After the conclusion of four thrilling Euro 2012 groups – all filled with their own drama and subplots – the quarter final draw is now complete and we can look forward to the latter stages of the competition.
Thanks to the failure of Russia and Poland, we must tolerate the presence of the Czech Republic and Greece in the quarter finals (*German fans laughing hysterically*). The Dutch shambles allowed Portugal to escape the Group of Death, whilst Croatia weren’t quite able to leapfrog Italy to get out of Group C. Group D was probably the most predicable group, despite France’s loss to Sweden. With most of the favourites through to the next round, plus a couple of underdog stories in the making, all signs point to Euro 2012 continuing to deliver.
Here’s a look at how the quarter finals line up.
Quarter Final 1
Czech Republic v Portugal
Thursday 21st June, Warsaw
Somehow, the Czechs managed to recover from a dismal opening performance against the Russians to qualify as group winners. Inspired by the World’s most lethargic footballer, Andrey Arshavin (he just pipped Dimitar Berbatov in a closely-fought but energy-devoid battle), the Russians managed to throw away their nailed-on ‘Group A Winners’ status. Despite the erratic form of Petr Cech and Milan Baros they have limped through to the quarter finals. Diminutive winger Václav Pilař and midfield Big Issue salesman Petr Jiráček have been the standout performers for the Czechs thus far and will be looking to build on their impressive showings in the quarter final.
Portugal, meanwhile, took advantage of the utterly abysmal Dutch performances in Group B to sneak into the quarters behind the irrepressible Germans. Cristiano Ronaldo finally found form with an epic display against the Dutch in which he could have scored 4 or 5 times, and they should have plenty in their locker to see off the Czechs. If not, it will be a tragedy for football. We all want to see Ronaldo reproduce his club form on the international stage and this could yet be his tournament. If he were to guide his national team to the title it would surely make him the favourite for the Ballon D’Or ahead of Barcelona’s superhuman Ratboy.
Odds of progressing: Portugal 4/11 – Czech Republic 2/1
Quarter Final 2
Germany v Greece
Friday 22nd June, Gdansk
Hotly tipped pre-tournament as favourites to challenge Spain for the title, the Germans couldn’t have wished for a better draw in the quarter finals. Greece can perform defensively but offer very little going forward, no matter how good Jesus, sorry, Georgios Samaras thinks he is. They did well to recover after unfairly going a man down in their opener against Poland, and battled well against the lacklustre Russians to earn their escape from Group A, just don’t expect a repeat of 2004.
Germany, in contrast, have the only 100% record in the competition despite not yet reaching their maximum. Mario Gomez is in ominous form, scoring two fantastic goals against Holland whilst amazingly only being in possession of the ball for around 20 seconds. With one of the World’s best attacking midfielders in Mesut Özil flanked by Thomas Müller and Lukas Podolski, Germany should cruise through this game. Many punters will be hoping Gomez bags a few more goals to pull ahead in the race for the golden boot.
Odds of progressing: Germany 1/8 – Greece 9/2
Quarter Final 3
Spain v France
Saturday 23rd June, Donetsk
Anyone who has watched Spain this tournament will have seen that they are struggling without attacking spearhead David Villa, although they still qualified from Group C relatively comfortably in the end. It is clear that Del Bosque’s favoured 4-6-0 formation allows fluidity and dominance of possession, but they are missing the killer instinct of “Bee-ya” who was always a shoo-in for ‘First Goalscorer’ betting. After an uneasy performance against Croatia, they may revert to using Fernando Torres, who claimed a couple of tidy goals against the hopeless Irish last week.
France capitulated against Sweden in their final group game and it proved costly as they finished second in the group to set up a difficult tie against the Spanish. Both sides like to play methodical possession football so it should be a good – if somewhat slow – match, although it may be devoid of chances as the technical players play keep-ball in and around the midfield area. However, France have the benefit of Karim Benzema, a club team mate of many of the Spanish side and a man highly capable of fulfilling the ‘false nine’ position that Spain so crave. I envisage a score draw similar to the Spain-Italy game, leading to a tense period of extra time.
Odds of progressing: Spain 2/5 – France 15/8
Quarter Final 4
England v Italy
Sunday 24th June, Kyiv
Roy Hodgson has done exactly what we expected of him; he has steadied the ship that Capello and his predecessors seemed intent on sinking. Rigid organisation and counter-attacking football may not lead to the most aesthetically-pleasing games in the tournament, but England have gone back to their roots and it has delivered results, so far. Qualification from the group was to be expected, but topping the group and avoiding Spain may have surprised some. Inevitably, England’s early solidarity combined with Spain’s failure to find top gear has lead to the early bubblings of hysterical statements such as “we shouldn’t fear the Spanish”. Yes, we should. We conceded substantial amounts of possession in all of our group games and were only able to survive these games because of the opponents lack of invention in the final third. England will need to improve to beat Italy.
The Italians performed well against Spain and earned a respectable draw. The ever-mental but eternally entertaining Mario Balotelli will be eager to square up to club mates Joe Hart and Joleon Lescott. Only those within Man City know whether Balotelli and Lescott’s familiarity with each other’s strengths and weaknesses will play into the hands of the Italian headline-machine or the English Klingon. Elsewhere, expect Italy to dominate the ball with Pirlo and Marchisio providing a technically superior midfield pairing to Parker and Gerrard, although Rooney and co will be hopeful of exploiting an Italian backline which is less resilient than teams of yesteryear.
A potential semi final against tournament front-runners Germany is a tantalising prospect, especially for the English who will be looking for revenge for the semi final defeat in Euro ’96…and countless other beatings at the hands of our oldest enemy.
Odds of progressing: England 10/11 – Italy 10/11