was happy to loan him out just a year later.
AS Roma picked Kjaer up and also had great hopes for him. In training, he dazzled both the staff and teammates with his impressive play. In actual games, however, he wasn't convincing. The Serie A club has yet to renew his loan deal.
Against Portugal, both sides of Kjaer were on display: The player who excelled against the Dutch and also the one who struggled with Wolfsburg and Roma. Kjaer's decision to switch allowed Helder Postiga score Portugal's second goal. It was a very cheap goal to give away.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo, despite his flaws, can be a team player. After taking a 2-1 lead into halftime, Portugal gained the confidence to break out of its shell. Coach Paulo Bento decided that sitting back against the Danes would invite undue pressure, and his team defended their lead as a "big team" does, by keeping the ball and attacking instead.
Cristiano Ronaldo became a key man in the second half, dropping into deep positions to play the kind of first time, vertical passes that none of the three central midfielders (Raul Meireles, Miguel Veloso, Joao Moutinho) could consistently provide to the lone striker (first Postiga, then Nelson Oliveira). Visibly freed from his internal pressure to do incredible things on the ball, Ronaldo simply did what the situation demanded. The Real Madrid forward laid the ball off for teammates and ran at Danish defenders. A second and almost crucial miss in front of Stephan Andersen's goal will provide plenty of ammunition for his critics -- as will his inability to score from free kicks -- but Ronaldo actually played a much better, linked-up game than he did against Germany in the opener.
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