We have now reached the semi-final stage of the Euro Championship held in Poland and Ukraine. The four teams left in the tournament – Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain – are without a doubt the four best teams. All were impressive in their quarter final victories, even though Italy had to wait for the penalty shoot out to see their superiority rewarded. We now have two mouth watering semif-finals to look forward to.
So far Germany has looked the most impressive team. Mainly because they have the best balanced team in the tournament. They line up in a simple 4-3-3 formation, but the midfield three offer great movement and link up well with the front three. The two wide players ensure great attacking width, ably supported by the two full backs. Their defence has only intermittently been tested and may be a weakness. The attacking players, while strong and powerful are not the most gifted technique wise. However the all round balance and hard running of the team makes them very difficult opponents. Germany tends to overwhelm the opposition with their constant forceful attacks.
Italy are their opponents in the semi-final, and they have proved to be a bit of a mixed bag so far. They look fairly sound at the back, and commit plenty of players going forward. The key to Italian success is the wonderful Andrea Pirlo, who dominates Italy’s attacking play from midfield. Their main weakness has been their strikers who have so far been too wasteful in front of gaol. Italy have been well organized and if Germany fail to shackle Pirlo, then they could be in for a hard night’s work.
The other semi-final is an all Iberian affair as Portugal challenge the reigning champions, Spain. Portugal won their last encounter, a friendly played in Portugal, when they convincingly won 4-0. So the Portuguese should go into this match with a great deal of confidence. The team has a good balance to it, and so far has defended very well. And of course they have Ronaldo, who has confirmed his status as one of the world’s great players. He is also scoring goals. The one weakness in the Portuguese team is their dependence on Ronaldo. The rest of the team, especially the midfield and forwards, while technically sound, are not in the same league as for example Xavi, Iniesta and co for Spain. Portugal will need to unsettle Spain’s midfield and not allow them to dictate the play. Easier said than done. But if they can even to some extent manage this, then Ronaldo and Nani can cause the Spanish defence some real damage in counter attacks.
Spain have so far been a bit of a disappointment, and that is probably an understatement. For all their possession they have not fully convinced. Of the four semi-finalists, Spain is the one that has the most unbalanced team. For whatever reason, Del Bosque, their coach, has little faith in Torres, nominally his main striker and goal scorer. He has apparently, even less faith in the other two strikers in the squad – Llorente and Negredo. Which begs the question of why he brought all three to the tournament. He has also been reluctant to use Pedro, who though not an out and out striker, does score lots of goals and is an aggressive and talented forward. The result has been that Spain has for most of the time played without a genuine goal scorer. Instead they have packed the team with midfielders. Given that Spain has probably the best bunch of midfielders in the world, this is not an altogether surprising choice. However, no matter how good the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Fábregas, Silva and Cazorla are, without the forward runs that only a natural attacker can offer, goal scoring chances are more difficult to create and less likely to be converted when created. If Spain are to defeat Portugal, then I feel that Del Bosque needs to find a solution up front. At least one goal scorer will need to play and preferably two. Portugal, with an inform Ronaldo, are just too good on the counter attack for Spain to rely on possession alone taking them to victory. A hard one for the naturally conservative Del Bosque.
I can’t wait for the semi-finals. Both are just too close to call. May the more adventurous win!