The group stage of EURO 2012 has come to a conclusion, and the end product is a quartet of thrilling quarterfinal matches. With at least one goal in every game thus far, this summer’s tournament is the first edition of the EUROs to not feature a 0-0 result in any match in the group stage. Here are the quarterfinal matchups with complementary analysis
Czech Republic vs. Portugal
The Czechs’ appearance in the quarterfinals is a testament to their resilience; after suffering a heavy 4-1 loss to Russia on the first day of the tournament, they defeated Greece 2-1, and a 1-0 victory over Poland cemented their spot in the knockout round. Goalkeeper Petr Cech has also bounced back from the Russian horror show and will be relied on heavily to keep the Czechs in the game. Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar have led the show in attack, each scoring two goals in group play. Although a bit of a heavy underdog, the Czech Republic could definitely give the Portuguese a hard time.
There is no discussion about Portugal without mentioning Cristiano Ronaldo, and the superstar winger finally delivered a clutch performance to put his nation into this quarterfinal game. After being virtually invisible in the first two games (fortunately, Portugal was able to beat Denmark after losing to Germany), Ronaldo scored two goals in an exciting match against the Netherlands as the Portuguese claimed second place in Group B. Will his newly-found form continue, or will he become a non-factor once more against the team-oriented Czechs?
Brave Prediction: Portugal wins on penalty kicks
Germany vs. Greece
Germany was the only team to win all three of their games in group play, making them arguably the most in-form team right now. Behind a stout defense, a versatile midfield, and Mario Gomez continuing to score goals, this squad is the team to beat. Victories over Portugal, the Dutch, and Denmark have shown the footballing world what Germany is capable of doing; running the table and winning the tournament.
The Germans are heavy favorites as they go up against Greece, who shocked Russia 1-0 in the final group stage match to make their way through to the knockout round. This Greek squad is clearly overachieving, and much to the media’s joy, it seems to be reminiscent of the 2004 side that won the European Championship and shocked the world. However, in this mismatch, Greece must also overcome the loss of midfield general Giorgos Karagounis due to excessive bookings. Although not impossible, it is extremely unlikely for Greece to emerge victorious against the most dynamic team in Europe.
Brave Prediction: Germany wins by two goals
Spain vs France
Spain led all teams in goals scored and goal difference, yet we are still criticizing them for their flat performance so far. Vicente del Bosque has crowded the midfield with 5 to 6 players at any given time, and players are relatively unimaginative with the ball. Will we see the dominant side that thumped Ireland 4-0 or the static and narrow side that managed points against Italy and Croatia? Expect around 60% possession for La Furia Roja as they seek to create chances against a shaky defense.
The Spanish take on an erratic French side that surely has world-class talent but has not quite delivered accordingly. After drawing with England, France defeated Ukraine before being dominated against Sweden; an embarrassing 2-0 loss sends the French into the quarterfinal on a low note. Superstars Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri lead the attack but there may not be enough chemistry within the squad to churn out a positive result. In this 2006 World Cup rematch, Spain may get their revenge.
Brave Prediction: Spain grinds it out by one goal
Italy vs England
This matchup is arguably the closest in terms of squad strength. It may also be the most physically demanding and rugged, as two no-nonsense defenses square off.The Italians are on an impressive run after earning five points, three of which came in their last game against Ireland. Manager Cesare Prandelli has been able to adjust to his players’ health issues and utilize different formations; this game may feature the three-man defense seen in Italy’s first two games. The attacking trident of Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano and Antonio Di Natale is extremely potent and can contribute goals whether its players are starting or coming off the bench.
England has endured a rough past six months as the squad became embroiled in player scandals and a coaching change. New manager Roy Hodgson has made the most out of his limited resources (on paper, this summer’s squad may be one of the weaker ones we’ve seen this decade) as England took seven points to lead Group D. Now that Wayne Rooney is back, England’s attack is even scarier, as the number 10 joins Danny Welbeck, aerial specialist Andy Carroll, and speed merchants Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. This match has the potential to be a classic.
Brave Prediction: Italy scores in extra-time to win