Euro 2012: Heavyweights remain as semifinals loom

Xavi (Getty Images)

There has been plenty of quality on display throughout Euro 2012 but there also haven't been many surprises, leaving four of the continent's biggest sides still fighting for the chance to be crowned champions.

Germany, Italy, Portugal and reigning champs Spain are the remaining teams who will look to advance to the tournament finale in Kiev on June 1, a chance to be etched into European soccer history looming for all.

Two of those teams will be knocked out before the weekend arrives, however, as Spain and Portugal clash on June 27 in Donetsk while Germany faces Italy a day later in Warsaw. Germany and Spain are the favorites to advance, but Italy and Portugal have shown quality in this tournament that should not be overlooked.

Cristiano Ronaldo has made a pair of subpar performances in the group stage an afterthought, having led Portugal to 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. Ronaldo accounts for Portugal's last three tallies in the tournament and he should prove a handful for a Spanish side that has demonstrated moments of weakness within its usual brilliance.

Italy, meanwhile, is coming off a penalty kick victory over England. The Italians are sure to be a bit more fatifued than their German counterparts, having played 120 scoreless minutes against the Three Lions. But Andrea Pirlo has proven he still has the skill and savvy to break open defenses, while Mario Balotelli has been a handful for opposing defenders.

Still, Germany should be brimming with confidence when it takes on Italy. The Germans have yet to lose a game in this competition and have demonstrated impressive depth at a number of positions. That was clear for all to see in Germany's 4-2 victory over Greece, as Die Mannschaft head coach Joachim Low made three different attacking selections in his lineup and it worked out to near perfection.

Playing nearly perfect might be the norm for Spain, but this tournament has shown the defending champions might not be as good as the team in 2008. Spain does not have a pure forward that head coach Vicente Del Bosque has complete confidence in, with Cesc Fabregas and Fernando Torres splitting time up top through four games. But Spain has shown it can win without a top striker and Xabi Alonso's two-goal performance in a 2-0 victory against France was the latest piece of evidence.

So, yes, there may be clear-cut favorites for these semifinal games but no one is a clear-cut winner. Not with the way these teams have been playing.

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How excited are you for the semifinals fixtures? Who do you think will reach the finals? Who is your pick to win it all?

Share your thoughts below.

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30 Responses to Euro 2012: Heavyweights remain as semifinals loom

  1. Hincha says:

    1) It is ridiculously unfair that Germany gets 2 more days of rest than Italy for the semi-finals.
    2) For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Spain doesn’t use Llorente as forward. The guys is not only a great finisher with his head and feet but he has great vision and is a good passer and knows how to use space. I can’t figure out why, for some reason, they think he can’t fit in with Spains tiki-taka style as I think he could if given the chance.
    3) I am really glad that these 4 teams have made it to the semi’s as three of them (Spain, Germany, Portugal) have played some of the most entertaining soccer of the tournament.

  2. pd says:

    Funny, I had two of the four remaining teams picked in my brackets at the beginning of the tournament. Didn’t expect either Italy or Portugal. Since the Spanish and German defenses have been subject to some lapses(even with exceptional goalkeepers), and based on tournament form, I think it’s anyone’s final right now and each team would be an amazing story. Spain doing the unthinkable, amking an argue,ent cor being one of the greatest national sides of all time, Portugal finally breaking through the glass ceiling by finally playing as a team, Italy defying the odds with a really attractive brand of intelligent, technical counter-attacking soccer, or a German golden generation in ascendancy.

    Any way you slice it, soccer wins. The only thing missing is Argentina, Uruguay and Brasil.

  3. pd says:

    I think Italy, while playing a different style and having some choosy forwards, have been brilliant. I get their style is not for everyone, but it’s been brilliant stuff to watch them make the necessary adjustments from match to match.

  4. Hincha says:

    PD, don’t disagree with you on this. I like Italy at times, they played some attractive soccer so I’m glad they made it too.

  5. matt says:

    You’re right that this Spain team is weaker than 2008 but I think the absence of David Villa is a huge part of that. He tore it up at Euro 2008 and in the last World Cup. His absence is what prevents the Spanish from playing with a true striker.

  6. Mike says:

    Over the past 4 years, Spain has had one of history’s statistically greatest defenses. They’ve won 7 straight knockout games in a major tournament WITHOUT conceding a goal.

    They’ve only conceded 1 goal this entire tournament while scoring 8. Only Germany has scored more (9) yet conceded 4 themselves (same with Portugal).

  7. soccerroo says:

    Not sure I agree with Portugal being a heavyweight but they have played well. Looking forward to the game between Spain and Portugal. It will be interesting to see if CR7 can turn his great year into a 2012 Euro Final appearance.

  8. BCC says:

    Can’t wait to see if Portugal can run the counter versus the Spanish tiki-taka bore-fest. Perhaps Bento will give Mourinho a call to talk strategy? Maybe Pepe will move up into the CDM role to try to close down Iniesta and Xavi?

