Denmark secured a vital win in the oddly designed Estadio Municipal de Braga against Bulgaria last night, keeping themselves in the competition until at least matchday three and sending Bulgaria home in the process.
It was a truly disastrous night for the Bulgarians who also saw their Captain, Celtic's Stilian Petrov, sent off in shame for dissent, effectively ending his tournament.
It was undeniably the coolest day of the competition so far. The feeling among most observers of this tournament has been that the searing heat has contributed heavily to the slower pace of the early kick-off games. There was no reason for that excuse today, though, as the heavy cloud made it a lot cooler than of late.
Denmark were glad to see the return of Thomas Graveson after his one match suspension, but Jesper Gronkjaer, who was late joining the squad due to the death of his mother, had to settle for a place on the bench. Bulgaria brought in Ilian Stoyanov in defence in place of Predrag Pazin, hoping that they would stem the flood of goals that they conceded against the Swede's in the opening game.
The Estadio Municipal de Braga has to be one of the most unusual stadiums in the world. Carved out of the site of an old quarry, there are only two stands running along the length of the pitch, with both areas behind the goal devoid of any seating for supporters. Instead, behind one goal there was a grassy knoll that would have Lee Harvey Oswald salivating at its potential, and behind the other there was what can only be described as a cliff face.
The Danes stared brightly and with a sense of purpose as they set out to get their first win of the tournament and had a series of half-chances but failed to carve the opening they craved.
The Bulgarians, on the other hand, looked like a side that were devoid of any attacking options. The score against Sweden was harsh on them but there is little doubt that they have the weakest forward line in this group, and for long periods that showed. Any possession they did have was not held onto for any length of time as the midfield struggled to find any options in front of them.
Jesper Gronkjaer, a man who has had a horrific time of it recently, found himself thrown onto the fray a lot sooner than he would have expected after Rommedahl came off injured. Gronkjaer, who has found himself surplus to requirements at Roman Abramovich's Russian revolution at Stamford Bridge, has had to deal with being moved on to Birmingham City and that family bereavement mentioned earlier in the last fortnight, provoking his late arrival to the squad. He was received like a king when he came onto the park and returned the adulation of his audience by tormenting the Bulgarians and almost opening the scoring with Rooney-esque type effort that nearly sneaked in at the near post. He would not be so unlucky later in proceedings, though.
As the half wore on, however, the Bulgarians lifted their performance and started to trouble the Danes and they had two guilt edged chances to take the lead in the space of a few minutes. Firstly, Hristov headed weakly wide with the goal gaping after Sorenson, one of the better performers in this competition so far, failed to grasp onto a rather simple cross. Then, after a neat one-two, Martin Petrov found himself with just the keeper to beat but shot tamely when scoring seemed easier.
It is an age old saying that if you don't take our chances at this level you will be punished, and that is exactly what happened to Bulgaria as Denmark nicked in front right on half-time. Some clever one touch passing around the box resulted in Jorgensen being sent through on goal who unselfishly squared it to the onrushing Jon Dahl Tomasson who tapped the ball into the empty net.
The second-half was a tame affair that looked for an age like it would never take off, even when facing elimination from the competition Bulgaria looked lacklustre and uninventive and it seemed that we would have little, if anything at all, to write about in the second-half until the final explosive ten minutes.
It was in the 82nd minute that the controversy started when Lazarov appeared to be fouled by Niclas Jensen just outside the area when bearing down on the Danish goal. The referee, Lucillo Batista from Portugal, waved play-on, much to annoyance of the Bulgarians who were incensed at the decision. Convinced such tactics would change g his mind, they flocked the referee in protest at his not giving the foul and, in the resulting melee, Stilian Petrov, who had been booked just moments earlier for a tackle on Gravensen, talked himself into a sending off - therefore ending his tournament on a decidedly sour note.
The loss of a man killed any lingering hopes the Bulgarians had of salvaging anything from a game that had, in truth, already stretched out of their reach, and with only ten men to play against the Danes decided to play keep ball, which only seemed to provoke the Bulgarians further and things looked like they could get out of hand as reckless tackles came in from the side about to exit the competition. The Danes seems unperturbed by all of this fuss, however, and even managed to extend their lead right on the death with a goal from Gronkjaer.
Coming in from the left flank he exchanged a one-two with Tomasson before sending a lovely strike past the despairing Zdravkov to double their advantage. The celebrations by the former Chelsea man was on of a man who has had a troubled time of it recently and it would only be the most hardened of observers who would begrudge the Dane his moment of glory given the fortnight he has just had.
Bulgaria are now the second team to cut their stay short in the tournament and have conceded an incredible seven goals in two games without reply. The table now looks tantalisingly too close too call as Italy and Sweden's draw later in the day means that it will be a last day decider to see who goes through from Italy, Denmark and Sweden - with the two Norse sides meeting in a game that could be one of the matches of the tournament. But for Bulgaria, and Petrov, it is the early flight home.
Bulgaria: Zdravkov, Ivanov (Lazarov 51), Kirilov, Stoyanov, Ivaylo Petkov (Zagorchich 40), Peev, Stilian Petrov, Hristov, Martin Petrov, Berbatov, Yankovich.
Subs Not Used: Kolev, Ivankov, Kotev, Borimirov, Milen Petkov, Dimitrov, Chilikov, Manchev, Pazhin, Bojinov.
Sent Off: Stilian Petrov (83).
Booked: Kirilov, Stoyanov, Stilian Petrov, Zagorchich, Hristov, Martin Petrov.
Denmark: Sorensen, Helveg, Laursen, Henriksen, Niclas Jensen, Gravesen, Tomasson, Daniel Jensen, Jorgensen (Claus Jensen 72), Sand, Rommedahl (Gronkjaer 23).
Subs Not Used: Skov-Jensen, Andersen, Bogelund, Kahlenberg, Kroldrup, Poulsen, Priske, Perez, Madsen, Lovenkrands.
Booked: Niclas Jensen, Sand.
Referee: Lucilio Cardoso Cortez Batista (Portugal).