UEFA European Championship 2008 Semi-Final Preview
The quarter-finals followed up the group stage with some heartbreaking results with three of the four results considered upsets in addition to going to extra-time. The Germans “upset” Portugal 3-2 – they were underdogs based only on their runner-up status after the group stage, I don’t think anyone with a brain would have been able to pick an outright favorite for that tie. The same couldn’t be said about Croatia and Turkey, where everyone and their mother (except the Turks) expected Croatia to advance handedly. With the Croatian go-ahead and Turkish equalizing goals coming at 119 and 120 minutes of extra-time respectively, the Turks, with their never say die philosophy, advanced on penalties. The high flying Dutch from the group stage were nowhere to be seen against Guus Hiddink’s Russia, who advance to the semis to face a Spanish side that finally expelled their international tournament demons by beating Italy on penalties. I went 2-2 on the quarters with no success in picking scorelines, so here’s hoping my luck improves for the semis.
Germany vs. Turkey, June 25
Germany are the clear favorites for this match up but apparently that’s an ambiguous classification when you’re playing Turkey in these Euros, who were come back winners against Switzerland, the Czech Republic and, of course, Croatia. Will the Turkish train keep on rolling or will Germany be the couch on the tracks? I’m leaning towards the latter as surely this will finally be Turkey’s swan song.
Keys to German Success
• Avoid being overconfident: The players blamed there upset loss to Croatia in the group stage on overconfidence and if they go into this game in the same frame of mind, they could be in store for a repeat. Don’t count on it though, no doubt the Germans learned from their blunder against the Croats and will be focused on only one outcome against Turkey.
• Don’t fix what ain’t broken: The starting XI that beat Portugal should not be altered. Defensively they were stellar; did anyone notice Cristiano Ronaldo when he wasn’t crying after a tap on the foot? No. Bastian Schweinsteiger, arguably the most German sounding name on the roster, had a stellar performance coming off of his suspension, netting a goal and delivering the crosses that led to Germany’s two other goals. He was in at the expense of the defensively minded Clemens Fritz who shouldn’t be too badly needed against the Turks.
• Close out the game early: Croatia should have advanced against Turkey but they couldn’t capitalize on any of their chances and as a result the better team lost. Germany needs to score early, looking to take a 2 goal lead into half time and building on that in the final 45. The longer Germany goes without scoring a goal, the more confident Turkey will become.
Keys to Turkish Success
• Hope for a miracle: The Turks are here because Croatia beat themselves; after squandering all their chances in regulation, Croatia go up a goal with a minute left in extra-time and forgot that there’s STILL a minute left in extra-time and the rest is history. The way their offense looked against Croatia (non-existent; 2 shots on goal in 120 minutes), they don’t have much of a hope of scoring against the Germans.
• Play for penalties: If they can’t score in open play, I wouldn’t be surprised if Turkey coach Fatih “the Emperor” Terim opts for a very defensive (read: boring) approach to this game. Can Turkey hold off the German attack for 120 minutes? (I’ll give you a hint: no.)
• Discover the cure for all sports injuries and bribe UEFA officials to overturn player suspensions: Stupid and unrealistic, but the fact is Turkey are missing 8 players of their 23 player roster due to injuries and suspensions. Notably, their captain and hero against the Czech Republic, Nihat Kahveci , picked up a calf injury that’ll put him out of the semi-finals. They’ll likely be missing their 6’3¼” central defender Servet Çetin with a knee injury – he may return prematurely though since his replacement is suspended for the semi-finals – he would have been vital in shutting down the German aerial threat. They’re missing a dangerous attacking option in Tuncay Sanli, who is suspended alongside Arda Turan, who scored the go-ahead against the Czechs. The list goes on…
Mocash’s Money Pick: I have to go with Germany here and all credit to the Turks, who played ugly ugly football all tournament but still got results. Germany 3-0
Spain vs. Russia, June 26th
The Russians excelled in their role as underdogs against the Netherlands and will look to do the same against their group rivals in Spain. When the two met on June 10th, Russia were outclassed and were easy prey for the clinical Spanish counterattack, losing 4-1. This bit of recent history adds the revenge angle to this tie which pits two attacking teams against each other. Should be a beauty.
Keys to Spanish Success
• Contain Andrei Arshavin: He was responsible for creating Russia’s winning goal in extra time in addition to providing one of his own against the Dutch. The duties for keeping this baby-faced 27 year old in check will fall to Marcos Senna, Spain’s token Brazilian (every national team has to have at least one these days), who has had a great tournament in his role as a holding midfielder. Arshavin was serving a suspension in their first meeting and since his return the Russians have looked like a completely different team, so making him a nonissue is a big deal.
• Strengthen the right flank: Russia’s left wing consisting of left back Yuri Zhirkov and midfielder Ivan Saenko can be a huge threat coming down the wing; they each move with pace and Zhirkov has the ability to lay in the perfect pass at his target’s feet. Spain’s left back Sergio Ramos will need to have his best defensive game of the tournament to stymie the left side attack and needs to avoid getting caught too far up the pitch or else risk getting burned on the Russian counter. He should look to support from left midfielder Andres Iniesta and Marcos Senna.
• Start Cesc Fabregas: Arsenal bias aside, he’s been a substitute for all of Spain’s games except for the meaningless game against the Greeks, and after his calm game winning penalty against the world’s best keeper in Gigi Buffon he deserves the start over Xavi Hernandez. You don’t lose anything for swapping Xavi for Cesc, they’re both attack minded, have great vision and pristine passing, but Il Mago was the better player over the 60 minutes he saw against Italy. Point is, either player is a good choice, but Cesc deserves the shot.
Keys to Russian Success
• Shore up the defense: Center back Denis Kolodin is suspended for the semi-finals and he was integral in keeping the Dutch at bay. The Russians did a good job of defending without taking away from their attack and should look to do more of the same against Spain. They’ll need to shut down the passing lanes from the midfield to the forwards and prevent the likes of David Villa and Fernando Torres from getting behind them like they so easily did in the group stage.
• Attack the Spanish right flank: See above.
• Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko: Arshavin has scored a goal in each of his two appearances so far and has been a huge influence on the recent success of the Russians. Pavlyuchenko, though he is the 2nd leading goal scorer in the tournament, needs to improve his finishing. He could very well have settled the quarter-final against Holland in regular time and SHOULD be the leading the scorer in the tournament.
• Keep listening to Guus Hiddink: I mentioned Hiddink in the quarter-finals preview and just want to re-iterate that he’s whipped this team in a fitness level that is unbelievable. Even during extra-time the Russians didn’t look at all like slowing down, they were just as fast as they were in the first half and made the Dutch look like old men. Additionally, the brand of soccer that Hiddink has instilled on his players, “Total Football,” requires excellent teamwork as everyone covers for everyone else, keeping the formation organized (if a left back moves into the attack, the left midfielder should take his place and be just as effective in this position as his preferred one).
Mocash’s Money Pick I’m embarrassed to have brushed off the Russians so easily in the quarters, but again I’m going to go with their opponents. This is Spain’s year and to beat the Italians at a penalty shootout just goes to show that luck is on their side in this tournament. Spain 2-1
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