Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Old & The New: Euro 2012 - The Final Four

Had my predictions come to pass, we would be seeing The Netherlands versus Spain followed by Germany versus France. OK, a 50% success rate isn’t great, but I did think that both of the qualifiers from Group B would still be standing (which they are), and I did umm and ah between who would win a potential quarter final between Italy and France before plumping for the team that would capitulate against Sweden and not recover.

Instead of that, we have two semi’s that encapsulate the old European order and the maybe emerging new forces in European Fooball.

Portugal V Spain; Donbass Arena, Donetsk, Wednesday (21:45, 19:45 BST)
Torres goes for the ball during Spain's 1-0 defeat to Portugal at Euro 2004

First up are two sides who are going through their own golden period.  Spain have not really set the heather on fire during their march to the last four of this tournament.  Maybe like the last World Cup, the boa-constrictor method of winning matches is Spain (and Del Bosque’s) preferred method of winning.  How else to explain Del Bosque’s continued persistence to 4-6 (see, Levein is a tactical genius!).  Yet this approach, unlike in the World Cup, could have come unstuck against Croatia while France only posed a threat when the Quarter Final was still at 0-0.  For Spain though, the business end of the tournament starts here as their semi final opponents are the last team to have beaten them in this tournament.

Portugal’s 1-0 win in Lisbon eight years ago set them on their way to an appearance in the final at their own party, and is also the only time Portugal have beaten Spain in a competitive match.  The last meeting between the two sides was in the second round of the World Cup two years ago, while the only other meeting in this tournament was a 1-1 draw in Marseilles in 1984.  While there are four or five survivors in the Spanish side from that night in Lisbon, there are two from the Portugeese side, one of which will be a likely key player once again.

Cristiano Ronaldo has at times in this championship looked like he has dragged his team this far with crucial goals against the Netherlands and in the quarter final against the Czech Republic.  He will be the player that Spain will have to keep quiet if they are to have a shot at history.  At the other end, maybe now is the time for Del Bosque to revert to the 4-2-3-1 that won the World Cup two years ago. Whatever happens, I suspect that Portugal at this stage might not be the test that the Netherlands would have been, I think Spain will go through.

Germany V Italy; National Stadium, Warsaw, Thursday (20:45, 19:45 BST)
Eilts and Casaraghi duel during the 0-0 draw at Euro '96

The second semi final is between the two dominant forces of European football – 7 World Cups between them, winners of this championship 4 times in total yet this tournament is Italy’s weakest with the win in 1968 being their only win.  This is fascinating because Germany have ground their way to this point but have always looked ominous, yet Italy have shown tactical flexibility – going between 3-5-2 and 4-1-3-2. 

Italy will need to keep Germany guessing if they are to keep their remarkable record going against Germany – Italy have never lost a competitive international against Germany, this run includes two World Cup semi finals (in 1970 and 2006) and the final thirty years ago.  More pertinent to the final outcome of this match, the two European final’s meetings between the two sides have seen two draws (1-1 in the opening match of the 1988 championships in Munich, while a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford in 1996 saw Italy knocked out at the group stages).

To date Germany have played four and are the only side to have won four in this tournament – looking ominous both in the second group game against the Netherlands and in the quarter Final against Greece.  Meanwhile Italy showed great composure to hold Spain to a draw, should have won against Croatia but got a good win against Ireland and played well against England but should have put them away before the match reached penalties.  Despite Italy not being as good a side as Germany, I think that this will certainly be an epic with Germany coming out on top after extra time or maybe penalties to set up a repeat of both the final here four years ago and the World Cup semi final from two years ago.

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