June 26, 2012

If you didn’t watch the Euro quarterfinals, you missed out

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

With the four pretty one-sided quarterfinals out of the way, we’ve reached the final four of Euro 2012. And, for once in a soccer tournament, we might have the four best teams actually still playing. There were no sides that played well enough to be here that aren’t. So let’s look back at that crazy four-day stretch over the weekend.

Starting with the last of the four quarters, we might have witnessed the most exciting 0-0 draw in recent history. I, for one, can’t remember being that thrilled with a scoreless draw – also the first scoreless draw of this tournament.

With Andrea Pirlo picking England apart with his precise passes, Italy kept getting chances that it just couldn’t finish. The old Azzurri warrior was in the finest of form and was a pleasure to watch.

But even though Italy had the vast majority of possession, it wasn’t like the Three Lions didn’t get their chances. Wayne Rooney had a couple of good chances, but lacked finish. Glen Johnson had a super chance in front, but was robbed by Gianluigi Buffon.

As it always felt destined to go to penalties, it did. And that’s where Ashley Young reared his proverbially ugly head. After a game of anonymity – and tournament where he was borderline terrible – he stepped up to the spot and rang one of the bar. If there’s one player to blame for England’s elimination, it’s him. And maybe Roy Hodgson for continually playing him.

Italy’s opponents for the semifinal will be the devastatingly efficient Germans. Der Mannschaft had little trouble with the pesky Greeks, but in the end were way too good.

Even playing with three usual starters sitting on the bench, there was little held back by Germany. The depth of their side is outstanding and it bodes well for the future, not just Euro 2012. They’re for sure the favourite to win their semi, if not it all. But if they’ll be able to reach the final (possibly) without Bastian Schweinsteiger, perhaps their most influential player, that’s a good question.

The other favourite to be playing in Kiev on July 1 is defending champion Spain. The Furia Roja may be one of the most boring, yet great team in a long while. There is so much talent in this side, but there never seems like there’s a sense of urgency. There’s a lot of sideways passing and little thrust forward. It’s reminiscent of the old Simpsons episode where the Springfield hosts a soccer match and are treated to a three-man stationary passing triangle until a riot breaks out.

Why the Spaniards don’t feel like advance the ball or taking chances is unknown, but it wins and that’s what matters I guess. They’ve only given up one goal in this tournament and it’s arguably because they’ve held onto the ball for so long. It’s hard to take shots when you don’t have the ball or, in the case Spain, it’s hard to take shots even when you do.

Then there’s Portugal – which is essentially a one-man team. To its credit that one man is a very good one: Cristiano Ronaldo. He was on form yet again, hitting the post twice on beautiful plays and scoring the game’s lone goal against the Czech Republic. Whether or not that will be Portugal’s downfall depends on how much Ronaldo can raise his game on this huge stage and against a lot of his Real Madrid teammates and Barcelona rivals on Wednesday.

It’s just sad that we only have three more games remaining, but at least we’re going to get some doozies. Here’s how the next two will break down.

Spain 2, Portugal 0

All the Spaniards really have to do is lock down Cristiano Ronaldo – something the Sergio Busquets knows more than enough about doing.

Germany 2, Italy 1

This should be the game of the tournament. Two exciting sides will go up and down the field. The difference is Germany is better at putting away its chances.

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