With the first quarter final of Euro 2008 taking place today, this is where the tournament really begins in earnest. In fact today’s quarter final, between the Portuguese, who have played some excellent football, but have a history of choking in major tournaments, facing up to the Germans, who were the pre-tournament favourites but have played poorly, is arguably the most exciting of the lot. Can the Germans raise their game?
They will certainly have to play better than they have so far if they’re to have a hope of beating the Portuguese. Whilst the latter might have lost a little momentum having lost to the Swiss, it was a shadow team and with Ronaldo and Deco they have two midfielders capable of scoring crucial goals. Their equivalent in the German side, Michael Ballack, has yet to show his quality, despite scoring that scorching goal against the Austrians.
Pudolski has to be given a chance in his favoured position up front, he’s looked by far the best of the German players and is the only one with genuine pace and capable of running in behind. His movement tends to aid whoever he’s partnered with, whereas the recent pairing of Klose and Gomez are just too static. The latter looks terribly short of confidence must surely make way, with Klose and Pudolski re-kindling the partnership that actually saw the Germans reach the semi-finals of the last World Cup.
Mr President actually thinks the Germans might sneak this one. The Portuguese will never have an easier chance to win this tournament than the one they had four years ago, at home, against the Greeks in the final and with arguably a stronger squad than they have now. Back then they not only had the young talents they have now, like Ronaldo and Simao, but they also had the vital experience of great players like Figo.
Can the Turks replicate the heroics they showed against the Czechs? That was possibly the greatest few minutes of football ever witnessed, and certainly one of the greatest comebacks in the history of international football. A Turkey win would certainly catapult them up the list of favourites, given the fact that Croatia beat the Germans earlier.
However the Croats simply look too strong, having accumulated nine points out nine without even playing that well, and a Germany-Croatia rematch in the semis looks a good bet. The surprising thing has been how little the Croats have missed their star striker and top scorer in qualifying, the injured Arsenal striker Eduardo. Perhaps his international teammates can cheer him up by delivering the trophy that his club side failed to? Spurs-bound Modric looks like a potential player of the tournament already.
In the other half of the draw there are two very juicy quarter finals in prospect, with Holland coming up against Dutchman Guus Hiddink’s Russia in a quasi-rematch of the final 20 years ago this year. Back then current Netherlands coach Marco Van Basten scored one of the all-time great goals against the then Soviet Union, to help the Oranje win their only major trophy. Could this be a sign or will the Russians get revenge?
Of all the matches this is probably the hardest to call. The Dutch have played some excellent football so far in the tournament but have a history of bottling it just when it’s all looking good for them, as their poor record in major tournaments (despite having produced some truly great players) shows. The Russians are surprising a lot of people and are actually an excellent and well-drilled side. Hiddink has a record of upsets and they’re the sort of “minnow” side that the Netherlands traditionally struggle with.
On current form, the Netherlands should win, but history favours the Russians.
The heavyweight encounter of the round sees Italy face up against Spain in what promises to be an excellent game of football between the Latin giants. Like Holland, Spain have a history of under performing at major tournaments, again, despite having great quality at their disposal. Here, yet again, like the Oranje, they’ve had an imperious start, coming back against the holders to win defiantly despite having gone behind and with a weakened side. The Italians meanwhile have played very poorly.
Yet, like the Germans, you write off the Italians at your peril and they have an excellent record at major tournaments. Of course history suggests World Cup holders don’t do too well at the European Championships. Then again the last European side to win the World Cup (France) did go on to win the next European Championship. At this point it would behoove Mr President to reveal that Italy were his pre-tournament pick to win.
He actually fancies the Italians to sneak this one, for pretty much the same reason he thinks the Germans will beat the Portuguese. Experience of winning major tournaments counts a great deal and like the Germans the Italians are the sort of side that tends to get better as the tournament goes on. There’s no point peaking at the group stage, and perhaps Spain have done just? It wouldn’t be the first time the Spanish have choked.
People are saying the Italians will miss Gattuso and Pirlo but on the basis of their performances so far, and their terrible showing for Milan against Arsenal’s young midfield, Mr President thinks that they might be past their best, and that the Italians may be better off without them. They have players like De Rossi and Aquilani who are exciting talents from a Roma side that play excellent football. Partner them with Ambrosini who works harder than Gattuso and the Italians look like a better side.
Whatever happens it’s fair to say that business is about to pick up…