Euro Cup 2012 Breakdown and Quarterfinals Predictions

Posted: June 21, 2012 by vindanton in Pro Sports

By: Salvatore Eppolito

Every four years, Europe is front and center in the footballing world. No where else on the planet is there such a high density of talented international teams vying for a single trophy, and that includes the World Cup. With century old rivalries being kept alive on the pitch, a collaboration of cultures from all parts of the continent, the intensity and drama is at the highest level in sport, and so far, Euro 2012 has not disappointed.

Sixteen nations reached the final round of the tournament that started on June 8th, and now only eight remain. It is theoretically the start of a new tournament, the knock out rounds were if you lose, you’re out. The group stages had some exceptional matches that created drama both on and off the pitch. These games led to some interesting matchups for the next round.

Group A was considered the weakest group of the tournament, but it created some surprises and arguably the best matches so far. Finishing first in the group was the Czechs. Having failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2010 and suffering a major collapses in the Euro 2008 and World Cup 2006 group stages, the Czech Republic’s reputation has taken a severe hit since their hay day of the early 2000’s. With a mix of aging talent and average youth on their side, no one predicted them to reach the second round let alone finish atop the group. After suffering a 4-1 defeat in their opening match to Russia, the Czechs turned things around winning their two remaining matches on the backs of spectacular performances from Petr Jiracek, Vaclav Pilar, and veteran Tomas Rosicky.

Finishing second in the group was Greece with a win, a draw, and a loss cumulating to four points. They reached the second round in dramatic fashion beating group favorites Russia 1-0 on the final match day. As soon as the final whistle sounded, people immediately started comparing this Greek team to the Euro 2004 Greek squad that stunned the world by winning their group and marching through the knockout stages to eventually beat hosts Portugal in the final. This 2012 team is no were near as organized or talented as that team was, not will the Greeks be anytime soon. In 2004, coach Otto Rehhagel’s team displayed a masterful cohesion of their back four, preventing some of the best attacking teams at the time from even entering the 18. They would then counter and apply pressure that resulted in grinding out low scoring wins. This Greek team cannot play a full 90 minutes so far this tournament, their backline has seen players come and go resulting in no chemistry and their midfield lacks the ability to advance the play. If it wasn’t for renowned choke artists Russia and a weak Polish side, Greece would be sent packing, which they will be after the quarters.

Every football fan around the world knows that when the final draw for a tournament occurs, there is one place you do not want your team to end up: The Group of Death. Every tournament has one, and in this case we had Group B consisting of tournament favorites Germany, World Cup finalists the Netherlands, a supposed mediocre Portugal, and the always lively Denmark. I’ll admit I gave Portugal and Denmark no chance of reaching the quarters, but Group B gave us some astounding results.

Germany is hands down the most consistent team in the international game. For decades they have fought through qualifying to reach tournaments and performed well in them, all while never having any true superstars, just working as a team, or as fans call it, “a machine.” The Germans were, and still are my favorites to lift the cup on July 1st. They simply walked through the group stage winning all three matches seemingly still in first gear. They would dominate possession early on, get a goal, sit back until something went slightly wrong and then just control the rest of the match like it was nothing. The brain behind their recent run of form is head coach Joachim Low. Under his is tactical style combined with the abundant amount of youth on this German side, we are now seeing the Genesis of a team that will dominate the international game for years. They will take care of business in the knock out stage.

Second place surprisingly went to Portugal. They were drawn into the group of death and were never given a chance due to their reputation. They have the talent, but their lack of teamwork and finishing has always been their missing ingredients. After an opening loss to Germany, were they kept up with the Germans for most of the match, they kept fighting in the remaining fixtures to win both. After an awful display verses Denmark, Ronaldo finally showed up in the match against the Netherlands scoring two goals. He is arguably the best in the world but his arrogance is Portugal’s downfall. Work with the talented team around you Ronny. When he is on form, what happened verses the Dutch and Danes make Portugal hard to beat.

Before I go onto Group C I have to talk about the disgrace of a performance displayed by the Netherlands. They were world cup runner up two years ago, breezed through qualifying, and have arguably the best attacking players in the world. Not to mention they were considered one of the favorites to win this Euro. They managed to produce three losses in three games, score only twice, and not even look decent doing it. They were severely outplayed in all three matches. This is the biggest shock since defending Euro and World cup champion France got eliminated in the group stage at the 2002 World Cup. It is unexplainable, inexcusable, and unbelievable. The Dutch should be ashamed.

