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International Football

Germany v Italy, 19:45

With Spain waiting in the final, as everyone thought they would be and having taken penalties to defeat Portugal, we’ll now get to see the defending champions defend their crown, and it’s down to Italy and Germany to decide who gets the honour of challenging them. Pre-tournament, you’d undoubtedly have picked the Germans to win through and meet the Spanish, but alongside the class and technique Italy displayed in beating England there was a good deal of resolve and determination, so Germany can take nothing for granted.

The German system requires high energy and commitment, and throughout the tournament the biggest threat to their progress has appeared to be fatigue. Italy will certainly make the Germans run, but if Schweinsteiger can get on the ball early and find the frontmen, in particular Mesut Ozil, then Italy will be in trouble. It is not unfair to say the Germany have not always produced the greatest flair players, specialising in excellent technique and tactical acumen, but the Turkish-German attacker has really grown as a player at Real Madrid, and can count himself amongst the best in the world.

Italian playmaker Adrea Pirlo was pictured training with an oxygen mask after 120 gruelling minutes against England, although he had that game by the scruff of the neck for long periods. The extra rest Germany have enjoyed will be of some benefit, but the Italy squad contains enough old pros that they won’t be overawed at the challenge ahead, and will know how to dig deep when the time comes. Cesere Prandelli is still waiting for Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano to fire, and there could be no better time for his talented strikers to hit their straps than the semi-final of the European Championships.

Bastian Schweinsteiger has been declared fit despite having treatment on an ankle injury, and Germany manager Joachim Loew could recall Mario Gomez, Lukas Podolski and Thomas Mueller after making changes against the Greeks. Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini, Daniele De Rossi and Ignazio Abate are all injury doubts for coach Cesare Prandelli, and if they don’t recover it could force him to adopt a three-man backline. The dreaded 0-0 is on at 15/2 with William Hill, and that’s been a good bet for the last few games, but if you like a goal Coral have 11/2 on Mario Gomez scoring first.

Portugal v Spain, 19:45

Iberia will hold its breath as the two best sides produced by that region in recent memory meet in a European Championship semi-final, which is a pretty big deal for Portugal at least. The Spanish superstars may have forgotten what it’s like to be nervous, but you can bet there will be a fair few men in maroon (?) wondering if they may need a change of shorts before the game is up. History also waits to be made, with Spain looking to become the first side ever to win three consecutive international tournaments.

For Portugal this game could be a tactical challenge due to the fact they’ve been very effective on the break, and catching Spain on the break is not easy. Rarely do you get the ball with enough space to engineer a situation when playing the Spanish side, and if you manage to make it past the first line of defence you’ll be chasing back with some very quick players on your tail. Add to that the main Portuguese weapon is club-mates with Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas and you realise this could be a long evening for Paulo Bento’s men.

The main worry for Vicente Del Bosque is probably focus, with the Real Madrid v Barcelona rivalry having the potential to cause friction on the pitch, which is not conducive to good football. If Spain can maintain their focus, and more importantly the ball they will have huge advantage, although it may be equally as important to keep the best attackers away from Pepe. The Real and Portugal defender has a tendency to just kick people if he can’t beat them at football, and Spain would hate an injury for Xavi or Iniesta to ruin their tournament.

Portugal striker Helder Postiga is ruled out with a thigh injury, which could be a blessing in disguise given his poor performances, and he’ll probably be replaced by Hugo Almeida. Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque reported no new injury problems following victory against France, but may make changes following claims the Spanish camp are “drained”. I quite like the look of Paddy Power’s 9/1 on a 2-1 Spain win, but anything can happen, as we know.

England v Italy, 19:45

That legend of Italian football and all-around top man Paolo di Canio (0 caps for his country) has described this England side as being like an ‘Italian team from the 1980’s’, and when a distinguished, intelligent fascist (his words, not mine) like the Swindon boss speaks about international football the average writer is normally listening to someone more worthwhile. For a start, the vast majority of Italian coaches in the 80’s would have been incandescent with rage at the number of chances and goals Sweden, France and the Ukraine were able to fashion against England.


