With the semifinal of the exciting Euro 2012 getting closer and my instant football withdrawal slowly taking over my life, it is time to talk about the next stage of the tournament. First off, I would like to say that all four teams who are in the semis are well deserved to be there. If you asked be right after the group stages, I would of said that Italy had a lucky game. But after their impressive showing against England, I believe that the next three games will be exciting and eventful. I wanna talk about each team, their possible plans and actions for their opponents, what I expect to see out of them, and anything else that affects the game of football before the glorious match.
Spain vs Portugal
What a game this will be. At my household, we have a Barcelona and a Real Madrid fan, so naturally, we have a Spain and a Portugal fan. This should make the game a lot more interesting for me. Anywho, everyone is now thinking about the 17th of November in 2010. The 4-0 win for Portugal have left people wondering how this game will actually go. One thing to note is that even though the teams still play the same way, they are both going in with different squads. Will it be a repeat of that fateful game so long ago, or will Spain have its revenge in order to take another step further to achieving the glorious three-peat? This is what I think.
Portugal– This is a side that has been tested over and over. Portugal did not have an easy road to the semifinals, arguably the hardest. But against all odds they came out of Group B, playing with the heart that the Portuguese are known for. That same heart is going to be essential if they want to take a shot at the finals. One thing that I do like from Portugal is that they have grown as a team throughout this tournament, whether they know it or not. In the second game against Denmark, they showed that Ronaldo does not need to be the man of the match every time for Portugal and that the world needs to stop putting this pressure on him if they would like to see him work his magic. In the third game, Ronaldo solidified his role on the team, shutting up all the haters and making sure that they should still consider him the biggest threat in the tournament. In their fourth game against Czech, Portugal showed some Spain-ish patience, as they kept going and going to break down the Czech defense. They stayed cool and collected and worked to get the goal slowly but surely. If they take all these topics that they learned from this tournament, beating Spain will be that much easier. A thing to note is that Portugal’s offense has the ability to put Spain on their back foot, which will be essential to not conceding a goal. Thinking about it, Spain’s defense does not have a lot of possible defenders. Yes, there is the back line and Casillas, along with Xabi, but after that it’s just bodies. Iniesta and Xavi just hustle, and as important as that is, they do not have actual defensive ability. This leaves Spain with five defenders and the most consistent solid keeper in the game at the moment. This is a lot, but it’s still something of note. This means that Portugal has to be sure not to extend itself too much. Not losing the ball to a bad pass or a misstep is key, and keeping the ball as much as they can is also key. Spain is a team that can only work with the ball, so the obvious thing to do is to take the ball away. Portugal is the hard counter to Spain, as the speed and talent all over will give Spain a lot to think about. People like Ronaldo and Nani will be getting the team close and taking some field to let the midfield rise, and from there magic can happen. The defense also has to be solid and safe, not going crazy with the amount of passes Spain is going to do and never over-extending. Keeping Spain out of the 18 is a rule to go by, and keeping that rule true will almost always mean no conceded goals. One thing to note offensively is that the defense on Spain is mainly Real Madrid, not to mention specifically Casillas. These are people who know how Ronaldo tick and know his thoughts in the game. They will obviously put much attention to him, so people like Nani and, who I’m assuming to take Postiga’s place, Hugo Almeida will have to step up for goals. Corner kicks are great for Portugal. Having Bruno Alves, Pepe, Ronaldo, and Almeida will give Ramos and Pique a lot to do, being that most of Spain is shorter than all four of those players. Players to note have already been said. If the normal defense that just stays solid, then Portugal should aim to strike first.
Spain– The team going for a three-peat is definitely going to have to earn it, as Portugal looks to stop them like they did two years ago. Something I love that has come to the surface after this quarterfinal is that people realize that Spain plays boring football. I don’t understand how a opinion is becoming a valid reason to think that a team is “no good”, despite this strategy winning the Euro 2008 cup and 2010 World Cup. I would list all the advantages of playing this style of football, but I may reserve that for another post. It’s tough to find faults in the top team in the world that play an expert tactic at the highest possible level with some of the highest praised players. But Spain has been defeated before, and I will say that they will need some major focus to beat the Portuguese. I feel like the same formation should do fine, having Torres up front along with the support of Xavi, Xabi, and Iniesta. The key will be holding the ball like they normally do and making sure that the Portuguese do not take space in their defensive third. Once that is breach, the wide array of talented shooters can give Casillas a bit to handle. Defense is obviously their weakest point, being that their defense usually is just not letting the other team have the ball. But if they do give the ball up and a patient Portugal decided to build up instead of sending Ronaldo balls through the air, then Spain will have major issues. Being that they don’t have defensive midfielders, Paulo Bento will play Ronaldo against Jordi Alba instead of his club teammate Arbeloa, which is where the defensive weak point is. Portugal do have air superiority, so giving free and corner kicks away is not an option, as the expert headers of Pepe and Ronaldo have proved to pass great keepers. The head defenders, Ramos and Pique, will have to coordinate very well in the air in order to keep that from being a threat. Keeping Casillas in the goal is preferable, as once he comes out, the mass numbers of Portuguese marksmen can put it away. Obviously, their main worry is Ronaldo. His blazing speed cannot be matched by any defender on the Spanish side. If there is an engagement away from the 18, Ronaldo and teammates can link two or three passes to put Ronaldo in the clear, or at least gain massive amounts of ground. This game needs to be played like a battle. Dictating the pace and flow of the game will either make or break Spain, and obviously these guys are the best at flow. The player of note is none other than Casillas. As much expertise as there is in the back line, they do snooze once or twice a game. Although this should be avoided, of course, Casillas is always there to pick up the pieces. A great keeper is on point even after long periods of inactivity. As long as he is on his toes, the Spanish can feel like they have a “Get out of Jail” card, but that should be used only once a game.
