Germany make case to lift Euro title once more by banishing old demons in big win over Denmark


LONDON — Germany is the most successful squad at the European Championships, boasting eight titles that included a remarkable run of six straight crowns. The quest for a seventh-in-a-row ended at the 2017 edition, at the hands of an unfancied Denmark side in the quarterfinals.

So when the two sides met on Friday in their Group B opener at Brentford Community Stadium, there was inevitably a sense of revenge for the Germans — which culminated with a emphatic 4-0 win over a young Danish side.

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Two things about that memorable 2017 match stood out, the first being the sheets of rain that hammered down on Rotterdam on the day the match was scheduled to take place. The second was the result — with the pitch far drier following a 24-hour rain delay — Denmark coming from behind to run out as 2-1 winners.

That loss left Germany shell shocked, perennial favourites dumped out of the tournament looking like a shadow of themselves. The only Euros they had attended and failed to come away with the title from was in 1993, and even then it had taken penalties for hosts Italy to oust the European powerhouse from the competition.

The defeat was also the beginning of the end of manager Steffi Jones, would eventually be replaced by her former international teammate Martina Voss-Tecklenburg. And while Voss-Tecklenburg’s side had a poor run of results coming into this competition, Germany exacted the most crushing revenge on the team that had unceremoniously dumped them five years ago.

With Germany’s strength distributed across the defence and attack, the rhythm and flow that had been absent from their game in the last couple of years came back with a bang. With Germany overrunning the middle of the pitch, the balance was entirely off for the Danes, leaving their thousand of fans packed in the stands to look on aghast.

The German press started early as they began to relentlessly turn the screw, cannoning the woodwork three times in the early exchanges. But when other German sides might have let their heads drop and accept it wasn’t going to be their night, this squad stayed the course. Continuing to overload the Danish half of the pitch, Lina Magull found the opener when the ball pinged back off of Stine Ballisager for the Bayern Munich midfielder to chase and slam between goalkeeper Lene Christensen and her near post.

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Although Germany could have been out of sight at halftime, the game remained delicately balanced. With memories of seeing their halftime lead in 2017 dissolve in Rotterdam lingering, Die Nationalelf came out roaring for the second half. Having lost three times after taking the lead in 29 Euro matches, the Germans were not about to let this lead in London slip.

The game put firmly out of Danish reach when Lea Schüller claimed her seventh goal in eight matches with a well-taken header at a corner early in the second half. Two goals down, Denmark sunk deeper into themselves, unable to effect play or get at the German backline.

Speaking after the match, Germany midfielder Lena Oberdorf said: “We analysed Denmark before. We had a pretty good pressing situation. We trained a lot so we knew what they were going to do and I think you could see it today. They didn’t really get to play their game with Pernille Harder. She’s such a great player. I looked at her and I was like, ‘I watch a master at work.’ But they didn’t really get to find her.”

As Danish manager Lars Søndergaard said to ESPN after the match: “In a way for us it went wrong, we knew how they would play but we couldn’t get out of the press. Perhaps after 10-20 minutes we got a little insecurity in the passing, but you have to play out from the press, so and then we tried with the long balls but way too far back and we couldn’t get behind them.”

He continued, “And the second thing was our pressing, we didn’t succeed because they played so quickly, the one-two touches, especially on their right-hand side.”

The theme of clean finishes continued when substitute Lena Lattwein scored Germany’s third on the night by beating Christiansen at her near post with the most emphatic finish, the goal a consequence of the endless overloads in the Danish box.

The result was laid out for all to see: German dominance and Danish inexperience, as Denmark captain Pernille Harder admitted, “We are still a really young team who’s learning every day. We are on a journey to get better every day. That’s what it is. We have to learn and then move on to tomorrow.”

Coming into the Euros, there was no question that there was talent in the Danish ranks; not just with the enigmatic Harder but the younger crop coming through that have left fans excited for the future. However, that inexperience showed in London with five players in the starting XI 24 or younger.

The Danes unable to impose themselves as Søndergaard noted, “I just think the Germans played very well today. We didn’t play as I expected us to play, it’s a little bit of nerves but we have to get back up and it’s a little bit hard.”

A sentiment echoed by his Harder.

“It’s a whole new team since 2017. I think we had four players today starting from that team. We have a generational shift, young players coming in who are really talented and I’m sure that the future will be really good,” she said

While both Søndergaard and Voss-Tecklenburg had a mix of youth and inexperience on their respective benches, Germany’s depth was revealed when 31-year-old stalwart Alex Popp — making her Euros debut due to being injured for both the 2013 and 2017 tournaments — met Sydney Lohmann’s cross to divert the ball into the back of the net with a diving header for Germany’s final goal.

The header was the rubber stamp on a win that cemented Germany as title contenders for the first time in over five years, their play not even as good when they picked up their last European title in 2013 or their first Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. As midfielder and veteran from 2017, Sara Däbritz said to ESPN after the win, “I think it’s important that we know that we have the qualities to play for the title, to have the dream to win the Euros.

“I think it was a really good start today, but it was only the start so it’s important to keep going to keep the focus for the next games. We want to see from game to game and give our best and hope to go far.”

As for Denmark, the young team in this summer’s toughest group, there is the prospect of Finland in four days time, the game not just a must win if they are to have any hope of progressing from the group stage but the best chance to wash off the failures of the night and show the quality within the group of 23.

As Søndergaard admitted, the team can not look beyond Finland, especially not to a free-scoring Spain side who they will meet back in Brentford on July 16, “Number one we have to take one game at a time and if we look at getting through the group, we should forget that now and we should take the game against Finland and see if we can get a revenge in performance.

“It’s going to be a difficult game as well but we want to put our play in their and put our foot on the ball; we have to be better than today.”

With Spain having put four of their own past Finland earlier in the day in Milton Keynes, Group B looks to be playing out as most suspected. But the script may not be written just yet.


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