Group stage is officially done and over with and we can now turn our attention to the knockout rounds – where legends are made and the finals become a reality.
As always, the quarterfinal round provides us with a plethora of different teams to watch.
For example, you have the strong fortress that is the Germans, a team that looks destined for the finals.
Then you have a team like the Czech Republic who wasn’t even expected to make it out of group play. However, performances by unsung heroes like Vaclav Pilar have them within finals striking distance.
With these varying teams, there’s a lot of wiggle room in regards to picking winners and surprising runs aren’t foreign to this tournament (see Greece in Euro 2004).
With that, let’s take a look at all the quarterfinal matchups and then predict how the semi-finals and final contest will turn out.
Side note: all matches can be seen live on ESPN and ESPN3.com
Quarterfinals: Czech Republic vs. Portugal
Where: National Stadium, Warsaw, Poland
When: Thursday, June 21 at 2:45 p.m. ET
After Portugal’s win over the Netherlands, Cristiano Ronaldo said, “Now everything is possible” (via Associated Press).
That is certainly true for the Portuguese, especially now that Europe’s best player is finally playing like it.
Before the last game of Portugal’s group stage, the world’s highest paid footballer was inept, non-existent, and sometimes just bad in international play.
However, in a key game for Portugal’s cause toward advancing, Ronaldo stepped up in a big way with two goals. They weren’t spectacular by any means, but it boosted his already high confidence in himself and will help against the Czech Republic in quarters.
Portugal’s defense has also played well, thanks to performances by veterans Bruno Alves and Pepe.
They’ll need all the help they can get when facing a Czech Republic side that has seen players like Vaclav Pilar and Milan Baros contribute so much to their attack.
This game has the strong possibility of becoming a back-and-forth contest with goals – something the experienced and more talented Portuguese would be perfectly fine with.
Quarterfinals: Germany vs. Greece
Where: PGE Arena, Gdansk, Poland
When: Friday, June 21 at 2:45 p.m. ET
With Germany coming out of the Group of Death unscathed, you have to believe that they are just oozing with confidence heading into their match with underdog Greece.
Die Mannschaft have been hitting on all cylinders with their strikers, notably Mario Gomez, on point, their midfielders controlling the tempo, and the back line led by captain Philipp Lahm not allowing any easy goals.
On the other hand, Greece is riding high after shockingly sending Russia home with a 2-1 victory in their last Group A match.
The Greeks have received inspiring performances from the likes of Giorgio Karagounis and Dimitris Salpingidis, and they will need multiple showings of that kind if they are to pull off the major upset.
While Greece will be looking to replicate what they did in Euro 2004, the Germans will be looking to come right out of the gate and dominate with efficient offensive attacks.
Quarterfinals: Spain vs. France
Where: Donbass Arena, Donetsk, sUkraine
When: Saturday, June 23 at 2:45 p.m. ET
In a matchup of two traditional powerhouses, Spain and France should be feeling completely different heading into this quarterfinals matchup.
After starting off their group play with a draw against Italy, the Spanish side doused a weak Irish defense with four goals and cashed in the majority of possession for a late-winner against Croatia to ensure that they won the group.
Not only did they score five goals in their last two games, the Spanish are getting it from a variety of sources, including two confidence-boosting goals from Fernando Torres against Ireland.
Also, David Silva is simply playing out of his mind on the wing, distributing three assists and putting away a goal of his own.
In regards to Les Bleus, the French started off with a boring 1-1 draw with England, but came back with an impressive 2-0 win over co-host Ukraine. However, they finished the group with a sour 2-0 loss to already-eliminated Sweden, which certainly won’t give them much momentum heading into the knockout stage.
The outcome of this game will all depend on which France shows up. Will it be the tenacious, shot-laden squad led by stars Karim Benzema and Sami Nasri? Or will we see the sluggish, out of sync bunch we saw against Sweden?
Quarterfinals: England vs. Italy
Where: Kiev Olympic Stadium, Kiev, Ukraine
When: Sunday, June 24 at 2:45 p.m. ET
In another contest between old time rivals, both England and Italy are coming into this quarterfinals match with momentum on their side and a fantastic battle awaiting them.
