We previewed the first two quarterfinals of Euro 2012 yesterday, now we look at the last two. With four big-name football countries involved, these quarterfinals promise to be tenser than the first two, but filled with quality and excitement.
Spain vs. France
After the first two matches of the group stages, Spain and France both looked impressively on-form.
Spain battled back against a tough Italy side to draw in their first game, then dismantled a plucky but ultimately weak Ireland side four goals to nil. France, similarly, earned a respectable 1-1 draw with England, before securing an impressive two goals to nil victory over Ukraine, with goals coming from Jeremy Menez and Yohan Cabaye.
But both teams unexpectedly struggled in their final group stage matches. Spain only scored the winning goal in the 88th minute, and they had many calls go their way to keep Croatia off the scoresheet to that point. France fared even worse, losing 2-0 to a Sweden side that had nothing to play for but pride.
So where does that leave both teams?
Spain likely won’t be bothered too much by their struggles against Croatia. They know that their possession game is tried and tested, and that the onus is on them to be more clinical in future matches. Of course, a lot of the burden for goals will fall on Fernando Torres, whose form has been a bit hit-and-miss in this tournament, so, as has often the case in recent months, he’ll be one of the men to watch in this game.
As for France, there is already evidence that the loss to Sweden has shaken them up, with coach Laurent Blanc confirming that there was a bust-up in the French locker room after the game. The French players have moved quickly to downplay the incident, but there’s no denying that the loss to Sweden has shaken up the team and brought them down to earth after their great start to Euro 2012.
But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. As Florent Malouda said, if there was ever a good time for a winning streak to end, it’s a game that hurts them emotionally but doesn’t knock them out of Euro 2012. Now France will be motivated to prove their doubters wrong, and show that they are indeed good enough to go all the way in the competition.
Ultimately, it’ll be a very close match between two teams with something to prove, but I believe Spain will just barely edge a result. I’d take Karim Benzema over Fernando Torres personally, but Spain’s midfield is too talented and should be able to outplay France’s midfield. That’ll be the difference, and what takes Spain to the semifinals.
Prediction: Spain 2, France 1
England vs. Italy
England have been one of the biggest surprises of Euro 2012. Many expected the English national team to struggle in the aftermath of the Fabio Capello fiasco, and especially in the absence of Wayne Rooney for their first two games, but England have been fairly resolute in defense and dangerous in their attack. They’ve not been perfect or without flaws, but they’ve done well, and emerged from Group D undefeated with two wins and a draw against France.
Italy have been impressive as well. They opened up their Euro 2012 campaign with an impressive draw vs. Spain, and though their draw against Croatia seemed to be a setback, they were able to put away Ireland 2-0 in their final group match. By no means did they ease their way to the knockout rounds, but they had their moments and proved their quality against some of the world’s most talented footballing nations.
For me, this is the hardest quarterfinal to call, because the two teams are very close to each other in quality. England have John Terry, who’s been great alongside Joleon Lescott for Italy, but Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli are a fearsome centre-back duo as well. Steven Gerrard’s been in great form for England at Euro 2012, but Andrea Pirlo has been at his best all tournament long. Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck are two very good strikers, but Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli are of a very high-caliber as well. And the reserve strikers for both teams are capable of doing considerable damage off the bench.
I really don’t expect to see this game decided in regular time; I think both teams play conservatively and won’t be adventurous enough to win the game in regular time. I don’t expect this game to go to penalties either though; neither national team has a particularly good record at penalties. I think Wayne Rooney will show himself to be the best forward among all the strikers available for both teams, and either assist or score the winning goal for England.
Prediction: England 2, Italy 1 (a.e.t)