16 teams made the Euro 2012 finals, but after competitive group stages and quarter-finals, four footballing heavyweights remain. Spain, Portugal, Germany and Italy are all dreaming of glory in Ukraine and Poland, as Soccerlens examines their campaigns to date.
Holders Spain entered the tournament as favourites, and rightly so after their successes in 2008 and 2010. Vicente del Bosque’s men are unbeaten and have only conceded one goal, with a 1-1 draw with Italy followed by wins over Republic of Ireland and Croatia in the pool and a 2-0 triumph over France in the last eight.
However, La Roja have not been as commanding this time round as in previous competitions, and the demanding media back in Spain have questioned the side’s abilities to retain their crown. Del Bosque has tinkered with his tactics, with a side bereft of an out-an-out striker fielded at times.
Despite the criticism, the world champions are in-line to win their third consecutive tournament, with the dearth of talent in the squad unparalleled. Amongst a team of superstars Andres Iniesta has looked a cut above with immaculate control and vision, and should the side continue to play without a forward the Barcelona man will be crucial in creating chances and getting goals in the latter stages. Spain have not been put under any real pressure as yet, but will face tougher opposition in the form of Iberian adversaries Portugal on Wednesday.
Expectations of Portugal ahead of the Euro 2012 tournament were low, after a mediocre qualifying campaign was followed up by poor friendly results and rumblings of player discontent. Add to this inclusion in the group of death and an opening day defeat to Germany and things were not looking good for Paulo Bento’s men.
However, the team have shown excellent resolve to salvage their campaign, with a 3-2 win over Denmark, 2-1 victory over Netherlands and a 1-0 triumph against Czech Republic getting them to the last four
It does not take a rocket scientist to realise that Portugal’s chances hinge around captain and star man Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid attacker was heavily criticised after the nation’s first two games, but has answered his critics with three goals in two games and man of the match performances to get the nation to this stage.
Portugal go into their clash with Spain as underdogs, but with three consecutive wins under their belt, Ronaldo confident and firing and the passion of playing an international derby, Bento’s men should not be written off just yet.
Germany have been one of the favourites since a perfect qualifying campaign, and the side have lived up to expectations with four wins so far in Ukraine and Poland. Joachim Low’s men steamrolled the group of death without ever really looking under pressure, with Portugal, Netherlands and Denmark all succumbing to the attacking prowess of their opponents.
Low shuffled his pack in the quarter-finals against Greece, with first-string forwards Gomez, Muller and Podolski all rested as Klose, Reus and Schurrle proved their abilities as able deputies in a 4-2 victory. The German squad has an enviable blend of experience and youthful ability, and after a world-record 15 straight competitive victories will take some beating.
In a team of such ability, Bastain Schweinsteiger stands out as the side’s most important player, as the influential central midfielder gives those around him confidence with his stature, experience and ability. The Bayern Munich man is carrying a niggling injury, but his battle with Andrea Pirlo in Germany’s semi-final against Italy will be a clash of two of the world’s best.
Similar to Portugal, not much was expected of Italy at Euro 2012, but those that discounted the Azzurri did so at their peril. A 3-0 defeat to Russia in their last game ahead of the competition, amid another betting scandal in the country, meant that Cesare Prandelli’s men were being written off.
However, the Italians have shown a collective team spirit to do what was necessary to make to this stage. An impressive 1-1 draw with Spain was followed by a tie with Croatia and a win over Ireland to ensure a runners-up berth in Group C, whilst the Azzurri eliminated England on penalties in the quarters.
Despite drawing 0-0 with the Three Lions after 120 minutes of play, the Azzurri dominated the game from start to finish and put in their best and most attacking showing of the tournament. With deep-lying playmaker Andrea Pirlo masterful and mercurial, Prandelli’s side have improved as the tournament has went on and will not be a soft touch for Germany. If they can continue their stingy rearguard, get Pirlo on the ball and take their chances, the Azzurri could still make the final against the odds.