Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Earning the (re) cap: Euro 2008 quarterfinals

Breaking down the Euro 2008 quarter-finals...

Germany 3, Portugal 2

This game came with the billing of a clash of ancient titans, and it didn't disappoint. Both sides turned in fantastic displays of attacking football, but Germany's team effort proved superior to Portugal's Ronaldo-centric strategy in the end. Bastian Schweinsteiger returned to the German lineup in fine form after a suspension, scoring the side's first goal and setting up the other two with excellent set pieces. The Germans' strength in the air proved vital, as did their skillful attacks down the left flank from Philipp Lahm and Lukas Podolski. They certainly look to have regained their form after a loss to Croatia and a close win over Austria in the group stage.

Related: Stephen Brunt's excellent column on the match [The Globe and Mail]

Turkey 1, Croatia 1 (3-1 Turkey on penalties)

118 minutes of mostly boredom topped off by two of the most exciting minutes in the tournament so far is the best way to summarize this one. There really wasn't much going on for much of this game, but everything changed late in overtime. The story of the game was Turkish backup goalkeeper Rustu Recber, who was only in the match due to the suspension of number-one choice Volkan Demirel. Recber almost lost the match for his side with a ill-advised tackle attempt on Croatia's Luca Modric in the 119th minute, as Modric simply knocked the ball to Ivan Klasnic, who made no mistake when confronted with an empty net. It would have all been over, and the Croats certainly thought it was, if Recber hadn't immediately atoned for his mistake. He demonstrated leg power that would make NFL kickers green with envy, booting a free kick the length of the field where it fell to Semih Semturk after a few ricochets. Semturk drilled the ball into the back of the net, crushing Croatian spirits and sending the match to penalties, where Recber made a crucial save off of Mladen Petric and Modric and Ivan Rakitic both missed, giving Turkey the improbable win and setting up a great semifinal against the Germans.

- Duane Rollins' post on the game [Out of Left Field]
- John Doyle's column [The Globe and Mail]

The Netherlands 1, Russia 3 (in extra time)

This is an even bigger upset than Turkey's win, in my mind. Croatia was a good team, but only on the edge of real contention, whereas the Dutch had been the most impressive side in the tournament to this point, recording dominating wins over France, Italy and Romania. Turkey also had a prior record of success in major competitions, placing third in the 2002 World Cup and advancing to the Euro 2000 quarter-finals, while Russia had never advanced out of the group stage in either the World Cup or European Championships before this tournament. Guus Hiddink, that master of great results with improbable teams, pulled another one out of his hat, though, and the great thing is he did it in a beautiful-to-watch attacking style, with a little help from one Andrei Arshavin. Arshavin, who few had even heard of before this tournament (except those who follow Zenit St. Petersburg), is now being labeled as "potentially another Pele" by knowledgeable writers like Robert Millward of The Associated Press. He scored two impressive goals and set up another to lead the Russian Bear to victory. Stephen Brunt summarized his performance pretty nicely in this column, entitled "Russian star is born" [The Globe and Mail]:

And so a star is born.
On a steamy night at St Jakob-Park, a tournament that has already taken many a brilliant twist and turn since it opened in this same space two weeks ago has added a new name to the football firmament.
Remember it: Andrei Arshavin, diminutive, short-legged, ruddy-cheeked, looking like he might be fifteen years old. Right now, he belongs to UEFA Cup champions Zenit St Petersburg (and they have no plans to surrender him) but soon enough he's going to belong to the world.
Arshavin, and the brilliant coaching mind of Guus Hiddink, were the catalyst behind the biggest upset of the tournament so far, a 3-1 extra time victory for Russia over Holland, propelling the Russians to the semi-finals, and the Dutch to a soul-crushing defeat.

Bet that kind of press will boost Arshavin's transfer value this summer...

Spain 0, Italy 0 (4-2 Spain on penalties)

Another classic matchup, but the potential of a great game evaporated due to the Italians' stifling defence. It still was a good match, but nowhere near what it could have been if both sides had decided to go for it instead of sitting back and hoping for a break. It's not too surprising that Spain won in the end, though: they've been excellent throughout the tournament so far, while Italy barely squeaked out of their group. It will be most interesting to see what transpires tomorrow between Spain and Russia.

Related: John Doyle's column [The Globe and Mail]

Semifinal previews:

Today: Germany vs. Turkey (Kick-off: 2:45 p.m. ET)

This should be a great match. Turkey will be in tough, though, as they only have 13 players available: five have been lost to injury and two more to suspension. The question is which Germany will show up: the dominant side that bested Poland and Portugal, or the vulnerable one that lost to Croatia and barely edged out Austria? My bet is on the former.

Prediction: Germany 3, Turkey 1

Tomorrow: Russia vs. Spain (Kick-off: 2:45 p.m. ET)
Another good clash. Russia's shown a willingness to attack higher-ranked opposition so far, and if they keep that up against the stylish Spanish, we should be in for a great match. Can Guus Hiddink pull off yet another upset? Possible, but I'm thinking this will be where the Spanish finally come through in a big game.

Prediction: Russia 2, Spain 3

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