The Euro 2012 quarterfinals get underway this afternoon and will continue through Sunday with one game each day. All that stands between the eight quality teams remaining in the tournament and the Henri Delaunay Trophy (not to mention an extra €7.5 million payout) is three tough games for one lucky team. This tournament has lived up to the hype so far and the quarterfinals are sure to be dramatic, and I am especially looking forward to the weekend games coming up.
The Results Since My Last Post
Match 15: Ukraine 0 – France 2
Match 16: Sweden 2 – England 3
Match 17: Czech Republic 1 – Poland 0
Match 18: Greece 1 – Russia 0
Match 19: Portugal 2 – Netherlands 1
Match 20: Denmark 1 – Germany 2
Match 21: Croatia 0 – Spain 1
Match 22: Italy 2 – Republic of Ireland 0
Match 23: England 1 – Ukraine 0
Match 24: Sweden 2 – France 0
Too many games have elapsed since my last update, so I won’t get into details on every match that has happened since, but a few of the highlights have been the play of Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, the return of Wayne Rooney, and the controversial potential use of goal-line technology to assist the officials. On Sunday, in Portugal’s last group stage game, Ronaldo who has been criticized for his shoddy play early in the tournament silenced many of the critics in scoring two goals against the Netherlands in ensuring Portugal a second place finish in the group of death. In that match Ronaldo attempted 12 shots, the most ever that a player has had in a single match at the European Championship and he found the back of the net twice.
The two most other notable items so far in this tournament, at least to me, both occurred in Tuesday’s Match 23 between England and Ukraine. This match marked the return of England forward Wayne Rooney, my favorite player in the game right now, and his header in the 48th minute was the only goal of the game that counted. Rooney, who missed a glaringly simple goal in the first half, finally scored on a header from about a yard out to begin the second half and it ended up being the goal that put England through to the quarterfinals. It wasn’t easy for England to hold on to this lead, and everybody who was watching this game on television knows that the British should not have come away with a 1-0 victory in this match. Not too long after Rooney scored, Ukraine should have leveled the score line, as a shot by Marko Devic in the 62nd minute appeared to cross the goal-line before it was cleared by John Terry in a pretty fantastic effort by the England captain. A referee’s assistant was standing right on the goal-line and ruled that the ball did not cross the line, but replay showed that it clearly was a goal that should have evened the score. Sepp Blatter, the current president of FIFA, was outraged that it was not a goal and he is demanding that goal-line technology be implemented so that mistakes like the referees refusal to give the Ukrainians that goal won’t happen again, and the issue will be voted on next month. European Championship officials had previously said that they wanted nothing to do with adding technology to the game, but this error may be the deciding factor in the sport and the European Championship adopting the technology much like American football and baseball have in recent years.
The Quarterfinals (All matches at 2:45 EST on ESPN)
Match 25 – Thursday, June 21: Czech Republic vs. Portugal
The biggest question mark in this match is which Ronaldo will show up? If it’s the Ronnie that scored two goals in deciding Portugal’s fate last weekend then his squad will be very tough to beat. If it’s the Ronnie that has been missing easy chances and pouting around the field, then the Czech Republic should be in for a good match. The pressure is fully on Portugal as the heavy favorites in this match, so it should be interesting to see how they respond to that pressure. One other interesting statistic of note is that only one goalkeeper (Peter Schmeichel, 20) has conceded more goals at the European Championship finals tournament in his career than the Czech Republic’s Peter Cech (15).
Match 26 – Friday, June 22: Germany vs. Greece
Germany comes into this match as a heavy favorite as well, allowing only 2 goals so far in the tournament and playing like a championship caliber squad. Germany cruised through the group death rather easily, recording their first ever 3-0-0 trip through the group stage. Mario Gomez, Lukas Podolski and Mario Gomez are playing fantastic football up top for the Germans and young goalkeeper Manuel Neuer (who plays club football for Bayern Munich) is at the top of his game and is improving on his presence inside the 18 yard box for the Germans. Greece, who won the 2004 European Championship, are not going to just roll over in this match, but it will be an uphill climb for them to advance.
Match 27 – Saturday, June 23: Spain vs. France
This match has all the ingredients for a classic match. Spain is trying to win its third straight major title, and standing in their way is a very good France team. As unconvincing as Spain’s last match was, they defeated Croatia 1-0 to win group C and showed some scrappiness by grabbing an 88th minute score to do it. Per usual, the Spanish dominated possession in that match, and I expect more of the same on Saturday though France does have a tough team. Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas has not allowed a goal since the team’s first match against Italy and he may be the most valuable player for a country known to play beautiful football. In contrast, France barely escaped group D. They lost their last match 2-0 to Sweden, and that match has to be cause for concern for the French. France really needs Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema to step up and create goals if they want to beat the attacking Spanish side, but I just don’t see that happening. Anything is possible at the European Championships and the French have been known to pull upsets, so while I think Spain will ultimately move on to see another day this should be a superb match.
Match 28: Sunday, June 24: England vs. Italy
This is the quarterfinal match that I am looking forward to the most. I was disappointed with Ireland’s 2-0 loss to Italy when a tie would have knocked the Italians out, and now England has the chance to pull that off. As tough as it is for some to believe, England won group D. Let me repeat that, England finished at the top of a group in an international competition. They may not always play the most beautiful football, but with consecutive wins over Sweden and Ukraine the English look to compete on Sunday with Italy in what will be an exciting match. With the return of Rooney, striker Theo Walcott moves to the bench and he may provide some needed firepower towards the end of this match, much the way he did against Sweden after being subbed on for the disappointing James Milner. Italy should be the favorite this match, however slightly, after they drew with Spain and Croatia before beating Ireland in their last match. Gianluigi Buffon, the Italian goalkeeper is still playing like the finest goalkeeper in the world even at the age of 34, and it will be tough for the English to sneak a couple by him. I have a feeling this will be a very defensive match, and a few players to keep an eye on for Italy are strikers Mario Balotelli, Antonio Di Natale, and Antonio Cassano. If the English can contain these prolific scorers then they have a chance to move on, if not the wrong shade of blue will be continuing their tournament run.
I know soccer is not the most popular topic on this blog, so I’ll be back after these matches have been played to preview the semi-final round and profile the four squads still standing after this weekend. If you are watching this tournament so far I’d love to hear your opinions about the teams remaining, and if not I encourage you to give this tournament a chance. This is the last time we’ll see these European teams in a high-profile tournament atmosphere before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, so if you are a fan of the sport at all this is a weekend to cherish.