CR Seventh Heaven
At long last, we’re at the most exciting stage of any international tournament. The group stages are done and dusted with, not without drama, and it’s KNOCKOUT time.
The quarterfinal lineup is complete after the last group games of Matchday3, and it is fair to say that Euro 2012 may have thrown us a few curve balls.
Quarterfinal 1: Czech Republic (Group A Winners) v/s Portugal (Group B Runners-up)
The only upsets in the tournament so far, apart from Netherlands returning back to their original inconsistent ways, occurred in group A- the group of life. Clearly, it was the most open group- and Portugal will not be too disappointed with their second-place finish, because their reward involves facing the weakest team in the last 8- the Czechs. Admirably, the Czechs managed to dump out hosts Poland in a gritty display of counter-attacking football, after the Polish team- despite playing very well- succumbed to the curse of the host country. A last-day 1-0 win propelled the Czechs from 3rd to 1st in one shot, and spared them a meeting with favorites Germany.
For most fans, this will be a no-brainer of a quarterfinal, with Portugal finally finding their scoring boots- read Ronaldo- easily the most creative team in the tournament so far. The backline led by Pepe has been impressive so far, most of all against a desperate Dutch team in their final game.
Prediction: Portugal 3-1 Czech Republic
Expect a few goals, with two different kinds of attacking flairs coming up against one another. Are the league days of clean sheets and boring draws.
Shrek Forever After
Quarterfinal 2: Greece (Group A Runners-up) v/s Germany (Group B winners)
Not too sure what the Greeks were playing against Russia, but somehow, in some bizarre manner, they managed to pull off the upset of this tournament- dumping the heavily favored Russians out of Euro 2012. The Greeks are no stranger to upsets, of course, but not even they expected to be playing at this stage after a disappointing loss to the Czechs in their second game. An ugly 1-0 win against Russia earned them a not-so-enviable quarterfinal spot against the only team that has an all-winning record in this tournament so far- the Germans. With Gekas being their only real quality striker, the Greeks will have to take the one chance they get on goal all game- a habit they’re famous for. Efficiency is the name of the game, but a German team with star players like Ozil, Podolski and Lahm yet to fire, could be a mountain to steep to climb.
Prediction: Greece 0-2 Germany
A straightforward, unflashy win against a defensive team will be exactly what Low’s men will be looking for. Form-man Gomez should be difficult to contain once again.
Dutch Cup Of Woes?
Quarterfinal 3: Spain (Group C Winners) v/s France (Group D Runners-Up)
The real knockouts begin here. With a cracking two games ahead of the relatively dull first two, defending Champions Spain will lead the way against hot-and-cold France- who are fresh from a dispiriting mauling by Group D’s weakest team Sweden. France will be disappointed with the striking form of Benzema (0 goals) and the lack of penetration by Samir Nasri and Ribery. The fact is that they’ve only beat Ukraine so far- so much for their 23-match unbeaten streak heading into Euro 2012. Blanc will need to inspire his troops in order to be able to pull off even half a repeat of 2006’s famous quarterfinal victory: A 3-1 win against heavily-favored Spain, thanks to Zidane’s magical artistry back then. This time, they will need someone to nullify the threat of Torres, Silva, Xavi and Iniesta, and someone special to beat the backline led by the impenetrable Casillas and a calm Piquet.
Prediction: Spain 2-1 France
France might put up their most organized performance against the Champions, led by Ribery- but it might still not be enough to displace the might of Spain- who weren’t too impressive in the group stages, just about barely topping their group and beating Croatia in their final game.
Quarterfinal 4: England (Group D Winners) v/s Italy (Group C Runners-Up)
This could be the most intriguing game of the line-up, with England at their bogey stage of the last 8. They haven’t passed this stage for a few decades in FIFA tournament-play, and will need their most attacking performance to go past the often-unnoticed but combative Italians. England start as favorites, thanks to the return of Wayne Rooney, and the form of Steven Gerrard- but the problems back in Italy could mean only one thing: Pirlo and co. are looking for redemption, once again.
England made it out of their group impressively, where they were expected to falter- and a workmanlike 1-0 win over Ukraine after a breath-taking 3-2 over Sweden, will have calmed their fragile nerves. English fans will be gearing up, just as Indian cricket fans do, once their overhyped teams begin making their way past the easy group, into the real fire. But Balotelli’s strike against Ireland will have run some alarm bells in Hodson’s outfit, and Cole, Terry and Lescott will have to be at their defensive best to prevent the Italians from scoring off that single chance they get in the first half.
Battle ends, War begins
Prediction: England on penalties.
Deadlock at the end of 90 minutes could be followed by a 1-1 exchange in extra time. England, then, might just be this year’s Chelsea- with a penalty victory earning them a place against Germany.
The final four could be, in all probability, Portugal, Germany, Spain and England.
A dream semi-final line-up awaits us.