Many pundits feared the opening games of Euro 2012 would be cagey and defensive, and that over the first couple of days, weÃ¢ÂÂd be marvelling at excellent defensive displays, rather than impressive individual performances in the final third.
To a certain extent, thatÃ¢ÂÂs true; DenmarkÃ¢ÂÂs centre-back pairing of Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer performed impressively during the final stages of their surprise 1-0 win over the Netherlands, while Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber looked solid at the back when Portugal pushed forward and asked questions of the German defence, and held onto a 1-0 lead.
But two of the most impressive individual displays have come from attacking midfielders who also starred at the World Cup two years ago: Wesley Sneijder of the Netherlands and Mesut Ozil of Germany.
The Dutch failed to score, while Germany relied on a deflected cross for their breakthrough Ã¢ÂÂ but the intelligence and invention of these two playmakers during their opening Group B games shouldnÃ¢ÂÂt be underestimated.
The two men played similar roles. Although they were listed as central attacking midfielders on the pre-match team-sheets, both were starved of space in their natural zone. Denmark used William Kvist in a very deep-lying midfield role just ahead of the defence, and this forced Sneijder to drift into deeper and wider positions.
Denmark werenÃ¢ÂÂt particularly strict with their defensive positioning, however, particularly on the flanks. Right-winger Dennis Rommedahl stayed very high up the pitch and barely looked to help Lars Jacbobsen down that side of the pitch. His defensive contribution was minimal, whereas on the other flank, goalscorer Michael Krohn-Dehli was more involved when out of possession.
This meant Sneijder could drift into that pocket of space between Jacbonsen and Rommedahl, and he combined nicely with Ibrahim Afellay. The NetherlandsÃ¢ÂÂ top two pass combinations were Sneijder to Afellay, and Afellay to Sneijder, as that was the zone where Denmark were allowing the Dutch space.
As a result of that space, Sneijder completed more passes than any player on the pitch, 62, generally towards the left of the pitch. Furthermore, he created an incredible ten chances, the majority from that zone. His astonishing pass to Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in the second half, played with the outside of his right foot and bisecting the Danish centre-backs perfectly, was the highlight of a superb all-round display.
In the other Group B game, Mesut Ozil was faced with a similar problem. But whereas Sneijder tended to drift to the left, Ozil was more varied with his movement, popping up on both flanks sporadically. His average position is in the centre of the pitch, but a look at the positions he received the ball in will show you that he barely featured in the middle.
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