Sizing up the quarter-final match ups at Euro 2008…
Turkey vs. Croatia
Turkey pulled one of the all-time great comebacks at this tournament by scoring three unanswered goals in 15 minutes (who said soccer is offensively challenged?) to beat the under-whelming Czech Republic 3-2 in group play and secure a spot in the quarterfinals where they will now face Croatia. “We’re no turkeys!” was the headline in Istanbul, I hear.
The victory, however, did come at a price. Turkey goes into the game, like, without their whole team. Seven or eight players are out with injuries and suspensions. Since they were my pre-tournament dark horse, expect Croatia to wreak havoc on the depleted Turkish side.
Portugal vs. Germany
Red and Green vs. the Heat Colours of Germany:
On cue, Portugal won the group and will now face a slipping German side that is now without Torsten Frings and coach Joachim Lowe. Is it me or did Lowe make an appearance with Dieter on Sprockets back in the 1990s? For those of you not au courant with pop culture, look up Mike Myers, SNL, Sprockets.
This is a tough one to call. Never underestimate Germany, but this time around you may be able to get away with it. Tortsten’s replacement, Bastian Schweinsteiger, will have to step in and do magical things alongside Michael Ballack to provide the Germans with an offensive spark.
As for Portugal, while they tend to play individualistically, they have matured (especially on defense) as a team. Indeed, this is not the same side that fell 3-1 to Germany in the semi-finals in 2006. Edge has to go to Portugal based on overall talent and recent form.
Spain vs. Italy
World Champions Live to Play Another Day:
Italy stumbles into the last eight thanks to a 2-0 victory over France and a Holland win over Romania. In addition to being without Fabio Cannavaro (the heart and soul of the Azzurri), the Italians will have to make do without the sublime genius of Andrea Pirlo. From a soccer fan’s perspective, this is unfortunate as we are now deprived of watching Pirlo and Cesc Fabregas work magic in the middle of the field.
Spain turned Group D into a practice field and, as they are always apt to do, played lights out early. Is this the time where they finally put it together? What better time to exorcise those demons by beating the reigning World Cup holders!
Based on the first three games, Spain comes in with roses in their mouths doing the flamenco, while Italy has bones and dead roses in theirs. Kidding aside, strictly based on form (and ignoring history), Spain gets the nod here. However, if you’re betting be very cautious.
Netherlands vs. Russia
Totally Total Football:
I never thought I’d see the day when I’d see Russian athletes smile. I remember growing up whenever Team Canada would take on the Soviet Union we’d get all riled up as if Operation Red Dawn was upon us. The dreaded Red Army and its CCCP communist-mart logo was enough to make fervent McCarthys out of all of us.
The Soviets never smiled after a goal. All you would see on the bench were robots being injected with oil. Of course, along with some stitches given how Canada tended to play a little too hard for freedom and democracy. But that was a long time ago and Russians eyes are smiling now as their team makes it to the knock out stage for the first time as Russia.
In terms of style, the Netherlands and Russia match up has a Dutch flavour to it. Anyone who watched the Netherlands in qualifying has to admit the Oranje renaissance was unforeseen and it coincides with Russia’s fluid, passing game implemented by their coach: Dutchman Guus Hiddink.
Expect this one to be an open affair. The Dutch are too well balanced in goal and on defense. That should be the difference.
In the past, teams that flew out of the gates usually tended to the sputter as the grind of the tournament took its toll – It’s tough to replicate Germany 1972. Will the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain be able to keep up their torrid pace? Or will slow starters like Italy be able to excel once its legs kick in? Is Russia for real? Can Croatia complete the Cinderella story? Enjoy.