Euro 2012: Predictions for the Knockout Stages
The stage is finally set for the knockout stages of this year's European Championships in Poland and Ukraine. Eight teams have fallen by the wayside, leaving eight others to take their place in the quarterfinals, taking place over four days from the 21st to the 24th of June.
Whereas some teams—the Netherlands and Russia—were expected to line up as quarterfinalists but failed, others, such as Greece, have exceeded expectations in getting this far.
Read on for a comprehensive set of predictions, culminating with the revelation of who will be lifting the Henri Delaunay trophy in the capital of Ukraine, Kiev, on the 1st of July.
Quarterfinal: Czech Republic vs. Portugal
21 June, Warsaw
As winners of Group A, the Czech Republic take on the runners-up of Group B, Portugal, in the first of the quarterfinals.
And you'd better believe that the Czechs have the odds stacked against them.
With captain and playmaker Tomas Rosicky doubtful for Thursday night's encounter, the creative and attacking spark will likely once again fall to the Wolfsburg pair of Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar—who together have scored all of their country's goals in the tournament so far.
Portugal, on the other hand, have gradually appeared more and more confident with every game. Despite an opening-game loss to much-fancied Germany, their 3-2 win over Denmark in Lviv was one of the tournament's highlights, and their domination of the lacklustre Netherlands was the exclamation point for a team brimming with flair and attacking zest.
Not to mention the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo is coming off a fine two-goal performance.
The Czechs may make it close, but there's only one team walking out of Warsaw with a future in this tournament. Portugal to win by as many as three.
Quarterfinal: Germany vs. Greece
22 June, Gdansk
Undoubtedly, this is the easiest of the four quarterfinals to call.
Greece stumbled through the group stages to claim the second qualifying spot from Group A, having battled to a victory against much-fancied Russia in their last game to oust the favorites from the knockout stages—despite having a poorer goal difference.
Many questions will be asked of Fernando Santos' men by the Germans on Friday night, and whether Greece can find the right answers is doubtful.
Germany simply appear far too strong—indeed, they've had the best tournament of anyone so far, statistically, as the only team to come out of the group stages with a 100 percent record.
Though the Greeks have been fairly stout in defence thus far, they've not faced an attacking unit which boasts the quality of Mario Gomez, Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski.
Germany to win by at least two.
Quarterfinal: Spain vs. France
23 June, Donetsk
This game boasts two sides who simply seem like they haven't shown up to the party—yet.
Spain showed their dominance in putting four past the unfortunate Irish in the group stages. But they had to battle particularly hard this past Wednesday to create a win over Croatia, and indeed showed little attacking of note in their opener with Italy.
Despite having one of the world's greatest midfield units—Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Sergio Busquets—their forward options, namely Fernando Torres, have not been as potent or incisive as Vicente del Bosque would have liked. The introduction of Fernando Llorente to the side might well prove a decent game plan for Saturday night's showdown in Donetsk.
Similarly, France have lacked a real, potent threat when going forward. While Samir Nasri has been creative in the engine room, Karim Benzema has yet to score at the tournament, while Olivier Giroud has been limited to a couple of substitute appearances.
Should neither team find their attacking spark, this one should be expected to be a close affair; neither extra time nor penalties should be disregarded as a potential outcome. It could go either way, but France's defense has appeared weaker than Spain's have.
As a result, expect the world champions to continue their run in Donetsk.
Quarterfinal: England vs. Italy
24 June, Kiev
Like the previous match, Sunday night's confrontation in Kiev features two sides who haven't shown their best in the group stages, but both have room to grow in this quarter-final.
Despite some dubious officiating in last night's final Group D game, England have come out of the group as victors, exceeding the expectations of many.
While Wayne Rooney wasn't as influential as doubtlessly hoped in the 1-0 victory over Ukraine, bright spots have been found.
There was the consistency of Ashley Cole and Joe Hart in defense. There was the creative and exciting work from players like Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott. And there were the commanding performances in central midfield by Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker.
