Last week was devoted to previewing each of the four groups in Euro 2008 and with the start of the tournament less than a week away, it’s time for me to take those previews and make predictions for the knockout rounds.
Today, I’ll cover the four quarterfinal matchups I believe will take place, on Wednesday, I’ll do the same for the semifinals, and I’ll take you into the weekend (and the first four games of the competition) by previewing my pick for the final on Friday and posting the TV schedule for the group stage.
Quarterfinal #1 (June 19, 2:45 PM; St. Jakob-Park, Basel):
This would be the most compelling game to watch in the quarterfinal round. It pits two extremely capable coaches against each other in Luiz Felipe Scolari and Slaven Bilic, though the advantage would obviously go to Scolari as he’s won a World Cup and is the more experienced of the two. Both managers are tactically sound and disciplined. Both of their teams are organized and play a system rather than play as a group of free-lancing individuals.
Because of these things, a tight game is the only thing that could be expected. Portugal has more talent on the field with Cristiano Ronaldo, the best player in the world, and Deco, a midfield general when his mind is right, both thinking about going forward and breaking down defenses. Croatia doesn’t have a group of slouches in their midfield though either; Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar are terrific in their own right and would cause problems for the slow Portuguese back line.
Without their leading goal scorer from qualification, Eduardo da Silva, I just don’t think Croatia has that cutting edge up front that they’d need to beat Portugal, whereas although Portugal features only one center forward on the field at a time, each of their midfield players, their wingers in particular, are capable of putting the ball in the back of the net.
Portugal also has an easier group to come out of and would be less fatigued than a Croatian side who will have to battle a co-host in Austria and two physical, hard-working teams in Germany and Poland.
I like Portugal’s goalkeeping situation better; Ricardo has great reflexes from close range and is fantastic at saving PK’s, which could be the difference in a game as close as this. Stipe Pletikosa is the Croatian goalie and he’s fine, but he hasn’t played in enough big games or even done well enough in the meaningful games that he has played in to convince me that he can come up with that one big save or claim a high ball into the area when it’s truly necessary.
Prediction: Portugal-2, Croatia-1
Quarterfinal #2 (June 20, 2:45 PM; Ernst Happel Stadion, Vienna):
If you’re a fan of the Swiss, it’s a win-lose situation in that if they advance from Group A, great, but if they don’t win it, they’re going to have face Germany and not have the home-field advantage that they enjoyed in the group stage. The fact that this game would be played in Vienna probably even favors Germany, to be honest, and Switzerland would need all the help they can get if this matchup were to come to fruition.
Switzerland is overmatched at every position except left wing, where Tranquillo Barnetta should easily get the better of whomever Germany plays on their right flank. Both nations defend very well and do so in a compact, tight manner that will concede the short passes and make the opponent beat you with a great individual play, either by breaking a defender down on the ground by dribbling or by slipping a through ball to an attacker making his run at precisely the right time. Germany has players that are capable of doing both; Michael Ballack and Tim Borowski are great passers and although they’re not the fastest team in the world, Germany has guys like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm who are capable of beating a defender one-on-one.
For Switzerland to have any hope in this game, their defense, led by Arsenal’s Philippe Senderos, has to be the rock it was in the 2006 World Cup and Alexander Frei will need to play incredibly well up front. This is the type of match where whoever scores the first goal will almost assuredly win, so obviously drawing first blood is essential.
Germany’s weakness is at center back, but Switzerland isn’t the pacey, quick-footed team that will be able to exploit it. Per Mertesacker and Christoph Metzelder are the twin towers back there and can win anything in the air, but can be beaten by speed, either on the ball by a dribbler or off the ball by a cutting midfielder or striker. Switzerland will need to put pressure on those two players and see if they’ll crack. If not, it could be a very frustrating afternoon for the Swiss.
Prediction: Germany-2, Switzerland-0
Part two of these quarterfinal predictions will be posted later on this evening, so check back for that.