Well, I'm back for part two of my Euro '08 predictions. In my look at the group stages, I called some things right (Croatia going through), some things wrong (France going through) and completely whiffed on some things (Greece going through).
Of my eight quarterfinalist picks, five made it through. The Czechs, French, and Greeks let me down, being replaced by Turkey, the Netherlands, and Russia, respectively.
Let's look ahead to some quarterfinal matches here.
Germany vs. Portugal
The Portuguese are coming off a 2-0 defeat to Switzerland, albeit while resting most of their key players. Ricardo Carvalho, Deco, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Nuno Gomes were all on the bench against the hosts, and consequently lacking creativity and not generating much offense at all.
Their first two games, however, produced convincing wins over both Turkey (2-0) and the Czech Republic (3-1) in games that saw the Iberians much more on form than they displayed in their final group game.
The Germans made it through with much less ease than their opponents, staggering through one of the weaker groups in the competition. They opened with a solid, if not spectacular, 2-0 win over the Polish squad, before falling 2-1 to Croatia.
Needing a win over lowly Austria in their final group match, the Germans played listlessly and looked in for real trouble in the first half, before midfielder Michael Ballack blasted home a beauty of a free kick to secure the win.
I like the Portuguese in this game—the Germans have looked sloppy for their past two outings. Mario Gomez has been a nonexistent presence up top, Jens Lehmann has been far from solid in goal (especially on Croatia's second) and the team simply isn't displaying any sort of sharpness at the moment.
Portugal's stars may take a while to shake the rust off from the game they sat out, but I still see them taking this one.
Croatia vs. Turkey
Having gone undefeated in group play, the Croatians now face a draw with Turkey, come-from-behind winners against the Czech Republic in the final match of group A.
The Turks must believe that they are the team of destiny in this tournament, after their stunning victory over the Czechs. Nevertheless we must also remember they are the same team who got rolled over by Portugal and struggled to put away a Swiss team that was less than memorable this tournament.
Losing goalkeeper Volkan Demirel to a suspension really stings, as their defense must be miserly if they are to have any hope of progressing further in this tournament.
Croatia is also missing a key player, striker Igor Budan having gone down to a knee injury. But the Croats have plenty of other weapons, and are backed by an impressive defense that has only conceded once in their first three games.
I like Croatia in this one, but in a closer match than might be expected. The Turkish players will come out with intensity, trying to keep their momentum going, but in the end Croatia's superior team will prevail.
The Netherlands vs. Russia
The Dutchmen have been by far the most impressive team in this tournament, progressing out of the "Group of Death" with nine goals scored and only one conceded. Goal scoring hasn't been a problem so far with the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Robin van Persie up top, and the defense is boosted by the presence of world-class keeper Edwin van der Sar.
Possessing both talent and momentum, the Dutch would be a tall order for any team.
The Russians, on the other hand, have looked much less impressive so far in this competition. They were beat thoroughly (4-1) by Spain their opener, before being gifted a win over the Greeks by virtue of a horrible error by Antonis Nikopolidis.
They played solidly against the Swedes in a 2-0 win to see them through to the next round, but against the more talented Dutch squad I just can't see them coming up with a shocker. I'll take the Netherlands, possibly by quite a margin.
Spain vs. Italy
Stop me if this sounds familiar, but the Spanish have easily rolled through the group stages of another major competition, and are looking to get that 1,200 pound monkey off of their backs in the knockout stages. Their draw, unfortunately, sees them playing the defending world champions.
Italy, after being embarrassed by the Dutch, managed to salvage a draw, courtesy of Gianluigi Buffon's last-minute penalty save, against Romania in a game which saw the Italians outclassed by the plucky Romanians. Since then, however, they handily defeated France and now look to be surging towards the elimination stages of the tournament.
The big questions in this game concern whether Italy can find somebody to score (anemic performances in the first three matches by Luca Toni and Alessandro del Piero aren't a good sign) and whether Spain will suffer another meltdown in international competition.
The answers, to my mind, are yes to the first and no to the second. This one might take extra time or penalties, but I see the Italians going through.
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