Italy, on the other hand, have been largely uninspired thus far in the tournament—exciting performances from Antonio di Natale in attack, and Daniele de Rossi and Andrea Pirlo in midfield have been their bedrock.
Although scoring one apiece, starting forwards Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli will need to step up their game in order to fire Italy into the semifinals.
Cassano was, however, solid against the Republic of Ireland—Balotelli will need to join his striking partner in winning Euro 2012 plaudits.
This has all the making of a scrappy, closely fought duel. Both teams have been suspect in their consistency thus far, and it will likely come down to their strengths in defence to determine the outcome.
I wouldn't doubt this one going all the way to penalties—but with the momentum as group winners behind them, England will hang on and snatch victory and the last semifinal place.
Semifinal: Portugal vs. Spain
27 June, Donetsk
The first semifinal of this year's European Championships takes place in a week's time, and an upset is on the cards. Portugal will outdo Spain, the reigning world champions, in a nail-bitingly close encounter in east Ukraine.
Cristiano Ronaldo finally hit his stride against the Netherlands in his final group game. Expect him to carry that momentum past the Czech Republic and into this encounter with the stars of La Liga—who he faces during the season with Real Madrid.
The Portuguese midfield unit of Joao Moutinho, Raul Meireles and Miguel Veloso have been creative in attack, as well as a solid unit in front of the defense.
While goalkeeper Rui Patricio has been suspect at times, the defense has been stout enough to prevent any real embarrassment.
Spain do not pose as much of a threat offensively as the likes of Mario Gomez' Germany, the only team to beat Portugal thus far—and that itself was a close affair in Lviv on the 9th.
Though the quality in Spain's midfield is undeniable, Portugal will simply be on too much of a roll to be denied.
A shock? An upset? Almost certainly.
But Portugal will make it to their second European Championships final in three appearances.
Semifinal: Germany vs. England
28 June, Warsaw
No surprises here.
Almost sixteen years ago to the day, Germany defeated England at the old Wembley Stadium at this very same stage at Euro '96.
Although penalties were required to separate the two teams in London that day, Joachim Low's men will once more progress to the final of the European Championships, their second consecutively, without a need for a penalty shootout.
While both teams have grown since England's 4-1 humiliation in Bloemfontein two years ago by the Germans, England simply lack the well-roundedness and quality their opponents here boast.
This England squad is a far cry from that of two years ago—injected with youthful enthusiasm and creativity, they will have had an excellent tournament, setting them up well for the World Cup in Brazil two years from now.
But right now, they just cannot compete with the faultless German team. Their form throughout the tournament will be capped off by a demolition of Greece in the quarterfinals. They will only continue their excellent form into this semifinal in the Polish capital.
Roy Hodgson's men will give it their all, but the German football machine will plough on, defeating England convincingly to progress to the final.
Final: Portugal vs. Germany
1 July, Kiev
In 1996, Germany defeated the Czech Republic in the final of these Championships to lift the Henri Delaunay trophy. Sixteen years later, that triumph will be repeated in a close victory over group-mates Portugal.
Both teams will be boosted by excellent semifinal victories. Both will be in excellent form.
This will be a much different game to that in Lviv that will be some 22 days ago come the day of the final.
Portugal, of course spearheaded by Ronaldo, will rely on him and the creative impetus of the midfield unit, plus the contributions of substitutes like Silvestre Varela, to attempt to break the German defense—who have been mostly excellent but have shown flashes of vulnerability.
They will, however, come undone against the excellent creative and incisive work of Podolski, Thomas Mueller and Ozil in midfield, as well as the substantial efforts in central midfield of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira.
Mario Gomez will cap his excellent tournament by scoring once, if not twice, more than likely winning the Golden Boot in the process.
In an exciting, nail-biting clash, Portugal will fall at the final hurdle just as they did in home territory some eight years ago.
Germany, who fell at this stage last time around to Spain at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion in Vienna, will go one better and bring the trophy back home for the first time since 1996.
This is one man's opinion—I'm ready and willing to hear yours. Let me know in a comment if you think I've got it spot on, half-right or if everything I've written is complete tripe!