While neither of Wednesday's games quite managed to measure up to the fireworks in Warsaw on Tuesday, what looked to be one of the most interesting days of the group stage heading into the tournament still delivered its share of intrigue and entertainment, and as a result all four nations in Group B still have everything to play for come Sunday. Before then, though, we've got Group C to worry about today, where Ireland hope for a minor miracle against Spain to keep their Euro dream alive and Croatia look to hold onto first place against a strong Italian side.
Denmark 2, Portugal 3
DEN: Bendtner 41', 80'
POR: Pepe 24', Postiga 36, Varela 87'
Another Denmark game, and another chance for Daniel Agger to remind everybody that he's the best centre back in the tournament, but his generally strong play wasn't enough to guarantee the Danes a spot in the knockout rounds. Worse, Pepe was his man on Portugal's 24th minute corner that gave the Iberians their first goal. Until then Denmark had played Portugal largely even, showing more attacking intent than they had against the more heavily favoured Dutch in game one, but even with their more adventurous approach they remained rather toothless in front of goal.
Towards the end of the first half their slumbering offence would finally come to life through the head of Niklas Bendtner, but by then Portugal had gone up by two after Postiga lost Simon Kjaer in the box and drove home a Nani cross. The second half saw Portugal defending deep and looking to counter while the Danes took the game to them, but once again their goal threat had faded and an equaliser seemed as though it would never come—right up to the moment Bendtner's unlikely second header of the night found the back of the net. A draw that would have suited Denmark then seemed the most likely outcome, but it wasn't to be, as Porto's Silvestre Varela hammered home a half-volley on the turn four minutes after coming on for Raul Meireles. It was the kind of strike that deserves to win an important match, and it's a strike that gives the Portuguese hope—and throws the group into chaos.
Netherlands 1, Germany 2
NED: van Persie 73'
GER: Gomez 24', 38'
Until drawing a goal back late to secure a flattering scoreline in defeat, the Netherlands had been thoroughly dominated by a German side that will feel they should have scored at least a couple more. In attack, Gomez, Muller, Ozil, and Schweinsteiger were a constant threat for Germany, while at the other end Robben, van Persie, and Afellay were unable to pose a serious or consistent threat on their goal. Thanks to the earlier Portuguese win and that rather flattering scoreline in defeat, however, the Netherlands somehow find themselves still in the running for second spot in the group despite losing the first two games. With both Denmark and Portugal on three points with an even goal differential and three goals scored, if the Netherlands can score at least two while winning by at least a goal against Portugal in their final match they would stand a good chance of drawing level on points while raising their current -2 goal differential and one goal scored stats level with the current second place sides—at least if Denmark lose by at least a goal to the Germans.
Of course, if the Danes get any kind of result against the Germans or the Portuguese win or draw against the Netherlands it would quickly put an end to the kind of final table that could see one of the countries involved advance to the knockout round based on UEFA coefficient, fair play ranking, or whoever slips the largest cash-stuffed envelope to Michel Platini.
For today's matches:
Italy v. Croatia
5:00PM BST/12:00PM EST
Heading into the tournament, most wouldn't have expected to see Croatia leading a group with Italy and Spain in it, but with the two favourites drawing in their opening duel it opens the door to Croatia if they can get a result against the new-look Italians. For Croatia, the on-form Nikica Jelavic and Mario Mandzukic will likely battle against three Italian centre backs after Cesare Prandelli's successful experimentation with a 3-5-2 formation led to a result against Spain, while for Italy the key will be the ageless Andrea Pirlo, who will be tasked with dissecting an opposition defence that at times looked shaky against Ireland. Meanwhile, while Italy may have approached the opener against Spain believing that a draw was enough, here both sides will be looking for a win—with the Italians feeling a need to keep pace with Spain and the Croatians believing a win against Italy their easiest (and perhaps only) realistic route to the next round.
Spain v. Ireland
7:45PM BST/2:45PM EST
For an Irish side that came into their first Euros since 1988 filled with hope, a 3-1 loss at the hands of Croatia wasn't the ideal start. With a bit of luck and a result against Spain, though, the dream of making an unlikely journey to the knockout stages would still seem tantalizingly within reach. Getting a result against Spain, though—even a Spain increasingly exhausted after four years of its key members playing two games a week nearly every week and with major question marks at striker—will be a monumental task. In all likelihood, then, it will be a game played almost entirely in Ireland's end, with the underdogs hoping that the Spanish killer instinct remains missing and perhaps looking for a late goal on the counter. Any goal, though, would be icing for the Irish, whose first and perhaps only priority will be keeping the Spanish off the scoresheet and earning a draw that could set up a potential battle for advancement against the Italians on Monday.