Sunday, July 1, 2012

Euro 2012: Knock Stages Recap and a Final Preview

After a quite thrilling group stage, the quarter finals and semi finals have been slightly less open. Here is a short recap.

Quarter Finals
Portugal vs Czech Republic: A game dominated by Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo – who had a number of close attempts before scoring with a late header for the 1 Nil win. Too bad, Tomas Rosicky could not be fit for this one and the Czech missed him
Germany vs Greece: Billed the battle of the Euro, Germany absolutely dominated the first half, but went in with just a 1 goal advantage at the break. A superb Greek counter-attack caught the Germans napping right after the break and the game was back to 1-1 against the run of play. However, the Germans blitzkrieg came next as they ran away 4-2 winners. The talking point from this match will be Joachim Low changing 3 of his front 4 players, despite winning all 3 group matches. Clearly not a believer in the adage of "never change a winning combination" or some such.
Spain vs France: The match promised a lot, but delivered very little as the French played with almost no enterprise. The Spanish rarely gave the ball away and a Xabi Alonso double secured them a rather comfortable 2-0 win.
Italy vs England: On paper this was the most even quarter final and I was not really sure as to who would make the play in this one. Both sides had chances early on, eventually the match settled into a pattern with Italy having the majority of the ball and some good opportunities. But England held on as we finally saw a goalless draw and a penalty shoot out. And then, with Italy 1-2 down, Andrea Pirlo did something that will stay with me for a very long time. It was beautiful. It was audacious. And it probably screwed up every English player's mind, as England got knocked out again  !
Pirlo: Beautiful Audacity
Semi Finals
Spain vs Portugal: Portugal produced one of the best displays against Spain by any team in the last 3 knock out tournaments, but Ronaldo could not quite deliver the knock out blow during the 120 minutes. Spain were slightly underwhelming by their usual standards and played well only in the latter stages of the match. We had yet another goalless 2 hours of football as Spain emerged winners in the 9th kick and Ronaldo never got a chance to hit the winning shot and was left with a What If look on his face. Kudos to Cesc for hitting yet another winning penalty in a big game.
Italy vs Germany: Germany, the best team in the tournament came up against their bogey team and could not quite overcome them. Despite claims to the contrary, Joachim Low again played tinker-man and his shuffling of the midfield, to counter the Italian midfield diamond did not quite work. Mario Balotelli had a barnstorming brilliant night as his brace was too much for the misfiring Germans, who had an off night. Strange as it seems, but the failures of this brilliant German team has made them more likeable, if we are to believe this article from who else, but Barney Ronay.
The Final:
And so, on to the final between Spain and Italy. The two teams have already met in the group stage when the played out a rather entertaining draw. The Spanish had started with Cesc playing the False 9, in what really is a 4-6-0. They have alternated this formation with 4-5-1 with Torres, or Negredo playing the striker. It is not quite clear whether it will be one or the other, but the rest of their side has been pretty much the same. Iniesta has been their star man and there are a couple of "Messi-like" (Orignial links here and here) pics of his which are floating around. The Escapologist, as Sid Lowe calls him this in this brilliant profile. He has been at the heart of so many Spanish victories that it is not funny - his stats are Messi-like. This is from the same article: Over the last three tournaments, he has been named man of the match against Russia, Chile, Paraguay, Holland in the World Cup final, Italy and Croatia. No Spain player has played more than him over the last three tournaments. He has played 17 times. Which means he has been man of the match in over a third of the games he has played. In this historic four-year cycle for Spain, he is the only player to win the award at least once at each of the three tournaments.

Michael Cox had written this brilliant article when Spain and Italy met at the start of the tournament, about how this would be the first time that Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Pirlo would be on the same field together for the very first time. We might just have privilege of seeing them together for the last time as well tonight. While Pirlo and Xabi Alonso have had terrific tournaments, Xavi has been slightly subdued. 
I expect a technically superb, but tactically tight match tonight. Two iconic goalkeeper-captains, tight defences, pass masters in midfield. Italy have the sharper cutting edge up front with Balotelli and Cassano, while Spain have the conviction of just keeping the ball and pass their way to glory. It is a tough match to call but we may just see Cesc hit the winning penalty yet again !

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