Following a slow start in a draw with France, Roy Hodgson’s England squad saw a miracle occur right before their eyes in their second game of group play.
After being down to Sweden with no life whatsoever, the English coach finally plugged in Theo Walcott, and boy did he make the difference with a goal of his own and a beautiful low cross to assist the game-winning goal by Danny Welbeck.
England’s offense is starting to play even better with the return of Wayne Rooney and the midfield and back line already were performing at a high level.
In terms of the Azzurri, Italy’s defense will be without one of the tournament’s best defenders Giorgio Chiellini due to injury.
This will leave a gaping hole in their back line, but will hope that midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio along with others can maintain a majority of possession and limit England’s shots on target.
This game will be a close one to say the least and will come down to which coach makes the appropriate late-game adjustments and which squad can break open for the big scoring chance – or avoid giving it up.
Semi-finals: Portugal vs. Spain
Where: Donbass Arena, Donetsk, Ukraine
When: Wednesday, June 27 at 2:45 p.m. ET
While the Czech Republic had a nice run through group play, Portugal is just way too potent on offense to be denied in a quarterfinal matchup at this point.
Also, after the way France played against Sweden, I don’t have a lot of confidence that they can come close to taking down star-laden Spain and their world’s best midfield.
Despite their midfield’s play with Xavi and Co., the force with which Portugal is playing is too irresistible to deny of late.
Think about it, the only time Portugal had to battle was against Germany, and even then the game could have been at least tied had Pepe been luckier.
I get that Spain’s forward play is starting to get its footing, but if Cristiano Ronaldo keeps getting shots on target Portugal will score goals in bunches.
I’m not saying that Spain has no chance against the resurgent Portuguese because that would be blasphemy, but I do believe that Portugal is going to pull the upset and reach the finals for the second time in the last three European championships.
Semi-finals: Germany vs. England
Where: National Stadium, Warsaw, Poland
When: Thursday, June 28 at 2:45 p.m. ET
Let’s be honest, no one is going to stop Germany the way they’re playing lately, especially not massive underdog Greece.
With England looking to take care of business against an old, leader-less Italian defense, we’re looking at a rematch from Euro ’96 in the semi-finals.
England is a much better team than they were two years ago when Germany dismantled them 4-1 in Bloemfontein. Injected with youthful tenacity and creativity, this squad is worthy of this semi-final prediction.
However, they lack the overall makeup and well-roundedness that would be needed to take down this German squad.
Between the scoring of Mario Gomez and the midfield play of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany has no flaws for the English to exploit, plain and simple.
Look for the Germans to play their game: control possession, involve their perfect-passing midfielders, and put the ball on Gomez or Podolski’s foot.
If they can do that, they’ll have no problem dismantling a young, but up-and-coming English bunch.
Finals: Portugal vs. Germany
Where: Olympic Stadium, Kiev, Ukraine
When: Sunday, July 1 at 2:45 p.m. ET
In a rematch of the Group of Death’s two advancers, look for the battle between the two strikers to be the deal breaker.
Cristiano Ronaldo is hands down the best player in Europe, but can he perform like it on the world’s biggest stage against one of the world’s best defenses?
Mario Gomez has taken Euro 2012 by storm so far and if he can stay in his current form there is nothing that will stop him from scoring. However, can he overcome the confidence backing the Portuguese defense led by Pepe and Bruno Alves?
I think that in this battle, Mario Gomez will win simply because of the help he has around him.
Although their strategy has shifted a little bit, the vast majority of Portugal’s offensive attack is run through Cristiano Ronaldo. So, if the Germans are able to shut down Ronaldo, they could shut down Portugal’s scoring.
On the other hand, Germany’s starting XI is filled to the brim with potential scorers, making it harder for Portugal’s defenders to zero in on Gomez.
If the Portuguese defense loses sight of Gomez at their end of the pitch, forget about keeping a clean sheet.
Bottom line, Germany is flawless in practically every aspect of the game and if they can avoid injury and suspensions, they’ll be the ones hoisting the Euro 2012 trophy in the end.
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