My gut tells me this is the match Spain will lose. Portugal is primed for the upset. Portugal has the offensive and defensive stars and a competent midfield. Unlike Spain, they have come through a very tough group stage. Ronaldo is in form. Spain, regardless of what Silva says, is not as good as the prior versions. I really am hoping Spain go a goal down so we can see what they are really made of. Who will be Spain’s Messi/Ronaldo/Villa if they have to claw their way back?
Why Portugal will win
- Portugal’s midfield is well balanced with a holding midfielder in Veloso, the box-to-box work rate of Meireles and the creativity of Moutinho – all played a part in setting up Ronaldo’s winning goal against the Czechs. They can keep possession well enough against Spain’s midfield press. Hopefully Bento doesn’t try to change the lineup and remove the striker for an extra midfielder.
- Ronaldo is due to have a big game against Real Barspana. He buried his Barca demons during his last match at the Nou Camp and you know he wants to pay Spain back for World Cup 2010. He will dominate Arbeloa. Yes, Arbeloa knows Ronaldo from practicing every day at Real Madrid – as do Sergio Ramos and Xabi who will help Arbeloa out on Spain’s right side. However, Ronaldo knows those three and Iker Casillas also. He will relish going against them …and Pique. Why? Because this time, Spain doesn’t have Puyol to bail them out. The added benefit of having Coentrao behind Ronaldo is that Busquets will have to shade more to the right, leaving Alba one on one with Nani. Alba has shown good speed, but Nani’s trickery is cause for concern. The big questions for Portugal are which of Almeida or Oliveira start up front, and can either take advantage of the service from the wing? My money would be on the bigger and more experienced Almeida who can give Ramos and Pique fits in the air.
- Pepe and Alves have been solid on the ground. In the air is where Portugal has had problems against Mario Gomez and Bendtner. Spain doesn’t have an aerial threat, notwithstanding Xabi’s standing header.
- I will repeat what I wrote from the France match – Spain is not the usual Spain. Puyol and Villa’s absence has hurt them at critical positions and Xavi is not playing at his normal high level. Everything is just a little off for the Spaniards and there is unease about how well Ramos and Pique will perform together in the middle if they are put under real pressure. Their dislike of each other is common knowledge and the last thing Spain needs at the knockout stage. Yes, they dominated France, but that was a function of the lineup France put out there. However, who, besides Ireland, has Spain blown away in this tournament? No one. If you sit back, play defensively and Spain will wear you down. Portugal will not make that mistake. The only team that has kept Portugal off the board in this tournament is Germany – and that took major heroics at the end of the game to do so. Portugal will show Spain the toughest test to date and if it stays close late the pressure, and two fewer days of rest, will tell on Spain.
Why Spain will win
- Spain seemed a lot more assured against France. They were never really threatened and adequately defended the threat of Ronaldo Light – Ribery. If Spain dominates the ball, and more importantly eliminate any real pressure on Casillas, Ronaldo will get frustrated, drop deeper and into the middle to get the ball, which means he then has a longer way to go to score. That will play into Spain’s hands. It has been the traditional way Barca have stopped Ronaldo.
- Ramos and Pique haven’t really been tested and haven’t really missed having Puyol. The midfield’s possession game has alleviated any real pressure and if Portugal plays three in midfield (while Portugal might get more of the ball than most), they will not be able to keep sustained pressure with two offensive minded wings who need good, wide service to inflict any real damage on Spain.
- Ronaldo hasn’t played as well as everybody thinks he has. Trust me. I’ve seen enough of Ronaldo over the last eight years. He really had one very dominating game – against the Czechs who gave him too much space and time. His first finish against Holland wasn’t clean – and he missed another sitter very similar to the one he put away for the second. He will not get that much time and space against Spain, who have enough bodies to send at him to neutralize his open field speed advantage. Slow Ronaldo down and where is the goal going to come from? Portugal will have to rely on a dead ball to get a score.
- Iniesta. Pereira has had a good tournament, but he is going to struggle against Iniesta. That pulls Pepe out of position to help. Can Xavi and Cesc make them pay?
Pre-match prediction: Spain 1 Portugal 0
My gut is one thing – and I hope it’s right because Germany vs Portugal would be a much better final than a repeat of Euro 2008. That said, my head says the Spanish midfield will be a bit too much and will wear Portugal down. If Portugal doesn’t get a goal from open play, Spain will win this match. Coentrao’s matchup against Silva and/or Cesc will determine the outcome of this game. David Silva to score.
