Like I said in my Euro2012 preview, things are about to get crazy. After an exhilarating first 2 weeks in the group stage of Euro2012, there have been some easy predictions as well as a ton of upsets. From the demise of favorites like Russia and the Dutch to the surprising successes of England and the Czech Republic, Euro2012 has not disappointed in fanfare. With four amazing matchups ahead in the quarterfinals of Euro2012, the soccer fans of the world have a lot to look forward to starting Thursday. Here are my reviews of the remaining teams and the predictions of who will move on to the semifinals. Feel free to debate what I predict because I love a good debate.
Even though I originally picked both of these teams to finish 3rd in their respective groups, they have made it to the quarterfinals exceeding not only mine, but most peoples expectations. Both of these teams lost their first matchup in the group stage and seemed to have one foot on the plane home before making remarkable turnarounds. The Czech’s got blasted in their first game 4-1 by Russia and they didn’t seem to have a chance in hell of recovering. Even without superstar midfielder, Tomas Rosicky, because of an Achilles injury, CR was able to handle Poland in their final game of the group stage, that they went on to win 1-0 and clinch first place in Group A. Through the first three games, including the Russia embarrassment, the Czech’s have shown their ability to control the ball with precision passing and solid ball handling. Portugal took a very similar path to that of the Czech Republic, but they did it in a much tougher group. After a hard fought battle with Euro2012 favorite, Germany, that resulted in a 1-0 loss, Portugal turned around their performance with an exciting back and forth 3-2 victory over Denmark and an impressive 2-1 win over the Dutch. The big question for Portugal going into the Cup was the quality of play that captain, Cristiano Ronaldo, would provide for his team. Without question, Ronaldo was one of the two best players, Messi being the other, in all of Europe during the regular season where he led Real Madrid to the top of La Liga. Unfortunately for Portugal, Ronaldo has found it hard to bring his regular season skills to the international level for the past decade. Well something has changed and Cristiano has found his missing skills and translated them to Euro2012. In the pivotal 3rd game of the group stage against the favored Dutch, Ronaldo had his best ever international match and single-handily brought Portugal to the quarterfinals. With Rosicky still a question mark for the CR and Ronaldo at top form, I find it hard to bet against Portugal in this matchup.
Prediction: Portugal wins 2 – 0
Germany was an obvious choice to make it to the quarters and unlike a lot of my other picks, I chose Greece finishing 2nd in their group correctly. This makes for an extremely intriguing matchup because the two teams play totally different styles of soccer. Germany is one of the clear front runners for Euro2012 and they sure looked the part through the group stage. Winning all three of their games and doing it with ease makes Germany a formidable matchup for anyone. Germany lost to Spain in the Euro2008 finals and now they are poised to make a run for the trophy. Veteran, Lukas Podolski, is playing as well as ever and Mario Gomez seems untouchable. Going into the Cup, there was a lot of speculation about whether Germany head coach, Joachim Low, should start veteran Lazio striker, Miroslav Klose, or sharp shooting Bayern Munich forward, Mario Gomez. Based on Gomez’s 3 group stage goals, I would say Low made the right decision. Even though Germany is a heavy favorite going into their quarterfinal matchup with the Euro2006 champions, Greece, they should not take this game lightly. Helped in part by the rule change stating that head-to-head matchups would trump goal differential, Greece’s victory over Russia proved to be the deciding factor in their progression to the quarters. Without any stand out superstar players, Greece portrays the exact definition of true team play. Giannis Fetfatzidis is an exciting young midfielder, but without the supporting cast around him Greece would not have beaten Russia. Greece arguably has the best overall team defense left in the competition and if Germany messes around too much they might be the next powerhouse team defeated. I think Greece will keep it close for majority of the contest but when push comes to shove Germany will prevail in the late minutes.
