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Euro 2012 Semi Final 1: Spain vs Portugal pre game predictions

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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Euro 2012 QF 1: Portugal vs Czech Republic pre-match predictions

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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Euro 2012 Match 11: Denmark vs Portugal

Both teams will feel like they have to win.  Denmark doesn’t want to have to go into the last game against Germany on four points – defeat to Germany and a win by Portugal against Netherlands could put Denmark potentially out on goal difference.  Portugal has got to want to go into the last game knowing that a draw would put them through instead of having to win.  A loss will probably end Portugal’s tournament.

Why Denmark will win

  1. They’ve beaten Portugal in qualifying after having finished ahead of Portugal and qualified directly from their group.  They were also in the same group during World Cup 2010 qualifying – their record over these last four matches is 2-1-1.  Denmark know they can win.
  2. In Silberbauer they have someone capable of competing defensively with Cristiano Ronaldo.  He did so adequately in the group stage and will have help from Agger, Kjaer and the midfield so he’s not on an island against the best winger in the world.  It will be interesting to see if Silberbauer or Poulsen start at left back.  They may deal with Nani instead as Ronaldo usually plays on the left with Nani on the right.
  3. Denmark beat a loaded Dutch team in the first group match and controlled the second half of the game.
  4. Agger and Kjaer have looked good in the central defense.  That gives them enough confidence to deal with Portugal and their still unsolved striker position.

Why Portugal will win

  1. Denmark did give up a number of chances to Robben and van Persie.  While Robben is one of the best right wingers in the world, so is Nani.  The difference is you also have Ronaldo to deal with on the weak side when Nani has the ball – will Jacobsen at right back be able to handle Ronaldo?  Nani has scored three times against Denmark so the wing position is going to give Denmark trouble.
  2. They have to in order to have a chance at qualifying.
  3. Pepe and Bruno Alves did stifle Gomez for the most part and Bendtner shouldn’t be any different.  While Eriksen should have more space and time in the middle of the park, he will find it hard to work his magic against the work rate of Meireles and Veloso.  Chances will be few for Denmark.
  4. Ronaldo had a decent game against Germany.  However, he didn’t receive the support required to open up more space for him to operate as Portugal played defensively against Germany.  That will change against Denmark – expect Ronaldo to be unleashed and move to the middle a lot more.  He should have switched flanks with Nani in the last game and gone against the much shorter Lahm.  I believe they will be more flexible on the wings this time.

Pre-game prediction: Portugal 1 Denmark 0

Nani scores one for Portugal in a tense but offensive minded match.
  

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AND THE WINNER OF EURO 2012 WILL BE…

… the squad with the best physios!  It’s hard to predict the winner since the squads still haven’t finally settled following last minute injuries to key players and replacements still to come (see Cahill, Schweinsteiger and Bouma).  At the current rate of attrition, I wouldn’t be surprised if David Beckham is back in the England squad!  That said, let’s just step through the group stages and figure out how all of this should play out.  One thing is for certain, while Spain may have won the last World Cup after losing their first game to Switzerland, it’s going to be tough to recover in some of these groups if you lose your first game.  And there are a bunch of unbelievable matchups in the first set of group matches with Germany vs Portugal, France vs England and Spain vs Italy the picks of the bunch.  If Portugal, England or Italy lose the initial match, they will be behind the 8-ball right away as Netherlands, Sweden and Croatia will try to take advantage of the slip up.

Group A:  Czech Republic, Poland, Greece, Russia

Russia

While Arshavin is the known star of the squad, Russia has a brilliant goalie in Akinfeev, a pacy winger in ex-Chelsea man, Zhirkov, and great forwards in Spurs striker Roman Pavlyuchenko and Fulham striker Pavel Pogrebnyak.  I believe Russia will qualify for the next round, but do they really have the belief that they can win this tournament?  I don’t think so.  Euro 2008 was their best shot at international honors and this group’s “win tournament” tag has expired.  Russia is clever with their movement in the final third but they just don’t have that extra magic that Spain has to compensate for their lack of true team speed.  I predict a quarterfinal bertha at best for Russia as they have to play the runner up from Group B in the next round, which will likely be Portugal or the Netherlands.

