Group B puts on compelling Day 6 show, adds to expansion argument
Of the 12 matches played so far, only two have been won by more than one goal: Croatia's 3-1 win over Ireland, and Russia's 4-1 thumping of the Czech Republic -- and that managed to stay interesting, if not exactly
With these games the tournament is really spoiling us, and Wednesday was no exception. Portugal showed up, carving through Denmark's defense -- Nani, in particular, toying cruelly with Simon Poulsen's sense of direction. Set-piece delivery has been noticeably inconsistent, if not downright dodgy, in a number of matches so far, but midway through the first half Joao Moutinho dispatched a corner that Pepe leapt to turn in with his head at the near post. Helder Postiga scored with an exquisite touch; Paulo Bento's side could, maybe should, have been out of sight by the time Nicklas Bendtner poached a goal just before the half. Certainly by the time he headed his second of the day in with 10 minutes remaining. We were treated to an increasingly urgent finale and Silvestre Varela's first competitive international goal.
Then came Germany versus Netherlands. Even as Germany demonstrated its superiority, as a team, a unit, over any other outfit here, the game never lost its value as a spectacle. Manuel Neuer had saves to make. One he didn't, and once Robin van Persie's strike reduced the deficit to one with 20 minutes remaining, it seemed possible that this game too could see late goals; it came from an individual moment of perseverance and skill, after all. Arjen Robben's substitution provided a less welcome dramatic element, but still. This is compelling stuff. It is routinely the case that several teams have qualified or been knocked out by this stage of the World Cup. If there is chance for UEFA to think again about the expansion to 24 teams in 2016, days such as Wednesday are the argument.
Germany's Mario Gomez saved us the agony of choosing between two of Portugal's three goals (Postiga's effort and Varela's late winner, since you ask); his first goal against the Netherlands knocked them both out of contention. Like both of his goals it was astonishingly simple -- Bastian Schweinsteiger's pass gliding through a static Dutch defense to play Gomez into the area, but this had a touch of
Having come in to the tournament shrugging off injury concerns, Schweinsteiger might have been replaced today, with Germany manager Joachim Löw reportedly minded to nurse him through as the games come thick and fast. "I'm fine," insisted Schweinsteiger. "I've played better, I know that. I will still get to my top form, I'm sure of that. I don't know when it will happen." Wednesday wasn't a bad guess; for 94 minutes he bossed the center of the pitch, despite the Dutch starting the game with Mark van Bommel
Varela's late goal, the never-ending Ronaldo-based chatter; even without the day's second game to worry about there's barely space to say a word about Portugal's Miguel Veloso. He struggled to keep his place in the Genoa side as the season wore on and was making only his third start for Portugal in over a year but turned in another quietly impressive performance. Most notably when swinging wicked deliveries into the box but also buzzing around the middle turning possession over.
$149,000 -- the fine dished out to the Russian FA after repeated crowd trouble. UEFA also set a suspended six-point deduction; if there are further incidents, Russia will begin it's Euro 2016 qualifying campaign on -6 points.
Dennis Rommedahl hobbled out of Denmark's defeat to Portugal clutching the back of his thigh, suggesting a hamstring injury threatens the rest of his tournament.
It's Group C again, with Italy (one point) facing top-of-the-group Croatia (three points). Croatian coach Slaven Bilic watched his side have an easy time of it against Ireland at the weekend but feels this match will spin on which of Luka Modric and Andrea Pirlo grabs the game by the scruff of the neck -- and of course, he thinks Modric, who barely misplaced a pass against Ireland, is the better player. Italy only had 34 percent of possession against Spain on the same day, mind you, and Pirlo still managed to pick out the pass that set up Antonio di Natale's goal. Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has called for caution ahead of his team's match with Ireland, but it is a firm favorite to win and thus send the Irish home.