In Group C we had the World Cup and European title holders Spain, along with Italy, Croatia, and Ireland. Spain won the group with two wins and a draw. Del Bosque has been under fire for his unusual tactics in the match against Italy throwing out a lineup with no forwards. The injuries to Villa and Puyol are showing in the way the Spanish are playing. Still undeniably the most talented team in the world, but their defense has been vulnerable and their attack unable to reach the levels of previous years. Drawing a weak Italy, crushing a terrible Ireland, and winning one nil verses a decent Croatia is not the Spain we have come to know and love. Their era is ending.

Second place went to Italy. I am not going to say Italy got lucky to advance to the second round, but they didn’t play that well in the group stage, or at least as well as the more deserving Croatians did. The Italians are another team in this tournament that is unable to play a complete 90 minutes and only show up for a half. This can be due to the extreme amount of youth on this side compared to the retirement homes filled with experience that they put on the fields in recent years. They are nothing special like their fantastic squads of World Cup 06 or Euro 2000. It’s a time of transition for Italy and they will bow out in the Quarters.

This group kind of disappointed me and did not live up to my expectations. I had Spain dominating, Ireland coming in second with an eye opening performance, Croatia being average as usual, and Italy embarrassing themselves. Instead we got a Spain that is losing its charm, Italy being average, Croatia playing like I thought Ireland would but came up short, and Ireland playing like they had no right being in this tournament. Croatia should keep their heads up, they played great but losing star forward Olic to injury just before the tournament definitely hurt. Ireland on the other hand has a long flight home. After gaining sympathizers around the globe after the infamous handball committed by Henry, the Irish claimed they deserved to be in the World Cup because they could compete with the world’s best. It is safe to say they were in a little over their heads. Time to regroup and look towards the future for the Irish.

The final group finished with England in first, France in second, Ukraine, then Sweden. Coming into this tournament, the notoriously harsh English media was timed by the lowest expectations placed on their national team in recent memory. After Fabio Cappello quit unexpectedly, it was only 40 days before the start of the Euro that England named Roy Hodgson as their new manager, and ten days after that they named a new captain in Steven Gerrard. There was no hope for this team to build chemistry or a system. They surprisingly played fairly well in all three matches, winning two and drawing one even with a few injuries and Wayne Rooney being suspended for the first two matches. Now with his return and a fair amount of confidence, England got into the second round. The only negative thing I have with England is their newly found defensive style. Having Rooney back in the squad could change that, but they have been negative.

France came into Euro 2012 still clouded by the controversial and overall embarrassing display they put on in South Africa two years ago. The player mutiny resulted in government involvement to fix things. Since Blanc took charge of the French they have been on the right track. I had them as a dark horse this tournament, but they’re performances have shifted my opinion on them a bit. They road a wave of confidence into the tournament of having not lost in 21 matches; that streak ended verses an already eliminated Sweden in the final match day. It was a dreadful display that France needed to sort out in the second round.

Co-hosts Ukraine was eliminated on the final match day, making this the second straight European finals were the co-hosts failed to reach the second round. This was possibly the end of an era for Andriy Shevchenko, a true legend for his country and the many clubs he has played for. Sweden surprisingly looked tired and out of sync verse England and Ukraine, but came to life verse France after they had been eliminated. They are historically a very average side that underperforms, so I wasn’t expecting much from them anyway.

Now the knock out rounds start and here are my predictions:

The Portuguese and the Czechs meet in the first quarterfinal match. The Czech Republic are confident and are playing extremely well, however, there is a strong possibility that Tomas Rosicky will miss the match due to injury. His absence will be costly. I have a feeling this will be one of the more exciting games and expect to see a close score. 2-1 to Portugal.

Germany takes on Greece in the second match of the knock out round. I cannot be clearer when I say Germany is too good and the Greeks are nothing like the Euro 2004 team everyone suddenly compared them to. 3-1 Germany.

Next we have the Pyrenees Derby with Spain verse France. Spain, though not as sharp as usual, will have no problem keeping the ball away from the French, but the French counter will be tricky for the vulnerable Spanish backline. 2-1 win for Spain, possibly in extra time or penalties.

The last quarterfinal match is England against Italy. Both teams are on a similar skill level right now, but the Italians inability to play a full 90 and the possible injury to one of their few bright spots Giorgio Chiellini will result in England advancing, but this has a recipe for a boring match. 1-0 England

If the second half of Euro 2012 is anything like the first, we are in for a show. Expect the cream to come to the top now. Going to be a great end to the world’s best tournament.

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