Key Player who has to do well: Andrey Arshavin

Breakout young star: Alan Dzagoev

Poland

Poland counts on Lewandowski up front, his Dortmund compatriot Blaszczykowski in the middle and Szczesny in goal.  That is the spine of the team.  Playing at home should inspire Poland to a showing more reflective of their past successes when they finished third the 1974 and 1982 World Cups.  This team can make it to the quarterfinals but that’s when it runs out for them against Germany or the Netherlands.  Look for more from this team in World Cup 2014.

Key Player who has to do well: Robert Lewandowski

Breakout young star: Wojciech Szczesny

Greece 

The Greeks are very good defensively and rode that defense to the 2004 Euro title against Portugal.  They were very good on set plays and retained that strategy throughout Otto Rehhagel’s, the prior manager, tenure from 2001 to 2010.  While the current coach, Fernando Santos, may have installed some tweaks to the system, the squad is largely the same and the way out of the group is going to be based on defending as a team and sneaking the odd goal.  The veteran captain Giorgos Karagounis will ably marshal the midfield, but, while defense is fine, they have to score as well to advance and that’s where Gekas has to play well up front to help Greece advance.  They can make the next round but that’s it for them.

Key Player who has to do well: Fanis Gekas

Breakout young star: Kyriakos Papadopoulos

Czech Republic

This isn’t the Czech team of the last three major tournaments.  Their veteran leaders, such as striker Jan Koller and defender Marek Jankulovski, have retired and left Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech as the only true stars on this team.  Scoring goals is the problem for this team as their leading scorer in the qualifiers was defender Kadlec.  Though this group is the easiest of the four at the tournament, it’s going to be three and out, summer holidays please, for coach Michal Bilek’s team.

Key Player who has to do well: Milan Baros

Breakout young star: Vaclav Pilar

Group Prediction: Russia will qualify from this group while the Czech Republic won’t.  The Russians benefit from the winter break they get as a result of the timing of the Russian league and are in good shape physically while the Czechs are too dependant on Milan Baros up front and just don’t have the firepower to get through.  The opening match of the tournament pits Greece against Poland and, while most opening matches end in a draw, the winner of this game will qualify along with Russia.  Though Greece was undefeated during qualifying and are very hard to breakdown, I just feel that Poland has enough players in form, a trio of Bundesliga-triumphant Borussia Dortmund players, and a great young goalie in Szczesny to ride the home support to qualifying for the knockout stage.  Russia and Poland to the quarters.

Group B: Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal

Denmark

When you are ranked # 10 in the world, and then are ranked last in your group of four since the other teams are ranked #2, #4 and #5, you know you are in good shape because you have a great team but low expectations.  That’s the position the Danes find themselves in and it’s not a hope and a prayer that Denmark gets through.  Denmark has beaten Portugal in qualifying and has hungry young players in Eriksen, Bendtner, Kjaer and Lindegaard.  They can beat the Dutch and Portugal but will struggle against Germany.  Can they get three points against Holland – that will determine their progress in the tournament?  If they can get out of this group, the semifinals are possible as they can beat their probably opponents, Russia, to get there.

Key Player who has to do well: Nicklas Bendtner

Breakout young star: Christian Eriksen

Germany

Everyone picked Germany to win Euro 2012 once the 2010 World Cup was over.  The squad is young, fast, dynamic, deep but also has the traditional German mentality of machine-like relentlessness.  Their coach, Joachim Low, has been with the team for the last three tournaments (starting in 2004 as an assistant to current US national team coach Klinsmann).  Neuer, Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Ozil are each among the top three players in the world at their position as goalkeeper, left back, holding midfielder and playmaker, respectively.  Klose and Podolski are proven goal scorers at the international tournament level and will be playing in their parents’ native Poland, while Gomez has been in great form for Bayern Munich and Germany.  The problem for Germany is at center back where it’s a scary thought that Mertesacker is considered a solution after coming back from a dreadful first season and bad injury at Arsenal.  Add to that the controversy surrounding Boateng, whose pre tournament partying may result in his being replaced at right back by Bender.  But Germany has more than enough depth and quality for them to win this tournament.  They lost to Spain in the finals of Euro 2008 (to a Torres winner) and the semifinals of World Cup 2010 (to a Puyol header).  They will reverse that in Euro 2012, in what is tantamount to home field for them in Poland, and should win the tournament.

