Shipped from Abroad, Euro 2012: Looking forward with four teams left

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Crystal Ball: What Needs to Happen Next Round

Spain’s the known quantity. While there’ve been qualms about how they’ve gone about business defense, they can win this competition using the same patient, conservative, possession-sensitive approach that has got them to the semis. The approach leaves two unresolved issues: a.) Whether del Bosque will make any tweaks and finally try to limit Spain’s exposure, and b.) whether Portugal can exploit whatever exposure del Bosque provides.

Expect Portugal to play their preferred game: reserved, reactionary, reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo. In the previous two rounds, we advocated Portugal be aggressive from the get-go. Not here. Over potentially 120 minutes, Ronaldo and Nani are likely to get the chances they need. They just need to convert and allow Portugal to sit deep, keeping Spain at arm’s length.

If Germany’s going to get their much sought after major competition victory over Italy, it’s hard to imagine a better time than Thursday. Italy’s still in a regroup mode, with their semifinal appearance doing wonders to restore the national team’s place in the world soccer pecking order. Germany is the better team, and with Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus proving viable options against slower defenses, Joachim Löw has multiple ways of breaking down the Italians.

Who knows how Italy plans on beating the Germans. On paper, the game looks like a mismatch. But Italy wasn’t expected to get a result from Spain, yet they did. They’ve also never trailed in the tournament, having gotten results form three of the world’s top eight teams along the way. Is Germany so special that they aren’t subject to the same hiccups that befell Spain, Croatia and England?

PST’s Euro 2012 “More Powerful” Rankings

Taking a long term look, toward teams’ title hopes.

In:

1. Germany – To answer the question we just posed: Yes, Germany is so special that they won’t be subject to the same issues that left Spain, Croatia and England deadlocked with Italy. The attitude that made Croatia so successful in their second half against Italy? Germany plays like that from the opening kickoff.

2. Spain – Expect to see the real, full throttle Spain on Wednesday. To this point, they haven’t had to turn it on, and they may not need to turn it on to beat Portugal, either. But ahead of Sunday’s final, they need to find out if they still have that extra gear in them.

3. Portugal – And if they don’t, the Seleccao can pounce. The key will be pressing for chances from the start. The worst thing that can happen for Portugal is to see early success by sacrificing their attack. Perhaps that means keeping Nani deep while having their striker (likely to be Hugo Almeida) track back on Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso, leaving Cristiano Ronaldo alone. That could get them into the second hour at 0-0, giving them only a sliver of the match to equalize after Spain gets their customary winning goal.

4. Italy – Whatever mistakes Germany make, the Italians more are capable of exploiting them than any team the favorites have faced to this point. And as good as the Germans are, mistake-free games haven’t been their thing. As many chances as Andrea Pirlo has generated for Mario Balotelli, it’s not hard to envision Mats Hummels paving the way for at least one great chance.

Out:

5. England – Though England showed well at Euro 2012, they leave the tournament with little to build on for Brazil 2014. Still, given where this team was at the point Fabio Capello resigned, this is a great result for Roy Hodgson and The FA.

6. Czech Republic – The players probably would have preferred Michal Bilek employ a more aggressive approach against Portugal, but after a bad opening night against Russia, the Czechs represented themselves well at Euro 2012.

7. Greece – Their quarterfinal loss wasn’t as close as the final score indicates, but they managed to knock off a good Russian team while give the Germans a momentary second half scare. This seventh place ranking speaks to the cliff teams like Russia, France, the Netherlands and Sweden plunged off, but given how little was expected of the Greeks, their fans should be elated with their shock quarterfinal appearance.

8. France – By the end of the tournament, their stock had fallen farther than Enron’s.

… and PST’s Player of the Tournament Wunderlist

1. Andrea Pirlo, Italy
2. Andres Iniesta, Spain
3. Mesut Ozil, Germany
4. Sami Khedira, Germany
5. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
6. Fabio Coentrao, Portugal
7. Xavi Hernández, Spain
8. Pepe, Portugal
9. Joao Moutinho, Portugal
10. Mario Gomez, Germany

For the first time this competion, we have somebody who’s a clear frontrunner for the Player of the Tournament. And really – who would be upset with Andrea Pirlo winning this award?

ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.