Who will win Euro 2012?
I am putting my neck on the chopping block again. I did it during the Africa Cup of Nations and the Uefa Champions League, and both times it was 'chopped off'.
I am writing this on Thursday morning when none of the quarterfinal matches have been played. I am going ahead to place my bet on which teams will win and which will lose. So far we have seen a very competitive and truly terrific championship with the highest level of football being played from match to match and with every match being difficult to predict.
Germany vs Greece
Ordinarily this should be taken as a walkover for Germany but Greece have shown that they can slug it out with the best. That the Greeks have won this championship in the past against all odds and that they have been good so far in this Uefa Euro 2012™, means they have the psychological imperative to play against the Germans and create an upset.
I do not think we have seen their best yet but they have shown flair and great resilience. It is going to be a very exciting encounter but the Germans might just have too much ammunition in experience at this level to let even a determined Greece to stand in their way. Germany will triumph.
Spain vs France
This is a match between the current best team in the world and the team that has been at its worst in the past several years. It is unfortunate for France that they have to play against Spain at this stage and not at the finals where the pressure of the moment could make even the best team falter and anything can happen.
At the quarterfinal stage a team like Spain, with a hundred different approaches to scoring goals in every match and a style that ensures they dominate every match with their passing and movement, might just be too good for any upset. France have only won one match in the championship (against Ukraine) and will fall.
England vs Italy
This one is very hard to predict. Both have not been at their best in the championship, even though England showed character, spirit and class when they had their backs against the wall against Sweden and came back from two goals to one down to win by three goals to two after 45 minutes of some truly great football.
Otherwise, the way both teams have played so far, they could easily have swapped jerseys and the world would have taken them for each other. The English have been playing more defensively and the Italians have been looking sharp up front whenever they decided to go forward.
With Wayne Rooney back in the England squad providing a few more attacking options, the English may narrowly prevail in this match that is bound to stretch emotions and tension between the teams' followers to breaking point. My heart says England to win by one goal. My head tells me Italy to win by penalties.
Germany vs Spain final
I do not know how the Germans do it. There is always something about the way they play their football - efficient, organised, mechanical and economical. They are perhaps the most experienced, most successful and most consistent team as campaigners in Europe.
Their achievements as past winners of the World Cup and European Championship Cup are clear testimony. In the World Cup only Brazil and Italy have better records. In the European Nations Championship they stand alone at the top ahead of all others.
Going into Euro 2012 many people rated them as potential champions, not necessarily because they have the best set of players but largely because of their established tradition of knowing how to play and win in Europe. In addition to that they have a set of great players.
In the on-going championship they have once again been ruthlessly efficient, the only team in the championship with a 100 per cent winning record. Going into the quarterfinals they have not lost or drawn any match.
So far in Euro 2012, the team has been criticised for its unattractive, rather defensive style. That is what they did through the first round of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. In the second round they exploded with some truly delightful and attractive attacking football. It has worked for them this time again and even better by emerging from their group of death unscathed.
I see them going all the way to the finals where they are likely to meet either Portugal or Spain. If it is Portugal, Germany will win the Championship. If it is Spain, they may lose with the tiniest of margins, a lone, lucky goal.
The other team I see in the final is Spain. As the world's No 1 ranked team, they offer today's football what no other team has. Barcelona's influence on how the Spanish national team plays is obvious to all. With six players from Barca in the national team that is hardly surprising.
Their style, described as tic-tac by the Spanish media, is influencing change in football tactics around the world. It has successfully created the best club side in the world as well as the best national team in the past four years at least.
The on-going European championship is, however, confirming that an antidote is being formulated to counter it. It started with how Real Madrid and Chelsea managed to stop Barca from winning the Spanish La Liga and the European Club championship respectively.
Opposing national teams have adopted the same style to slow down the Spanish onslaught of Euro 2012. Without Little Lionel Messi the tiki-taka style is severely weakened. It is not easy to play with seven midfield players, one or no outright forward, and no 'magician' to create goals out of nothing. Torres is no Messi.
So, the Spaniards can be beaten with a little bit of luck and some efficient defensive tactics, which only Germany, for now, appears capable of offering. I will not place my bet yet though until the last of the quarterfinal matches are concluded.