Key Player who has to do well: Mesut Ozil

Breakout young star: Mario Gotze

Netherlands

The fortunes of the Dutch are tied to the form of Wesley Sneijder.  Period.  If Sneijder is on, they can get to the final much like in World Cup 2010, where only Iker Casillas’ right foot saved Spain on an Arjen Robben breakaway.  If not, they could lose in the first round.  As much as Robin van Persie has had a great season, he needs the ball delivered to him in the final third of the pitch to do his damage.  The same goes for Robben, who might not be recovered from missing a crucial penalty in extra time of the recent Champions League Final against Chelsea.  The Netherlands have very good holding midfielders in Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel, a very good right back in Gregory van der Wiel and a solid keeper in Maarten Stekelenburg.  However, the key weakness for the Dutch is the lack of pace in the defensive middle of the field with the center backs and the holding midfielders struggling against quick strikers.  Adding to the Dutch defensive worries is veteran Mathijsen’s hamstring problem.  That said, the Dutch could win this tournament.

Key Player who has to do well: Wesley Sneijder

Breakout young star: Kevin Strootman

Portugal

Bruno Alves and Pepe.  Moutinho and Meireles.  The spine is solid.  Ronaldo and Nani.  Those wingers are the best in the world.  However, the team’s over reliance on Ronaldo and its poor set of strikers make this group too much for Portugal.  I was thinking of picking Portugal to advance from this group, but their recent loss to Turkey at home showed why this is fool’s gold.  This is as talented a squad as there is, but they don’t have depth and their strikers are not world class.  If they were in Group D, they would win the group, but in this group it’s going to be hard to qualify.  They can get to the semifinals if they get out of the group but it will require Ronaldo playing like he plays for Real Madrid for them to win this tournament.

Key Player who has to do well: Ronaldo

Breakout young star: Joao Moutinho (though he’s not really that young)

Group Prediction: How can you not love, and hate, a tournament that has four of the top ten teams in the world in the same group?  It would be similar to having a group with Barcelona, Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Milan in the qualifying stage.  Germany will qualify from this group.  The other three all have a chance but I’m going to pick Netherlands based solely on Sneijder’s last game against Northern Ireland.  With Sneijder playing well in the slot, the Netherlands will always have a chance with van Persie and Robben up front.  Start strong or go home – this is truly the group of no second chances.  It won’t be a shock if Germany or the Dutch go home early.  However, the Oranje and the Meinschaft will go through.

Group C: Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Spain

Croatia

There’s more to Croatia than Modric as the team is sprinkled with top European club squad members in Corluka, Pranjic, Rakitic and Kranjcar.  Also, keep an eye on Nikica Jelavic who had a great second half spell at Everton and scored a critical brace against Manchester United in the title-deciding run in to the EPL season.  However, as the midfield maestro Modric goes, so goes Croatia.  This squad has experienced and talented players, but they are missing that extra team-wide spark that is going to be required to go far in this tournament.  Their opening match against Ireland is key – if they win that, they will go through to the next round, with the quarterfinals as far as they will go.

Key Player who has to do well: Luka Modric

Breakout young star: Luka Modric

Ireland

This is a tough squad who is due some of that Irish luck.  Ireland is my dark horse to qualify from this group.  The team has toughness and experience at the back in Dunne, O’Shea and Ward in front of Shay Given.  The middle of the park is where they have a lot more quality that in past teams – McGeady is very creative and well backed by pace on the wings from Duff and Sunderland star James McClean.  And finally, up front, Ireland have Keane, Long, Doyle and Walters to provide different options for the incredibly savvy Italian coach Trapattoni.  This Irish team doesn’t quite have quality depth but they have a solid starting team and enough tactical nous in their coach.  No one wants to play this team at this stage.  This squad can get to the quarterfinals.

Key Player who has to do well: Aiden McGeady

Breakout young star: James McClean

Italy

As usual, Italy is impossible to rate.  They always seem to get through qualifying and the group stages with the only question being how far they go in the tournament.  Much like the Germans.  However, this Italian team seems a bit more in disarray than most.  Yes, the World Cup winning team in 2006 had similar distractions going into the tournament, but this time the scandal seems a lot wider and more embedded.  It’s not often that the President of a country suggests the sport be suspended for a season.  Apart from that, while Italy has stalwarts in Buffon, Pirlo, Di Natale and De Rossi to complement the younger talent of Chiellini, Giovinco and Balotelli, this Italian team just doesn’t seem to have the toughness one expects from the Azzurri.  Going against Trapattoni is not going to be an easy task for Italy given Trap’s familiarity with their system and players (Italy coach Prandelli played for Trap), and Croatia has a good record against Italy.  It doesn’t help that Italy’s first match is a “can’t lose” against Spain.  It is going to be the quarterfinals at best for Italy.

