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Euro 2012 Semi final 2: Germany vs Italy pre match prediction

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

  1. Gigi Buffon has the greatest game any Italian goalie has ever had.
  2. Coach Low decides to do something unconventional up front and doesn’t start his top three of Gomez, Muller and Podolski.
  3. Italy usually beats Germany in major tournaments and usually wins in semi finals.
  4. 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

  1. 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.
  2. They’ve beaten every one else so far and Italy doesn’t look that great.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

 

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Euro 2012 QF 4: England vs Italy pre-match predictions

Pirlo vs Gerrard.  Whoever plays better comes away with the win.

Why England will win

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

  1. 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?
  2. They know how to win these types of knockout games.  They’ve done it so many times before.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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Euro 2012 Pre-Quarterfinal predictions – Updated Winner

This is what I wrote pre-tournament:

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.

Now that we know what’s happened, I had only 4 out of 8 quarter finalists correct and only two positions correct i.e. that Spain and Germany would win their groups.  Of all of the upsets, I would say the Czech Republic winning Group A is the biggest and at this stage I feel like other than the Czech Republic and Greece, any of the other six teams can win Euro 2012.  While Germany has won all 3 games and Spain has won 2 and drawn 1, neither has shown that they are runaway winners.  With a chance to step up and display their class before the knockout rounds, both teams were potentially on course to get knocked out of the tournament with 10 minutes to go in their last match.  Not championship confirming credentials.  That said, they are both on course and still my picks to get to the final and Germany is still the tournament favorite in my book.

The UPDATED knockout rounds

QF 1: Czech Republic vs Portugal (Portugal to advance)

QF 2: Germany vs Greece (Germany to advance)

QF 3: Spain vs France (Spain to advance)

QF 4: England vs Italy (Italy to advance)

Any of the eight teams can win their quarterfinal match.  It’s that close.  However, I think the only one that isn’t a stone cold lock in my book is England vs Italy with the Italians probably slightly favored in this encounter.

Spain beats England in SF1 and Germany beats Portugal in SF2 with Germany beating Spain in the finals.

That said, don’t be surprised if Portugal wins this tournament and England gets to the finals.  Portugal was my upset pick pre tournament and as long as Pepe and Bruno Alves don’t pick up two yellow cards before the final, they can absolutely beat Germany and get to the finals where they can get past Spain, England or France.  The one team they will struggle against may be Italy.  The Player of Euro 2012 so far has been… no one.  Pilar, Pepe, Mario Gomez, Karagounis, Iniesta, Benzema, Gerrard and Pirlo have all been huge for their teams, but this is the time for the big guns to step up. I think an odds on bet now would suggest a Real Madrid player will be the player of the tournament with Ozil, Ronaldo and Benzema all going to have to be huge for their teams to win Euro 2012.  I still like Ozil to be this Euros’ Xavi – though if Ozil does his job for Germany, it will be Mario Gomez in a landslide as top goal scorer and player of the tournament.


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Euro 2012 Matches 21 and 22: Italy vs Ireland, Spain vs Croatia pre-game predictions

Spain is not going to go into the match looking for a draw.  Russia got knocked out and Germany was within an inch of going down 2-1 and being knocked out late in the second half.  If Croatia beat Spain and Italy beats Ireland, Spain will get eliminated.  Trying for a 2-2 draw is like asking two NFL teams to try to engineer the game to go to overtime and trust the other team not to score a late field goal before the whistle blows.  Literally impossible to do.

Spain will beat Croatia.  Stone cold lock.  I know Italy couldn’t do it, but Spain is going to come on strong now.  They finally have Torres scoring and Xavi seemed to have regained some energy in the last game.  If I were del Bosque, I would insert Cesc in the lineup instead of Xabi.  Mandzukic has been big for Croatia, but this is the game for Jelavic to step up.  Corluka is also going to have to have a big game in order to keep Alba and Iniesta thinking about their defensive responsibilities instead of overloading the Croatia right wing.

Pre-game prediction: Spain 2 Croatia 1

Iniesta and Torres to score for Spain and Jelavic to score for Croatia.

Italy is going to struggle against Ireland.  It will be interesting to see how many opportunities Italy gets against Ireland as I would assume Trapattoni puts an extra midfielder in to clog up the middle and reduce Pirlo’s impact.  That said, Italy knows it has to win in order to go through.  It will be a tense encounter and I expect Italy to pull it out by a goal.

Pre-game prediction: Italy 2 Ireland 1

Di Natale and Marchisio to score for Italy and Dunne to pull one back for Ireland off a set piece.