    Germany/Italy will not be a close game, maybe 3-1. Cassano and Balotelli have wasted Pirlo’s brilliance and I don’t think Italy’s defense will have any chance against Ozil, Muller, and Gomez. They have neither the skill nor the speed.

  9. Phead says:

    Panizo, you really really suck the big burrito.

  10. Doc Brown says:

    The final already happened! Great Scott!

  11. Vlad says:

    you people who say Spain is a Bore fest know absolutely nothing about the sheer brilliance behind their play.

    Look at the semifinal wheres france who had higher possession numbers in every game except their game against spain where they got completely dominated.

    there isnt a SINGLE TEAM IN THE WORLD that can do what Spain does, the reason teams bunker against them, is because they are so incredibly calm and confident on the ball they will never be able to play attacking football against them, and they ARE ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED of Spains attack.

    They turn any attacking minded team into an excruciatingly defensive team because that is the only way anyone can or ever will beat them. There isnt a team on the planet, at any point in time that has been as dominant as Spain has, there has never been a team that every single team they play is terrified of their attack and style so much, that no matter the attacking presence they have, they pull back into a shell

  12. biff says:

    Agree with you totally on Comments 1 and 2 and mostly on your Comment 3 (would have rather seen Denmark in the semis than Germany). The scheduling is a mess, with Germany and Portugal each getting two extra days rest. And then the winner of the Italy-Germany game getting only two days rest for the final, not such a disadvantage to a better-rested Germany but a big problem for Italy, three major games in seven days (Germany = three games in 9 days).

    As a big fan of Spain, I also am puzzled by Del Bosque’s roster decisions. My feeling is that he is favoring the Barcelona components of his team and if he continues this folly against Portugal, who has key Madrid players (CR7, Pepe, Coentrao) who now are adept at beating Barcelona, then Spain has a higher chance of getting beat. I think it would be a major mistake for Del Bosque to go with the same starting line-up against Portugal that he used against France (Torres on the bench and Fabregas as forward).

    I think Fabregas and Xavi have not impressed this tournament and should be benched. Gotta have Iniesta out there, and bring on Pedro as a starter, who was a key spark plug for Spain after he came on in the second half against France. I would like to see Mata on the field and, as you say, Llorente, but also would be happy to see Torres given the start.

    As for Germany, they are desperate to end their 16-year dry spell and finally go all the way to win a championship and they will stop at nothing to do it, even if it means jersey tugging in the penalty box and intentional hand balls that they already have been using regularly this tournament and Manuel Neuer grabbing the legs of Italian strikers to hold them back, as he unbelievably did against Samaras of Greece on Saturday. The Italians need to be reminding the ref Thursday to keep a sharp eye out for Germany infractions such as these.

    Which reminds me of another potential unsportsmanlike issue. As a tactic during penalty kicks, Manuel Neuer as the kicker prepares to kick regularly grabs the horizontal cross bar above and gives it a tug so it vibrates. I do not know whether this is against rules, but he obviously is trying to hurt the concentration of the kicker. Neuer did this tactic in Champion’s League shoot-outs against Madrid and Chelsea and he did it against Greece, when Salpingidis had the penalty shot (after Boateng’s intentional hand-ball ;-)

  13. Herb says:

    The begining of the end for Tic-Toc and boring futbol:

    Predictions:

    Spain has no answer when Ronaldo scores an early goal:

    Ronaldo 3, Spain 1

    Germany 2, Italy 0

    Final

    Ronaldo 1, Germany 0

  14. HoboMike says:

    Come on. Sounds like an anti-Germany bias. If you want to discuss unsportsmanlike actions, it seems to me as if you have to start with 10 Spanish players surrounding the referee once Busquets goes down like he’s been shot.

    You know how you stop Neuer from getting inside your head? You make the damn penalty. Look at the Italy/England game. Joe Hart made all kinds of faces, gestures, screams, etc. Pirlo basically gave him the finger.

  15. HoboMike says:

    I would love if some team had the stones to actually take it to them. Man up. Play a high line. Try to unsettle them. The French have the players and athletes to do this, yet completely wussed out. People have to stop being so scared of Spain.

  16. HoboMike says:

    I’m sorry. There’s no such thing about sheer brilliance when you have 70% possession and 2 shots on goal, which is a typical Spain game. Granted, 1 of those shots usually goes in, then they just play keep away. It’s glorified monkey-in-the-middle.

  17. Vlad says:

    You mean Ronaldo has no answer when he never touches the ball because Portugal will never be able to provide service to him, this is the point Ronaldo burns and plays like his old premodanna self and crashes out of the tournament

  18. Vlad says:

    Why is it then that no other team can even attempt to ever hold possession against Spain or even like Spain, the answer is simple, they. And of course spain has low shots on goal, its because as i said, teams are absolutely terrified of their attack and ball movement so they ALWAYS play with 10 men behind the ball on defense and hope to counter, its a heck of alot harder to break down a defense when they have every single player but one back, and every single one of them packing into the center of the park.