Key Player who has to do well: Andrea Pirlo

Breakout young star: Mario Balotelli / Sebastian Giovinco (whoever gets more playing time)

Spain

It is ridiculous that Spain can start a replacement midfield of David Silva, Juan Mata, Cesc Fabregas and Cazorla to back up starters Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets.  Even if you put Brazil and Argentina together, you wouldn’t be able to put together a better midfield squad.  The biggest question mark for Spain is in central defense where Puyol is out for the tournament leaving Pique and Ramos in the middle.  Apart from missing Puyol’s quality and experience, Vicente del Bosque has admitted there is residual tension between Pique and Ramos from this past season’s encounters in La Liga.   If I were the coach, I’d move Ramos to his original right back position and have Javi Martinez partner Pique in the middle.  Also, while Jordi Alba is a rising star, he is 22 and has to replace the seasoned Capdevila at left back – will Alba be able to handle that responsibility on the highest stage at the same time he is distracted by ongoing transfer speculation linking him to Barcelona and Manchester United?  Finally, the absence of an injured David Villa means Spain has to trust a hopefully reinvigorated Torres to replace the critical goals that Villa consistently provided.  I want to believe in Torres because I think Torres’ pace is the key factor required to counter teams who pack it in successfully against the possession style Spain plays – it’s why Barcelona struggles without Messi’s pace against the stacked banks of four.  However it’s hard to see how Torres can lead the line after the season he has had.  A better bet is that Llorente and Torres together provide around 7 goals with Pedro, Iniesta, Xabi and Xavi providing another 3 or 4 between them.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Llorente takes over the starting role – and delivers.  Llorente has been in great form for Atletico Bilbao this season and his aerial prowess is a welcome change for this Spain squad that needs an alternative to their ground game.  It’s a tall order, but back to back to back (did Pat Riley say three-peat?) is a definite possibility for the latest version of the world’s best team.

Key Player who has to do well: Gerard Pique

Breakout young star: Jordi Alba

Group Prediction: Spain will qualify from this group.  The other three all have a chance but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Ireland gets through.  I just feel that Trapattoni will get them there.  If Ireland can get a point against Croatia in the first match, and Italy loses to Spain, it will set them up very well to get through.  The graft will be there in the Irish squad, but Aiden McGeady has to create for them to get through.  I think Kevin Doyle, one of my favorite small players, will get a key goal during this tournament.  Croatia just doesn’t inspire me and I think sooner or later the Italians have to pay the price for starting slowly.  This group is easier than the group of death, but it will still be tough for Italy to recover if Spain beats them in the opening match.  Pirlo and Buffon will keep Italy in every game but I just don’t think they get out of the group stage.

Group D: England, France, Sweden, Ukraine

England

At this rate, England might have to call Tony Addams out of retirement to start at center back.  If Terry’s hamstring tweak is not major, the loss of Cahill may not be as devastating since Lescott can slot in there and is obviously comfortable playing with Joe Hart, his City teammate and keeper.  However, there is no defensive cover as you are left with only Jagielka and Phil Jones.  If Glen Johnson gets reinjured, who is going to play right back other than Jones?  And then we get to midfield – no Lampard, no Barry (Hodgson couldn’t get Scholes or Carrick to even come to camp) and Parker not fully fit.  Oh, and no Rooney for the first two games, Defoe just left to attend his father’s funeral … and Welbeck just back from injury.  With all that as the backdrop you know what we are thinking now – England can do well since they have such lowered expectations that there is no pressure on the players!  It’s just too cruel to keep having hope in this squad.  If England can get two draws, they will go through as they will have Rooney back for the final game against Ukraine.  England’s tournament rests on not losing to Sweden.  England can lose to France, but not to Sweden if they want to get through.  Roy Hodgson’s system is to pack it in and hit the opposition on the break.  England has more than enough wing speed to pull that off – I just think that the injuries have robbed them of enough positional continuity and familiarity to play a solid defensive game.  I never go against England. So, while I think France can go deep in the tournament, England playing France in the first match of the group stage in a traditionally cagey affair will be a positive for the Three Lions.  Gerrard has to deliver – this time there is no Lampard for him to second-guess himself in midfield.  Gerrard has to play like he does for Liverpool.  I believe he will.  I think England is more likely to crash out before the second round – but if they go through, they could upset Spain in the quarters.  Not.

