Portugal 3-2 Denmark: No tracking from Ronaldo and Rommedahl means goals come from that flank

June 13, 2012

The starting line-ups

Silvestre Varela grabbed a late winner as Portugal registered their first win of Euro 2012.

Paulo Bento named an unchanged side from the team that lost to Germany – Helder Postiga continued upfront, despite Nelson Oliveira’s positive impact from the bench in the opening game.

Morten Olsen also made no changes from Denmark’s surprise 1-0 win over Holland.

Think of Portugal and Denmark – not just the current sides, but their style over the course of the century so far – and you think of width. That was the main story here, with little happening in the centre of midfield, and all the attacking thrust coming from the flanks.

Rommedahl and Ronaldo

Or maybe that should be ‘flank’, because both sides continually worked the same area of the pitch. There was a clear tactical reason for this; neither Dennis Rommedahl nor Cristiano Ronaldo showed the slightest interest in tracking back and helping protect their full-back.

This wasn’t much of a surprise – Rommedahl did the same in the Holland game (where Denmark’s defensive shape was actually quite poor, despite their clean sheet), creating a large amount of space for Wesley Sneijder to work in – and Sneijder created ten chances for his teammates, the most in one game by a player at this tournament so far. Rommedahl was substituted (to his disgust) in the final minutes, as Olsen wanted a more defensively aware winger.

Ronaldo isn’t particularly keen on defending in general. He gave a good, disciplined display in the defeat to Germany, but in this game, where Portugal had to take the initiative and attack, he stayed high up the pitch and looked to get into goalscoring positions. He was clearly desperate to make an individual impact on the tournament.

Attacking possibilities

As a result of these two players staying high up, there was ample space for the opposition down that flank. There were two effects – first, it benefited the two full-backs, with Fabio Coentrao scampering past Rommedahl and Lars Jacobsen doing the same past Ronaldo. Sometimes those full-backs had space to cross, and sometimes they created 2 v 1 situations with the winger ahead of them.

Second, it meant the opposition winger down that flank had a greater space to work in – they could come deep, pick up the ball and run with it, with no-one trying to prevent the ball being played into their feet. Ronaldo’s attacking intent helped Rommdahl attack, and vice-versa.

Uneventful midfield

For the record, the midfield battle was static and uneventful. Christian Eriksen was marked out of the game for the second match running, with Miguel Veloso sticking tightly to him, happy to follow him into wide positions content in the knowledge that Denmark rarely had a player becoming the ’second number ten’.

That was because William Kvist and Niki Zimling (and his replacement Jakub Poulsen) stayed deep in midfield and rarely made forward movements. They were tracked by Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles, and these sets of players cancelled each other out. Meireles offered more forward runs which gave Moutinho space, and he played the most passes of any Portuguese player).

In fact, with no-one available in this zone, both sides looked to bypass the midfield. Denmark tried to play out from the back with Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer, and they both used their good passing skills by looking to hit the front three directly. For Portugal that was even more evident, with both Pepe and Bruno Alves’ passing very long and often wayward.

Portugal go 2-0 up

But the real action was down that same flank. Rommedahl was the most obvious offender in the first half, continually letting Coentrao past. Portugal put pressure upon the Danes in the early stages, eventually breaking through from a left-wing corner, one of many good set-piece deliveries in the first half.

From then on, the goals were all from open play, all from that flank. For the second, Coentrao was allowed to wander forward with the ball (Rommedahl was nowhere to be seen), and the left-back had all the time he liked to swing in a cross. Nani picked up the ball on the far side and passed to Postiga to finish.

Ronaldo switches off, Denmark draw level

At 2-0, Bento might have considered telling his wingers to sit deeper, but the Danes started to dominate possession and Jacobsen kept sneaking past Ronaldo. For the first Denmark goal, Ronaldo’s work rate can’t be questioned – he did try to close down Jacobsen – but he switched off and got into a poor position, meaning Denmark could hit a long diagonal out to the right-back, and a very neatly worked goal started from that position.

In the second half, Bento had ample opportunity to fix the problem. Ronaldo was still walking back, with Jacobsen pushed increasingly high up the pitch and Kjaer trusted in a 1 v 1 situation against Ronaldo. Denmark always had an out-ball on the right, always the long diagonal to Jacobsen.

Ronaldo should have been removed from that zone – it’s unlikely he would have been substituted, but Postiga was being withdrawn anyway (with Oliveira coming on) – Ronaldo could have been pushed upfront, with a more defensive-minded player used on the left.

Ronaldo could have made this irrelevant had he converted either of the two one-on-one chances he had, but his shots were very disappointing. His poor finishing failed to clinch the win, and his poor defensive positioning nearly cost Portugal the win. Jacobsen got forward yet again and crossed for Nicklas Bendtner to head home his second goal of the game.

Final stages

Now Portugal had to go for it. Varela replaced Meireles, and like against Germany, Portugal went with a fluid Nani-Ronaldo-Varela-Oliveira quartet for the final ten minutes.

Inevitably, the goal came from the Portuguese left, with Coentrao getting forward to deliver the cross. Rommedahl had since departed through injury, Tobias Mikkelsen had a period on the right, but for this goal it seemed to be another substitute, Lasse Schone, defending that flank. He was turned far too easily by Coentrao.

For the short period remaining, Bento finally got the message. Oliveira, despite being regarded as an out-and-out striker, was moved to the left, with Ronaldo pushed upfront. That – plus the use of an auxiliary centre-back, Rolando – helped Portugal close out the 3-2. But really, they should have been closing out a 2-1, and Bento got lucky with Varela’s late goal having failed to address a clear shortcoming in Portgual’s defensive shape.


Denmark’s right-winger didn’t defend, so Portugal attacked down the left. Portugal’s left-winger didn’t defend, so Denmark attacked down the right. Not much more to it.

Both sides are on three points and can progress with a result on the final day of Group B.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,