Having seen only one full game (Italy v Spain), highlights of another (Germany v Portugal) and none of the other two, I’m not in a position to accurately disect too much of the action from the last eight. Add to that the fact that I predicted none of the games correctly and you have probablby worked out that you would be better off clicking the “random blog” link on WordPress.
Spain 0 Italy 0 (predicted: 2-2, Italy on penalties)
But let’s start with last night’s half-dull/half-intriguing battle of the giants in Vienna. Spain started as favourites and showed why throughout the game, controlling possession in dangerous areas, creating several good chances and playing the far better football. Italy on the other hand went out to defend, frustrate and hit the Spanish on the break. In the end the right team won, albeit the wrong way.
I predicted goals and that Luca Toni would break his duck. The tall forward was awful and embarrassed himself with several dramatic dives when there was little contact between himself and his opponent. His lack of mobility and low work-rate was nothing to be proud of either and Italy must yearn for a predatory striker in his prime to get on the end of crosses in to the box.
Spain could have had a couple of penalties in the first half but the German referee Herbert Fandel was having none of it in what was some of the worst officiating of the tournament so far.
You felt Fernando Torres and David Villa could have played until midnight without scoring but at the same time Spanish keeper Iker Casillas had to be alert to make two great saves and keep Spain in it.
Eventually penalties came and Casillas looked more likely, guessing right most of the time and making two saves to put Spain through.
It’s not often that a substitute is a man of the match but Cesc Fabregas – who replaced the disappointing Xavi on the hour – was outstanding. He was probably challenged by Italian Mauro Camoranesi who was bustling and creative once he replaced Perotta.
Portugal 2 Germany 3 (predicted: 1-0)
I am always reminded of Fantasy Football’s Frank Skinner who during the show one night took a large piece of card, scribbed something on it and turned it around to reveal he had done something he was told never to do: He had written “OFF THE GERMANS”.
And I wrote off the Germans before their victory over Portugal. Yes, it was a mite fortunate given the quality of the football and chances created by Portugal but you can’t say they won’t grace the semi-finals given the quality they have.
Portugal’s Achilles heel was their inability to defend set-pieces and two of the German’s goals came from free-kicks. The selection of a player I haven’t rated in the past, Bastian Schweinsteiger, was key for Germany. He finished from close range after a great counter-attack involving Podolski and Lahm on Portugal’s right hand side. And his free kick was headed home by Miroslav Klose to give Germany a 2-0 lead in the first half.
Portugal pulled one back through Nuno Gomes to halve the deficit minutes before half-time but after Ballack put Germany 3-1 up, Portugal were up against it. Former Spurs striker Helder Postiga – who saved Portugal from defeat against England in 2004 before chipping in a cheeky penalty in the shoot-out – came off the bench to put Portugal back in it. But they had run out of time and were on their way home.
It’ll be a new era for Portugal with Scolari moving on, Petit about to retire and Deco almost 31. With no star striker Portugal will find it hard to break in to the European elite.
Netherlands 1 Russia 3 (predicted: 3-1)
Croatia 1 Turkey 1 (Turkey on penalties) (predicted: 2-1)
Two astonishing games that I missed due to (a) travelling and (b) rocking at Def Leppard/Whitesnake (I know, I know – priorities!). I have them recorded so I might get to throw my eye over the best bits in the next day or two.
Turkey have only been ahead for a couple of minutes in the entire tournament but find themselves in the semi-finals. Is their name on the trophy? Croatia will go home very disappointed. Will Slaven Bilic stay on for another tournament? I think he should because he can get Croatia to the World Cup in 2010 and really make his mark there.
Perhaps the biggest shock of the tournament is seeing the previously-rampant Dutch get their cummupance against Russia whose success in recent games shows how much one absentee (Andrei Arshavin) can mean to a team. It’s bad news for Newcastle who were hoping to sign Arshavin before this tournament. The attacking midfielder must feel like Johnny Depp in a night club for mingers now.
What it means in terms of world football is unclear. Do we have a new European power in Russia here? They are the youngest squad in the competition and they play that way, full of energy and creativity.
The semi-finals will line up like this:
Wednesday 25th June
Germany v Turkey (Basel)
Thursday 26th June
Russia v Spain (Vienna)
There will be a full preview in a day or two.