So we’re down to the Elite 8 of UEFA Euro 2012. I’ve found myself intently watching this major tournament even more than I did the FIFA World Cup in 2010. While my personal viewing ratings are different, one thing remains constant: FIFA and UEFA are still too stubborn to implement instant replay. Two years after Frank Lampard was denied a goal for England against Germany, the ultimate karma happened to the Three Lions. John Terry clearing a ball that was clearly over the line against co-host Ukraine was the ultimate role reversal for England, who went on to win Group D.
It is unfortunate that neither host country is through to knockout stage. Then again, Poland seemed to reliant on their forwards and Ukraine was presented with a very tough group with England France and Sweden.
But aside from the stories of the nonexistent fifth official, illegal underwear, and the respective Soap Operas of the Dutch and Mario Balotelli, here are my predictions for the Quarterfinals.
Czech Republic vs. Portugal
This is a dream matchup for Portugal. With each game in group play, they seemed to get better. Cristiano Ronaldo’s two goals against the Netherlands are a great sign for Portugal, especially with the support he’s gotten from the players around him. Meanwhile, it’s hard to believe that the Czechs went from a 4-1 loss to Russia to the top of Group A. Granted, Group A did not have many “sexy” teams (see my Twitter account), but the Czechs were very tactical and got big saves from Petr Cech when he wasn’t in miscommunication with his defense. Then again, Portugal has Ronaldo and the Czechs don’t.
Portugal 2, Czech Republic 0
Germany vs. Greece
Let’s be honest. Germany is the Miami Heat. Not winning a championship will certainly be failure for them. It seems that the Germans always get tight in the bigger games. Maybe manager Joachim Löw needs to upgrade to a larger sized white button-down.
For now, Germany looks like the best side in this tournament, and Mario Gomez has answered his critics on the international stage. If Greece were to pull off a huge upset, I would honestly think it would end every economic, political and social dilemma that is wrong in that country. It will be tough, as they are without their captain Giorgos Karagounis, who is suspended.
Germany 3, Greece 0
France vs. Spain
I really thought France looked like a big favorite, but their head-scratching loss to Sweden has me thinking otherwise as they back into matchup with the defending European and World Champions.
The French are hesitant to play with two strikers. But combining Olivier Giroud with Karim Benzema might not be a bad idea against a Spanish backline that has looked vulnerable. For “La Roja,” they have their own striker ordeal. Yes, Fernando Torres scored twice against Ireland, but they were easily the worst team in the tournament. I’d really like to see Fernando Llorente get a chance, but Del Bosque seems hesitant. Their midfielders have done their part by creating chances, but not every goal will be a simple as the goal scored by Jesus Navas against Croatia.
France 1, Spain 1 (Spain through on PK’s)
England vs. Italy
You’d have to go all the way back to 1996 when England made the knockout stage. The Roy Hodgson experiment is going according to plan so far, as the Three Lions have gotten contributions from starters and substitutes. I know Theo Walcott has been a huge spark coming off the bench, but Hodgson should stop treating him like James Harden, and put him in the starting eleven. It would certainly be hard to defend the fast wings of Walcott and Ashley Young, with Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck coming up the middle. Feels like miniature Manchester United arsenal (Premier League fans would get that play on words).
By the way, England finally has a star goalkeeper in Joe Hart. The “Azzuri” were certainly deserving of winning Group C, but knowing their style matches up well with England should give them some confidence. To start Balotelli or not? You don’t know if you’ll get “pound the ground” Balotelli or “cool, relaxed wonder-goal” Balotelli. I would feel content with the combination of Antonio Di Natale and Antonio Cassano, and knowing I have the 21-year old on the bench as a solid insurance policy. Pay attention to the injury to Giorgio Chiellini. Should he not be able to go, Italy will have to change up their backline combinations.
England 2, Italy 1