Germany and Portugal secure quarter-final berths
Cool-headed Germany extended their Euro 2012 winning streak to reach the last eight with a solid 2-1 victory over Denmark on Sunday as two goals from an inspired Cristiano Ronaldo put Portugal through and sent the Dutch packing.
Lukas Podolski marked his 100th appearance for Germany with a 19th-minute goal in Lviv, before Michael Krohn-Dehli levelled for Denmark five minutes later.
Conceding an equaliser briefly threatened the Germans with a shock elimination depending on the outcome of the other Group B decider but defender Lars Bender scored a clinical late goal to set up a quarter-final clash with Greece.
“There were positive spirits out there tonight. We were focused on getting a goal. It was a bit of luck that the ball came to me but you don’t think a lot about it, you just shoot it in,” Bender said.
In Kharkiv, Portugal eliminated the Netherlands to the dismay of their thousands of orange-clad fans who had made their team’s three group games in the city virtual home matches.
Ronaldo cancelled out Rafael van der Vaart’s sweet early goal for the Dutch with a 28th-minute equaliser and the world’s most expensive player lashed in the winner 16 minutes from time.
“This tournament we were just not good enough to reach the knockout phase,” Van der Vaart told Dutch TV.
The Netherlands, runners-up in the 2010 World Cup, lost all three group games, the first to Denmark and the second to bitter rivals Germany.
“Our confidence was gone since the opening match and now we just have to start all over again,” said Van der Vaart.
Germany completed the European Championship group stage with a perfect record for the first time after Joachim Loew’s team had set a German record in qualifying, winning all 10 games.
Germany now face Greece, who pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament when they beat Russia 1-0 and sent Dick Advocaat’s side home.
Striker Fernando Torres called Russia’s surprise elimination a “wake-up call” for defending champions Spain who play their last group match against Croatia on Monday.
The Germany v Greece fixture pits two countries against each other whose ties have been stretched to breaking point during the last two years of economic turmoil.
A win for Greece over the euro-zone paymaster, which has forced a strict austerity programme on struggling Athens, would delight the economically suffering Greeks.
Thousands of broken-hearted Poles who had watched their team exit the tournament the night before after a 1-0 defeat by the Czechs turned out to applaud their team in Warsaw’s giant fan zone.
“We realise we could have done more, but we thank you for the positive energy you gave us, that you came and were with us,” said captain Jakub Blaszczykowski.
“Never mind, never mind,” chanted the crowd.
The English FA became the latest football authority to have disciplinary proceedings launched against it by UEFA following an attempted pitch invasion by fans at the Group D match against Sweden.
Spain play Croatia in the Group C decider on Tuesday and Italy face eliminated Ireland. Italy lie third on two points and will be knocked out even if they win if Spain and Croatia play out a scoring draw of two goals each or more.
The fear that Spain and Croatia will contrive a 2-2 draw is growing among the Italian media.
With Croatia under investigation by UEFA over charges of racism, coach Slaven Bilic appealed to racist fans to stay way.
“I don’t like these people, I don’t want these people supporting us,” he said. “We don’t want them in the stadium. We are angry with these stupid fans as well. We need to stop them forever.”
Injuries also began to mount on the 10th day of the tournament.
England winger Theo Walcott suffered a hamstring tweak in a practice session and is struggling to be fit for the final Group D match against Ukraine whose leading striker Andriy Shevchenko missed training with a knee problem and is also doubtful.