    The very second teams fall asleep or lose a mark is the very second Spain gets shots

  19. HoboMike says:

    You missed my point. You insulted many of us who are somewhat bored by Spain’s style of play by saying “you people who say Spain is a Bore fest know absolutely nothing about the sheer brilliance behind their play.”

    Are they the best in the world at what they do? Obviously. Do I enjoy Xavi and Busquets playing 4 yard one-two’s back and forth to each other for 70 minutes before the defense loses concentration and Spain gets an easy goal? No. Do I get frustrated by watching opponents pack 10 into the box while Spain simply refuses to shoot from distance? Yes.

  20. biff says:

    ha-ha. True, HoboMike, I am not a fan of the German national team (or FC Bayern) and the dream of my life is to see the USMNT beat Germany in the knock-out round of a World Cup (preferably WC 2014). (Is there anything wrong with that?) But it is not anti-Germany bias, I just want to see a fair game and I feel the exact same way about any team using those sorts of unsportsmanlike tactics. But other teams do not seem to be resorting to these tactics as much as Germany is. Take away Boateng hand-balls and Holger Bastuber’s jersey tugs, and their defensive capabilities are going to drop 25%.

    As for Neuer grabbing legs, what he did to Samaras would have been a clear red card had the ball not gone into the net. Here are photos of Neuer’s American football tactics:

    Neuer holding Samaras’s Leg

    link to tinyurl.com

    These photos are of the same scene but at a wider angle so you can see that Neuer is holding back Samaras before the ball goes over the goal line.

    link to tinyurl.com

    On this one, croll deown to third photo

    link to tinyurl.com

  21. uksubs says:

    44 Shots on target in 4 games.

    11 shots/game average.

    To go with 61% possession.

    Maybe you should watch Spain play next time you throw numbers out there.

  22. HoboMike says:

    Lol. It’s called hyperbole. Look it up. I watch them play all the time.

    And you can probably dismiss the Ireland game, no? Kind of like the varsity vs. JV there.

  23. HoboMike says:

    We can literally do this all day:
    link to youtube.com

  24. BCC says:

    You should never discount a person’s aesthetic preferences when it comes to football. I am a huge fan of Spanish soccer and have found their performances to be conservative and yes, boring.

    Out of curiosity, how many of Spain’s completed passes have been backward?

  25. Mike says:

    Hyperbole is supposed to suggest a hyper-exaggerated argument. If the statistics are the exact opposite of what you claim, that it’s hyperbole it’s just a lie.

  26. Allen23 says:

    I have loved watching this tourney, and have only missed a hand full of games. It makes me wish we had something this exciting over here (and I don’t mean the Gold Cup). I think it would be awesome if Concacaf and Conmebol combined for the a new Copa America. Based on current rankings here is what the groups could look like:

    Group A
    Uruguay
    United States
    Ecuador
    Costa Rica

    Group B
    Brazil
    Paraguay
    Peru
    Jamaica

    Group C
    Argentina
    Columbia
    Venezuela
    Honduras

    Group D
    Chile
    Mexico
    Panama
    El Salvador

    Not saying it would be as good as the Euros, but could still be a great tourney.

  27. pancholama says:

    Conversely – in the replays from the right side of the field camera, you can clearly see that on that goal Samaras get’s away with a sling-shot action shirt pull against his German defender that allows him to get that extra step and get in front of his marker and connect with the cross.

    All’s fair in love and war, and soccer football. If you get away with it!

    And I 100% agree with you re: dreaming about seeing the US eliminate Germany in the knock-out stage of a world cup, preferably sooner than later. I am still burned by that handball on the goal-line that didn’t get called in the 2002 WC. Ahhhrrrgghhhhhhhh!!!

  28. pancholama says:

    What happens to you if you try to play a high-line and press that Spanish mids and wing backs is that 3/4 times you will get burned over the top or down an empty alley because they are so, so adept at playing a short passing game and at holding the ball in traffic, then finding the open space.

  29. pancholama says:

    There was a soccer instructional book that was attributed to Pele, ghost written by a committee of several Brazilian soccer journalists / news casters. I think it came out in the 70s/80s. Great instructional manual for basic to intermediate soccer skills. And I am quoting somewhat loosely, but this is part of the Gospel of Soccer Football according to one of the legends of the game, and a member of arguably the best side of all time – Brazil 70:

    “The player who attempts to make a dribbling pass must always remember that it is he who has the initiative. A spin, a stop, a balancing adjustment, and explosive acceleration – all are elements that contribute to the execution of an effective ‘finta’ (deke, juke, shake and bake, bait, spin and run).”

    “The longer that ball remains at your feet, or at the feet of one of your team-mates, the greater your chances of scoring a goal and winning the game shall be.”

    Spain preaches that Gospel like it’s no body’s business but their own.

    Domination of the sphere.

  30. Charles says:

    The best boxer out there is not a heavyweight.

    And unlike everyone else….the US DID score on Spain.

    USA, USA, USA !