In the first of the four quarter-finals at Euro 2012, Portugal had to wait until the 79th minute until they finally made a breakthrough against a stubborn Czech Republic side, who had put all of their focus on defence. It was their star man, Cristiano Ronaldo, who booked their place in the semi-finals with diving header that bounced over Petr Cech and into the roof of the net. The Czech Republic did not so much as muster a shot on target and were lucky to have kept Ronaldo off the score sheet for so long, such was the brilliance of his performance.
Germany made three changes to their front line for their game against Greece; bringing in Klose, Reus and Schuerrle to replace Gomez, Mueller and Podolski. The rotation showed the strength in-depth of the German squad as they rallied to a 4-2 win – the two goals flattered the 2004 European Champions who, like the Czechs before them, showed little in the way of attacking initiative. The strikes from Lahm, Khedira and Reus were all highlight worthy, while Klose’s header took him to 64 for Germany, 17 of which have come in major tournaments.
The most disappointing quarter-final to watch was the Spain vs France encounter, with the reigning World and European Champions dominating possession, but again played the first hour without a recognised striker on the pitch. While the intricate passing the Spaniards display is impressive, short of a player like David Villa up front to provide an outlet for their moves, the constant build-up play with no end product has made their matches tedious to watch. However, two goals from Xabi Alonso ensured their progress and their supporters will not care about the style of play if Spain go on to be the first nation to win three consecutive tournaments. France were once again disappointing, despite having talented players like Benzema and Ribery up front, they were unable to break down the opposition and exited the competition having won just one of their four games.
Italy and England faced off against each other in a knock-out tie for the first time in their history and the Italians dominated the encounter, save for a fifteen minute spell at the start of the match. After De Rossi had hit the post with a curled left-foot shot from 30 yards, Roy Hodgson’s side responded with a sustained spell of pressure which nearly brought the opening goal – first through Glen Johnson saved by Buffon, then a header from Wayne Rooney that was glanced over the bar. When that period of attack had proved fruitless, England resorted to sitting back and soaking up pressure from Italy, who wasted many good chances to win the game in normal time. Despite 31 shots from the Italians – versus just 8 from England – the match remained goalless and went to a penalty shoot-out. When Montovolio sent Italy’s second spot-kick wide of the post, it looked as though Hodgson’s men were going to pull off an unlikely upset. Nevertheless, after Pirlo had converted his penalty with a cheeky chip into the centre of the goal, Ashley Young struck the bar and Ashley Cole hit a tame shot that Buffon stopped easily. The loss was the sixth time England have exited a major tournament on penalties – Italy join: Germany (World Cup 1990, Euro ’96); Argentina (World Cup ’98); and Portugal (Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006) as tormentors of the English from 12 yards.
The first semi-final, to be played today, is an all-Iberian affair between Spain and Portugal. The last match between the two nations was a friendly in November 2010, in which the Portuguese ran out 4-0 winners over their local rivals. However, they also met in the World Cup in 2010 and Spain prevailed in that Round of 16 fixture by a single goal, scored by David Villa. Helder Postiga is unavailable for the game due to injury, so Portugal will have to change their starting line-up for the first time in the tournament, with Hugo Almeida set to deputise. Spain have never lost to their Iberian neighbours outside of Portugal and will be hopeful of making their third consecutive final, but they will be wary of the threat posed by Ronaldo – well-known to them as he was the top-scorer in the Spanish league and led Real Madrid to the title last season. It will be interesting to see where the support of people in Catalonia goes for this match – when Gary Lineker was at Barcelona, he scored four goals for England against Spain and the Catalan press hailed it as a victory of their own. This time around, many of the Spanish team play their club football for Barcelona, while Ronaldo is the star for their main rival, Real Madrid – it may be seen as a no-win situation for the Catalans.
Germany and Italy meet on Thursday for a place in Sunday’s final, a repeat of the semi-final between the two countries in the 2006 World Cup. Then, Italy prevailed through two late goals in the final minutes of extra-time, defeating Klinsmann’s Germany on their own turf. If they are to have any chance of repeating that success, the Italians will need to show more clinical finishing in front of goal than they displayed against England, and will also face more of an attacking threat from Germany, no matter which triumvirate they select to lead their line.
Prediction Competition Update
Only one person correctly predicted all four quarter-final winners and that was…my wife (whose predictions were included in my tournament preview here). With Germany and Spain the two most popular choices to win Euro 2012, and 128 points still available, the competition remains wide open going into the final two rounds.
|1||Pamela McVeagh-Lally||Imogen’s picks||106|
|2||Taggart McMahon||Dirt Chickens||96|
|=||Sean Morrissey||Where’s USA?||90|
|5||Karl Schmidt||Hitbat #1||80|