Written By: Segun Odegbami
I am putting my neck on the block again. I did it during the Africa Champions League and the UEFA Champions league, and both times it was ‘chopped ‘off!
I am writing this on Thursday morning when none of the quarter-final matches has been played. By the time you are reading this some of them would either be on or have been concluded. I am going ahead to place my bet on which teams will win and which will lose. So far we have seen a very competitive and truly terrific championship with the highest level of football being played from match to match, and every match being so difficult to predict.
Czechoslovakia vs Portugal
This is going to be a direct contest between one of the best goalkeepers in the world and one of the best strikers – Petr Cech and Christiano Ronaldo. That Cech conceded 4 goals in the first round against the Russian team that did not even get beyond the first round means the Czech can be vulnerable at the back. Ronaldo will flourish with such a defence. So, Portugal it is for me.
Germany Versus Greece
Ordinarily this should be taken as a walk-over for Germany but Greece have shown that they can slug it out even with the best. That the Greeks have won this championship in the past against all odds, and that they have been good so far in Euro 2012, means the have the psychological imperative to play against the Germans and create an upset. I do not think we have seen their best yet, but they have shown flair and great resilience. It is going to be a very exciting encounter but the Germans might just have too much ammunition in experience at this level to let even a determined Greece to stand in their way. Germany will triumph.
Spain versus France
This is a match between the current best team in the world and the team that has been at its worst in the past several years. It is unfortunate for France that they have to play against Spain at this stage and not at the finals where the pressure of the moment could make even the best team to falter and anything can happen. At the quarter-final stage a team like Spain with a hundred different approaches to scoring goals in every match and a style that ensures they dominate every match with their passing and movements, Spain might just be too good for any upset. France that have only won one match in the championship (against Ukraine) will fall.
England versus Italy.
This one is very hard to predict. Both have not been at their best in the championship even though England showed character, spirit and class when they had their backs against the wall against Sweden and came back from two goals to one down to win by three goals to two after 45 minutes of some truly great football. Otherwise, the way both teams have played so far, they could easily have swapped jerseys and the world would have taken them for each other. The English have been playing more defensively and the Italians have been looking sharp upfront whenever they decided to go forward. With Wayne Rooney back in the England squad providing a little more attacking options the English may narrowly prevail in this match that is bound to stretch emotions and tension between the teams’ followers to breaking point. My heart says England to win by one goal. My head tells me Italy to win by penalties.
Germany and Spain for final!
I do not know how the Germans do it. There is always something about the way they play their football – efficient, organised, mechanical, economical, never doing things in excess or being lavishly stylish or flamboyant, a cool, calculated, methodical and clinical mannerism that wins championships. They are perhaps the most experienced, most successful and most consistent team as campaigners in Europe. Their achievements as past winners of the World Cup and European Championship Cup are clear testimony. In the World Cup only Brazil and Italy have better records. In the European Nations Championship they stand alone at the top ahead of all others.
Going into Euro 2012 many people rated them as potential champions, not necessarily because they have the best set of players but largely because of their established tradition of knowing how to play and win in Europe. In addition to that they have a set of great players.
In the on-going championship they have once again been ruthlessly efficient, the only team in the championship with a one hundred percent winning record. Going into the quarter-finals they have not lost or drawn any match. Their staying power at the highest level is in their adaptability to every kind of opposition through their business-like approach to games. They have no time for frivolities, lavish expressiveness, or avoidable costly mistakes or reckless adventurism. It does not matter who the Germans play against they display an uncanny ability of mastering any change in tactics.
So far in Euro 2012, the team has been criticised for its unattractive, rather defensive style. But that exactly is what they did through the first round of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. They were boring but winning in the first round. In the second round they exploded with some truly delightful and attractive attacking football. It has worked for them this time again and even better by emerging from their group of death unscathed. TI I see them going all the way to the finals where they are likely to meet either Portugal or Spain! If it is Portugal, Germany will win the Championship. If it is Spain, they may lose with the tiniest of margins, a lone, lucky goal!
The other team I see in the finals is Spain. As the world’s number one ranked team they offer today’s football what no other team has. Barcelona FC’s influence on how the Spanish national team plays is obvious to all. With 6 players from Barca in the national team that is hardly surprising. Their style, described as tic-tac by the spanish media, is influencing change to football tactics around the world. It has successfully created the best club side in the world as well as the best national team in the past 4 years at least.
The on-going European championship is, however, confirming that an anti-dote is being formulated to counter it. It started with how Real Madrid and Chelsea managed to stop Barca from winning the Spanish La Liga and the European Club championship respectively. Opposing national teams have adopted the same style to slow down the Spanish onslaught of Euro 2012. And without Little Lionel Messi the tic tac style is severely weakened. It is not easy to play with 7 midfield players, one or no outright forward, and no ‘magician’ to create goals out of nothing! Torres is no Messi.
So, the Spaniards can be beaten with a little bit of luck and some efficient defensive tactics which only Germany, for now, appears quite capable to offer. I will not place my bet yet though until the last of the quarter-final matches are concluded by the time you are reading this!