Germany is heavily favored. They have to be. Germany is going to step up a gear and, just as in QF 1, Greece is going to be facing a major class step up relative to Group A. Every one has a shot and this Germany team is not as amazing as the 2010 World Cup team. However, it is deeper and is going to be incredibly tough for anyone to beat. They have given up only one goal on a two header corner. While this is not as stone cold a lock as Portugal against the Czechs, expect Germany to win this game without much trouble.
Why Greece Will Win
- History repeats itself and they have already repeated the formula in beating Russia.
- They haven’t lost under the current coach in any meaningful match.
- They are playing for a nation that is in turmoil. They know how much this could mean for their countrymen.
Why Germany will win
- Greece has very little offense. Samaras has misfired and while Salpingidis had a great opening match, Karagounis is the only other Greek who has scored – or looks like he could score. The German midfield will not allow Greece the room that Poland afforded them. Unlike the Euro 2004 winning team, this Greek team doesn’t look an aerial threat from corners and free kicks. That leaves very few avenues through which to get the one goal lead they can cling to like the 300.
- Greece’s back line has looked very porous at left back and in the center. They choked Russia by clogging up the middle and the midfield held them at bay. That is going to be very hard against a German offense that has created numerous chances in each of their three games so far. Mario Gomez has already scored three goals and is going to be very hard for the Greeks to keep off the scoreboard.
- Germany is deep and is starting to display more speedy ball movement. While Ozil has been good, but not great, Schweinsteiger has been very good. The longer the tournament goes, the stronger both will get. That is going to bode very well for Germany. They have also won without goals from Muller. If he comes good they will be unstoppable. If he doesn’t, they have many players to go to with Goetze and Schurrle at the top of the list.
- The current draw means Germany has avoided Poland and Russia and has to get past England or Italy instead of Spain or France. They would have taken that at the start of the tournament with both hands. They can smell the final now and will not overlook the Greeks.
Pre-match prediction: Germany 2 Greece 0
Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski will score for Germany.
Portugal is favored. They have to be. While I shouldn’t insult teams at this stage by suggesting stone cold locks, of all the games in this tournament – even more than Germany vs Greece, this one is a lock. The Czechs will not take Portugal by surprise. To be clear, they got crushed by Russia, had 15 good minutes against the Greeks and won the second half against Poland. Not an awe inspiring performance.
Why Czech Republic will win
- Gebre Selassie will frustrate Ronaldo and Pilar’s quick movement and offense down the left side will put pressure on Nani to backtrack. With their wings blunted, Portugal will struggle to score up front and Ronaldo will drift inside where the Czechs can pack it in and eliminate space and time.
- Baros had a good game against Poland and harried the Polish defense all night. If he has a good game, anything can happen. He set up Jiracek’s winning goal against the Poles and the Czechs are hoping he can do the same tonight.
- Petr Cech has had a below average tournament with a couple of glaring errors. However, this is the man who saved three penalties in the Champions League final and one against Messi in the semifinals. Who would you bet on if this got to penalty kicks? Ronaldo has missed penalties in the semifinals of the Champions League twice (vs Barcelona and Bayern Munich) and in the finals once (vs Barcelona). He is not going to fancy the situation if it gets to that stage.
Why Portugal will win
- Nani and Ronaldo cannot be contained in the form they are in. Also, the effort to do so is going to blunt much of the wing back play from Pilar and Gebre Selasssie. Nani should have scored from Ronaldo’s set up against Netherlands and Ronaldo did score from Nani’s pass. When Ronaldo starts drifting inside every so often, he is incredibly dangerous as a playmaker and in drawing fouls that lead to free kicks. I expect Ronaldo to score on a free kick in the next two matches.
- Pepe and Bruno Alves. Yes, they have given up goals in every match, including three off headers. However, Baros is going to struggle against the two of them – he isn’t Gomez or Bendtner. Jiracek will also struggle against Veloso, Moutinho and Meireles who are the unsung heroes of this Portugese run – they have been solid in midfield.
- They are peaking. They can see the path to winning this tournament. Ronaldo is off his duck, they have had a late game winning goal and are playing to their offensive talents.
- Tomas Rosicky is not going to play. This is the stage when every team needs their best player to make it happen. Pilar and Jiracek are not going to be able to fill the void.
Pre-game prediction: Portugal 2 Czech Republic 0
Ronaldo scores again and Nani finally slots one in as well. Only way the Czechs can win is if this goes to penalty kicks.