Group B concluded yesterday. The proverbial group of death swung back and forth for much of the evening before rather petering out at the end.
The Netherlands had to win, and win by two, and hope Germany beat Denmark. Bert van Marwijk dropped his son in-law Mark van Bommel in favour of Rafael van der Vaart, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar started in place of Ibrahim Afellay and Ron Vlaar was preferred at the back to Johnny Heitinga. The changes looked to have paid dividends early on as van der Vaart curled in a beauty from the edge of the box to give the Dutch the lead.
Moments later, Germany took the lead as Mario Gomez's total mis-hit fell into the path of Lukas Podolski. On his 100th appearance for Der Nationalmannschaft - he's only 27 - he made no mistake from eight yards. Then it all went wrong for the Oranje. First, Michael Krohn-Dehli headed in an equaliser against Germany and at that stage it was Denmark and Germany going through. But the tactical shift by van Marwijk began to unravel in Kharkiv.
Shifting van der Vaart into the central area allowed the Portuguese a lot more freedom. It just took them a bit of time to realise that. While van der Vaart got into a position that van Bommel never would for the goal, he doesn't get into positions van Bommel takes up when the Dutch don't have the ball. As a result, Nigel de Jong and the flaky defence were horribly exposed. Cristiano Ronaldo, inevitably, took advantage. Played into an ocean of space on the half hour, he slotted coolly past the otherwise exemplary Maarten Stekelenburg but for whom it would have been a far more comprehensive defeat. Now it was Portugal going through with Germany.
Holland disintegrated. Van Marwijk, needing two goals in the second period, waited. And waited. And waited some more. Ronaldo hit the post. He waited some more. Eventually, he made his one, sole move, removing Jetro Willems for Afellay and going three at the back. Ronaldo picked them off on the counter-attack and Holland now needed three in the last 20 minutes, but van Marwijk stuck with what was out there. With attacking options like Dirk Kuyt, Kevin Strootman, Luuk de Jong and Luciano Narsingh sitting on the bench, he opted not to change things. Consequently, Holland went down with barely a whimper. Even van der Vaart's late effort that came back off the post wouldn't have made a difference.
Still, a goal for Denmark in Lviv and it would be them going through instead of Portugal, but Lars Bender dashed their hopes with ten minutes to go, played in by Mesut Ozil and finished with a delightful clip to the back post.
Portugal and Germany go through to face the Czech Republic and Greece respectively. Stand by for a number of economics-related puns for that latter one. Denmark go out with their heads held high, veteran coach Morten Olsen with little to be disappointed with. The recriminations for the Netherlands have already begun and will go on for some time. The KNVB have already said van Marwijk will continue in his role, but questions must be asked. There's a real feel he's taken this side as far as he can. Mark van Bommel has surely played his last game for his country, perhaps also Dirk Kuyt and others. It may be time to forcibly end the careers of some others too, especially if they can't get on with each other. The talent is there in the likes of Luuk de Jong, Narsingh, Ola John, Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Strootman. It's time to give thise new generation their head. Van Bommel was charm personified after the game which seemed to suggest he's done at this level and he's possibly the only player to have enhanced his reputation after that game.
Today, group C. Spain face Croatia where a score draw of two or more sees both sides progress at Italy's expense. Italy have to beat the hapless Irish and hope for the best.