Prediciton: Germany wins 2-0
In my mind, this is the best quarterfinal matchup. Spain is going for history by trying to become the first ever team to win Eurocup, World cup and Eurocup consecutively. They are by far the most exciting team to watch on the field with unbelievable midfield play from Andres Iniesta and Xavi completely controlling the tempo of every game. Even with Barcelona stud, David Villa, out for the Cup, Spain still has the best attack the game has to offer. On top of an offense led by Chelsea’s Torres, Spain has a shut down defense that every team fears facing. Defensive midfielder Xabi Alonso does it all, from passing to defending to even being able to find the back of the net, Alonso is definitely one of the classiest players in the world. After easily winning Group C, Spain looks at a more than formidable French team that clearly underachieved in their group stage. The French could have won their group and avoided playing the defending champions but came up with a lackluster performance against an already eliminated Swedish team. Now France must face a team they were more than likely going to run into in the semifinals if they did prevail over Sweden one round earlier. Led by Real Madrid forward, Karim Benzema, the French have a solid attack accompanied by a brick wall defense. Philippe Mexes and Patrice Evra shutdown anyone and anything that comes their way and even Spain’s offense will struggle with it. With all that being said, the way the French came out flat against an undermanned Sweden and with Spain being the absolute epitome of classy soccer, I am going to have to go with the defending champions to pull out the win in this epic battle.
Prediction: Spain wins 1-0
Scones vs Cannolis. Earl Grey Tea vs Limoncello. The Queen vs Presidente della Repubblica Italiana. This game has a lot riding on it and all of the world will be watching. England has already exceeded everyone’s expectations, including my British friends, by making it through the Group stage. Now I know I picked them to make it through to the quarters, but I was definitely making that my upset pick. Who would have thought that they would win the group with France and Sweden in it? Even without captain and superstar, Wayne Rooney, England was able to tie France and beat Sweden in the first two games of the group stage. Rooney returned for the third game of the group stage and he didn’t wait long to make his presence felt as he had the lone goal in a 1-0 win over the surprisingly feisty Ukraine. Without Rooney, England would not stand a chance against the dirty and talented Italian club but with him present they definitely have a chance. Italy lives and dies with their attack. Always a good defensive team, Italy relies on their young hot headed phenom, Mario Balotelli, and the AC Milan attack starter, Antonio Cassano, to lead an above average attack. Giorgio Chiellini is one of the world’s best defenders and Gianluigi Buffon will go down as one of the greatest goalies of all time. Even with those credentials, Italy still has a lot of holes to fill on their team. With one of the oldest teams in the entire Cup, this might be the last Eurocup for a lot of Italy’s players. Italy is good but I just feel that England has some great momentum on their side.
Prediction: England wins 2-1
My predictions are in and I challenge you to debate any of them. I may have only had 6 out of the 8 quarterfinal teams picked correctly, but I feel pretty solid about my choices leading to the semis.
The NBA Finals, the NHL Finals, the halfway point of the MLB season and NFL camps starting up has every sports fan in America locked to their televisions every night. For the rest of the world there is only one important sporting event happening over the next few weeks and it’s Euro 2012. Outside of the World Cup, this is the most important tournament the world’s most popular sport has to offer. I can’t explain why soccer hasn’t taken off in America, but all I know is that while have I have been watching the qualifying matches and worldwide news coverage I have been mesmerized. This will be the 14th ever Eurocup and in the first 13 of them, 9 different countries have taken home the trophy. It is truly anyone’s to win. Of course you have your perennial favorites like Spain and Germany, but every tournament has had their dark horse’s that seem to squeak by the big dogs. The Eurocup is a 16 team tournament that is played every four years and starting in 2016 will become a 24 team event. Here’s a look at how the Sports Debaters feel the tournament will play out through the group stage.
