Now that the group stage of the 2012 Euro Cup is over, here's a quick look into what are sure to be hotly contested matches in the quarterfinals.
Czech Republic vs. Portugal
Both of these squads started off the cup with a loss, yet both came through when it mattered most to pull out victories in their final group game to send them to the quarterfinals.
After being drubbed 4-1 by Russia in their opener, the Czechs defeated Greece and Poland in must-win games to win their group.
Meanwhile, Portugal scored three minutes from the match’s end to win a 3-2 thriller over Denmark, then rallied from a goal down to win 2-1 over the Netherlands with both goals being scored by their mercurial star Cristiano Ronaldo.
Considering their track records so far in the tournament, Thursday’s match should be a mad scramble until the final whistle.
Now that Ronaldo has found his touch, he will deservedly demand considerable attention from the Czech defenses and leave more opportunities for Hugo Almeida and the rest of the Portuguese attack to capitalize upon.
Luckily for the Czech side, they have one of the world’s best goalkeepers in Petr Cech. Portugal will create looks in their attack, but Cech has shut down top offenses before and can do it again.
Less fortunately, the already-unspectacular Czech offense looks like it will be without their captain and creator in midfielder Tomas Rosicky after an Achilles injury.
Portugal is the definite favorite, as their hot offense will constantly pressure the Czech defenses. Still, the Czechs have been down before and clawed their way back. Look for a competitive matchup and enjoy what will surely be a frenetic and thrilling second half.
Spain vs. France
The Spanish side, led by striker Fernando Torres, rocked Ireland 4-0 then sealed up a Group C win with a late goal to give them a 1-0 victory over Croatia.
Now, all eyes will be on Spain as it looks to establish a soccer dynasty by going for the three-peat after winning Euro 2008 and the World Cup in 2010. With midfielders Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta, and Xavi, Spain will continue their ball-control focused playing style.
After 2010’s World Cup debacle, the French side has rebounded nicely and look to be a dark horse contender for the title. Young star Karim Benzema has emerged as a versatile attacker, while Mathieu Debuchy is a young talent at right back.
Yet, the French do not look to be heading into the match with the right momentum. An already-eliminated Sweden defeated Les Bleus 2-0, and the inexperienced squad does not match up well against Spain and its’ fervent style.
Spain will and should be the favorite, but the selfless styles of both squads will be a treat to watch for lovers of team-oriented soccer.
England vs. Italy
England made it past the group stage in large thanks to their back-and-forth 3-2 win over Sweden, arguably the most exciting match of the tournament so far.
The English got back Wayne Rooney from suspension in their final group game against Ukraine, and the superstar striker showed why he was missed by scoring the deciding goal that gave England the win and the group title.
The Italian contingent made it the quarterfinals in unexciting fashion via two draws and an expected 2-0 win over Group C punching bag Ireland.
The talent is there, but it depends on whether said talent wakes up on the right side of the bed next Sunday. Striker Antonio Cassano is never afraid to create controversies with his opinions, while fellow attacker Mario Balotelli might have more than just a little bit of crazy in him.
Still, both need to have strong games in order for Italy to get past the English. Additionally, goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon will be constantly pressured by Rooney and his innate knack for putting the ball in the net.
This match features two of the most exciting offenses in Europe, and it will be exciting to see how both teams use their offensive firepower to find creative and efficient scoring chances.