Not many things in football are cliched but England losing in a major football tournament on penalties is definitely one.
On that note, let me congratulate the Spaniards, the Italians, the Portuguese and the Germans on their respective quarter-finals victories and a pat on my back for all correct predictions (not exact scorelines though), three obvious and one dubious.
So the two respective semifinals are:
- Spain vs Portugal, Wednesday, June 27, Donetsk.
- Italy vs Germany, Thursday, June 28, Warsaw.
Spain vs Portugal:
Portugal‘s 4-0 victory over Spain (not a second string Spain by any means) in the “Iberian derby” in November 2010, is not just a one-off. Spain‘s tiki-taka football was effectively and fairly beaten by an ‘efficient’ Portugal side, who relied on their wingers and responded with counter-attacking football. Of course, that game will also be remembered for that awesome Cristiano Ronaldo‘s chip which was ruled out due to Nani’s stupidity, dare I say. Spain are outright favorites for this tie but DO NOT underestimate Portugal and an in-form Cristiano Ronaldo. Not that Portugal are a one man team but it is probably fair to say that ‘CR7’ is a class apart. How about some stats and facts? Yes, sir.
- Portugal are the only side to have had the same starting 11 in all their games at EURO 2012. Having said that, stiker Helder Postiga is ruled out of this tie.
- Cristiano Ronaldo has hit the woodwork more often than any other player in European Championship finals history (4 times at Euro 2012and 5 overall). The Portuguese fans though will be expecting nothing like this in such a crucial tie.
- Much has been said about Fabregas’s ‘False 9’ role but looking at Spain‘s results in Euro 2012, starting with Fernando Torres might be better albeit unlikely.
- Spain lack natural width in their starting XI unless and until they start with Jesus Navas, unlikely again, which will be the key battle against a Portuguese side with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani as wingers. Hence, for Spain to get anything out of this game, Jordi Alba and Alvaro Arbeloa, the Spanish full-backs need to turn up.
- Portugal‘s defense though is slightly better than that of France’s with experiences heads like Pepe and Bruno Alves.
- Cristiano Ronaldo will be up against his club team-mates Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa and man of the match in the quarter-final for Spain Xabi Alonso.
- With Helder Postiga injured, coach Paulo Bento needs to make a decision whether to replace him with Hugo Almeida or play Cristiano Ronaldo as a striker.
Prediction: Spain 2-1 Portugal.
Germany vs Italy:
Germany had made light work of their ‘Group of death’ while Italy overcame England on penalties in the battle between equals in the quarter-finals. Germany are playing good football and scoring lots of goals but it will be tough against an Italian defense, who have a solid defense and a legendary goalkeeper in Gianluigi Buffon. Italy though wouldn’t go with a defensive line-up nor will they go all guns blazing. With the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Antonio Di Natale and others, Italy also have a balanced mid-field and attack.
- Germany‘s fixture against ‘minnows’ Greece gave Germany a chance to rest key players Mario Gomez, Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski.
- Andrea Pirlo was involved in 3 of Azzurri’s 4 goals at EURO 2012.
- Italy‘s coach Cesare Prandelli has a tough decision to make in attack, wherein he has the volatile but talented Mario Balotelli, capable of getting sent-off any second and the ‘old hog’ Antonio Di Natale.
- Mats Hummels and Sami Khedira are the only outfield players to have played four full games without conceding a foul at Euro 2012. An enviable stat considering the fact that the former is a central defender and the latter a defensive midfielder in a double-pivot.
- Andrea Pirlo had 155 touches against England, the second most a player ever had in a European Championship game. The key player and primary play-maker to Italy in my opinion.
- Mario Gomez is the joint top-scorer in this tournament with 3 goals while Mesut Ozil has 3 assists to his name.
- Italy though will be high on confidence after beating England, albeit on penalties and their 1-1 draw against favorites Spain will give them the necessary belief to beat Germany.
Prediction: Germany 1-1 Italy. Italy to win on penalties.
Hopefully these games with high-stakes do not disappoint us. Expect two tight encounters, tactical battles and strategies of contrasting football philosophies.