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From an English point of view this is a pretty good draw, as there are similarities between the French and Italian sides that mean we should be a bit prepared for this one. Add to that the teams have similar amounts of talent, ability and players at the peak of their powers and you realise this is pretty much an even-money affair. The media will enjoy looking ahead to the Germany game, but the English public are well aware what the challenge is now, and won’t be fooled by the tools in the red-tops.

It’s tough to judge, but I don’t think the Italian public are very convinced about their side either, especially as tournament winners. The scandals of the last few years hit the game fairly hard, even affecting the likes of Gigi Buffon, and when Mario Balotelli moved abroad there was a worry that the league could not hold onto the best players. Juve have gone some way to restoring some pride, but with a fresh inquiry hanging over that old lady the public seem to have become a little guarded about trusting the men in blue.

Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini will miss Sunday’s game with a thigh injury, which will come as a massive blow to the management team. Chiellini and his club-mate Barzagli had been so good for Juventus this season that the two were taken despite both carring injurues, and now that Barzagli has returned the other half of this supposed dream team is crocked. There are no new injury concerns for England at this stage, but once again the fitness levels of Steven Gerrard and Scot Parker will need to be monitored carefully.

You can get 19/10 on both sides to win, and 6/1 with William Hill that Rooney will score the first goal. I’m hoping we can scrape a 1-0, another 6/1, this time with Coral.

Spain v France, 19:45

As loudly as the French management protest that it is entirely normal for a squad to fight within itself, especially after a loss, the evidence would seem to suggest that this is not true of all squads, and the Spanish have spoken in the past about their own problems in overcoming the Real v Barca rivalry in their midst. Now they have done this, their football is all the more fluid and spectacular for the mutual appreciation of skill they have the vast majority of the time.

It is hard to judge much about this Spain line-up from the group games, as the draw with Italy seemed almost to be accepted as a necessary evil given that the last two matches seemed to be fairly straightforward. As a result this game is possibly the first real test for the World and European Champions, and it seems likely that the 4-6-0 formation adopted in the Italy game is gone for good, with a striker in place and more of a threat in behind the opposition.

France started out with a lot resting on the shoulders of their main man up front, Karim Benzema, and the Real Madrid forward is yet to excite the fans in the way they were hoping. There is a similar level of quality throughout the French squad as in the Spanish, and Laurent Blanc’s side do have a very good shot at turning over a team not currently playing their absolute best, but it will require les blues to focus much more sharply than they did against England, let alone Sweden.


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Spanish boss Vicente Del Bosque again looks set to start two-goal Fernando Torres in an unchanged side, which will mean two-goal midfielder Cesc Fabregas on the substitutes bench once more. France will miss Philippe Mexes through suspension, so Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny will deputise for him. Yohan Cabaye, Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery are all expected to be fit for the game after overcoming minor niggles.

Spain are 17/20 (Paddy Power) while France are 17/4 (Victor Chandler) to win the game, which gives you an idea of the size of the task ahead of the French tonight. Fabregas could come off the bench if it is 0-0, and he is 8/1 with Boylesports as first goalscorer in what would probably be a 1-0 Spain win, best priced 11/2 with Ladbrokes.

Germany v Greece, 19:45

If you wanted to bet on one of the quarter-finals this is most likely the one you’d pick for a safe result. Greece may be a recent winner of this competition, but Germany are pretty much favourites to win Euro 2012 after picking up maximum points in their group, and the draw has been kind to them. Given that Germany could have faced Russia or the Czech Republic they will be secretly pleased to be playing Greece, without shirking one minute of preparation, I’m sure.

Many of the papers have been keen to make Eurozone-based puns relating to bail-outs, and other such financial chicanery but I don’t really know a lot about that, so I’ll stick to the players. Mario Gomez has been a touch hit-and-miss, scoring well one moment and looking like a German Cameron Jerome the next, but this is the time big players deliver, and he’ll want to prove he can do so. Lahm and Schweinsteiger are used to this sort of level, and the squad seems to be growing into its ability at last.

