The Czech Republic suffered the second-worst loss of any team in the group stage when Russia thrashed them 4-1 in their opener. Peter Cech and the Czechs have managed to bounce back nicely, however, as they beat Greece 2-1 some before defeating co-hosts Poland to top the group. Recent Wolfsburg acquisition Vaclav Pilar has been instrumental for the Czechs–scoring two goals in the tournament–and, along with right back Gabre Selassie, might well be able to cash in on his performance following the tourney’s conclusion. Selassie will be up against Cristiano Ronaldo early and often in this quarterfinal, so his contribution is going to be absolutely vital. There is a chance that Rosicky will return to the squad after missing the final group game, which would be a huge boost to an offense that won their group despite failing to produce a goal from a striker.
Germany v Greece Friday June, 22nd 2:45 pm
The Greeks could not have gotten off to a worse start in this tournament as they fell behind 1-0 before having a defender unjustly sent off before halftime in their opener with Poland; the Greeks battled back however and escaped with a dramatic tie. Two early goals conceded to the Czechs proved too much to overcome, but a gutsy (and a bit lucky) 1-0 victory over Group A favorites Russia in the final group game saw the Greeks advance to the quarters for the first time since they won it all in 2004. 35-year-old captain Giorgos Karagounis has been brilliant for the experienced Greeks, but the midfielder will miss out on the quarterfinal due to yellow card accumulation. I did not give the Greeks a chance in 2004, I did not give them a chance to get out of their group this year, and I am not giving them a chance to beat the Germans.
Verdict:The Greeks will be organized, communicative, hopeful, and determined. They will also be by far the second-best team on the pitch. 4-0 to Germany in a complete domination. The winner of Italy and England would face the winner of this quarterfinal.
Spain v France Saturday, June 23rd 2:45 pm
The Spanish got a good scare from a tough Croatian side but managed to top group C ahead of the Italians. Along the way, they learned that everything is more fun when you invite the Irish. Vicente Del Bosque strangely elected to start midfielder Cesc Fabregas up top in their first game as to play without a striker. Fernando Torres came back to score two goals against Ireland, but it was a strange move for the team and the striker’s confidence nonetheless. Xavi, Iniesta, and Silva are the pass-masters capable of breaking down any defense, but the Spanish lacked an air of dominance against Italy and Croatia that some have come to expect of them, but do not forget that Switzerland beat Spain in the group stage of the 2010 World Cup. Like Germany, Spain are heavy favorites to advance to the final from their side of the bracket, but the Spanish defense looked quite vulnerable at times against Italy and Croatia. Spain has the ability to pass their way to the final, but a bit of early adversity in one of these matches and I could see them upset.
Going into the tournament, the French were trying to erase the memory of an embarrassing display in South Africa in which in-fighting contributed to an early exit. France wanted to come out determined and focused in this year’s Euro and they did so in their first two games. However, in their Group D finale with Sweden, echoes from South Africa 2010 could be heard in Kiev. France was the better side against Sweden, but several moments of lapse in concentration gave the Swedes a 2-0 lead; as punishment, France finished second in Group D and must face Spain. Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema have orchestrated a probing attack, but Bayern Munich midfielder Franck Ribery has been lackluster. Philippe Mexes has looked lost at centre back, and one might think that the French are just not the overall team unit one needs to win such a big international tournament. Gone are Thierry Henry and Zidane, and there do not appear to be any candidates willing to take their places as leaders.
Verdict: France scores an early goal and really gives Spain a go in the first half. The French defense finally breaks down around the hour mark, and Spain pours in three. 3-2 Spain.
England v Italy Sunday June 24th 2:45
England has to be thrilled with their victory in Group D as they avoided a date in the knockout round with Spain and will fancy their chances against the Italians. Steven Gerrard has been brilliant in the midfield and deadly from set pieces. Wayne Rooney is the second-best player in the tournament behind Cristiano Ronaldo, and with him back in the lineup, England link up much better between midfield and attack. I have to question, however, why James Milner remains on the right flank while energetic Arsenal wingers Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have proven to be much livelier and more dangerous in their cameo appearances. John Terry, Ashley Cole, and Glen Johnson are all the experience and strength you need at the back. For the first time in a little while, England appear to have good reason to believe they will advance far in a major tournament; this kind of talk, obviously, makes one think they are sure to bounce out.
Italy has overcome a whole lot of pre-tournament speculation to advance to the knockout stage. Set pieces have given the Italians three of their four goals, but that is not to say they have not been pressing in open play. Andrea Pirlo in midfield is the crafty veteran to end all crafty veterans, and Daniele De Rossi has been phenomenal in his new and more defensive role tucked between the two centre backs. In addition, Mario Balotelli cannot, of course, be ignored, as he poked in a cheeky finish in the 90th minute against Ireland. Even if Serie A was fixed, it’s clear Italian football still has a great bit of talent. Set pieces are going to have to continue to find their way into the back of the net, and Gianluigi Buffon is going to have to come up big, but the Italians are certainly capable of finding a way to win.
Verdict: Italy takes an early lead, but Rooney equalizes around the hour mark. Extra-time is not enough to settle this one: England takes it on penalties.
As much as I would like to pick the upsets, I believe that we are destined for another Germany-Spain Final. And, in the end, there will be new kings of Europe, as Die Mannschaft will ultimately emerge victorious.