Germany vs Italy
To be honest I did not expect to see this match-up ever happening. I did not expect Italy to make it past the group stages but, as a Chelsea fan, I know that it’s not how you get there, it’s how you preform when you do. The weird thing about this match up is that Germany and Italy play conflicting formations, depending on situations and the variance of how it is played on the field, of course. Italy play a very traditional 4-3-1-2 with true strikers in the top spots. In this case, that would be Balotelli and Cassano, two deadly strikers that the Germans will need to worry about. This is a very traditional formation, and even though people say that it is an outdated formation, it still works for many teams. The main thing to note about this formation from Italy is its defensive play, as Italy was sure not to give up any free openings after the early incident in the England quarterfinal match. Germany, on the other hand, play a 4-2-3-1, mainly with a true striker as “1” and attacking supporters as “2”. This is a counter-attacking formation that is a more offensive version of the 4-5-1 and requires that the four mainly offensive players be able to work together as a unit at times but also able to handle themselves in dire situations. When this formation includes the “2” in the attack lined up with the defensive wingers, you achieve a strong attacking shape with a possible easy transformation to defense in case of a counter attack of their own. I personally LOVE this formation, but it takes the right assets to play it or it will fall through.vI do prefer this formation against teams like Portugal, who play a 4-3-3 and favor a more attack based formation, but it will work on a 4-3-1-2 if its twisted the correct way. Enough rant about formations, let’s talk specifics.
Germany– Although they are still my favorites for this tournament, I have some issues with the way they have been playing lately. Most of the concerns are defensively, of course, as anyone can see that their offense is pretty much set and ready to score. Therefore, I think there needs to be a focus on this when going to play against Italy. Relying on making a game a goal-fest is not a tactic, it is a gamble. Germany needs to make sure that their defense is set before offense is, because Germany’s offense does not need any tinkering to do what they need to do. I can say with almost complete confidence that Germany’s offense will score, but giving a simple goal to a counter-attack like they did against Greece will definitely make the game twice as hard for them. Their main focus should be not conceding goals, then trying to score. Some key players for this team will include Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Gomez, Mesut Ozil, Philip Lahm, and Manuel Neuer. Schweinsteiger had a below average game against Greece, to be frank. But he was also the key to moving past Netherlands in the group stages, slotting two balls for Gomez to put in the net. To cleanly move to the next player of note, Mario Gomez needs to be on his A-game. Obviously, I have no reason to think that he will not preform, but it is just something of note. He has been a major player in getting his side this far, and he needs to continue that. Another player that needs to continue his great gameplay is Ozil, who has been playing very well. Some say it is nothing special, since there isn’t very many pretty numbers behind him. Only someone who knows football can see that Ozil has played great throughout the whole tournament, and between him, Sami, and Bastian, Germany have an arsenal of assisting power. Sami Khedira has also been a force, as he has been playing great game after game and is constantly being a threat at all times at many different angles. There is almost nothing to say about Philip Lahm and Manuel Neuer. These two have been the defensive backbone for the Germans and are constantly on top of their game. The consistency is great to see from the German defense, but everybody else on this German defense needs to step up to their level.
Italy– Italy is up against a sleep slope in my opinion. This is going to be a tough game on them, mainly because of the German offense. I don’t know how well the Italians will be able to hold off a German onslaught if they ever got in the rhythm, which could pose to be a major deciding factor for the whole game. I think that the Italians need to do one main thing to win this game, which is keeping the ball away from Germany. Italy played a very good touch ball games against England, leaving them no time to build or get a groove going. That is partly England’s fault, but instigating it is just as important. The German defense is not strong enough to hold off the Italian onslaught of their own, but obviously it will depend on them to put one away. Creating the first goal will be crucial in winning, as a desperate Germany will put more attackers up top, therefore making a strong counter attack possible to finish them off. If the Italians do create the first goal, focusing on strong defense is more important than looking for the killshot. Once Germany is in the hole, the focus should be keeping them there, not making a 50/50 chance on letting them out. Playing a secure game with strong tactics and less-variable movement will help them steer the game in their way. Three players to note for the Italians are Buffon, Cassano, and Pirlo, of course. First off, Pirlo is something amazing. After that cheeky but classy penalty kick against the English, everyone has seen the extent of Pirlo’s magic. He can create, attack, or orchestrate on the field, making him someone of note at all times. He will look to slip Cassano through the German defense, who do leave gaps from time to time. Cassano makes great runs, and can also handle a player or two if need be to create a chance, so the Germans will have to keep an eye on him. Bal0telli will obviously be lurking as well and shown that he is capable, but his awareness needs to improve. There are two ways to simply break the defense. You can have Balotelli and Cassano on far sides of the pitch, giving Pirlo more inside room and leaving the center more unattended than usual. This will let the strikers the ability to sneak around or wait for a open ball to slot or strike. Another way to play this is to play them closer, leaving the wings open and letting midfield advance to those areas. From there, creation has options, including attacking the goal or crossing it in, but not limited to just working around the 18 and looking for an opening. Italian pressure was very pretty in the England game, and I feel if Italy brings the same pressure to Germany they will surely make a goal. On a side note, the last player of note, Buffon, is something great and will need some master work to pass him, so goals will not come easy for the Germans.