Greece will take a lot of heart from their win over Russia, and in a tournament like this a single goal from a set-piece can easily win a match. I’ve no doubt the Greek management will have seen enough in the German defence to make them think they can get a goal if they try hard, but for that sort of plan to be effective the Greece defence and midfield will have to concentrate for ninety minutes, and the strikers take any sniff of a chance that could come their way.


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Greece captain Giorgios Karagounis is banned after picking up his second yellow card of the tournament against Russia, and could be replaced by Grigoris Makos or Giorgos Fotakis. Germany right-back Jerome Boateng is available after missing the win against Denmark through suspension, but having deputised and scored, Lars Bender will hope to keep his place at Boateng’s expense.

Germany are 4/11 favourites with the Greeks around and about 10/1 in most places. Ladbrokes offer 13/2 on a 1-0 German win, and that result seems to be in fashion for nervous sides struggling to make the next stage.

Czech Republic v Portugal, 19:45

The Czech Republic have a great tournament pedigree, especially when it comes to memorable moments in the European Championships, but this generation would probably admit things aren’t quite as good as they were. With that in mind, a team that no longer boasts the genius of a Nedved or Smicer has still won their group, putting the Russians out, and in some respects been given an easier draw than they could have predicted.

That is because Portugal occupy a spot everyone thought was Holland’s, and their side is certainly not as good as the Dutch man-for-man. On the other hand, the Portuguese are probably looking at this tie as a bonus, as finishing second in your group is supposed to precede a difficult game against a better team. The fact both sides will fancy a win is also normally good news for the spectators, although a nuance of Portuguese play may cause a problem.

With the attacking skill of Nani and Ronaldo to call on, a lot of the difficulty for Paulo Bento was going to be finding space for them on the pitch, but he has neatly circumnavigated the issue by playing predominantly on the break. If the Czech Republic management realise this they’ll most like set their team up not to commit too heavily in attack early on, which could lead to a stalemate, but with the number of quality attackers on the pitch we should get a goal at some stage.


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Czech Republic captain Tomas Rosicky is doubtful with an Achilles injury picked up against Greece, so Daniel Kolar is on standby to deputise, as he did against Poland. Portuguese duo Bruno Alves and Raul Meireles both appear to have overcome the knocks picked up against the Dutch, and Paolo Bento has no other fitness concerns meaning he’ll most likely name an unchanged side.

The Czech Republic are 47/10 with BetDaq as winners, while Paddy Power make Portugal 4/5 favourites to progress to the semi-final. Ronaldo is 4/1 favourite with Stan James to be the first goalscorer, although I quite like the look of the 20/1 with Betfair on the Czechs to win it 2-1.

England v Ukraine, 19:45

There has been none of the bravado that surrounded Rooney’s return in 2006, and some of that humility probably stems from the dead-headed manner of his sending-off. If the Luis Suarez handball against Ghana could be considered the most useful way to get sent off, Rooney’s stupid kick out at a defender is at the other end of that spectrum, but all that is done and with any luck he’ll be keen to make up for his misdeed.

The other factor that may prove vital is the rest he has enjoyed over the last few weeks, not featuring heavily in the build-up games, and the injury he was carrying at the end of the season should also have eased because of that, so he may be more fresh and fit that some other players. The decision about who will drop to the bench is one Roy Hodgson must take, but there is no doubt Wayne will play tonight.

The Ukraine will be in front of their home fans, and so far they’ve done a good job of making that an advantage rather than a burden. Andriy Shevchenko is turning this competition into his last hurrah with some aplomb and the English defence will need to be alive to his movement, if not his pace. With Sweden having nothing to play for both sides here must assume France will win, and plan accordingly.

Theo Walcott suffered a recurrence of a hamstring injury in training on Sunday, described by manager Roy Hodgson as a “slight setback”. Andriy Shevchenko is struggling with a left knee problem sustained in the 2-1 win over Sweden, but will be desperate to play, not expecting another chance given he is now 35. You can get 6/1 on a nervy 1-1 draw with William Hill, which would put England through, just.


