The Euro 2012 quarterfinals got underway Wednesday with Group A winners Czech Republic taking on Group B runner-ups Portugal.
At this point in the tournament, the fate of teams are decided on individual plays, moments of brilliance by one side and moments of question by the other. Every single shot/pass/touch is magnified as it could be the one that means the difference between going home and living on to play another day.
Likewise, the matchups between the players involved in these games are what determine the results. If a superstar can be shut down, then that side will suffer. If he rises to the occasion, then they should coast to glory. Stalemates lead to epic bouts.
Here are the top individual matchups to watch in the quarterfinals.
After a rather lackluster start by his standards, Cristiano Ronaldo finally carried Portugal the way he always should: with a near perfect game against the Dutch. His two goals were only part of what he brought as he was always ready to bomb down the flank, keeping the right-back honest and the Dutch attack anemic.
Ronaldo will have his hot streak tested against Czech right-back Theodor Gebre Selassie. Probably “lesser” of the four right-backs he will have met, this is only in name and clout alone. Selassie may only be 25 years old and play for Czech side Liberec, but he has really shown his quality thus far. In the last two games, he has been a part of a defense that has conceded only one goal and even notched an assist.
His display against Greece was man of the match worthy.
The problem for Selassie is the one bad game he had when he was torched by Russia’s Andrey Arshavin. Ronaldo is a quicker, smarter and more skilled version of Arshavin.
If Selassie can prove that the first game was a result of nerves, and that his past two were much more telling of his character, he should be okay. But if he struggles against big time talent, then Ronaldo could have his best game yet.
There is really no easy way to slice this as Germany’s attacking success has been founded more on team play than anything. The only way to counter that is with even better team play in the back.
Greece has already proven they are capable of pulling off an upset, having perhaps the biggest of the tournament yet when their 1-0 win over Russia sent what looked like the strongest team in the tournament home. On the other side, Germany is doing what they always do, dominating group play and looking strong as ever headed into the knockout stage.
I tried to think of individual matchups that really matter, but the truth is, both of these teams live or die together. Greece’s upset was a product of a unified group playing exceptional defense. They did not get coaxed out of position, and they remained responsible for their place on the field.
Germany’s attack is a machine where each player is an important cog operating in a different capacity. When they are all moving in the same direction, there is no stopping them.
This is simply a battle of which team stays composed better and longer. Greece could pull off another shock result if they stick to the basis that got them there and if Germany gets frustrated trying to break it down. But if Germany keep their calm and understand their roles, then their attack will surely break down the Greek defense.
The rollercoaster that is Fernando Torres continues into the summer as Vicente del Bosque opted for no forward in Spain’s opening game against Italy where the team’s offense struggled. Then bringing Torres on led to two clear chances, which naturally he missed. He then made up for it in game two, scoring a goal and playing well throughout the match. But he followed that with another stinker against Croatia.
On the other side, France is going to be without normal center-back Phillepe Mexes who is suspended due to yellow cards. It is likely Arsenal youngster Laurent Koscielny will fill in on his Euro action. Koscielny should be excited to get some time on the pitch as most think he is deserving to start. But then again, he might rethink it as he has seen the way many Arsenal stars have struggled this tournament.
The two are quite familiar with one another, facing each other in the EPL as recently as April. In that matchup, Koscielny got the better of Torres, keeping the striker off the scoreboard in a 0-0 draw. However, the service a striker like Torres needs is to be found much easier with the midfield of Spain over Chelsea’s.
If Torres is on his mark, there may be no stopping him. Spain can move the ball too fluidly to match, and it really comes down to whether or not Torres can finish. But if Koscielny can do just enough to throw him off his game, then France could come away with a win.
You don’t even need to like football to want to watch this battle. It has all the makings of a soap-type drama with past indiscretions playing much more into the storyline than hopes for the future.
Yes, we are seeing arguably the best center-back remaining in the tournament against what could one day be one of the game’s best forwards; but more so, it is about an alleged racist going toe to toe against someone who vows to kill racists.
Terry and Balotelli are both big, strong, hotheaded players who like to speak their minds. They get in the face of the opposition, will put a finger in it and let them know how they feel about whatever it may be. There are also tremendous footballers who have been major reasons for their teams getting this far.
Both made plays that secured spots in the knockout rounds, Terry with his “goal line clearance” and Balotelli with what to that point was the goal of the tournament. Now they will both be looking to display that magic again in the biggest moments they have yet faced.
The interesting thing is that this matchup can almost be decided more on who stays on the pitch the longest than anything else. There is no shortage of cards between these two, and a red card would not surprise anyone.
I would not be surprised to see Balotelli held out of the starting lineup for his own good. It is about who gets the better of the other then, both mentally and physically; that will decide the game.
I love knockout round football, one game to decide it all, a proverbial game seven if there ever was one. Two legs are more fair, but this format is much more exciting. And after all, what is the meaning of sports if not to entertain?
These matchups above are going to be the ones I focus on, and I think they will determine the winners in each game. But there are certainly plenty more to watch. So what will grab your attention the most? Is it one of the ones listed above or another battle that will decide the matches?
As always, please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading!
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