We’re into the knockout phase at Euro 2012 after an all too-quick progression out of the group matches.
There have been a handful of surprises and disappointments thus far, most of those taking place in Groups A and B, whose top two sides are involved in Thursday and Friday quarterfinal action.
Polish fans were undoubtedly looking forward to seeing the co-hosts in action on Thursday as the Group A winners at Warsaw. Instead, it’s the Czech Republic and not Poland representing Group A vs. Group B runner-up Portugal, after the co-hosts crashed out of the tourney following the first round (as did the other co-host, Ukraine, in Group D).
Meanwhile, perhaps the shock development of the first round was the abject capitulation by the Dutch, regarding as one of the pre-tourney favorites. Instead, Bert van Marqikj “Oranj” became the highest-profile casualty in the Group of Death, failing to secure even one point after losses to Denmark, Germany and Portugal.
Action continues over the weekend with the final pair of quarterfinal matchups, which we will preview for you in our next update on Friday. For now, a quick look-ahead to Thursday and Friday quarterfinal action.
Czech Republic vs. Portugal (Thursday at Warsaw)
Among the individual developments worth noting in the first round was Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo relocating his scoring form that was absent for the national side in the 2010 World Cup. The Real Madrid galactico has apparently struck a rich vein after his brace helped knock out the Dutch on Sunday’s Group B finale in which he could have realistically banged home a couple of more goals.
Thus, European oddsmakers are now believing in the Portuguese, who have been installed as 8/11 favorites on the win vs. the Czech Republic in Thursday’s first quarterfinal at Warsaw. The take-back on a Czech win is priced at a hefty 9/2, with the draw listed at 5/2 for the 2:45 p.m. (ET) kickoff that will be televised in the states on big ESPN.
Note that European pricing reflects results on 90 minutes, not inclusive of final scorelines resulting from thirty-minute overtime sessions or penalty kicks, the latter now in play for the remainder of this tourney.
Some shrewd European observers had an inkling that Portugal might find stride behind former Sporting Lisbon manager Paolo Bento, whose introduction as the national coach in qualifiers immediately sparked a side that had gone stale under predecessor Carlos Quieroz. Bento took over a side that was winless and in deep trouble after its first two qualifiers but rallied the troops by allowing Ronaldo and Man United’s Nani free reign on the flanks.
Although Portuguese attacks do not often trigger from the middle of the pitch as they did in the days when Deco and Rui Costa were pulling the strings, they can provide compelling viewing nonetheless if Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani are supported by Real Zaragoza’s center-forward Helder Postiga, who must occupy opposing defenders as well after scoring a goal in the crucial 3-2 win over the Dutch. Bombing runs down the flanks from Real Madrid fullback Pepe have also been a plus after Portugal looked in trouble in Group B following an opening 1-0 loss to the Germans.
The Czechs, meanwhile, certainly looked unlikely winners of Group A after being run off the pitch by Russia, 4-1, in the opener. But veteran coach Michal Bilek kept the squad focused and a quick start in the next match vs. Greece provided the Czechs with the necessary momentum to jump-start their efforts.
Questions remain, however, regarding the fitness of Arsenal midfield ace Tomas Rosicky, whose status remains iffy for the Portugal match due to a calf strain. Chelsea goalie Petr Cech has looked more like his normal self since the Russia debacle, and his presence is always a calming influence as the final line of defense.
The Czechs, who have famously made noise in this event before – winning it in 1976 on Antonin Panenka’s famous chip vs. Germany in the shootout at the finale, and advancing to the finals in at England in ‘96 before the Germans got their revenge – are still going to be hard-pressed to keep pace, however, if Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani are allowed room to roam as they were vs. the Danes and Dutch. Noting the Czech resolve, however, we might not mind taking a look at the interesting price on the 90-minute draw.
Germany vs. Greece (Friday at Gdansk)
One gets the sense that things are breaking Germany’s way after drawing the longest remaining shot in the field, unsuspecting Greece, at the top of the quarterfinal round.
Pragmatic European oddsmakers, however, are not influenced by magical storylines, and have posted a German win at a prohibitive 1/3, with the take-back on the Greeks a whopping 10/1. Draw prices are posted at 4/1 at Gdansk for this 2:45 p.m. (ET) kickoff on Friday to be telecast in the states by big ESPN.
Those with memories of past Euros are undoubtedly recalling the last time Greece was being dismissed as it entered the knockout phase, back in 2004 when Otto Rehhagel’s troops were the longest shot on the board in Portugal. But all Rehhagel’s side did was cause an upset for the ages when storming through with a stifling defense and withering counterattack to shock the world eight years ago.
A repeat performance would seem highly unlikely, however, especially since the Greeks appeared all but eliminated in the opening round until a miraculous 1-0 win over Russia last Saturday allowed it to squeeze into the knockout phase.
Moreover, Panathinaikos winger Giorgios Karagounis, one of the remaining heroes from 2004 still on the national squad and one of the few Greek threats capable of creating goals from the run of play (he scored the winner vs. Russia), is out of the quarterfinal after a farcical yellow card from the referee for suspected diving in the box in Saturday’s match vs. Russia. That card should have been appealed by the Greeks, as Karagounis (as his reaction indicated) was indeed knocked off of his pins in the penalty area.
Without Karagounis and his never-say-die spirit, things just get a bit tougher than they already were for Greece, whose best scoring hope remains to do business from set pieces.
Germany, meanwhile, appears to be moving inexorably toward a finals berth on July 1 as it plays its way into top form. Jogi Low’s squad hit a few bumps in the Group of Death but ended up securing three points from each match to comfortably pace that quartet into the knockout phase.
Greece, though displaying admirable spirit for Portuguese manager Fernando Santos, doesn’t play defense or win balls in midfield as did Rehhagel’s side from eight years ago, which makes it difficult to imagine even the seeds of another upset performance. Germany’s quick and incisive midfield, with the confidence of Real Madrid’s slithery Mesut Ozil growing by the match, should provide plenty of opportunities for goal scorers such as Bayern Munich’s Mario Gomez (already three in this event) and Thomas Muller, the Golden Boot winner at World Cup 2010.
As much as we like to see another soccer fairy tale authored by the Greeks, we cannot imagine a 2004-like upset at the expense of the powerhouse German side.