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Sweden v France, 19:45

There is always an issue with translation when you are reading the words of a foreign footballer, but some of the players in the Swedish squad sounded decidedly downbeat after the England game, and not at all like they cared about the result tonight. England and the Ukraine will both want Erik Hamren’s side to make a game of this, but in some respects the Swedes know they aren’t expected to win anyway, which is not going to help motivate them.

Amazingly, the French had never won a game at the European Championship finals without either Zidane or Platini in the team before the victory over Ukraine, but that win was good for their confidence and a nice watch at times. Their squad is strong enough to rotate in most positions of necessary, but the coach will need to be attentive when it comes to the fitness of the likes of Frank Ribery and Karim Benzema, who have had fairly heavy seasons with their club sides and are vital cogs in the French machine.

Erik Hamren will replace Johan Elmander with either Markus Rosenberg or Ola Toivonen up front, and as he seeks to use some more of his squad one or two other fringe players can expect to feature. If Yohan Cabaye has a slight knock, so Rennes midfielder Yann M’Vila could replace him if the Newcastle player doesn’t recover in time. Samir Nasri is 8/1 with William Hill as first scorer, and France have a striker in Benzema who is capable of making space for his midfield supporters.

 

 

Croatia v Spain, 19:45

Before the competition began there were some people wondering how the loss of David Villa would affect the Spanish system, and after the Italy game I think those questions had only got more difficult to ignore for Vicente Del Bosque. However, toward the end of that game Fernando Torres showed a little bit of class, and against Ireland formally announced his return to the team and the top level of football.

Now it is Croatia’s turn to chase the ball for the vast proportion of this game without ever getting a moment to rest when they do win it, but their manager will have them ready to run through walls for him even if he can’t make them the technical equal of their opponents. A draw of a certain quality would put both sides through, which is making the Italians of all people nervous about a fix, but I’d be surprised if the Spanish lose or draw tonight.

Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic will be assessed after getting a knock in the Italy game, and there could well be a change of system from the Croats. Spain’s Sergio Busquets has been passed fit following a scan on his foot, and Fernando Torres is expected to keep his place after scoring twice in the last match. Bet365 have 3/1 on Spain winning by a single goal, but the World and European Champions could well come under pressure from Croatia.


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Italy v Ireland, 19:45

Italy didn’t come here with the best squad they’ve ever assembled, and given the way the fixtures were arranged I expect the management team were aware they may not have qualified after two games. However, the draw with Croatia was a bit of a let-down and they are now relying on results elsewhere to have a chance at the quarter-finals.

If the two other teams in the group achieve the correct draw Italy will be out, and while there are many who find the idea of Italian footballers complaining about a potential fix more than a little bit funny, it would be a shame if some fishiness went down. Ireland need to play well for the fans, who have given a huge amount of support to a team that so far has let them down, and the manager won’t want to be remembered as a totally failure either.

Mario Balotelli trained on Sunday after a knee problem but Italy coach Cessare Prandelli has suggested he may rest Balotelli, although Andrea Barzagli is finally expected to feature after missing the opening two matches with a calf problem. Damien Duff will captain Ireland on his 100th appearance for his country, and Kevin Doyle starts at the expense of Simon Cox in manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s only change. William Hill have 11/1 on a 3-1 win for Italy, but I think Ireland are capable of spoiling the Italian party.

 

Portugal v Netherlands, 19:45

Holland have a fairly simple equation this evening, a win is required, and preferably a big one. For Portugal it is more complex, and the result in the other game in the group will dictate what they need to do, but a loss would certainly put them out. With that in mind we can expect a really good game this evening, providing the nerves don’t get the better of the players as they seemed to last night in Group A.

For Portugal the key is going to be finding a way play without Ronaldo, which will take the pressure off the Real Madrid forward and allow him to relax into his own football. Their play has been patchy up until now, but there are few coaches working with such a wide variety of players as Paulo Bento, in terms of the wildly differing ability in the squad.