RUSSIA: After making it to the Euro 2008 semifinals, Russia looks poised to make it through what is considered the weakest of the 4 groups. Captain Andrey Arshavin, who helped lead Russia in ’08, will be the key contributor for a team looking to bring home their first ever Eurocup to Russia (The USSR won in 1960). Russia is considered one of the more up-tempo teams in the tournament consistently applying pressure on their opponents. Look for Aleksandr Kerzhakov to lead the attack as Russia’s lone striker and with the sub-par teams in this group you can expect him to score often. Group Result – Win group and advance
GREECE: The surprise winners of Eurocup ’04 are looking to regain the respect they garnered almost a decade ago. Unlike Russia, Greece is a more defensive oriented team that rely on their midfielders to stay back a lot. Greece’s 21-year old phenom Giannis Fetfatzidis looks to expand upon his 1.7 shots on goal average that he accumulated during the Euro qualifiers. To many, Giannis has been dubbed Greece’s Messi. Now I doubt he is as good as Messi, but to even be named with a legend like that means that he is someone to be feared. Group Result – Finish second in group and advance
CZECH REPUBLIC: The Czech Republic is lucky that they have Poland in their group, because it should mean at least one win in the group round. The Czech Republic had a hard time making it through the qualifiers and almost missed their bid to the tournament, but I feel that they were not playing up to their fullest potential. Tomas Rosicky is a phenomenal midfielder that has been plagued with injuries over the past year. If Rosicky can get his health to 100% and Petr Cech can perform like one of the best goalies in the world, which he is, then CR has a chance to maybe steal one from Russia or Greece. Group Result – Won’t advance through the group round
POLAND: I am sure that the world appreciates Poland being the co-host of Euro 2012, but if it wasn’t for their automatic bid for being so, then they probably would be spectators like their fans. Up until Euro ’08, Poland had never even qualified for the tournament and in ’08 they didn’t make it past the group stage which is exactly what will happen this year. Poland striker, Robert Lewandowski, will provide a spark for Poland but Coach Franciszek Smuda and his team of young unknowns will find themselves glad they don’t have to travel home…because they are already going to be there. Group Result – Won’t advance through the group round
NETHERLANDS: Although most people are picking Germany to win what is known as the “group of death,” I feel that the Netherlands is going to come out on top. The Euro ’88 Champions are ready to bring the trophy back home with what might be their best team ever. Led by Arsenal superstar, Robin van Persie, and team captain at midfield, Mark Van Bommel, the Netherlands are a team that everyone fears playing. They have arguably the best offense out of any team in the tournament alongside Spain. After making it to the 2010 World Cup Finals and eventually losing to Spain, the Netherlands are looking to win it all and their chance is better than ever. Group Result – Win group and advance
GERMANY: Many people are picking Germany to win it all this year. After losing in the Euro ’08 Finals to Spain, Germany will look to win their first Eurocup since 1996. Lead by Miroslav Klose, Germany has absolutely no weaknesses in any position. Captain and defensive superstar, Phillip Lahm, shuts down anyone that approaches him while Real Madrid’s young and talented Mesut Ozil is nearly untouchable in the open field. Bayern Munich’s Mario Gomez might get the start over Klose, but if not look for him to make a big impact off the bench. Look for Germany to attack hard a defend strong as they try to prove to the world that they are superior to Spain’s talents. Group Result – Finish second in group and advance
PORTUGAL: In any other group, Portugal would be making it through the group stage to the quarterfinals, but unluckily for them, they share a group with Germany and Netherlands. One of my favorite players, as well as one of the most famous players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo will do everything he can from the wing to help his team win. Manchester United’s, Nani, fills out what is without question the best wing combination in the game with Ronaldo. Unfortunately for Portugal they have a huge gap in the striker position with both Hugo Almedia and Helder Postiga being below average for teams in this tournament. Group Result – Won’t advance through the group round
DENMARK: Denmark will play 3 games in the group round and they will lose all of them. The 3 teams that Denmark have to face are all far better than they are. Denmark did not even qualify for Euro ’08 but they are celebrating their 20th anniversary of their Euro ’92 Championship. Their Captain and star defensive player, Daniel Agger, will be able to stop a lot of what comes his way but outside of him Denmark doesn’t have much else. The playmaking skills of Ajax starlet Christian Eriksen will provide some offense but not near enough to handle the powerhouses in this group. Group Result – Won’t advance through the group round
