Euro 2012 Semi Final preview: Ronaldo and Pirlo key if Spain / Germany form is to be turned
With Czech Republic, Greece, France and England all heading home after disappointing displays in the quarter-finals, few could argue that the final four teams deserve their chance of Euro 2012 glory.
On Wednesday June 27th, fierce rivals Spain and Portugal will contest the first semi-final before Germany attempt to overcome their poor record against Italy on Thursday.
Before the tournament started, many predicted a repeat of the Euro 2008 final between Germany and Spain but is there any way that their opponents could crash the party?
Our guide will look at Italy and Portugal’s chances of making it an unlikely line-up for the final at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev this Sunday.
Spain vs. Portugal
Spain will start the match as clear favourites not only due to the fact that they are the number one ranked team in the world, but also because of their superior performances in the tournament so far.
Vicente Del Bosque’s side have rarely had to get out of first gear and this has meant they are still fresh as they look to claim a third consecutive major championship to add to their successes at Euro 2008 and the World Cup two years later.
After a somewhat muted display in their 1-1 draw against Italy in their opening game, Spain tore apart Ireland 4-0 to announce their arrival at the championships, before sealing qualification with a narrow 1-0 win over Croatia.
It was against France, however, where Spain’s campaign really clicked into gear as they simply dominated proceedings in a one-sided quarter-final.
Laurent Blanc’s men were the latest side to get dizzy on the “carousel” as Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and co all displayed the famous “tika taka” passing which they have made so famous at their club side, Barcelona.
Events are likely to take a similar route in the Iberian derby as Spain have completed more than twice as many passes as Portugal at Euro 2012, so can Portugal manager Paulo Bento lead his side to an unlikely victory?
There are certainly weaknesses in this Spain side, with the team often lacking a focal point as they opt to play without a recognised striker. Del Bosque’s decision to leave Fernando Torres and Fernando Llorente on the bench for much of the tournament means that they do not turn their superior possession figures into enough goals and can often be accused of trying to walk the ball into the net.
Portugal are also playing to their strengths, with a solid defensive backline marshalled by Pepe and Bruno Alves keeping opposition at bay while Nani, Joao Moutinho and captain Cristiano Ronaldo look to hurt teams on the break.
Real Madrid star Ronaldo has already netted three times at the tournament and enjoyed an excellent club campaign last season in which he scored 46 goals in 38 league games.
If Portugal are to cause an upset, the former Manchester United midfielder will surely be at the centre of proceedings.
Germany vs. Italy
Germany has a poor record against Italy having won just seven times in 30 meetings and having never beaten their semi-final opponents in a competitive match.
However, Joachim Loew’s men will not be phased by history as they look to reach their 12th major final and potentially take revenge on aSpain side which famously denied them glory at Euro 2008.
Germany are the only team to have won all four of their games at the tournament and have gone about their business in the manner in which many champions do – starting slowly and gradually improving.
Their strength in depth was on show during their 4-2 quarter-final win over Greece, with Loew opting to replace his entire frontline. The gamble paid off as replacements Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus both scored and staked their claim for a starting spot.
Whoever takes to the field on Thursday, Germany will inevitably be fresher than Italy. As well as having the luxury to rotate players, Germany also played two days earlier than their opponents and did not have to play extra-time.
Italy, however, are continuing their historic trend of exceeding expectations on the world stage as their domestic game remains embroiled in scandal and could once again spring a surprise as they did in 1984 and 2006.
If not for their profligacy in front of goal, the Azzuri would have dispatched of England in normal time and they can take heart from their 1-1 draw against Spain in the group stages which showed that they can compete with the top teams.
They will need Mario Balotelli to find his shooting boots and keep his temper in check if they are to cause an upset, but perhaps more importantly Italy need Andrea Pirlo to continue his excellent form.
The Juventus midfielder has been one of the players of the tournament and his set pieces and passing range are key to Italy’s Euro 2012 hopes.