Now that we are in the Semifinals of the 2012 European Championship, each team left is only two wins away from leaving the tournament victorious. While two wins is an achievable goal for any of these squads, they must surpass two of the premiere teams on the planet to do so.
The four remaining teams are Spain, Germany, Portugal and Italy who are ranked first, third, 10th and 12th in the world respectively. Spain and Portugal will square off on Wednesday with Germany and Italy playing Thursday.
For each team to come out victorious they will need to play a strong game as a unit. They will also need huge contributions from their stars, and there are plenty of them on each team. With names like Cristiano Ronaldo, Mario Gomez, Mario Balotelli, and practically the entire Spanish starting eleven, no one can know for sure who will shine the brightest. These are a few players whose teams will need them to perform or they will be sent home empty-handed.
The simple pick here is Balotelli because he has such immense talent that he can change any game he plays in. However, he's so volatile that it's impossible to predict what he's going to do and whether or not he'll even show up to play (literally).
The player who will have the biggest impact on Italy's chances of winning the cup is Andrea Pirlo. The elder statesman of Italy's squad, he'll be the player relied upon to calm the younger guys and keep the Italians in the right state of mind when they square off against the Germans on Thursday.
We saw evidence of Pirlo's poise in the penalty shootout with England yesterday. After Riccardo Montolivo missed Italy's second penalty kick and Wayne Rooney buried England's, he needed to score. What does he do?
Pirlo chips the ball, a risk only a few people in the world would have the guts to do in a moment that huge, but he did. It is that gutsiness and poise that he will need to show if the Italians hope to move on.
While it's fairly obvious that Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player on this team (on most teams actually), he isn't going to be the key for Portugal against Spain. Yes he's going to play his game and give Portugal a chance to win, but he does that every game.
The difference maker here is going to be whoever takes Helder Postiga's place at the top of the formation. Postiga was carried off the field on a stretcher during Portugal's 1-0 win over the Czech Republic and has been ruled out for the remainder of the tournament.
Now the task falls, most likely, to Hugo Almeida, but could also go to Nelson Oliveira or Silvestre Varela. Regardless of who it is, they will need to assume the role of Ronaldo's running mate and make a difference on the offensive end if Portugal are to upset Spain.
There are about 12 (yes, 12) names to choose from here as the Germans have a number of players who could truly impact the game in a number of ways.
The player that I think will have the biggest impact in the next two games is Mesut Ozil. With 37 caps and eight international goals, Ozil is hardly the youngster everyone considered him to be in the 2010 World Cup. He can score and create chances for the German team. His passing and ability to possess the ball will be key against the Italians or whoever else the Germans may play in the tournament.
Whatever the Germans end up doing the rest of the way, Ozil will be a key component in all of it.
You could pick anyone on the Spanish squad to make a big impact because just about everyone has the ability to totally change the landscape of any game they play.
The player who I bet will be key is Fernando Torres. I know that the Spanish have played a variety of different formations so far this tournament and not all of them have included Torres, but that's why I feel like he's going to make the difference.
When he does get a chance to play, he'll be hungry to be a difference maker on the field. He has 97 caps and 30 international goals and if he can get one more, it will probably be one of the biggest of his career.
With all of the talent the Spanish have in the midfield, teams will have a hard time keying on Torres and if he can get loose, he doesn't quite have the speed or finishing ability that he used to, but to take him for granted would be foolish.
Look for Torres to try to show the world why he belongs on the field and to make a difference against Portugal on Wednesday.