SPAIN: The Euro ’08 and World Cup ’10 Champions are looking to be the first ever team to win Euro-World-Euro consecutively. Spain has two of the best midfielders in recent memory in Andres Iniesta and Xavi. They pass, they shoot and they defend better than most people in the game. Even though Spain’s star forward Fernando Torres has seemed a little off lately and David Villa is out of the tournament with an injury, Spain still has amazing support with Silva, Liorente, Fabregas, Mata and Pedro. Expect Spain to coast through the group round and don’t expect them to stop there. Group Result – Win group and advance
ITALY: After their 2006 World Cup Championship, Italy has been eliminated from the Euro ’08 tournament in the quarterfinals and then they were eliminated in World Cup ’10 in the group stage. I expect Italy to pull themselves out of this downward spiral this year mainly because of the fact that they have much inferior teams Croatia and Ireland in their group. Manchester City’s, Mario Balotelli, has the potential to get red-carded on a daily basis with his temper, but if Mario can keep his cool then Italy should have no problem winning at least 2 of 3 games in the group stage. Although 34 years of age, Gianluigi Buffon still is considered a premier goalie and he will help Italy make a run for their first Euro title since 1968. Group Result – Finish second in group and advance
IRELAND: They haven’t qualified for a major tournament since the World Cup in 2002, but I feel that they still have a slight step up on Croatia. Lead by veteran, 31-year-old Robbie Keane, Ireland play a slow-paced game that relies heavily on the long pass. Seasoned defender John O’Shea commands his corner very well and supplies Ireland with a decently solid defense. Unfortunately for Ireland, you need a lot more than defense to win and outside of Keane they really don’t have much. They won’t be able to match up with Italy or Spain. Group Result – Won’t advance through the group round
CROATIA: Luka Modric is a stud…the rest of Croatia are duds. Sure they made the quarterfinals in Euro ’08, but that doesn’t mean anything about their team this year. Croatia runs a very face paced game that can expose Croatia’s back line and make it extremely difficult for them to stop opponents from scoring. Croatia’s porous defense is the exact reason why I am picking them to finish last in this group. I can’t wait to see the Croatia vs Spain matchup because I expect Spain to score a minimum of 5 goals. Group Result – Won’t advance through the group round
FRANCE: The Euro ’00 winners are going to look to bring their young a rejuvenated team another title. Led by forward Karim Benzema and supported by classy midfielders Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery, France has a nearly unstoppable attack. They also sport an amazing defense with Patrice Evra and Philippe Mexes shutting down everyone. France, like Germany, Spain and the Netherlands, have very little weaknesses and will exploit their below average group on both the offensive and defensive ends. I expect France to make a lot of noise throughout the tournament and I can assure you that no one wants to run into them. Group Result – Win group and advance
ENGLAND: England’s path to the quarterfinals will not be an easy one. England’s star player, Wayne Rooney, will miss the first two games of the group stage and Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard will both be absent from the tournament. A lot of analysts are picking Sweden to make it through over England, but I feel that with the extremely talented midfielders that they have in Theo Walcott, Steven Gerrard and Ashley Young, England has just enough to survive until Rooney comes back and dominates. Manchester City’s Joe Hart should shut down pretty much everything that comes at him throughout the tourney. Group Result – Finish second in group and advance
SWEDEN: Still looking for their first ever Euro Championship, Sweden will have a lot of work to do to make this their year. Sweden does have one of the best shooters in the world in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and will look to use him more often than not. They have an extremely organized team and seem to do all of the technical stuff really well. Sebastian Larsson seems to be involved in every goal that Sweden has, whether it is him scoring or just playing one of his masterful passes. Sweden is definitely not skilled enough to take down France, but with Rooney out they may have a shot at taking down England. Group Result – Won’t advance through the group round
UKRAINE: Like Poland, the Ukraine are very lucky to be the co-hosts of Euro ’12 because they wouldn’t be playing in it otherwise. Andriy Shevchenko is the greatest Ukranian player of all time and he could possibly be hanging up his boots after Euro 2012. Outside of ‘Sheva’ the Ukraine really does not have much else. They play a very traditional by-the-book style of soccer which prevents them from being blown out, but they do not score very often. The Ukraine hasn’t qualified for the last two Eurocup’s and they can expect to be viewing from their couches before the tourney goes on too much longer. Group Result – Won’t advance through the group round
Now that you have read our predictions for Euro 2012, all that’s left to do is watch starting Friday, June 8th. If you are not a soccer fan and yet you made it through this whole article then that means you have a slight interest, so I suggest you listen to me and watch some of the games because your mind will be blown like mine has.