Dutch are red-hot for Euros

The Euro 2008 group stages are at an end with a few surprises thrown out, but on the whole my initial predictions have been largely spot on with dark horses Turkey my best tip.

In Group A co-hosts Switzerland did find it tough going with their only points coming against a shadow Portuguese outfit which had already blitzed its way into the quarter-finals with comfortable wins against the Turks and the Czech Republic.

The Czechs could and really should be in the last-eight alongside Portugal but took their foot off the pedal and were made to pay heavily by the never-say-die attitude of Turkey in one of the thrillers of the tournament so far.

Portugal will now face pre-tournament favourites Germany in the last-eight after Joachim Low’s men scrambled their way into the knockout phase. I thought the Germans would top Group B but, after a comfortable 2-0 opening win against Poland, they crashed to a 2-1 defeat against a Croatian side I backed to go through but not as group winners.

A narrow win against co-hosts got Germany into the last eight as runners up and means they have a tough task on their hands against Luis Felipe Scolari’s men to try and secure a semi-final berth.

I hate going against the Germans because they have a sneaky way of creeping up and catching people out just when they look down and out. However I just think Portugal have too much going forward for their defence to cope with and I think Scolari’s men could get through possibly via extra-time.

Turkey have done well to get into the last-eight and have had the luck with two late, late winning goals in the group games. However their luck will run out against a Croatia side which has put its money where its mouth is with maximum Group B points.

Croatia have won all of their games by the odd goal and I expect that to be a similar story in their last eight showdown against Turkey in Vienna on Friday evening.

In the second half of the draw I had a nightmare tipping the outcome of Group C with Holland surpassing my expectations with their fantastic counter-attacking football and goal scoring abilities.

Italy were unfortunate to lose 3-1 against the Dutch in the opening game, while France were toothless against Romania in the opening goalless draw, before being outclassed in the second group game against Marco van Basten’s men in a 4-1 mauling.

Romania also did better than anticipated by securing a draw against world champions Italy in the second match and they could even have stolen the points had Adrian Mutu’s late penalty not been saved by Gianluigi Buffon.

Holland made it maximum points with a comfortable win against Romania in their final group game, despite nine changes to the squad from the France win, while Italy ended French hopes with a 2-0 win against ten men for 65 minutes when Eric Abidal saw red for a professional foul on Luca Toni.

After my tip for Group D’s second spot Greece bombed in their bid to retain the trophy, Holland will now meet the winners of Sweden and Russia in the quarter-finals and I just cannot see anything other than a victory for the men in orange whoever they are drawn against.

The other last-eight tie from the second half of the Euro 2008 draw should be one of the most exciting affairs as Spain go up against Italy in Vienna on Sunday. While Italy scraped through, the Spanish stormed to a 4-1 opening win against Russia and then battled to a last-gasp 2-1 victory over the Swedes in the second game to guarantee top spot in Group D.

However Buffon’s penalty stop against Romania to keep them in the tournament and following success against France tells me the Azzurri cannot be discounted from this tournament. Everything points to a Spain win with tournament top scorer David Villa on fire, but I just feel Italy might shade this game and it could be a penalty shoot-out decides the outcome.

I will be back next week to look at the semi-final pairings which I expect to be Portugal v Croatia and Italy v Holland.

Also See: The lazy headline writer’s Euro 08 cheatsheet.

France 0-2 Italy - Azzurri Step Out of the Grave and into the Quarter-Finals
Transfer Rumors (18 June 08): Schalke's Jones to Man United, Albiol to Arsenal, Newcastle want 9m for Milner