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Fairy tales are emotional and reassure with their happy endings, but sometimes they are different from reality.
20 years ago Denmark won their first and only European Championship by beating Germany, in what was a footballing version of a Hans Christian Andersen’s story. This time, in the same competition, the latter triumphed 2-1 in a tender night in Lviv and reached the knockout stage by eliminating the Scandinavians and topped Group B.
Germany had already sealed their place in the quarterfinals, yet they stepped onto the pitch with higher motivation. It was them to have a flying start, with Thomas Müller firing over the bar and Danish goalkeeper Stephan Andersen saving on a close-range attempt by the striker himself.
Once again, the Group B leaders displayed a football made of balls delivered on the wings and three attacking midfielders constantly swapping their positions. 19 minutes passed when Germany deservedly took the lead. Having been assisted following a throw-in, Müller crossed from the goal line, Mario Gomez missed the ball but did not so future Arsenal forward Lukas Podolski, who netted with a precise shot.
The risk of being eliminated immediately shook Denmark, who levelled within just five minutes. The zonal marking provided by Germany on a corner kick let Michael Krohn-Delhi head into the net an aerial assist by Nicklas Bendtner. The equaliser changed the score but not the attitude of the teams, with Germany persisting in keeping the ball and attacking. Other goal chances were created as well, with the only but not irrelevant difference that they were not converted.
The Danes sharply shifted their approach to the game in the second half, for they need to win to hope to qualify for the next round. Jacob Poulsen immediately hit the side of the post with a dazzling shot at the end of a brilliant offensive manoeuvre and since then Denmark tried to add a fundamental second. On the opposite side, André Schürrle replaced Podolksi and had the opportunity to make an instant impact, but his finisher was deflected by Andersen.
Denmark had another opportunity in the last quarter-of-hour, with Bendtner shooting disturbed by a slight shirtpulling. Differently, his almost homonym Lars Bender brilliantly finished a lethal counterattack, which found the Danish back four unbalanced, and celebrated his first international goal.
With Portugal leading against the Netherlands, the Scandinavians were almost out of the competition. Defender Daniel Agger attempted to change the score once more, but he stood on a corner kick without centring the target with his header. It was the last emotion of a match comfortably controlled in the last minutes by the Germans.
Now it is time for Germany, the only team to end the group stage with three victories in as many matches, to face Greece in the last 8. The match will be appealing not just in terms of football, considering the troubled relationships between the two countries regarding the economic crisis and the future of the European Union.
Denmark 1-2 Germany (1-1 HT)
Denmark (4-2-3-1): Andersen – Jacobsen, Kjær, Agger, S. Poulsen – Kvist, Eriksen – J. Poulsen (82 Mikkelsen), Zimling (78 C. Poulsen), Krohn-Delhi – Bendtner. Manager: Morten Olsen.
Germany (4-2-3-1): Neuer – Bender, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm – Khedira, Schweinsteiger – Müller (84 Kroos), Özil, Podolski (64 Schürrle) – Gomez (74 Klose). Manager: Joachim Löw.
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (ESP).
Goals: 19 Podolski, 24 Krohn-Delhi, 80 Bender.
Notes: additional time 1 and 3. Corner kicks: 4-3.