Peter Worthington has had an amazing life. And his obituary, which he wrote himself, certainly has an arresting opening line.
Now that the group stages are complete, it’s time for the serious stuff, the knockout rounds. Into the quarter finals are Czech Republic, England, France Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Most people suggest that Germany and Portugal should record easy victories over their Group A opponents, the result of many seeing Greece and the Czech Republic as the weakest sides left in the competition. Spain v France and England v Italy over the weekend are certainly expected to be much closer affairs, where the difference could be a piece of individual brilliance…
Czech Republic v Portugal (Thursday 21st June)
I expect the first quarter final between the Czech Republic and Portugal to be a one-sided affair with the Portuguese dominating the ball and the Czechs looking to launch counter attacks. It will be interesting to see how Joao Moutinho does against the double anchor in midfield of Jaroslav Plasil and Tomas Hubschman, he may need Raul Meireles to play further forward than he has done in the group stages.
The Czech Republic’s attack lacks any real threat with Milan Baros looking very isolated at times when the Czechs have been penned back in group games. Their man outlet will be Vaclav Pilar on the left hand side, who has been very impressive so far. Expect lots of long diagonal balls looking to play the tricky winger in behind Portuguese right back Joao Pereira who likes to venture forward when Portugal attack.
For Portugal, another big performance will be expected from Cristiano Ronaldo and he should get a lot of joy up against Theodor Gebre Selassie who is susceptible to getting caught out when venturing too far forward, and a bit suspect positionally. For this reason, Ronaldo, Portugal’s key man, could get lots of time and space in and around Portugal’s attacking third, and this could cause the Czechs major problems.
Prediction: Portugal – The Portuguese should have too much for the Czechs. The Czech Republic pose few threats going forward, and the likes of Ronaldo and Nani should expect plenty of joy at the other end of the pitch. I would expect a comfortable two goal win for Portugal.
Germany v Greece (Friday 22nd June)
The second quarter final between Greece and Germany is expected to be the most one-sided of the ties, with Greece having dramatically claimed a 1-0 win over Russia to finish as group runner up, against a German side that managed to claim nine points out of a possible nine, in a group labelled the ‘group of death’.
For Greece, their aim will be simply to keep their shape, break up German play and makes things as difficult as possible. But the movement of the likes of Mario Gomez, Lukas Podolski and Thomas Muller should be too much for the Greek’s to cope with. Add in Mesut Ozil’s floating movement laterally from in the hole, as he did so well against Portugal, and it seems that it should simply be a question of how many goals will Germany score?
As with their 2-1 victory over Denmark, where Germany dominated possession and never looking like conceding despite going through the motions, there is always the option of pushing forward the full backs and allowing Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger to play slightly more advanced.
Prediction: Germany – The German defence looks incredibly well organised and at the other end of the pitch, they simply have too much movement and individual brilliance for a very average Greece side. Expect a comfortable German victory.
Spain v France (Saturday 23rd June)
The big question going into this game is over what formation Spain will use. Against Italy, Spain lined up without an out-and-out striker, with Cesc Fabregas operating as a false nine (Jonathan Wilson writes that a false nine is a “player who appears to be playing centre forward, but drops deep”). However this often led to overcrowding in front of the Italian back four with Fabregas dropping deep, Andres Iniesta and David Silva both drifting centrally as inverted wingers and Xavi given license to get forward, knowing that Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets were able to protect him.
Since the Italian game, Torres has started up front for both matches, getting two goals along the way. The striker provides an added dimension to Spain’s attacks and France’s centre backs, Adil Rami and Philippe Mexes would much rather face someone like Fabregas or Silva up front who starts as a conventional striker before dropping deep, rather than have Torres dragging them into the channels.
As for France, they aren’t going to see much of the ball and so it is important that they take their chances. As discovered against Ukraine, the French are at their best when attacking out wide and so playing on the counter against Spain would mean they are able to limit the space in behind their defence and launch quick attacks out wide, in behind Alvaro Arbeloa and Jordi Alba.
Prediction: Spain – Spain should see enough of the ball to be able to create enough clear cut chances to nick a victory, whilst at the same time restricting opportunities for France to score. Personally I would like to see Fernando Torres start as he adds an extra dimension by posing a genuine threat in behind.
England v Italy (Sunday 24th June)
In many ways this could be the least entertaining game of the quarter finals for the neutral. England and Italy are two sides who have been rather reactive throughout the tournament, and there is the potential for a very slow tempoed match when these two sides meet on Sunday.
For Italy, if Cesare Prandelli continues to use his 4-1-3-2 formation, like against Ireland, then it could be a very narrow affair. Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard would face the possibility of dealing with Thiago Motta, Danielle De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio, meaning that James Milner and Ashley Young (or whoever else starts wide) will need to tuck in, leading to the possibility of Italy’s full backs getting plenty of space out wide to take advantage of.
Roy Hodgson’s side looks set to play as it has done throughout the tournament. With a deep defence, (England’s centre backs are not the quickest and the likes of Antonio Di Natale and Antonio Cassano thrive on running into the channels), a compact midfield, and minimal pressure until the opposition enters the England half.
Personally, I feel as though England need to press very high up the pitch against Italy, although this is very unlikely to actually happen as Hodgson prefers his teams to be more rigid. Italy genuinely look threatened when the Irish pressed high and quick during the first twenty minutes of their group game, and it is vital that England stops Andrea Pirlo from getting on the ball and dictating the play.
Prediction: England – Purely because of how solid England have looked so far. This game looks like being slow-tempoed and very compact in the centre and whenever England have forced teams out wide they have looked very comfortable dealing with crosses into the box. I can see Italy being more adventurous, getting their full backs forward and being hit on the counter.
Quarter Final Fixtures
Czech Republic v Portugal (Thursday 21st June, 7.45pm)
Germany v Greece (Friday 22nd June, 7.45pm)
Spain v France (Saturday 23rd June, 7.45pm)
England v Italy (Sunday 24th June, 7.45pm)