With Spain securing the first spot in the final with a penalty shoot-out, the world now turns to see who their opponents will be. Germany, as favourites to win the Euros outright, are unbeaten so far in the tournament, despite being in a group also containing Portugal and Holland. Italy meanwhile have surprised many with their ability; continuing to overcome troubles within their domestic game. Whatever the result, a competitive game is almost ensured.
Germany head into the Semi Finals having won every game in the tournament so far, as well as claiming 10 wins from 10 in qualifying; a European Championship record. They have proven themselves worthy of their favourites tag; beating Portugal, Holland, Denmark and Greece on their way to the clash with Italy. Striker Mario Gomez has 3 goals to his name so far and seems favourite to be Top Goalscorer overall after Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit from the competition. Germany have not had to rely on him for goals however, with Klose, Podolski and Khedira among the names adding to Germany’s tally.
As such, Germany on paper look comfortable. Having rested Gomez, Podolski and Muller against Greece, Germany’s preferred attacking trio will be fit and ready to face Italy. Klose and Reus have proved they can also lead Germany’s attack if someone is under performing. In midfield, Germany rely on Schweinsteiger and Khedira to work for the team; chasing opponents and supplying the attack. They will be desperate for these two men to do their best to give Pirlo little time on the ball. Mesut Özil will be the creative source for Germany, playing just behind Podolski and Muller. Expect Özil to also be a threat at Italy’s goal with the ability to strike from range. In defence, Germany have looked shaky, particularly against Greece in the Quarters. Jérôme Boateng conceded a penalty and was also at fault for the Greek equaliser; Italy will be looking for a repeat performance from him. Germany will be relying on Hummels and Lahm to keep their defence strong against the Italian threat, though goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is arguably the best in his position in the world and can always be relied on as a last resort.
Italy entered the tournament as massive underdogs after a poor series of matches pre-tournament and match fixing problems arising again within Serie A. So far however, they’ve proved their doubters wrong. A 1-1 draw against champions Spain in their first game surprised many people. Against Croatia, Italy threw away a 1-0 lead with a lack of ambition, but they came back to beat Ireland 2-0 in the final game and secure a Quarter Final match against England. Italy proceeded to outplay England and secure a Semi Final spot with a penalty shoot-out.
Italy’s main man Andrea Pirlo has defied criticisms of his age and speed all season with Juventus and proved against England that he is still one of the best playmakers in the world. Against Germany, he will have to pull all the strings if Italy will hope to advance to Sunday’s final. However, Pirlo is part of an excellent three man midfield for Italy. Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio may be overshadowed by Pirlo’s brilliance but they are a vital part of Italy’s team. De Rossi’s tackling can be inch perfect at times and, as evidenced by his curling strike against England, he can be a goal threat as well. This is good, as Italy do lack options in attack. Mario Balotelli continues to divide opinion with some poor performances and Antonio Cassano has failed to impress so far. Antonio Di Natale scored a vital goal against Spain but continues to be sidelined in favour of Balotelli. With Di Natale in their team, Italy have looked stronger in attack and Di Natale could prove to be a key player against Germany if given the chance. Italy will be hoping that centre back Giorgio Chiellini will be fit to start against Germany after a problem with his thighs keeping him out of the England game, although Bonucci and Barzagli have proved to be able replacements.
Ultimately, it may come down to the performances of key players being the deciding factor in this match. If Germany’s front three are playing to the best of their abilities, it will be hard for Italy to prevent them from scoring. However, if Pirlo is playing at his best, he can create chances for Italy. If they are less wasteful then they were against England, anything can happen.
Verdict: Germany win 1-0, though it could easily go either way.
One team will be in the Euro 2012 final by this time tomorrow. Spain, as defending champions, will no doubt be the favourites in many eyes. Portugal however have begun to impress, especially with Ronaldo finally hitting form in a Portugal shirt. The world will be watching and hoping that this game delivers upon its huge expectations.
Portugal had arguably the hardest route to the knockout stages of the Euros. Being drawn with Germany and Holland was always going to make the group stages tough for Portugal and they were fortunate that Holland suffered from problems within their camp. Despite losing their first game to Germany, Portugal managed to pick up wins over Denmark and Holland to secure second place within Group B, holding off the challenge from a surprisingly feisty Denmark. Portugal went on to face Czech Republic in the Quarter Finals, with Cristiano Ronaldo heading the only goal in a 1-0 win. Portugal could easily have won by two or three however, with Ronaldo hitting the woodwork twice in the first half.
