After almost three weeks of glory, passion and agony (particularly for those who hate football) we have reached the Euro 2012 semi-finals. The final four consist of two teams from Group B – Germany and Portugal, and two from Group C – Italy and Spain. Germany overcame Portugal 1-0 while Italy and Spain drew 1-1 in the group stages.
With all to play for and everything to lose, there is reasonable scope for Italy and Portugal to throw a spanner in the works of those predicting a Spain v Germany final.
Portugal v Spain
Wednesday 27 at Donbass Arena, Donetsk
Kickoff: 20:45 CAT
The last time Spain crossed swords with Portugal, the World Champions were humbled 4-0 – their heaviest defeat in 47 years. However, the odds are less than favourable for the Portuguese as Spain have lost only nine times in 37 matches.
Spain have also lost only three times in 47 competitive matches, and have the added incentive of being close to achieving a record treble of major honours, having won Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.
Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo has stepped up to the international challenge during this tournament, with crucial performances that led his team to victory over Czech Republic and Netherlands, and is likely to cause problems for the Spanish defence.
The match is likely to showcase Spain and Portugal’s distinctly contrasting styles, with Spain dictating the pace with fluid possession and control, while Portugal will be looking to create space and countering opportunities. Providing he can be fed timeously, Ronaldo will be vital to the Portuguese attack and Spain’s ability to keep the opposing striker in check could determine the outcome of the game.
For the first time in the tournament Portugal coach Paulo Bento will be forced to change his starting line-up, thanks to striker Helder Postiga’s thigh injury. Although Hugo Almeida is most likely to replace Postiga, Bento may decide to field Nelson Oliveira. Fortunately for the Portuguese coach, defenders Pepe and Fabio Coentrao are both fit for tonight’s game.
Spain have been accused of playing boring football during the tournament, although this could be due to the defensive stance their opponents have so far adopted. The current European champions were heavily criticised following their 2-0 win over France, with Italian and English media accusing Spain of lacking ambition and promise in the competition. However, coach Vincente del Bosque will be happy to retain his team’s “boring” style against Italy if it results in a place in the final.
Del Bosque is likely to deploy midfielder Cesc Fabregas as a roving forward to penetrate Italy’s defense, or else may use Fernando Torres to lead the line, but Spain’s lack of a dedicated centre forward may well prove costly.
Germany v Italy
Thursday 28 at National Stadium, Warsaw
Kickoff: 20:45 CAT
Tomorrow sees another legendary clash of the titans, with Italy looking to extend their unbeaten run against Germany in major finals, while the Germans will be aiming to use their dominant form to try and break the Italians’ record and lift their first title since Euro ’96.
Italy shattered English hopes of a semi-final berth on Sunday with a 4-2 win through a penalty shootout, while Germany showed their offensive prowess over Greece through a 4-2 victory.
Italy striker Mario Balotelli demonstrated his intrinsic value against England and has so far shed the volatile bravado he’s been known for at Manchester City. His composed and focused attitude in this tournament has made him a formidable threat to opposition defenders and Germany will be keen to limit his goal-scoring opportunities at all costs.
However, Italy are in the unenviable position of having three key players in doubt for Thursday. Daniele De Rossi and Ignazio Abate suffered muscle problems during ‘Azzurri’s’ win over England on Sunday, while Giorgio Chiellini was forced to sit the clash out due to a hamstring injury.
Although Chiellini reportedly trained on Monday, there is no guarantee that his fitness levels will make the grade in time. Coach Cesare Prandelli has the option of using Leonardo Bonucci to replace Chiellini, as was the case against England and could easily do so again. He may also deploy Thiago Motta in place of De Rossi. Unfortunately in the case of Abate, Christian Maggio, who was his substitute against England, was booked and is consequently suspended for the semi-final.
Germany’s poor record of 14 defeats, nine draws and seven victories in 30 meetings against Italy may prove to be a psychological stumbling block, but Coach Joachim Loew’s charges have been unwavering in their ambition to clinch the Henri Delaunay trophy.
Germany will need to be prepared for Italy’s renewed attacking style of play and will be relying on Bastian Schweinsteiger to counter Italy’s Pirlo. Despite fitness concerns, centred on an ankle injury, Schweinsteiger is almost certain to start against Italy. Loew reportedly said on Tuesday that all of his players will be ready to face Italy in Warsaw.
With more tension than your mother’s suspension, I am Frisco Rosso. I’m likely to deliver a few lines worth at any given moment regarding film, music, sport, books and anything morally unsound that strikes a blow between the eyes in the name of entertainment.