One match away from the final
Uefa Euro 2012™ has reached the semifinal stage so it is only going to get more tense as the stakes climb higher.
The four teams left are: the holders Spain, favourites Germany and the two outsiders Italy and Portugal must surely fancy their chances – which is more than can be said for my predictions thus far!!
The four quarterfinal matches did go according to the form guide really. The look on the face of the German players after Greece had had the temerity to equalise spoke volumes about the character and focus and self-belief among the German footballers out there in Poland and Ukraine.
The decision by the manager Loew to drop the underperforming Podolski and the strangely out of sorts Muller was vindicated by the result. A German loss that night would have been only out of extreme carelessness.
Portugal were worthy of a more convincing score line in their victory over the Czechs than the 1-0 result courtesy of a determined driving run and header by the skipper Cristiano Ronaldo. The skipper really should have gone to celebrate with Moutinho for the fabulous cross instead of making a bee line for the pitch side television camera – that is Ronaldo though! However, that was a match in which, despite their domination, the midfielders Veloso and Raul Meireless were incredibly poor.
The debacle of the last World Cup obviously has not left the French national team and surfaced again here after the last group defeat to Sweden. Their dreadful performance against Spain should be shown to every future Les Bleus player before ANY match to remind them of how NOT to play when representing the country It was most appropriate that they chose to wear an all white strip, which showed their intentions.
The decision by Blanc to drop Aliou Diarra was a mystery to me as was the plan to have two right backs on the Spanish left – goodness me, is Jordi Alba really worthy of all that attention? Did Blanc not watch Italy’s formation against Spain? The defending Champions did not have to do much to walk the match.
Roy Hodgson is a relic of a football manager. It is not his fault. It is the fault of those who hired him. Only two countries came into this tournament playing 4-4-2 formation: England and Ireland and these two countries played the worst football of the lot.
In subsequent blogs I will put down my thoughts on England’s performance. It was a sign of hard luck and careless finishing on the part of the Italians that took the game into penalties and it would have been grand larceny had England sneaked through on penalties.
Spain take on their Iberian neighbours and fellow EU debtor nation Portugal in the first semifinal. Quite simply, the Portuguese have to give the match a go. Paulo Bento needs to be brave enough to ask Nani and Ronaldo NOT to track the Spanish full-backs into the Portuguese area. It needs bravery to make a plan like that and stick to it.
Spain keep possession so well and hold a high line pressing all over the pitch. This is made possible because ALL the teams they play defend with everybody behind the ball. This will then allow the central-defenders to push up and join the play and are available for the pass. The width comes from their full-backs.
Croatia and Italy proved that Spain’s opponents need to have an out ball so that when possession is won there is somebody for it to go to and it must be into the spaces vacated by the overlapping full-backs. It is easier said than done I know but it is not impossible. Spain just might surprise all by starting with a striker and Pedro too. Should they do this, it will be a more open game with possibly more goal-mouth action than the wretched tie with France.
One man can affect this game in more ways than one. Cristiano Ronaldo needs to play as a skipper and leader if Portugal are to go through. He must not sulk or try to win the game on his own. He should watch his performance in the last el classicoM of last season and just play from that script. This game gives him the opportunity for the greatness he so badly craves.
I did not give the Italians a chance to get this far but right from the opening game I have been impressed by the manner of their play and the skilful deployment of players by the manager Cesare Prandelli. The giant defender Chiellini should be back and that will make up for the unfortunate second yellow that Maggio picked up against England. Andrea Pirlo has really rolled back the years to be the fulcrum of another Azzurri attempt at a major championship just as he was in the Fifa World Cup win of ’06.
I am really looking forward to this clash as there will be many mini battles all across the pitch. The full-backs will be very key with Balzaretti on the Italian left coming up against the uncompromising Boateng on the German right; skipper Lahm might have a freer time of it if Abate does not recover from what seemed a minor hamstring strain to take his starting place – Maggio is suspended.
For Pirlo, the Germans will match with Bastian Schweinsteiger and then raise him with Mesut Ozil. Montolivo and Marchisso will complete the set of fine midfielders who will battle for the ultimate control that will surely determine who plays in the final.
My first memory of an Italy/Germany clash was the ’82 World cup final and that day in Madrid the Germans suffered from an exhausting semifinal duel with France that went into extra-time and penalties, culminating in a proper defeat to a Paolo Rossi inspired Italians. This time around, the Germans are rested for two days more – Uefa really should be ashamed that this is allowed to happen – while Italy have had extra-time and penalties in their previous match. The Germans have also waited for a long time to avenge that shock 2-0 World Cup semifinal defeat to Italy back in 2006; so there is not better time than the present.
So who gets to the final? It seems that the stage is set for a repeat of last edition’s European Championship final between Spain and Germany. I do not think football works out like that. I strongly believe it will not be a Spain/Germany final. I tipped Germany to win from the onset. However, should the Portuguese get past Spain they will be unstoppable.