As Euro 2012 gets down to its final four, lifting the Henri Delaunay trophy becomes more than just a dream. Portugal, Spain, Germany and Italy are now 90 minutes away from the final which takes place this Sunday in Kiev.
On Friday night, Portugal beat the Czech Republic 1-0 with Cristiano Ronaldo capping a fantastic display by heading a late winner. The Czechs, to their credit, took the game to Portugal and made them work for their victory. The Portuguese have improved with each passing game with their captain and talisman, Ronaldo, has grown more influential as the tournament has gone on. It is an effective recipe. A hard-working team who are all very technically able plus two all-star players in Ronaldo and Nani. Both are match winners and Ronaldo, for one, will relish facing a few of his Real Madrid team mates when Portugal face Spain in the semi-finals on Wednesday.
Spain overcame a disappointing French side on Saturday night, with a brace from Xabi Alonso. A match which had all the ingredients to be a cracker, failed to live up to expectations. The French set up with a 4-5-1 formation aimed at stifling the Spanish who had all the ball, but themselves played with six midfielders and no centre forward – the current, tactical buzz phrase – the ‘false’ 9. Spain moved into a 1-0 lead midway through the first half with a Jordi Alba cross which Alonso, making his 100th appearance for Spain, met with a text-book header. His marker, Florent Malouda was still standing in the middle of his half rather than tracking the runner. An excellent example to kids out there of who not to watch and base your game on.
Immediately after half-time the French sprung into action but their final ball was infuriatingly poor. Spain brought on Pedro who instantly injected pace and direct running into the Spanish play. After one run too many, the French hacked him down in the penalty area and Alonso made no mistake from the spot to book Spain’s tickets into the last four.
The other semi-final will be a re-run of the 2006 World Cup semi-final where hosts Germany lost to Italy 2-0 after extra time. On Thursday night, they meet again with the Germans keen on payback. Germany comfortably won their quarter-final against surprise package Greece. After completely dominating the opening exchanges the Germans had to wait until the 40th minute when Philipp Lahm cut inside from his left-back position, onto his favoured right foot and rifled a pearler past the hapless Greek keeper, Michalis Sifakis, who as an aside went through a cringeworthy 90 minutes of dropping the ball at every possible opportunity. After half time, the Greeks regrouped and the shocked Europe when they levelled through Giorgios Samaras following a Dimitris Salpingidis break and centre. The Greeks dared to dream so the Germans responded by swiftly moving through the gears, scoring another three with fine strikes from Sami Khedira, Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus. Greece were awarded a soft, late penalty which Salpingidis converted to give the fans some cheer.
Italy beat England on penalties after a 120 minute thrilling stalemate. Italy had the lions share of the possession but thanks largely to heroic defence led by John Terry, England kept a clean sheet. The English did threaten in the first half and in doing so, played their best football of the tournament but it was not to be. Four competitive games into his reign, yet undefeated, the gracious Roy Hodgson heads home. He did enough in the last few weeks to suggest that the FA were correct to leave Harry Redknapp off their short-list. Meanwhile Cesare Prandelli’s Italy have grown in confidence. After Sunday night’s win, the Italian media reacted by giving Prandelli a standing ovation before grilling him about Italy’s lack of goals. It is worth pointing out that Italy have only won one game this tournament and that was against Ireland. By contrast, Joachim Low is in high spirits after Germany made the semi-finals for the fourth tournament in succession. Germany is the only nation to have won every game in the tournament and could even afford to rest players and still win comfortably against Greece.
Four years ago, Spain and Germany contested the final of Euro 2008 and both teams are favourites to meet again on Sunday.
EURO 2012 SEMI-FINALS
Portugal v Spain (Weds – 7.45pm)
Germany v Italy (Thurs – 7.45pm)
Categories: Euro 2012