The same is true to a lesser extent in the Dutch squad, although to some it seems as if the biggest problem could be the coach and his continuing loyalty to Mark van Bommel. Starting the first game with both the PSV veteran and Nigel de Jong made Holland look a bit conservative, and the Robin van Persie issue is an odd one. To all intents and purposes the men around him for Holland are better players than those at Arsenal, and you can understand the confusion as to why he isn’t scoring freely, but eventually the management will take the fall.

Portugal defender Miguel Lopes is set to return following a cold, meaning head coach Paulo Bento has a fully-fit squad of 23 players to choose from. Netherlands boss Bert van Marwijk has looks ready to make changes as he chases a win, with Rafael van der Vaart and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar tipped to start at the expense of Mark van Bommel and Ibrahim Afellay, most probably. Portugal are 4/1 to win the game by a 1-goal margin with Ladbrokes, which would send the Dutch packing, and probably Portugal through.


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Denmark v Germany, 19:45

Denmark may not have expected to be in contention at this stage, in their hearts, but a good result against Holland has left them with a shot of emulating the Greeks and putting out a much bigger nation. Unfortunately the task ahead of them seems to be the greatest at the tournament, with Germany playing as well as anyone and seemingly not struggling with the occasion or fitness.

It seems as though the Danes won’t be able to rely on Christian Eriksen to inspire their play at this competition, and it is not surprising the young man is suffering from fatigue after a heavy schedule at Ajax, considering his tender years. They may have a few questions to answer off the pitch, in particular one dim-headed striker, but the game ahead of them is simple, and in reality Denmark know they must give it their best and hope that is enough.

Only one team has collected maximum points at this stage, and if Germany can get the win tonight that will be a very strong message to the rest of the competition. The temptation to rest a couple of players will be strong for a coach who knows they are tired but on the other hand momentum is a massive factor at tournaments like this one, and changing the line-up could have a detrimental effect in that area.

Denmark’s Dennis Rommedahl is out with a strain, while midfielder Niki Zimling is a doubt. For Germany, right-back Jerome Boateng picked up his second yellow card against the Dutch and is suspended. Mario Gomez has hit form at the perfect moment, and Victor Chandler have 5/1 on him for first goalscorer.

Czech Republic v Poland, 19:45

The simple fact for both of these sides is that a win would almost certainly be enough to qualify, and we all know how simple it is to get a result under massive pressure. With that in mind you can expect the home crowd, which up until this point had been a massive advantage for the Poles could become more of a burden as the expectation starts to press down on the shoulders of the national team. If the Czech Republic do their jobs properly they will play on that and aim to make the Poles choke.

Poland have three injury issues manifest in the form of Damien Perquis, Dariusz Dudka and Eugen Polanski, and while none are ruled out they are still having treatment and being monitored in therms of their fitness. Czech Republic captain Tomas Rosicky is a slight doubt, but other than that they have no new concerns over the fitness of their squad. You can get 11/1 with Bet365 on a 2-1 Czech win, but this is the best chance Poland will have at a Euro quarter-final in a while, I reckon.


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Greece v Russia, 19:45

Even as the top team in the group Russia will still want to win this game, but I think they can afford to draw and still qualify. There is no particular reason why the team that has been so impressive up until this point should fall away dramatically, and they are not so far gone that the coach can rest his key men for future  battle so in theory Greece will struggle to get close to their opponents this evening. Some of the younger members of their squad could theoretically get a bit nervous, but having seen Dzagoev and co play with great aplomb against Real Madrid it seems unlikely they’ll be unduly nervous about facing the Greeks.

Greek keeper Kostas Chalkias is out after injuring his hamstring, so Michalis Sifakis replaces him betwixt the sticks. Unfortunate centre-back Avraam Papadopoulos is unlikely to play again this year, but Sokratis Papastathopoulos is available after suspension. Russia appear to have a fully-fit starting XI, but Advocaat may consider replacing the misfiring Aleksandr Kerzhakov with Roman Pavlyuchenko. Ladbrokes have 9/2 on a Russia win by a 2-goal margin, and the Greece squad will do very well to get a win here.