In order to beat Spain, Portugal will need their No.7 to be at his best and he needs no incentive. Having already won the Liga BBVA title from Barcelona this season, Ronaldo will be itching to further embarrass his Barcelona opposition, including Pique, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. Portugal will also require their slightly shaky defence to hold tight against a Spain team known for their attacking domination. In particular, Pepe and Fabio Coentrao will be relied upon heavily to protect the Portugal goal from a Spanish onslaught. Portugal do have midfield talents in Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles, but expect to see them chasing down Xavi and Iniesta in the middle of the park all night.
Portugal’s road may have been harder, but Spain have also had their challenges. Italy managed to stun them on several occasions, with Spain narrowly escaping with a 1-1 draw in their first game. After that however, Spain’s dominance proved too much. Ireland suffered a 4-0 loss and despite Croatia’s best efforts, Spain finished top of the group with a 1-0 victory. In the Quarters, they made France look ordinary in a 2-0 win, with Xabi Alonso picking up two goals on his 100th cap for Spain. Much has been made of Del Bosque’s tactics this tournament however. Spain have started without a recognised striker in two of their four matches, despite Fernando Torres picking up two goals against Ireland. Evidently Spain feel that their passing game bypasses the need for a striker; a tactic that has so far paid dividends.
Against Portugal, Spain will be relying heavily on their defence to keep Ronaldo and Nani quiet. Sergio Ramos and Pique in particular will have to be on their toes against the quick Ronaldo. Other than that, expect it to be business as usual for Spain, with Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets pulling the strings in the middle. You would expect Spain to start with Torres against a relatively weak Portugal defence, but Spain may also be inclined to not fix what isn’t broken. Without Torres, expect to see David Silva or Cesc Fabregas as the main goal threat to Portugal but really, goals could come from anywhere in this team.
Despite the heroics of Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s hard to see Portugal being the team to overcome Spain’s prolific attack. The defending champions have so far proved the critics of their tactics wrong and their passing game may just be too much for Portugal. That being said, when Ronaldo is at his best, it’s hard for any team to stop him. Could we maybe see an upset after all?
Verdict: A narrow 2-1 win to Spain.
With Italy knocking England out on penalties on Sunday, the Quarter Finals of Euro 2012 ended and we knew our final four teams: Portugal, Spain, Germany and Italy. Few will argue that these four have proven to be worthy of the Semis, but spare a thought for the teams already sent home. Several of them managed to surprise many on the world stage with their performances and deserve to be represented on this inaugural blog post – my team of the tournament so far.
GK – Iker Casillas (Spain)
Very few goalkeepers have stood out so far this tournament, with the exception of Iker Casillas. Despite being 31, he is the most capped player in Spain’s history and continues to remain as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Arguably, his job is simple, what with Spain holding possession so well. Yet when he is called upon, he very rarely disappoints his teammates. His performance against Croatia in particular kept Spain in the game, saving from Rakitic and Srna. Not spectacular, but Spain would be a far worse team without this man.
RB – Theodor Gebre Selassie (Czech Republic)
A relative unknown when entering the tournament, having played his football entirely in the Czech Republic, the 25-year old’s displays in the Euros have earned him a move to Bundesliga’s Werder Bremen. Despite his team losing their first game 4-1 to Russia, the RB went on to make amends with his display against Greece. His constant running from right back caused all sorts of problems in the Greek defence, and the ball for Pilar’s goal proved to be too much to handle for Greece. Czech Republic may have gone out to Portugal in the Quarter Finals, but very few will be able to find fault in Gebre Selassie over their four games.
CB – Mats Hummels (Germany)
A regular for Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund, Hummels continues to punish German legends Bayern Munich who sold him three years ago having only played one game. Hummels is as comfortable on the ball as most midfielders, with the most successful passes of any centre back in the competition. He has also attempted 12 long passes, and completed 10 of them. Off the ball, his positioning and heading ability helped Germany to keep a clean sheet against a Portugal team with Ronaldo, Nani and Postiga. Germany may have conceded four goals in the tournament so far, but none of them can be attributed to Hummels performance.
RB – Mathieu Debuchy (France)
France had a poor tournament overall. They looked weak in the draw with England, lost 2-0 to a Swedish team playing for pride alone, and went out to Spain with little fight. Debuchy then, is perhaps the only positive to come out of their tournament. The left-back, from Lille, has spent the entire season linking up with Eden Hazard down the wing, and it showed massively against England, with some smart passing and running. Defensively, he was part of a weak back four for France, but there was enough on show over the tournament to get some major clubs interested.
