The group stages of Euro 2012 are over and done with, and the pool of national teams has been cut in half. The quarterfinals of Euro 2012 are just around the corner, and from here, it’s win or go home.
In the coming slides, we'll break down each quarterfinal, assess the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, and produce a prediction for each match.
Who’d have though we’d see this match in Euro 2012′s first quarterfinal? Some may have predicted Portugal to escape the Group of Death at the Netherlands’ expense, but almost no one predicted the Czech Republic to make it out of Group A, let alone top the group.
Especially after their 4-1 mauling by Russia, many expected the Czech Republic to finish at the bottom of the weakest group in Group A.
And yet, they’ve defied expectations. The good play of Vaclav Pilar and Petr Jiracek has carried the Czech Republic to victories over Greece and Poland, and the great play of Tomas Hubschman and Jaroslav Plasil has kept the Czech Republic tight in the back and dangerous in attack.
As for Portugal, many expected them to fall flat after an ineffective showing against Germany, but a last-gasp winner against Denmark from Silvestre Varela followed by a virtuoso display from Cristiano Ronaldo earned the team the six points it needed to progress to the knockout stages.
After two disappointing games, Ronaldo finally showed up for Portugal against the Netherlands, looking like his Real Madrid self against one of the former greatest giants of international football.
So what can we expect to see?
Honestly, I can’t see the Czech Republic posing a threat to Portugal. Tomas Rosicky and Milan Baros haven’t shown good form in this tournament, and without them, the Czech Republic has little hope of competing with the best football nations in the world. That isn’t to mention the fact that Rosicky is presently injured, and is unlikely to be fit in time for the Portugal match despite his last-ditch efforts to recover in time for the game.
As for Portugal, they look to finally be getting their game together. Portugal’s success was always going to hinge on Ronaldo, and now that he’s scoring again, Portugal are infinitely more dangerous. They’ve got quality in every position, and even though their talent level isn’t as high as Spain or Germany, they’re not too far behind. Varela’s winner off the bench showed that Portugal have quality they can depend on off the bench as well.
Barring a miracle, I can’t see the Czech Republic exposing defenders like Pepe, Bruno Alves and Fabio Coentrao the way they did the defenders of Greece and Poland. Ronaldo, on the other hand, should continue scoring, and I expect he’ll involve Nani and Postiga in the team’s attacking play as well.
Prediction: Portugal 3, Czech Republic 0
Euro 2012′s second quarterfinal is less surprising, but it also features a team few expected to make it to the knockout stages. After a draw against Poland and a loss to the Czech Republic, many expected Russia to ease past Greece to the quarterfinals. Heck, I myself thought they’d push on to the semifinals.
Instead, Greece grabbed a goal against the run of play, and held on for dear life. To be fair, they were denied a stonewall penalty, but outside of Giorgos Karagounis’ moments of brilliance, Greece had little going for them.
Germany, on the other hand, very much lived up to their “favorites” tag by beating all three other teams in the Group of Death. Granted, Germany failed to win any of its matches by more than a one-goal margin, but they got the job done effectively in all three games and never looked in danger of falling behind against any of their opponents.
For me, Greece would need a series of miracles to keep up with the Germans in the knockout rounds, let alone win the game. Germany’s players have all performed well, and only Spain can match the depth the Germans have in their reserves. No team has yet figured out how to neutralize both Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Lukas Podolski and Thomas Muller are dangerous goalscorers if not defended closely as well. Mario Gomez has already proven himself to be one of the best goal-scorers at Euro 2012.
Above all, the absence of Giorgos Karagounis is the nail in the coffin for Greece. As good as Greece may be defensively, without a leader to keep morale up and threaten the opposition on the attack, Greece have very few options to threaten their opponents with. Dimitris Salpingidis has looked good in spells, as have Georgios Samaras and Theofanis Gekas, but they’re nowhere near good enough to score against the likes of Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber, or Philipp Lahm and Jerome Boateng/Lars Bender for that matter.
I’m expecting a rout, which will only raise the morale of Germany further and allow them to build up even more steam in their charge to the Euro 2012 title.
Prediction: Germany 3, Greece 0
After the first two matches of the group stages, Spain and France both looked impressively on-form.
Spain battled back against a tough Italy side to draw in their first game, then dismantled a plucky but ultimately weak Ireland side four goals to nil. France, similarly, earned a respectable 1-1 draw with England, before securing an impressive two goals to nil victory over Ukraine, with goals coming from Jeremy Menez and Yohan Cabaye.
But both teams unexpectedly struggled in their final group stage matches. Spain only scored the winning goal in the 88th minute, and they had many calls go their way to keep Croatia off the scoresheet to that point. France fared even worse, losing 2-0 to a Sweden side that had nothing to play for but pride.
So where does that leave both teams?
Spain likely won’t be bothered too much by their struggles against Croatia. They know that their possession game is tried and tested, and that the onus is on them to be more clinical in future matches. Of course, a lot of the burden for goals will fall on Fernando Torres, whose form has been a bit hit-and-miss in this tournament, so, as has often the case in recent months, he’ll be one of the men to watch in this game.
As for France, there is already evidence that the loss to Sweden has shaken them up, with coach Laurent Blanc confirming that there was a bust-up in the French locker room after the game. The French players have moved quickly to downplay the incident, but there’s no denying that the loss to Sweden has shaken up the team and brought them down to earth after their great start to Euro 2012.
But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. As Florent Malouda said, if there was ever a good time for a winning streak to end, it’s a game that hurts them emotionally but doesn’t knock them out of Euro 2012. Now France will be motivated to prove their doubters wrong, and show that they are indeed good enough to go all the way in the competition.
Ultimately, it’ll be a very close match between two teams with something to prove, but I believe Spain will just barely edge a result. I’d take Karim Benzema over Fernando Torres personally, but Spain’s midfield is too talented and should be able to outplay France’s midfield. That’ll be the difference, and what takes Spain to the semifinals.
Prediction: Spain 2, France 1
England have been one of the biggest surprises of Euro 2012. Many expected the English national team to struggle in the aftermath of the Fabio Capello fiasco and especially in the absence of Wayne Rooney for their first two games, but England have been fairly resolute in defense and dangerous in their attack. They’ve not been perfect or without flaws, but they’ve done well, and emerged from Group D undefeated with two wins and a draw against France.
Italy have been impressive as well. They opened up their Euro 2012 campaign with an impressive draw vs. Spain, and though their draw against Croatia seemed to be a setback, they were able to put away Ireland 2-0 in their final group match. By no means did they ease their way to the knockout rounds, but they had their moments and proved their quality against some of the world’s most talented footballing nations.
For me, this is the hardest quarterfinal to call, because the two teams are very close to each other in quality. England have John Terry, who’s been great alongside Joleon Lescott for Italy, but Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli are a fearsome centre-back duo as well. Steven Gerrard’s been in great form for England at Euro 2012, but Andrea Pirlo has been at his best all tournament long. Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck are two very good strikers, but Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli are of a very high caliber as well. And the reserve strikers for both teams are capable of doing considerable damage off the bench.
I really don’t expect to see this game decided in regular time; I think both teams play conservatively and won’t be adventurous enough to win the game in regular time. I don’t expect this game to go to penalties either though; neither national team has a particularly good record at penalties. I think Wayne Rooney will show himself to be the best forward among all the strikers available for both teams, and either assist or score the winning goal for England.
Prediction: England 2, Italy 1 (a.e.t)