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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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Spain v Italy – pre game prediction

No Pirlo. Much as I like Aquilani, he’s a different kind of player. Maybe the way to make up for Pirlo is to start the entire Roma midfield and have De Rossi and Perrotta along with Aquilani to support a threesome of Toni, Del Piero/Cassano (I prefer Del Piero in this game) and Camoranesi. That should give Italy enough bodies in midfield and a set of younger, more dynamic midfielders who have had a good season in Serie A. All this to say that that is the only way Italy are going to be able to beat Spain. Jam up the middle of the park, play Italian catenaccio football and hope for Toni to convert a header off a deadball situation. The weakness of the Spanish team is the center of defense where Marchena and Puyol (or Albiol if Puyol is still out injured) cannot match up with Toni. I give the Italians a 30% chance of winning – and given my predictive powers in the quarters, that would guarantee them a spot in the semi final.

Spain should just continue doing what they have been doing. Dominate ball possession and rely on Torres and Villa to score goals. Italy’s defense is uncharacteristically weak – Panucci (the usual right back) is the leader in the middle and plays with Chiellini, the lowest ranked central defender in the squad (Materazzi, Cannavaro and Barzagli are all injured). Grosso is good at left back, but more known for going forward, and Zambrotta has had an average tournament. Unfortunately, for Spain, they are backed up by Buffon. If I were Arragones, I would not start Xavi and Iniesta together. I would have Senna, Cesc, Xabi Alonso and Xavi to go with Torres and Villa up front. Drop Silva and Iniesta. Xabi and Senna are good holding midfielders and will counter the Italian midfield, while Cesc is a very tough two way player and will support them at the defensive end. Cesc, Xavi and Xabi are all great passers and you are going to need all of them so the Italians can’t focus on shutting Xavi down. Silva hasn’t done much in this tournament. If you are behind, then bring on Iniesta and Silva, but otherwise, go with this lineup.

Pre-game prediction: Spain 2 Italy 1

It’s time for Torres to show the world what he has learned in England and impose himself physically on the Italian defense…

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Group C Day 3 pre-game predictions – France v Italy, Holland v Romania

Who would have thought pre-tournament that France v Italy could have no meaning for either side? As it stands, if the two draw, Romania would go through unless they lose by more than three goals. If, however, Romania doesn’t beat Holland, the winner of the France v Italy game goes through.

France has apparently not lost to Italy in regular play over 90 minutes since 1990. While this is too close to call and Panucci and Chiellini don’t really inspire that much confidence in me, and Zambrotta is going to be struggling against Henry or Ribery, I think Italy wins this match. Buffon is going to be tough to beat and will make the difference. Also, Italy has been creating chances – they just haven’t been able to score. I think that changes today.

There have been rumblings that Cassano is going to start alongside Toni. I think that’s the right move. He’s been very creative and slippery while playing in the hole behind Toni. That’s the way we assume Del Piero would have played, but he didn’t do much in the last game. So start Cassano on the left behind Toni and keep Camoranesi on the other side to do a lot of the running. The midfield has got to start Aquilani alongside Pirlo and De Rossi. While there may be a desire to start Gattuso, given the magnitude of the game, I would not do that. Aquilani and De Rossi are more offensive minded players and De Rossi can play the holding role very well. Bring Gattuso on late in the second half if you are ahead and need to protect the lead. Aquilani has a very good shot, is good going forward and has young legs, which you are going to need today. Perrotta is not the answer for this game.

For France, it is simple. Play the best team, Domenech. Here, I will do it for you. Henry and Benzema up front. Ribery, Nasri and Malouda behind them, with Maka or Diarra as the holding midfielder. While Toulalan has played well, I think Diarra has more quality going forward. Evra, Gallas, Thuram and Sagnol at the back with Coupet in goal. If you are scared of this lineup being too aggressive in the first half, start both holding midfielders and drop Malouda. However, you need to be aggressive and try to score the first goal. You are not playing Turkey, so you should be good if you score the first goal.

Romania – everything seems to be in your favor. The Dutch will be aggressive and open but without their best players executing the total football game plan. That plays into your hands. Plus, you have taken four points out of six from them in qualifying. So you know their personnel and style. Just don’t give up the first goal to the Dutch and you will be fine. The other issue, of course, is that you are going to have to play for 90 minutes without a let up as the Dutch are going to try to score, and are capable of doing so, for 90 minutes. Don’t give in to the temptation of starting only Mutu upfront. That’s fine as far as the lone striker goes, but you have to have at least two wingers close to him and coming up with him in attack all the time. That’s how you can score against the Dutch on the counter. Looking forward to Huntelaar starting. Rat, get ready for a tough game – you are going to have to excel.

CH12 predicted that France and Holland go through. It will be interesting to see if that happens. I don’t think so, as I believe Italy will beat France.

Pre-game prediction: Italy 2 France 1, Romania 1 Holland 1

I have said Hup Oranje, Allez Francaise, Forza Italia. It’s only fair to say Hai România…

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