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.
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.
Ireland made Croatia look better than they really are. That will change against Italy. While Croatia have traditionally done well against Italy, and their strikers are in great form with both Jelavic and Mandzukic scoring against Ireland, tomorrow will be different.
The Italian midfield will not allow Modric any space to make plays and control the tempo. Cassano and Di Natale were very clever in their movement against Spain and should have the same success against Croatia.
Pre-game prediction: Italy 1 Croatia 0
Cassano or Marchisio to score for Italy.
The Greeks have shown that they are a resilient team after overcoming being 1-0 and a man down to the hosts. However, their defense isn’t as strong as it was in Euro 2004. The Czechs on the other hand are nowhere near their past quality. In a match of middling teams,
Pre-game prediction: Greece 1 Czech Republic 1
This will be a scoreless or scoring draw. I won’t be surprised if the Greeks win 1-0 but I think the Czechs will battle for a draw thus keeping alive their hopes of qualifying going into the last match of the tournament. Gekas and Baros to score.
No Lampard, no Beckham and no Zidane. Will this matchup live up to the one in Euro 2004 when Lampard scored first, Becks missed a penalty that would have put the match beyond doubt and then England were defeated courtesy of a late double by Zidane? I doubt it. France comes into the tournament on a long unbeaten streak, but they haven’t hit the heights in the lead in to Euro 2012 and England seems incapable of scoring more than one goal in any match with the lineup and tactics Hodgson is employing.
Why England will win
- Hodgson has instilled his traditional game plan of being solid defensively with two banks of four and speed utilized to break on the counter and grab a goal against the run of play. It’s pragmatic and he certainly has the speed in the lineup.
- England’s injuries, new coach and absence of talismanic Rooney has reduced expectations and the accompanying pressure that has seemed to paralyze past England squads. Not much is expected of this England squad and that could be the key to unlocking the potential of the squad – with a lot of luck.
- England finally has a top goalkeeper in Joe Hart. It’s been ten years since David Seaman played in goal (and if you don’t consider him a top keeper, you have to go back to 1983 for Ray Clemence). Since then the “Golden Generation” has had to play with the likes of Scott Carson, Rob Green, Ben Foster, Chris Kirkland, Paul Robinson, David James and Richard Wright in goal.
- They have game changers in the speedy Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. If Welbeck is fit, his partnership with Young will be dangerous.
- Group stage games aren’t decided on penalties.
Why France will win
- England’s injuries mean that there is no real continuity in defense. It is tough to play a coordinated defensive strategy that Hodgson’s system requires when you haven’t had enough time to familiarize yourself with it given Roy’s recent hiring and you have had to change the central defenders following Rio’s withdrawal and Cahill’s injury.
- Rooney is not playing, Welbeck is just returning from an ankle injury and Defoe has just suffered a personal tragedy. England has no depth to spare at the moment.
- France has game changers across the park in Ribery, Benzema, Nasri, Ben Arfa and Giroud.
- Blanc is a great coach and has the team mindful of their duty to perform at a higher level after their disastrous outing at the World Cup. They are solid defensively, have a long unbeaten streak and the only question mark is the potential absence of Yann M’Vila.
Pre-match prediction: France 1 England 1
I wonder if England can score in this match. I wouldn’t be surprised if the only way they get one is on a dead ball. Ashely Young delivers great corners and free kicks. Terry or Lescott to score for England and Benzema to get one for France. A draw would be a great result for England who can get through as long as they don’t lose this match.
Still sticking with Chelsea to go through.
Keys: Del Piero unleashing some magic and getting on the scoreboard. I think Amauri will have a better game and will be a handful for Terry and Alex. It just feels like Juve are a little light in midfield with Sissoko gone for the season. I have a hard time believing they can handle a packed Chelsea who will probably play with Drogba alone up front.
Potential surprise matchwinner: One of Juve’s center halves on a set piece – let’s say Chiellini. Or an unused player like Iaquinta.
Observation: Chelsea has won every game since Hiddink became head coach. Without, I believe, conceding more than 1 goal in any game. With that said, I have a hard time believing Juve can score more than 1.
Predicted score: 1-1.
Still sticking with Liverpool eliminates Real in the second leg with a goalless or 1-1 draw.
Keys: Will Arbeloa be available at right back. If so, then they will have Mascherano and Xabi to playing holding – maybe even bring in Lucas – with Gerrard, Kuyt and Babel or Ngog. Torres off the bench if required. Real are going to have be patient else they will be two goals down overall with Liverpool hitting them on the counter. Best best for a first half goal is off a set piece. Get Mascherano on a yellow early and it will reduce his aggression which is key to getting a foothold in midfield. Also, can Liverpool handle Robben on the wing? I think they will as they will double up with a midfielder and the left back (probably Aurelio) on Robben.
Potential surprise matchwinner: Out of favor Van der Vaart or Schneider.
Observation: For an English team vs a Spanish team, there sure are a lot of Spaniards on the English team and more Dutch players on the combined squads than any other contingent.