The quarter finals are certainly throwing up some surprises, eh? I think most punters would have given Portugal a very good chance against the Germans and Turkey almost no chance against Croatia and yet Germany & Turkey will contest the first semi final on Wednesday.
I was pretty sure Germany would prevail against Portugal. Portugal have some great individual players but they have not really been together as a team. Probably the main thought running through Ronaldo’s head has been “Man U or Real Madrid…..hmmmmm. Now, my percentage of €75 million transfer fee would be………”. Hardly going to help him concentrate on how to unlock the German defence. With the exception of a bit of excitement near the end when Portugal got back to 2-3, I thought the game went very much according to plan.
Last night’s game on the other hand, didn’t go according to plan. Turkey had cobbled a team together after their mass sending-off spree in the Czech game. Their #1 goalie was missing thanks to his red card for punching goal scorer, Koller, and I was thinking that had to be big mistake. I was wrong. The reserve goalkeeper, Rustu Recber (let’s call him Rusty), did a great job and the rest of the Turkish team tried hard not to show any signs of being patched-up.
After about 20 minutes I commented that “Either someone is going to make a silly mistake, or this game is going to penalties”. Both sides were trying very hard but neither had the spark that was going to make it happen. Croatia, who I expected to have more control, came closest but their luck had run out and balls were hitting crossbars instead of going in the net. Ninety minutes came and went and then in the dying moments of extra time there was a small error by the Turkish goalie, wandering out of his area to get a ball that he should have left alone, combined with some good skill from Modric to lob the ball back past the lost goalie for Klasnic to head home. The Croats thought it was game over, so did I. It was the 29th minute of a 30 minute extra time period and Croatia had broken the deadlock. This had to be goodnight Turkey and thanks for all the kebabs!
Shock! Turkey came straight back and scored an equally good goal with the clock showing 30+2 minutes of extra time. Penalties it was then, and you only had to look at the faces of the Croatian team to know they were doomed. They thought they had the game won, then they didn’t, massive disappointment for them, elation for the Turks. The Turks were wandering around, very relaxed, happy, taking it all in their stride. The Croats looked frightened, nervous. You knew who was going to win the penalties and they did, convincingly.
Turkey must now be the team that could come from nowhere and win the championship. The Greece of 2008. Their next game is the country’s first ever semi-final and they have to play ze Germans. Plenty of tension on and off the pitch. Riot squads ready for action back in the streets of Germany. It should be fun but I really can’t see the Turks turning over the Germans in the same way as Croatia. Germany are very well organised, of course, but they also have more skill than Croatia and most importantly they have some very capable goal scorers and goal makers, much better than Croatia. Then again, Croatia beat Germany in the group match so………..
The quarter finals I’ve been looking forward to the most though, are tonight’s game, Netherlands vs Russia and Sunday’s Spain vs Italy. I’m especially excited about tonight’s game, it should be a real corker!
I had written off the Russians, to be honest, until I watched their game against Sweden that is. They were amazing, BUT, that match was the youngest team in the competition versus the oldest and Sweden are not exactly a great team. Holland will be a very different class of opposition. I have to believe that Holland will win IF they play the way they have done in all previous games but Holland do have a history of getting a little too sure of themselves and then paying the price (usually against Germany) so they are going to need to stay focussed.
Spain versus Italy should be another great game, especially if you are a connoisseur of the art of diving. I gave some of the dives I’ve seen so far, marks as high as 8/10 for artistic merit and technical difficulty so this should be a real treat. Hard to say what’s going to happen here. The Italians are not what I thought they would be, but then they may just be “doing a France” and starting out badly only to finish strongly and win the championship. They certainly have the experience and the skill, they know each other as a team but can they keep a lid on their temperaments? The Spanish have some great players including two superb goal scorers in Villa and Torres backed up by Fabregas in midfield and a host of others. They should be able to win the game but I’ve got a feeling they might “do a Spain” and fizzle out just when you thought they should step up a gear. The Italians will mess with their heads and it will all fall apart. Time will tell.
It’s not possible to make any predictions at this stage. I’m pretty sure Germany will be in the final but who they will be playing remains to be seen. In order of ‘most likely other finalist’ I’d say – Netherlands, Russia, Italy, Spain.