By Nick Craddock
The Euro 2012 group stage concluded on Tuesday with England ruining any chance of co-host Ukraine advancing further in the competition by virtue of its 1-0 win, and France stumbling into the knockout stage after a 2-0 loss to the previously winless Swedes.
France and England will be joined by the Czech Republic, Greece, Germany, Portugal, Spain, and Italy in the quarterfinals, which begin this afternoon.
Although Euro 2012 has served as a flash point for some of soccer’s most contentious issues on and off the field, such as the constant call for goal line replay technology and racist displays by groups of fans, the group stage offered a largely wide-open style of play with at least one goal scored per game, the first time such an event occurred in European Championship history.
And after three games of ironing out the kinks, tweaking lineups and getting settled in Eastern Europe, the eight remaining teams have simply three more games to win to become champs.
Here’s what to expect from the quarterfinals:
Czech Republic v. Portugal
The Czechs are deserving recipients of the “Most Resilient Team” award through this tournament thus far. Following a 4-1 shellacking at the hands of Russia in their opening game, the Czechs rattled off two straight victories to secure top place in a wide open Group A. However, testing their mettle against a Portuguese team, which navigated its way out of the Group of Death in second place, will pose the biggest challenge to date.
When compared to Portugal and the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, who managed a brace and 10 shots last time out, the Czechs are severely lacking in offensive firepower. Their best hope will likely be playing in a defensive formation, perhaps a 4-5-1, and hoping their lone striker can capitalize on a Portugal miscue. If any player is capable of battering down the defensive hatches, it’s world class Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech and his protective skull-cap.
Players to watch: Milan Baros, once a top scorer at the European Championships, has lost a step or two in the twilight of his career, but maybe the Czech veteran’s savvy will be enough to deliver a winning goal. For Portugal, Ronaldo grabs the headlines, but the continued excellent play of Nani, particularly in delivering quality crosses and through balls to Ronaldo, will make this game much easier for Portugal.
Prediction: Portugal wins 2-1. Continue reading