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.
When favorites win, predictions usually seem to be on. That’s what has happened the last two days. Will tomorrow be any different?
Sweden is supposedly going to be playing a lot of second string players now that they have been eliminated from the tournament. If Ibrahimovic doesn’t play, it will obviously be a big boost for France. Sometimes, when reserve players play – and these aren’t scrubs but full internationals – and they aren’t under any pressure to get a result, the underdog usually does well. However, with France knowing that a loss could eliminate them from the tournament if the other game ends in a draw, they will go all out to win. Add to that the benefit of not having to play Spain in the next round if France wins this match by enough of a margin – though it’s not entirely clear whether you would want to play Italy or Spain in a knockout match at this stage – and that’s enough for me to predict a France win. Stone cold lock.
Pre-game prediction: France 2 Sweden 0
Benzema and Ribery to score for France.
The England game could go either way. What does Roy do now? Draw and England are through. But, you are playing the host country who have to win to go through with Shevchenko possibly out… or possibly in for a glorious finish. What if you sit back and give up a late goal – can you come back? I believe he will choose the safe path. Start Welbeck up front with Rooney in the slot. Young on the left, Gerrard on the right and Milner and Parker at holding midfield. I wouldn’t start Oxlade-Chamberlain or Theo Walcott initially. They are to come on for Young and Milner depending on what the score is in the second half. The interesting thing will be to see how Rooney and Gerrard play. My feeling is you should let Rooney have a free role in the slot and have Gerrard drop more centrally between Parker and Milner. It would be a modified Christmas tree that let’s Roy see if the Manchester United trio can do the business at the goal end of the tree.
Pre-game prediction: England 1 Ukraine 1
England could easily score three again, but I think it will be Gerrard for England and Yarmolenko for Ukraine.
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.
CH12 couldn’t blog yesterday – too much partying. So I didn’t get the predictions in for the last matches of Group A. I would have predicted a Czech / Poland draw and a Russian victory. I would have been wrong on both counts and I certainly didn’t see Greece going through. Shocking but you have to love this tournament. What I don’t like is UEFA’s eliminating the results of the game against the eliminated team in determining goal difference. That’s wrong. Goal difference should be the first thing people look at before head to head results IMO. Anyway.
Now that Russia has gotten knocked out, expect no let up from Germany. They will beat Denmark by 2 goals today – it also is the last match before single elimination. I expect Low to go for the kill and if Germany gets up by 2 early on, expect to see Klose and Goetze.
Pre-game prediction: Germany 3 Denmark 1
Podolski, Gomez and Muller to score for Germany and Bendtner for Denmark.
Portugal vs Netherlands promises to be the most entertaining match of the tournament as neither team can afford not to win. The Dutch especially have to come out firing. Van Bommel is suspended so De Jong will be the only holding midfielder. I expect that van der Vaart or Strootman will start instead and maybe Huntelaar starts ahead of Afellay. Either way, this gives a lot of room for Ronaldo and Nani and I think it will be a display of frighteningly effective wing play today. High scoring game.
Pre-game prediction: Portugal 3 Netherlands 2
Ronaldo and Nani to score for Portugal and Huntelaar and Sneijder to respond for the Dutch.
Wazza’s hair transplant looks very awkward now that he has buzzed the sides. That’s all I need to say about the lead-in to the game. That and the fact that Ibra looks like I’d imagine Atilla would look like if he was a Samurai.
Why England will win
- Sweden lacks the pace, especially on defense, to keep up with the England counter attack. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and Welbeck will be too quick for the Swedes, especially Melberg and Granqvist.
- As result of the reserve goalie’s butt on YouTube, Ibrahimovic’s blasting of his teammates and the starting lineup, and the giving up of a lead to two goals from one of the oldest players to ever score two goals in a major international tournament, Sweden does not have the best mindset going into this game.
- Terry and Lescott can frustrate Ibrahimovic up front. Ibra typically does not like playing against big defenders on EPL teams and the England lineup with its defensive setup should be even more difficult for the big Swede. Elmander could help him if he is inserted in the starting lineup, but I just don’t see him making much difference. England is well aware of him from his time at Bolton.
- Hodgson’s tactics are perfect against an aggressive Sweden who has to win this match if they are to hold out hope of qualifying for the next stage.
Why Sweden will win
- Scott Parker may not be able to play, or if he does, his Achilles problem will hinder his effort. Gerrard didn’t have a great game. Is there anyone left in England’s midfield who can adequately clog up the middle – and please don’t say Jordan Henderson can do that job?
- England didn’t really generate any meaningful chances against France apart from the open net miss by Milner and the goal Lescott scored. They will have to do better against Sweden if they hope to take anything away from this game. Sweden will score against England and they are big enough to withstand dead ball situations when England will look to have Terry and Lescott try to nick one.
- Ibrahimovic will back up his anger and bluster and supreme self confidence now that he has put his team and managers on blast. There will be no “cowards” or lack of effort from Sweden.
Pre-game prediction: England 1 Sweden 1
England will accept getting a point and leaving it up to Rooney in the last game to take them to the next round with a win over Ukraine. That said, a bonus for winning the group is not having to probably play Spain in the next round. Much easier to deal with Italy or Croatia. Anyway, we get ahead of ourselves. Welbeck or Gerrard (penalty) to score for England and Sebastian Larsson to score for Sweden on a free kick.
Ukraine is not going to surprise France. Shevchenko is not going to surprise Mexes. Yarmolenko is not going to surprise Evra. Blokhin is not going to surprise Blanc. France hasn’t lost in 22 games. This will not be the first loss. I also don’t believe they can be comfortable with a draw as that would put too much pressure on their last game against Sweden.
This is going to be a more open game and France will have more space than they did against England. I respect Ukraine’s front three and Tymoshchuk did a great job in the holding midfield position. However, Ribery and Nasri will be too much for the Ukrainian defense. I would like to see Blanc be more aggressive and putting Ben Arfa in the starting lineup.
Pre-match prediction: Ukraine 1 France 2
Benzema and Ribery will score for France and Yarmolenko to reduce the margin for Ukraine.