Doh!! Not shocking but very unexpected. I guess the Italians love a scandal like no other team. Good for them and especially good for them that they won this by playing two strikers and didn’t sit back after Balotelli scored the first goal. I stand very corrected. It goes to show that the first goal has become just as important in these tournaments as it is in knockout play in the Champions League.
OK. Am working on the big finals prediction as well as pre final team and players of the tournament.
After watching Italy labor against England, and have to play extra time, this is a stone cold lock – Germany wins this semi final easily. Everyone has a chance when you play a match at this level. However, this is as certain an outcome as there has been in the knockout stage – even more than Germany beating Greece. The only event that could derail a German victory is Neuer or one of the defenders getting a red card while giving up a penalty to Italy.
Why Italy Will Win
- Gigi Buffon has the greatest game any Italian goalie has ever had.
- Coach Low decides to do something unconventional up front and doesn’t start his top three of Gomez, Muller and Podolski.
- Italy usually beats Germany in major tournaments and usually wins in semi finals.
- Germany gives Pirlo too much time on the ball and doesn’t put him under enough pressure when he is on defense.
Why Germany will win
- Two extra days of rest and 30 minutes less of high stress extra time running. Also, Muller, Gomez and Podolski didn’t even play half of the quarterfinal against Greece so they are going to be fresh.
- They’ve beaten every one else so far and Italy doesn’t look that great.
- Ozil, Muller and Podolski will not give Pirlo a free pass when Germany has the ball. They will expose his lack of pace on defense and the space behind him is going to be gobbled up by Ozil. It’s the reason Milan got rid of him after Manchester United exposed his liabilities so adroitly a couple of years ago. The German midfield will not let Italy have any time on the ball and by the 60 minute mark, fatigue will set in and the Italians will struggle.
- While Badstuber hasn’t been particularly great, Hummels, Lahm and Neuer have played well enough to corral Cassano and Balotelli.
Pre match prediction: Germany 2 Italy 0
Muller hasn’t scored yet. That will change. Gomez will add a second. See you in the finals Spain.
My gut tells me this is the match Spain will lose. Portugal is primed for the upset. Portugal has the offensive and defensive stars and a competent midfield. Unlike Spain, they have come through a very tough group stage. Ronaldo is in form. Spain, regardless of what Silva says, is not as good as the prior versions. I really am hoping Spain go a goal down so we can see what they are really made of. Who will be Spain’s Messi/Ronaldo/Villa if they have to claw their way back?
Why Portugal will win
- Portugal’s midfield is well balanced with a holding midfielder in Veloso, the box-to-box work rate of Meireles and the creativity of Moutinho – all played a part in setting up Ronaldo’s winning goal against the Czechs. They can keep possession well enough against Spain’s midfield press. Hopefully Bento doesn’t try to change the lineup and remove the striker for an extra midfielder.
- Ronaldo is due to have a big game against Real Barspana. He buried his Barca demons during his last match at the Nou Camp and you know he wants to pay Spain back for World Cup 2010. He will dominate Arbeloa. Yes, Arbeloa knows Ronaldo from practicing every day at Real Madrid – as do Sergio Ramos and Xabi who will help Arbeloa out on Spain’s right side. However, Ronaldo knows those three and Iker Casillas also. He will relish going against them …and Pique. Why? Because this time, Spain doesn’t have Puyol to bail them out. The added benefit of having Coentrao behind Ronaldo is that Busquets will have to shade more to the right, leaving Alba one on one with Nani. Alba has shown good speed, but Nani’s trickery is cause for concern. The big questions for Portugal are which of Almeida or Oliveira start up front, and can either take advantage of the service from the wing? My money would be on the bigger and more experienced Almeida who can give Ramos and Pique fits in the air.
- Pepe and Alves have been solid on the ground. In the air is where Portugal has had problems against Mario Gomez and Bendtner. Spain doesn’t have an aerial threat, notwithstanding Xabi’s standing header.
