Wednesday, 20 June 2012

ROD’s Guide to the Euro’s Quarter Finals

I bet you can guess what I’ve been doing the last two weeks, can’t you? It's more than likely the exact same that you’ve been doing: waiting until 5o’clock came so that you could sit down to watch the Euros until 10 o’clock. Also, again probably the same as you, I’ve managed to watch every single game of the competition so far (apart from Matchday 3 games – that would be impossible unless I was Will Smith in Men in Black Three). All I can say is thank god that the football is back! After what seems like an eternity in the sporting wilderness where I was watching beach soccer and American college basketball it’s only right that the Euros has conjured up some fantastic games! Who would’ve guessed that Greece would beat Russia in their final group game to seal a quarter final spot after the Russians seemed like the Red Army smashing their way through Germany in the Second World War or that Holland would go home pointless after being tipped by some to paint Poland and the Ukraine orange! Truly, football is a remarkable game.

But what next? Well, as I’m sure you’ll know we enter the quarterfinal stage of the competition (which is tomorrow, yet more football to feast upon!) and as a result of that you will probably need some information on the teams so you can reel off your knowledge in the pub with your friends who will pretend to care but really will just want to throttle you for being a know-it-all. Luckily for you, you seem to have stumbled upon my little guide to Euro 2012 quarterfinalists with all the knowledge you need to know for the next four days.

Team One: The Czech Republic 

When the groups were first announced Group A was seen by many as the easiest group of them all. Very much an eastern-European affair with the exception of those intimidating Greeks, it looked like a walkover for Russia and then a straight out dogfight for second place between Poland and the Czech Republic. Football is a strange game, and it didn’t turn out that way.

After a good old fashioned beating from Russia, who managed to put 4 past the Czechs and Darth Vader, oh, er, I mean Petr Cech, it all looked very worrying for the Czechs. But they plucked up the courage and strength to beat the Greeks in Matchday Two (just) that put them on the brink of qualification. After a tightly fought neighbour vs neighbour battle in Wroclaw that had more in common with UFC than football the Czechs managed to get that win that saw them through into the quarter-finals, in which now will now face Ronaldo. No wait, I mean Portugal. 

What Czech players are the ones to keep an eye on? Well, Petr Jiracek certainly seems to have lit the eyes of some managers – mostly those that buy talent based on tournament performances it has to be said – and he will certainly be one that Portugal have to watch. Another Czech that seems to have been performing well is Václav Pilař who has scored twice for the Czechs so far in the tournament, which is very healthy seeing as the top goal scorer thus far has 3.

The Portuguese will have to be on their best form and not allow Ronaldo to get taken out of the game if they hope to withstand the Czech onslaught and avoid a massive shock. That said, Portugal are having a bit of trouble with cheques at the moment aren’t they?

Team Two: Portugal

Runners-up in the “Group of Death”, Portugal seem to have come into play at the right time of the tournament. After being beaten 1-0 by the ruthless Germans and somehow managing to beat the Danes in a thriller in Lviv, Ronaldo well and truly put Holland to the sword. I’m sorry, I meant Portugal. I have no idea why I keep saying Ronaldo in a singular form, as if he makes the Portugal team!

The Portuguese will most definitely fancy their chances: the fashion boys of Europe with their gelled hair and their waxed backs are against the vicious, long-haired Czechs who care not for looks but want to taste Portuguese blood. Portugal are most certainly in for a battle.

The players to watch? Of course, they have Ronaldo, the second-best player in the world whose step-overs and flip-flaps are a thing of art and should be displayed in the National Art Gallery. Nani is also another Portuguese star that has all the usual flair that we come to expect of the Premier League star that I’m sure is another one to watch on Thursday.  Fábio Coentrão, the Madrid defender, is also another one to watch. With one assist to his name already, expect many bombardments down the wing from him against the Czechs.

Quarter-Final One Prediction: Czech Republic 0-2 Portugal

Team Three: Germany

The Germans. European powerhouse in both terms of politics and football. They are the only team to have won all three of their games in the group stages, which is no surprise seeing we all know how efficient they are. In what was billed as a close game, Germany simply walked all over Holland (not for the first time) and wouldn’t have conceded if it weren’t for a bit of magic from Van Persie. Germany were simply brilliant.

Now they face up to the Greeks, resilient, strong, and funnily enough completely at the will of the German government and Angela Merkel. Although Greece isn’t exactly a major footballing nation, they have won the Euros before in 2004 and they managed to beat the Russians to get this far, so the Germans will most certainly be looking to crush any form of resistance to their plans of securing Euro 2012.

Germany have developed so much fresh talent in the past few years that it actually frightens me. The main players to watch out for in this game however? The joint-leading top goal scorer: Mario Gomez (how un-German does that sound?) is most certainly at the forefront of the German bombardment. In the past Greece had Alexander the Great. Now they must face Mario the Conqueror. Another player that the Germans have in their awesome firepower is Mesut Ozil, the little magician from Gelsenkirchen. Often compared to Zidane, the Madrid legend, his quick feet and attacking style of play can cause a problem to any defence, even if the Greeks defend like Trojans. Certainly, both are ones to watch out for in this quarterfinal match.

