Spain will probably be considered the favorites given the way they beat the Russians, but that was a lot closer than it seemed for most of the game. I still believe the middle of the defense for Spain is a weakness. However, even though Ibrahimovic and Henrik Larsson are great strikers, their speed is not going to be as troubling for Puyol and Marchena as is their power in the air. I believe that it is going to be tough for Wilhelmsson and Ljunberg to get much change against Ramos, so they need to test Capdevila on the left to get crosses into the box. Both teams play good football and can move the ball around the field well, with Spain’s midfield technically stronger. It’s going to be evenly matched and I wouldn’t be surprised by either side winning by a goal or ending it in a scoring draw. Mellberg on Torres will be a key matchup. I think Torres and Ibrahimovic will score in the game.
I really like the way Russia plays – Hiddink has them playing pretty football. It’s really too bad that Arshavin is suspended for this game as well and won’t be able to play till the Sweden game. His passing and vision are wonderful – he provided a masterful display in the UEFA Cup Final against Rangers – and is exactly what Russia needs to unlock a tight Greek defense. However, he is paying the price for a red card during qualifying. Another potential injury concern is striker Pavlyuchenko. He is expected to play. If not, Sychev will step in adequately. I hope Russia wins, but it’s entirely possible that they leave themselves exposed to the Greek counter attack once too often and pay the price. However, I put my faith in their ability to carve open the Greeks as Russia plays it on the ground much more than most teams that get frustrated and start crossing balls that Dellas and company eat up. That, a bit of luck and better finishing should get them past Greece.
Pre-game prediction: Spain 2 Sweden 1
Russia 2 Greece 1
This set of results would set up a fantastic finale between Russia and Sweden…