With the break between the quarter-finals and the semi-finals at Euro 2008 we can finally draw breath and look at the tournament so far. One thing is for sure. It has been a great success on the field.
The host nations didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t disgrace themselves in the way their fans, particularly the Austrians, feared that they would. The negative sides, Greece, Italy and Romania have been knocked out. The exciting Spanish and Russians have made it to the semi-final and the powerful ever reliable and enterprising Germans are there once again. Turkey have made it with some remarkable last minute performances and they fill the underdog slot in the last four.
Portugal and Holland flattered to deceive but were a joy to watch when they were still there and Croatia produced some great moments and will find it hard to believe that they are not preparing for a semi-final.
The Czech Republic were disappointing, Poland and Sweden were poor and the French had a tournament that they will be desperately trying to forget.
So it now falls on all football writers to make predictions for the semi-finals. My pre-tournament favourites were Germany and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll stand by that prediction now. In Michael Ballack they have a powerful, inspirational and talented captain. In Lahm they have the best full back in the tournament and in Podolski they have goals.
I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t take total credit for my predictions because I had the other semi-finalists to be Spain, Italy and Portugal. The latter two let me down, but I defy anyone to honestly say they had Turkey and Russia to join the other two.
So now we know the line-up we have to say who is going to win. As IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve already said, I believe Germany will win the whole thing so I obviously think theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll beat Turkey. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll need to be more than one goal up going into injury time, but I do think theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll win.
Turkey have done well to get where they are but I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have fancied their chances if theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d had a full squad to choose from. As it is, due to injuries and suspension they may have only thirteen outfield players available and their coach says that he may have to use their third choice keeper as an outfield substitute! Not ideal against the efficient and effective Germans.
Germany may be without the excellent Torsten Frings but Simon Rolfes proved an able deputy in the quarter-final.
The other game is less easy to predict. Spain have been consistently good but Russia have also impressed greatly since Arshavin returned from suspension. They are a dynamic, fast and skillful team and they wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have been too frightened by what they saw of Spain in their game against Italy. However, in the group match Spain easily overcame a Russia side who were admittedly without the mercurial Arshavin.
I think it is likely that Spain will just and only just, overcome the Russians again and set up a great looking final against Germany.
Germany will be too powerful for the Spanish and I will take all the plaudits for predicting a German victory! Well, maybe not all the plaudits as IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got as many wrong as IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got right and we may well see a Turkey v Russia final.
The tournament has been unrelentingly exciting although the Romania v France, Sweden v Greece and remarkably Spain v Italy games have been pretty tortuous to watch. Attacking football is winning the day and the fans have certainly been treated to some wonderful individual and team performances.
As an England fan I have been frightened by a lot of what I have watched because the reality is that there are at least eight teams in the tournament who are significantly better than Fabio CapelloÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s men. DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t forget we lost to France a few weeks ago and we all saw where France stand in the European rankings at the moment.
I really hope that there are three quality matches left in Euro 2008 so that the tournament can be remembered as one of the best ever. I have thoroughly enjoyed it so far and the disappointment of England not being there and losing in the quarter-finals on penalties has been overcome by the brilliance of the football on display.
Maybe the English Premier League could be the top league in the world, but this competition seems to have dispelled the myth that it has the best players. The list of tournament stars includes Lahm, Podolski, Nihat, Villa, Iniesta, Arshavin, Pepe, Frings, Van Nistelrooy and Sneijder. I could go on but there wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be many current Premiership players on the list. They might be there next season of course, but theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not yet!
What am I going to do with myself for the next two evenings? Roll on the semi-finals!
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