Key Player who has to do well: Steven Gerrard

Breakout young star: Joe Hart and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

France

A long unbeaten streak only means it is going to be hard to swallow when you lose one when it matters.  France hasn’t really played well in the post season, pre tournament friendlies – but neither has almost every other team.  Which France shows up?  If M’Vila’s injury is serious it will hurt France who needs his defensive midfield presence to backstop the offensive talents of Nasri, Ben Arfa, Ribery, Giroud and Benzema.  Sagna’s injury has deprived France of a solid right back.  However, this France team is well balanced, has decent depth and will be tough to beat.  They can get to the semifinals.  The good news is that they are not overly dependant on one player but do have a number of skilled players who can step up and change the outcome at the offensive end.

Key Player who has to do well: Karim Benzema

Breakout young star: Yann M’Vila (if he’s too injured to play, then Samir Nasri)

Sweden

Sweden is always strong in tournament play.  They have one of the best players in the world in Ibrahimovic who, till this year, had won the domestic title in each of the past eight years across Holland, Italy and Spain.  Sunderland’s Larsson, Galatasaray’s Elmander and AZ Alkmaar’s Elm are also very talented players who feed off of the creative genius of Ibra.  The defense is suspect though and that is the reason I believe they will not go far in this tournament with the quarters being the farthest they can go.

Key Player who has to do well: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Breakout young star: Rasmus Elm

Ukraine

When the country’s hopes are centered on the abilities of its coach, Blokhin (he starred for the Soviet Union in the 70’s and 80’s), that’s a bad sign.  More bad news – Shevchenko is still in the squad.  Enough said.  Gusev, Voronin and Tymoschuk are all well-known in Europe but it’s not enough to get through.  This squad will play like the Austrian squad at the last Euros.  Ukraine will generate some noise and a lot of effort, but few points.  They will not progress from the group stage.

Key Player who has to do well: Anatoliy Tymoshchuk

Breakout young star: Andriy Yarmolenko

Group Prediction: This one was the toughest choice to make but it is going to be France and England.  Yes, England is a mess and this is not about being EPL biased.  I am trusting in Roy and that Ibrahimovic and Elmander will not be able to make up for the ageing Swedish defense.

The knockout rounds

QF 1: Russia vs Netherlands (Netherlands to advance)

QF 2: Germany vs Poland (Germany to advance)

QF 3: Spain vs England (Spain to advance)

QF 4: France vs Ireland (France to advance)

Yes, all top four seeds to go through. Pretty predictable – which means upsets are sure to come.

Spain beats Netherlands in SF1 and Germany beats France in SF2 with Germany beating Spain in the finals.

The current odds have Spain and Germany more or less even at around 3/1, with the Netherlands around 6/1, France at 10/1 and England and Italy at about 15/1.  The dark horse in this tournament is the Netherlands (if you can call them a dark horse as the third best team), while my upset pick is Portugal (which at 20/1 is “well worth a flutter” as the Brits put it).  The Player of Euro 2012 will be Mesut Ozil.

I will post an updated set of predictions on the tournament winner once the first round of games in the group stage are over.

Twitter: @centerhalf12

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Filed under Euro 2012, Predictions, Predictions on winner

Portugal vs Turkey – post match

Form held.  Pepe finally had one count and Nuno Gomes tested the woodwork twice though the Turks had a couple of chances to equalize before Meireles put away Moutinho’s sweet turn and layoff.  Portugal looked better in the second half though the defense looked a bit shaky at the end.  I really like how Moutinho seems to be coming on.  If Deco doesn’t get to top gear, Moutinho looks like he can pick up the slack.  He looked very good in the box coming through on a late run and controlling and almost putting one away before blazing one over from outside the box.  His last turn and layoff for the goal was brilliant.  He might be one of the stars of the tournament if Portugal goes late into the tournament.

Pre-game prediction: Portugal 2 Turkey 1

Results: Portugal 2 Turkey 0

Scorers: Pepe, Meireles (Portugal)

Players of the game: Ronaldo for Portugal.  While Nihat and Kazim had a few moments, the big center back, Servet Cetin was my pick.

1 and 1 for the day, getting ready for Group B…

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Filed under euro 2008, match comments, SOCCER, Uncategorized