- I will repeat what I wrote from the France match – Spain is not the usual Spain. Puyol and Villa’s absence has hurt them at critical positions and Xavi is not playing at his normal high level. Everything is just a little off for the Spaniards and there is unease about how well Ramos and Pique will perform together in the middle if they are put under real pressure. Their dislike of each other is common knowledge and the last thing Spain needs at the knockout stage. Yes, they dominated France, but that was a function of the lineup France put out there. However, who, besides Ireland, has Spain blown away in this tournament? No one. If you sit back, play defensively and Spain will wear you down. Portugal will not make that mistake. The only team that has kept Portugal off the board in this tournament is Germany – and that took major heroics at the end of the game to do so. Portugal will show Spain the toughest test to date and if it stays close late the pressure, and two fewer days of rest, will tell on Spain.
Why Spain will win
- Spain seemed a lot more assured against France. They were never really threatened and adequately defended the threat of Ronaldo Light – Ribery. If Spain dominates the ball, and more importantly eliminate any real pressure on Casillas, Ronaldo will get frustrated, drop deeper and into the middle to get the ball, which means he then has a longer way to go to score. That will play into Spain’s hands. It has been the traditional way Barca have stopped Ronaldo.
- Ramos and Pique haven’t really been tested and haven’t really missed having Puyol. The midfield’s possession game has alleviated any real pressure and if Portugal plays three in midfield (while Portugal might get more of the ball than most), they will not be able to keep sustained pressure with two offensive minded wings who need good, wide service to inflict any real damage on Spain.
- Ronaldo hasn’t played as well as everybody thinks he has. Trust me. I’ve seen enough of Ronaldo over the last eight years. He really had one very dominating game – against the Czechs who gave him too much space and time. His first finish against Holland wasn’t clean – and he missed another sitter very similar to the one he put away for the second. He will not get that much time and space against Spain, who have enough bodies to send at him to neutralize his open field speed advantage. Slow Ronaldo down and where is the goal going to come from? Portugal will have to rely on a dead ball to get a score.
- Iniesta. Pereira has had a good tournament, but he is going to struggle against Iniesta. That pulls Pepe out of position to help. Can Xavi and Cesc make them pay?
Pre-match prediction: Spain 1 Portugal 0
My gut is one thing – and I hope it’s right because Germany vs Portugal would be a much better final than a repeat of Euro 2008. That said, my head says the Spanish midfield will be a bit too much and will wear Portugal down. If Portugal doesn’t get a goal from open play, Spain will win this match. Coentrao’s matchup against Silva and/or Cesc will determine the outcome of this game. David Silva to score.
Prevailing logic says that France’s loss to Sweden and their ensuing internal arguments will result in the usual result – France getting summarily eliminated from a major tournament. Normally I’d subscribe to that notion. However, Spain hasn’t been special and France made lineup changes that didn’t work out, so look for Blance to go back to a more familiar lineup when the game kicks off tomorrow. Spain should be slightly favored but a French upset, while not probable, would be only a mild surprise. Spain be hoping this match doesn’t go to extra time – that will hurt them against the well rested Portugese. France will be hoping for penalties.
Why France will win
- Menez and Cabaye will re-enter the lineup replacing Ben Arfa and possibly M’Vila or Diarra. That will provide more offense for France, especially from Menez who was very lively against Ukraine in the group stage. If he has a good game, it will force Jordi Alba to stay back and help even out the imbalance in midfield that any team playing Spain has to face.
- Ribery will dominate Arbeloa. Puyol’s absence has moved Ramos to central defense from the right back slot and his replacement, Alvaro Arbeloa, is competent but slow. Ribery has to have a big game for France to have a chance and he is likely to enjoy going against Arbeloa. Just like Menez, if Ribery has a good game, it will force Silva to drop back to help on defense, thus evening numbers in midfield.
- Benzema has assisted on the majority of the French goals, but has yet to get on the scoresheet. It bodes well for France as he goes against a familiar defense in his club teammates Arbeloa, Ramos and Casillas. The Benz is due.
- Spain is not the usual Spain. Puyol and Villa’s absence has hurt them at critical positions and Xavi is not playing at his normal high level. Everything is just a little off for the Spaniards and there is unease about how well Ramos and Pique will perform together in the middle if they are put under real pressure. Their dislike of each other is common knowledge and the last thing Spain needs at the knockout stage.