Team Four: Greece

After being drawn into Group A and being held to a 1-1 draw with co-hosts Poland in their first game after a diabolical refereeing decision and then being beaten 2-1 by the Czech Republic thing looked bleak for Greece. Not as bleak as their politics, but bleak nonetheless. But then something amazing happened: they beat the Russians. That shock result put them through in second place behind the Czechs, and into the siege that will be the quarterfinal against Germany.

Greece have it all to do, but they have reason to do it. In political terms, the Greeks will have no better incentive to beat the Germans than to get one over Angela Merkel.  After their crisis in the Eurozone, getting one over the woman that holds all the keys (which could be any woman to be honest) could be the inspiration they need to create a shock and knock the Germans out.

Giorgos Karagounis is certainly the Greek to look out for in the coming game – it was his goal that knocked the Russians out in matchday three.  The modern day Achilles, the Germans will have to be able to put him in their back pockets to have an easier time in this match. How is it they killed Achilles in the end? A stud to the ankle? Hmm…

Quarter-Final Two Prediction: Germany 3-0 Greece

Team Five: Spain

Being drawn into Group C, many expected Spain to have very little, if no problems in qualifying for the knockout stages. Apart from a blip against Italy, they were back on form again to knock the stuffing out of an Ireland team that looked extremely poor, very much like the country itself. Spain only just managed to beat Croatia in their final group game, with a Jesus Navas goal, which took some real skill to smash in from two yards in the 88th minute securing them the win. 

Spain play the French in what will surely be a tightly contested match, as both teams are some of the best at the tournament. Spain are defending their crown (which hasn’t been done yet) which is the incentive the win here. Spain can of course take heart from France’s dismal performance against the Swedes last night in which they were beaten 2-0.

Spain have so many phenomenal players to look out for, but if I had to pick one which has outshone the rest in this tournament the it would be little David Silva. So far he has scored once and set-up three of his teammates in the competition – I think that’s someone you would definitely call a wingman and would love to have with you on a night out! Although he didn’t have the best of games in his last game, I think he will definitely perform against the French. He must perform should we say?

Team Six: France

Les Bleus were drawn into Group D, which most pundits expected them to qualify from, and they did.  They had a hard fought 1-1 draw with England in the 90 Minute War and then beat the Ukraine 2-0 to pretty much guarantee qualification. In what can only be seen as a massive blip against Sweden in their last game, they lost 2-0 in which Ibrahimovic scored a sensational strike to put France to the guillotine. An England win put France into second place that means they will now face European and World Champions Spain.

France will be pretty confident going into the Spain game, although they had a terrible performance against the Swedes that reminds you of their performances in South Africa in 2010. They were unbeaten in 23 matches prior to their demolishment by Sweden, and they can take plenty of heart from that in their match against the Spanish.

Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri are by far and away the best players the French have at the tournament. Benzema hasn’t hit form goal scoring wise yet, but has two assists to his name, whereas Nasri has one goal: a great strike against England in their first game. Spain will have their little hands full trying to handle both of these Frenchmen.

Quarter-Final Three Prediction: Spain 2-1 France

Team 7: England

Pessimism and doubt seem to have done England the world of good at this tournament, as they have performed quite well. They haven’t lost a single game yet, winning two and drawing one, and seem to be a very close-knit unit. The strikers are scoring goals and seem to be thriving on the weight of no expectations on their shoulders.

England face Italy in what will be a game most likely settled by a single goal. Both teams seem to like to play a defensive game, in other words they like to play 10 men behind the ball and build a wall across their goalmouths. England must fancy their chances against Italy, who had a less then great warm-up to the Euros, losing all three games.

Steven Gerrard has been the best Englishman at the tournament so far, with three assists in three games. He is simply a colossus in the midfield and if England have any chance of winning, he must perform like he has done the last three games. I’m sure, however, if he does one of his crunching tackles he may kill the Italian players – they go down like they’ve been shot.

Team Eight: Italy

After an utterly useless warm-up to the tournament, with the team playing worse than the Faroe Islands and the whole match-fixing scandal, the tournament has gone extremely well for the Italians. Draws against Spain and Croatia and then an empathic victory against Ireland has put them in a good position, facing an England team that I’m sure most of the world would think is well under strength and with a man who looks as old and grey as Gandalf in charge.

Italy will be confident going into their battle against England on Sunday – The Azzurri haven’t looked like losing a game yet (maybe because they’ve been bribing people? It’s just a thought). They may also think that in coming second in their group they’ve avoided the harder tie of France and so that may give them some confidence.

Although Italy may think Hodgson is older than Gandalf, Italy seem to have a player who is older than time itself: Andrea Pirlo. He has definitely been the best Italian at the tournament so far with one goal and two assists. England will definitely have to be on their toes at the back in order to cut out his balls that he very much likes to play.

Quarter-Final Four Prediction: England 1-2 Italy

There you have it. My indefinite guide to the quarterfinals at Euro 2012. I hope you put it to good use and manage to impress (or anger) your friends down the pub. Just remember, if the predictions are wrong then don’t blame me. Blame the Italians.

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