LB – Jordi Alba (Spain)
The 23-year old from Barcelona (now playing at Valencia) began his footballing career at left midfield, but was eventually tried and tested at left back. Since then, within eight caps, he has become Spain’s first choice left back, replacing long time favourite Capdevila. He has played in every minute of Spain’s campaign so far, and provided the assist for Xabi Alonso’s first goal against France. In a defence with the likes of Pique and Sergio Ramos, he has massively impressed for Spain.
CM – Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
Before the tournament began, nobody gave Italy a chance. They were in the middle of another match fixing scandal, and lacked major star power. In a group with Spain, Croatia and Ireland, few gave them a chance. Many even suggested that Ireland could qualify ahead of them. Pirlo has shown, as he always does, that you can never doubt Italy’s class. The long haired playmaker’s range of passes and comfort on the ball allow him to control a game like few others. This has been evident in every game at Euro 2012, but in particular, for the masterclass he provided against England. No England player could touch him, as he made perfect pass after perfect pass, with a super-cool chipped penalty helping bring Italy back in the penalty shoot-out. Elsewhere, two assists and a goal of his own from a fantastic free kick against Croatia have made him a massive candidate for overall Player of the Tournament.
CM – Sami Khedira (Germany)
There’s very little that’s glamorous about players like Khedira, but they can be the most essential part of any team. A defensive midfielder that covers a lot of ground during a match, his part in Real Madrid’s Liga BBVA winning side has led to him becoming a regular for Germany as well. Khedira can always be relied on to work hard for the team, with good attacking and defending capabilities. His volleyed goal against Greece highlighted him as one of the best players in the tournament, and at the age of 25, he looks set to be a massive part of Germany’s future.
CM – Steven Gerrard (England)
A lot has been said about England’s performance at the Euros. Roy Hodgson’s appointment to the manager job was made a mere month before the tournament started, and key striker Wayne Rooney was forced to miss the first two group games due to suspension. England needed someone to step up and lead the team on pride and confidence along, and Steven Gerrard stepped up superbly. Playing in his preferred centre midfield role, he assisted a goal in every match of the group stages, his cross to Lescott against France a particular highlight. He never managed a goal in the tournament, and his team’s performance against Italy left a lot to be desired, but Gerrard made a huge case for him being more vital to the team than Rooney.
RW – Alan Dzagoev (Russia)
Russia managed to take many by surprise, with their demolition of the Czech Republic on the first day of the tournament. Dzagoev put in a man of the match performance, scoring 2 goals and being a continuous threat to the Czechs. Against Poland, he added a third goal to his tally, putting him as current joint Top Goalscorer, with Cristiano Ronaldo and two other members of this team. He has become a key player for CSKA Moscow, and the only problem with his tournament was that he couldn’t continue on to the Quarters. If he had, we might well have been able to crown Player of the Tournament early.
ST – Mario Mandzukic (Croatia)
In the build-up to Euro 2012, many people were focusing on Jelavic as Croatia’s main goal threat, after his performances for Everton in the Premier League. Mario Mandzukic instead stole the spotlight in the first game against Ireland, with two goals in a 3-1 victory. Another goal came against Italy in a 1-1 draw, and it looked like Mandzukic may have almost single-handedly put Croatia in the Quarter Finals. Sadly, a narrow loss to Spain put Italy through instead, though Croatia will have taken heart from the way they played. Mandzukic’s constant goal threat attracted many admirers, with constant rumours about problems with his contract with Wolfsburg in Germany. Expect to see transfer rumours flying around.
ST – Mario Gomez (Germany)
For some reason, particularly when playing for his national team, Mario Gomez has always attracted critics. In particular, his work ethic is often criticized heavily. Whatever he lacks, he certainly makes up for it with goals. After two games, he had been on the ball for a total of 22 seconds, but had scored three goals. He scored 50 goals in a calendar year in 2011, and is lethal with both feet and his head. While he may not come close to topping the assist charts, he will almost certainly be contesting for top goalscorer, whether or not Germany make it to the final.
The Subs Bench
Cristiano Ronaldo (POR); Khron-Dehli (DEN); Joleon Lescott (ENG); Daniel Agger (DEN); Zlatan Ibrahimovic (SWE); Joao Moutinho (POR); Andres Iniesta (ESP)
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment below or tweet me – @colemansa.