Why Spain will win
- France’s undefeated run is over, there is infighting and neither Ribery nor Benzema have scored at Euro 2012. That is a not a great recipe for success at this stage. Spain is seasoned, used to winning and the manner in which they ground out their World Cup win will help them as they get to the business end of this tournament.
- Mexes is suspended which probably means that Koscielny gets the start. While Mexes didn’t cover himself with glory against Sweden, and Koscielny does have more pace and has played well against Messi and Barcelona the last few times they have met in the Champions League, starting at center back in a tournament for the first time in a quarterfinal match against the defending World and European champions is a daunting task for Koscielny. He is prone to making errors and there is a high likelihood that happens again today.
- Spain’s midfield domination will result in France struggling to score. Cabaye or M’Vila have to have huge games in order for Nasri, Ribery, Benzema and Menez to get enough touches to score. That will be tough. Add in the fact that France doesn’t really have aerial threats to score off of dead balls and it just means they will have to have a lot of luck to beat Spain.
- Iniesta. And Cesc. Iniesta has been in great form and Debuchy will struggle to stay with him. Cesc continues to do what he has done so well for Barcelona this past season – score off of well timed late runs into space behind the defense. That should be enough to Spain to win this match.
Pre-match prediction: Spain 1 France 0
Spain will score a goal in the second half and hold France off. Iniesta or Cesc to score for Spain.
Pirlo vs Gerrard. Whoever plays better comes away with the win.
Why England will win
- If Roy Hodgson plays Carroll with Rooney, Italy will have a tough time keeping him from scoring. Chiellini is out and so they might have to go back to a back three. Do you really think Barzagli or De Rossi can match up with Carroll in the center of the box? If Carroll gets service from Milner, Gerrard, Walcott or Ashley Young (if he’s healthy enough to play), it will be a long day for Italy.
- It just feels like this is England’s time. They have played defensive against France, offensive against Sweden and lucky against Ukraine. Rooney’s back and he scored even though he didn’t have a particularly good game. Welbeck and Walcott had wonder goals. They have speed on the wings. The loss of Cahill, Barry and Lampard hasn’t hurt them yet. Low expectations. All of this points to England getting the breaks it needs.
- With Lampard out, there is no question how Gerrard needs to play. And how he’s playing. His crossing, attitude and effort have been perfect. All he needs is to score on a free kick or penalty and his confidence will be sky high. He will impose himself physically on Italy’s midfield and that’s why England will win.
- Hodgson’s knows how to prepare this team to play against an Italian team. He coached Inter Milan in Serie A and knows how to insert a pragmatic game plan.
Why Italy will win
- Gianluigi Buffon. World Cup 2006. All Italy ever needed to do was get to penalties and they knew Buffon would win it for them. It worked against Australia and then against France in the finals. If this gets to penalty kicks – and that is a very real possibility here – are you going to bet on England (the team that never seems to win on penalty kicks backstopped by Hart, the youngest goalkeeper left standing in the tournament) or Buffon with Pirlo and De Rossi still there for the successful penalty kick takers in 2006?
- They know how to win these types of knockout games. They’ve done it so many times before.
- Cassano and Di Natale have been lively. But Mario Balotelli could be the game changer. He obviously knows how to go against Lescott and Hart from practicing with them daily at Manchester City. This could be his shining moment for Italy. He is one of the most talented players there is and the game seems effortless to him.
- The pressure is going to start to build for England and now they are going to have to take the game to the other team, something they haven’t had to do this this tournament. It’s more like the usual England, but not the role England has had to play at Euro 2012.
Pre-game prediction: England 2 Italy 1
It’s going to be hard to score two goals against Buffon. So the 2 for England may be in the form of the “goal” you get when you win on penalties. I would bet on Carroll, Terry or Lescott to score aerially against Italy off a dead ball. Marchisio will finally come good and score on Sunday. I know I said Buffon is tough to beat in penalty kicks, but Spain did it and so can England. It’s time.
Germany is heavily favored. They have to be. Germany is going to step up a gear and, just as in QF 1, Greece is going to be facing a major class step up relative to Group A. Every one has a shot and this Germany team is not as amazing as the 2010 World Cup team. However, it is deeper and is going to be incredibly tough for anyone to beat. They have given up only one goal on a two header corner. While this is not as stone cold a lock as Portugal against the Czechs, expect Germany to win this game without much trouble.
