So far so good with the way the quarter finals have gone, both favourites have progressed to the knockout stages with minimal fuss. Unfortunately for the fans who paid good money to see the first quarter final it was a rather dour affair with Portugal on top for large periods but unable to break down the Czechs. It needed a hero to step up and like in their last game Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up and made sure his team won with a superb header 10 minutes from full time. In the other game the Germans received a mild scare being tied 1-1 with Greece after an hour despite dominating the game. Their movement was too much for the Greeks to handle as they seemed to have a level of finished rivalled only by the Dutch in this tournament. A 13 minute onslaught killed the game off as the Germans finally got that resounding win they had been looking for all tournament. The next two quarter finals look to be much more even affairs.
Quarter Final 3: Spain (C1) vs France (D2)
The defending World and European Champions face their toughest test so far in a French team that, on paper, should be a real challenge for them. Despite thumping Ireland 4-0 in their second group game, the Spanish have not been overly impressive in their efforts so far labouring to a 1-1 draw with Italy and sneaking past Croatia 1-0 as their approach has been even more cautious than before thanks to the lack of a true striker in their lineup most of the time. The midfield will be the key in this game as the Spanish will deploy the pairing of Xavi and Iniesta to direct play and complete more passes than the entire opposition team (a stat we are contractually obliged to divulge). Alongside them though will be the defensive duo of Sergio Busquets (who falls over a lot for a tough guy) and Xabi Alonso who will essentially fill the same role. Spain’s best chance would be to sacrifice one of those holding midfielders for an out and out striker such as Fernando Llorente who has a proven goal scoring record as either a partner or replacement for the hot and cold Fernando Torres. While Spain have been good at this tournament they have looked far from exceptional and could be vulnerable to a surprise or two.
Everything was looking pretty good for France, a draw against England (that could easily have been a win if they pushed for it) and a 2-0 over co-hosts The Ukraine made it look like they would be headed for top spot in their group (avoiding Spain in this round) before a shock loss to Sweden screwed everything up. To make matters worse, BBC Sport reports that members of the French dressing room clashed following the loss to Sweden. France needs to get that killer instinct back as they have the talent to go all the way but the mentality of the team could kill them here. They have a striker in Karim Benzema who scores for fun with his club side Real Madrid but for France he seems to drop too deep and involve himself in the build up play leaving a hole where he should be. If it all comes together for the French side and they don’t surrender when things get tough then we could see a shock upset here. A stat to consider is that they have never lost to Spain at a major tournament. Look for this game to go into extra time and the team that makes the least mistakes (Spain) to somehow survive.
Quarter Final 4: England (D1) vs Italy (C2)
So you finish on top of your group ahead of one of your fiercest sporting rivals and your reward is a matchup against an upstart Italian team for the right to face the tournament favourites, seems about right. England, despite playing possibly the worst football out of the eight remaining teams managed to win their group and still have not lost a game. You can’t help but see parallels between them and the Chelsea side that, despite being rather crap managed to win the top prize in European club football this season. Roy Hodgson has set his team up with his normal, defensive 4-4-2 formation where his team is very well organised and does not give things up easily. In previous tournaments the English side has been criticised for their weak mentality but this side is different, they have overcome injuries, controversy and suspension to put themselves in a solid position. The key man for them will be captain Steven Gerrard who leads his team with 3 assists so far and remains a threat from any dead ball situation. If he can feed Wayne Rooney and his strike partner up front then the English will be a very good chance to progress.
Going into the tournament were considered a team in transition, this would be a chance for the old generation of 2006 World Cup Champions to have their final farewell while blooding some new players with an eye on the next World Cup in Brazil. Of course things change and this team now looks like it could be on a roll with a series of solid if unspectacular results. They have lost their key man at the back Giorgio Chiellini to a thigh strain so they will be forced to revert to the four man backline with two fullbacks as opposed to the 3-5-2 they played against Spain to great effect. Up front they have the insane man from Man City Mario Balotelli paired with Antonio Cassano to form a lethal paring who will give John Terry and co fits as they try to track their movement then off the bench will be the cool headed veteran Antonio di Natale who can change a game. Despite all that star power at either end of the pitch, the key man will be Andrea Pirlo who, when given time and space on the ball, will pick apart defenses without a second thought. Italy looks like it has more quality on its side but this year I have picked against the English mentality once too often and I like them to steal it here in a tough, low scoring game.