Euro Cup 2012: Quarterfinals

I always look forward to the quarterfinals because this is where we start to see who the real contenders for the title are. I also always love the prospect extra time and penalty kicks should the game come to that.

Czech Republic vs. Portugal

Let’s be honest. Portugal was lucky to make it out of the Group of Death. Not that they weren’t playing well, but because any of those four great teams could have been knocked out during the group stages. Portuguese superstar, Christiano Ronaldo didn’t show up until the last game against the Netherlands, where he hit his stride and scored two beautiful goals to kill the Netherlands dreams of making it to the quarterfinals. Portugal, the No. 2 seed from Group B, was clearly the better side against the Czech Republic, the No. 1 seed from Group A. The Portuguese held 56 percent of the possession and took 20 shots on goal (five on target) to the Czech’s two shots on goal (0 on target). Ronaldo had some great opportunities to score, including a low driving shot off the side post in the 46th minute and a free kick that hit the post in the 49th minute. Finally, in the 79th minute, Joao Moutihno made a run to the corner, pushed the ball past the opposing Czech defender and sent a perfect cross into the box. Ronaldo glanced a diving header into the ground, which bounced into the goal. This goal marks Ronaldo’s third goal of the tournament and makes him a contender for the Euro Cup Golden Boot despite his slow start. Portugal moves on to the semifinals.

Germany vs. Greece

Germany’s starting lineup made it clear: the Germans did not think Greece was a threat. Germany rested playmakers Thomas Müller and Lukas Podolski, and the team’s leading goal scorer Mario Gomez. The only reason Germany would rest its starters is if it believed it would make it to the next round. But as Greece has proved time and time again in this tournament, don’t count them out. Michail Sifakis took over in goal for the injured Kostas Chalkias. Germany kept the ball on Greece’s end for almost the entire first half and had entirely too many second chance opportunities because Sifakis could not cleanly catch the ball. In the 39th minute, German defensive back and captain, Philipp Lahm fired a shot from 20 yards out past Sifakis to give Germany a 1-0 lead. The lead should have been much larger, but Germany was having trouble putting away opportunities, so Greece was able to capitalize on a counterattack in the 55th minute. Germany had a three on two advantage, but Dimitris Salpingidis, who had showed heroics in Greece’s earlier games and earned himself a spot in the starting lineup, took the ball down the sideline and sent a low driving cross into the path of Georgios Samaras. Greece tied the game 1-1. In the 60th minute, Sami Khedira sent a superb volley into the goal over the head of Sifakis to give the Germans a 2-1 lead. And that’s where Germany ran away with this game.  In the 67th minute, forward Miroslav Klose, who got the start in place of Gomez, scored a header goal off a free kick from the corner. In the 73rd minute, not to be outdone by Khedira’s beautiful volley, Marco Reus, in his first start at the Euros, fired a volley into the upper corner off a rebound to give the Germans a 4-1 lead. In the 88th minute, Jerome Boateng, whose defensive unawareness allowed Greece’s first goal, committed a handball inside his own box to give Greece a penalty kick. In the 89th minute, Salpingidis pushed the PK past Manuel Neuer. Despite it’s 4-2 win, Germany did not play with the finesse it has shown in the previous three games. Bastian Schweinsteiger gave away too many passes to Greece and there has been speculation that he has been playing through an injury. The German’s need him healthy for semifinals.

Spain vs. France

France made it out of the group stages, but it still had a lot to prove to the other teams and the media. Spain continued to play with the finesse and style that it has displayed since the last Euro Cup. But France disrupted Spain’s style like no team had thus far in the tournament. To start the game, Spain’s passing wasn’t as crisp. Spain held 55 percent of the possession, the lowest amount of possession it’s held all tournament. Despite its disrupted play, Spain broke through early in the game. In the 19th minute, Jordi Alba used his speed to make a run up the left side of the field, past the outstretched France defenders. Xabi Alonso, seeing Jordi Alba’s run, made his own run. Florent Malouda, the closest player to Alonso, did not pick him up. Jordi Alba floated in a cross and Alonso had a wide open header that he put into the ground back across the goal and in. The score remained 1-0 until the 90th minute when Anthony Reveillere ran into Pedro Rodriguez in France’s box. Cool, calm and collected, Alonso put the penalty kick into the back of the net. Alonso scored two goals in his 100th appearance for Spain, and Spain won 2-0. France only took four shots in the game (one on target). The one goal on target came off Yohan Cabaye’s free kick, which goalkeeper Iker Casillas tipped over the top bar. Casillas has hardly been tested during the Euros, but he has come up with the one or two big saves each game that his country needed. In the semifinals, we can bet that Casillas will tested more than he has in the first four games combined.

This win marked Spain’s first win against France in seven competitive games. Although France took another early exit from a major tournament, it started to redeem itself from its first round exit in the World Cup. In the next few tournaments, France will re-emerge as a soccer power.

England vs. Italy

This was the most exciting and most frustrating game of the quarterfinals. Italy should have won in normal time, and it should have won by a few goals. Italy pounded England’s defense, keeping the ball in England’s third for almost the entire game. Italy held 64 percent of the possession (although it really seemed like 90 percent). Italy took an astounding 35 shots (20 on target)! However, Italy was unable to score. It had numerous opportunities right in front of goal but were unable to finish the job. England’s defense seemed desperate as players threw themselves in front of shots, sacrificing every part of their body to prevent a goal from going in. England had a solid 10 minutes of play where it looked dangerous. Glen Johnson couldn’t get the ball out from under his feet and chipped the ball right into Gianluigi Buffon’s hands. Shortly after, Wayne Rooney headed the ball over the bar. After these 10 minutes of danger, England fell back into a defensive stance.

After 90 minutes (and a lot of hair pulling by myself), the game ended 0-0. I’m not complaining too much because I love the thought of an extra half hour of soccer being played, but it was extremely frustrating to watch Italy do everything right except score a goal. The 30 minutes of extra time played out the same way that normal time did: Italy continued to push the ball and strike shots from all distances and angles, testing goalkeeper Joe Hart, but still England wouldn’t break. Extra time ended and the game was headed for penalty kicks.

I love and hate penalty kicks at the same time. On the one hand, I feel it’s unfair to leave the fate of a team to penalty kicks. Italy should have won the game, but now it was at risk of losing the game because of PK’s. On the other hand, PK’s really show you who the clutch players are, and what players can stay mentally strong. Playing soccer for 12 years, I learned the PK’s are not all about power, it’s all about placement. But PK’s are easy to over think, and while I watch so many professionals take PK’s and think to myself, “How can you miss that?!” I completely understand how it feels.

Mario Balotelli made Italy’s first PK, and Steven Gerrard equalized. Riccardo Montolivo put his PK well wide of the goal.  Rooney put his PK in and gave England a 2-1 advantage. Andrea Pirlo chipped in a shot over a diving Hart; a shot which Ian Darke and Bob Ley called “cheeky.” Ashley Young tried to go for power and his PK hit the crossbar evening the score at two apiece. Antonio Nocerino put his PK in leaving it up to Ashley Cole to tie the game. Cole, who converted his PK in the Champions League final, sent a low driving ball right into the arms of a diving Buffon. Alessandro Diamanti put the game away with his PK giving Italy a 4-2 victory in PK’s; a well-deserved win for the way it played.

I have one gripe with how UEFA scheduled this tournament. Germany will play Italy, who will have two days less rest after playing 120 minutes of soccer. UEFA should have scheduled the games on the same day or one day apart, rather than giving Portugal and Germany two days extra rest each. Fatigue will definitely play a part in the semifinals.


Portugal vs. Spain

Germany vs. Italy


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