Why Greece Will Win
- History repeats itself and they have already repeated the formula in beating Russia.
- They haven’t lost under the current coach in any meaningful match.
- They are playing for a nation that is in turmoil. They know how much this could mean for their countrymen.
Why Germany will win
- Greece has very little offense. Samaras has misfired and while Salpingidis had a great opening match, Karagounis is the only other Greek who has scored – or looks like he could score. The German midfield will not allow Greece the room that Poland afforded them. Unlike the Euro 2004 winning team, this Greek team doesn’t look an aerial threat from corners and free kicks. That leaves very few avenues through which to get the one goal lead they can cling to like the 300.
- Greece’s back line has looked very porous at left back and in the center. They choked Russia by clogging up the middle and the midfield held them at bay. That is going to be very hard against a German offense that has created numerous chances in each of their three games so far. Mario Gomez has already scored three goals and is going to be very hard for the Greeks to keep off the scoreboard.
- Germany is deep and is starting to display more speedy ball movement. While Ozil has been good, but not great, Schweinsteiger has been very good. The longer the tournament goes, the stronger both will get. That is going to bode very well for Germany. They have also won without goals from Muller. If he comes good they will be unstoppable. If he doesn’t, they have many players to go to with Goetze and Schurrle at the top of the list.
- The current draw means Germany has avoided Poland and Russia and has to get past England or Italy instead of Spain or France. They would have taken that at the start of the tournament with both hands. They can smell the final now and will not overlook the Greeks.
Pre-match prediction: Germany 2 Greece 0
Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski will score for Germany.
Portugal is favored. They have to be. While I shouldn’t insult teams at this stage by suggesting stone cold locks, of all the games in this tournament – even more than Germany vs Greece, this one is a lock. The Czechs will not take Portugal by surprise. To be clear, they got crushed by Russia, had 15 good minutes against the Greeks and won the second half against Poland. Not an awe inspiring performance.
Why Czech Republic will win
- Gebre Selassie will frustrate Ronaldo and Pilar’s quick movement and offense down the left side will put pressure on Nani to backtrack. With their wings blunted, Portugal will struggle to score up front and Ronaldo will drift inside where the Czechs can pack it in and eliminate space and time.
- Baros had a good game against Poland and harried the Polish defense all night. If he has a good game, anything can happen. He set up Jiracek’s winning goal against the Poles and the Czechs are hoping he can do the same tonight.
- Petr Cech has had a below average tournament with a couple of glaring errors. However, this is the man who saved three penalties in the Champions League final and one against Messi in the semifinals. Who would you bet on if this got to penalty kicks? Ronaldo has missed penalties in the semifinals of the Champions League twice (vs Barcelona and Bayern Munich) and in the finals once (vs Barcelona). He is not going to fancy the situation if it gets to that stage.
Why Portugal will win
- Nani and Ronaldo cannot be contained in the form they are in. Also, the effort to do so is going to blunt much of the wing back play from Pilar and Gebre Selasssie. Nani should have scored from Ronaldo’s set up against Netherlands and Ronaldo did score from Nani’s pass. When Ronaldo starts drifting inside every so often, he is incredibly dangerous as a playmaker and in drawing fouls that lead to free kicks. I expect Ronaldo to score on a free kick in the next two matches.
- Pepe and Bruno Alves. Yes, they have given up goals in every match, including three off headers. However, Baros is going to struggle against the two of them – he isn’t Gomez or Bendtner. Jiracek will also struggle against Veloso, Moutinho and Meireles who are the unsung heroes of this Portugese run – they have been solid in midfield.
- They are peaking. They can see the path to winning this tournament. Ronaldo is off his duck, they have had a late game winning goal and are playing to their offensive talents.
- Tomas Rosicky is not going to play. This is the stage when every team needs their best player to make it happen. Pilar and Jiracek are not going to be able to fill the void.
Pre-game prediction: Portugal 2 Czech Republic 0
Ronaldo scores again and Nani finally slots one in as well. Only way the Czechs can win is if this goes to penalty kicks.