The third quarterfinal of Euro 2012 is the most eye-catching and the one that will provoke the most wild speculation and predictions.
Spain are reigning world and European champions, just as France were a decade ago. While Spain are very much the favourites, it is difficult to rule out the French, as they remain an unknown prospect.
I have written before of how much I try to shy away from predicting results, and many of my previous "bold predictions" articles have drawn much criticism for not being bold or outlandish enough.
So, in order to redress the balance, here are 10 extremely bold predictions that will almost certainly not happen, but it would be amazing if they did.
As ever, feel free to add your own predictions—however ridiculous—in the comments section below.
When the team sheet detailing Spain’s lineup for their opening Group C fixture against Italy was released, the fact that there were six midfielders and not a single recognised striker in the XI caused quite a stir.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque’s mission to redefine the sport of football as we know it had reached the point at which he had completely abandoned the concept of scoring goals. Instead, he decided that claiming the higher percentage of possession was the true way to decide the better team.
Given that Barcelona often played with only one recognised defender in a back three during Pep Guardiola’s last season in charge, the next logical step for Del Bosque would be to dispense with his defenders as well.
Cesc Fabregas should, by rights, be one of Spain’s most legendary players.
The Barcelona midfielder netted the decisive penalty against Italy when they met in the quarterfinals of Euro 2008, a moment which could be identified as the point when the course of Spanish football history took a sharp upward turn.
Fabregas was also the player who laid on the assist for Andres Iniesta’s extra-time winner in the World Cup final, the crowning achievement for La Furia Roja.
And yet, both of those moments came after he had been brought on as a substitute, a role he has had to accept more often than not for the national team. With the amount of midfield talent at Spain’s disposal and Fabregas’ track record as an impact sub, even a starting XI of Iker Casillas plus 10 midfielders might still see Fabregas named on the bench.
Fabregas is not the only star name to suffer from the absurd wealth of talent at Del Bosque’s disposal. The Spanish bench at any major tournament these days is full of players who would walk into most other international sides.
Whatever starting XI runs out to represent the world champions against France, it’s a fair bet that the likes of Pepe Reina, Juan Mata, Fernando Llorente and Pedro Rodriguez will not be in it.
If Spain are winning after about an hour or so of the match, those guys might as well check out and go for a quick sight-seeing tour around Donetsk in order to make the most of their time in Poland before they each pick up their winner’s medal.
Euro 2012 has not been the best tournament for Karim Benzema thus far. The France striker, who came into the tournament off the back of his best-ever season at club level, is yet to score in three matches this summer.
That task could be made all the more difficult by the fact that most of the players he will be facing will be his Real Madrid teammates.
Iker Casillas, Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso are all day-to-day colleagues of Benzema’s, and he will have to keep his wits about him to avoid passing the ball to them, at best, and suffering a full-blown schizophrenic breakdown, at worst.
When he scored France’s equaliser in the 1-1 draw against England, Samir Nasri marked it by putting a finger to his lips in a “shh” gesture as he wheeled away in celebration.
The Manchester City attacker revealed afterward that the gesture was aimed at French journalists who had recently written uncomplimentary things about him which had upset his sick mother—a sad and regrettable turn of events.
If Nasri is still not satisfied that he has fully got his own back, he could celebrate scoring against Spain by running up to the press box, unplugging the laptops of each of the offending writers before locating the server room inside the bowels of the stadium and disabling the wi-fi for everyone there.
In football, the concept of 100 percent being the absolute maximum has long since been abandoned.
Players will regularly declare they give 110 percent for the team, agents will claim their client’s move to a new club is "200 percent" going to happen and, last year, Harry Redknapp announced he was “one million percent” sure that Tottenham would not sell Luka Modric.
In that context, Xavi Hernandez routinely completing 95 percent or more of his passes in any given match seems quite tame. If Spain’s midfield fulcrum is to truly take his country’s “tiki-taka” to the next level, then he needs to find a way of busting triple figures with his pass-completion stats.
Hatem Ben Arfa’s thrilling form for Newcastle during the second half of the season landed him a late call-up to the France squad for Euro 2012. He proved there are few better dribblers of the ball anywhere in Europe.
Against Bolton Wanderers, the former Marseille attacker turned inside his own half and charged forward all the way into the opposition box, skipping every challenge as he went, before scoring in the manner of a goal in FIFA Soccer on easy mode.
Ben Arfa’s infamously big ego came to the fore again when he rowed with manager Laurent Blanc after he had been given his first start at Euro 2012 in the 2-0 defeat to Sweden. That same ego could lead to him indulging in his penchant for running at goal every time he has the ball—no matter where he is.
One of the most universally admired WAGs in world football is Sara Carbonero, the sports reporter who is the better half of Spain captain Iker Casillas.
As is customary on Spanish television, Carbonero can often be seen from the side of the pitch as the game is going on, delivering live updates for a station that does not have the rights to show the actual match live.
Spain are so capable of hogging the ball for minutes at a time, especially with the aforementioned lineup featuring 10 midfielders, that soon Casillas will feel relaxed enough to turn his back on the game and give a quick interview while the ball is in play.
The remarkable resurgence of Newcastle United over the past 18 months or so has been due in no small part to the club’s shrewd policy of buying talented players from European clubs for surprisingly low transfer fees.
Players like Yohan Cabaye, Cheik Tiote, Hatem Ben Arfa, Tim Krul and even Papiss Demba Cisse have all arrived for fees that, with the benefit of hindsight, all look to have been absolute bargains.
The Magpies tried to do it again earlier this week. They lodged a cheeky £4 million bid with Lille for France right-back Mathieu Debuchy, one of Euro 2012’s breakout stars.
After the French club’s president balked at the offer—even joking “they have the wrong player!”—Newcastle owner Mike Ashley may be forced to grudgingly up his bid by another £200,000 and tell Lille to take it or leave it.
Patrice Evra must be having a difficult time at Euro 2012.
He was the chief dissenter during the French revolt at the 2010 World Cup and was only let back in to the international setup after Laurent Blanc had given him time to cool off and reflect.
Now, after the man who captained Manchester United for much of last season had started against England, he appears to have lost his place in the team to Gael Clichy, who just so happens to play his club football for Premier League champions Manchester City.
Should jealousy overcome the 31-year-old Evra at the thought of being usurped by a player five years his junior who plays for his club’s bitter rivals, Clichy will need to watch out for roller skates left at the top of stairs, anvils falling from the sky and other such cartoon-style booby traps between now and Saturday’s matchup with Spain.