LONDON – What a tournament the 2012 Euros are turning out to be. We have had everything that is good about our great game. We have seen my favourites, Holland, dumped out at the group stages, not even winning a point. They were first class going forward but a disaster when asked to defend. Russia, one of my pre-tournament tips to be an underdog, thought Greece would be a walkover and also came unstuck after performing to a very high standard in the first two games.
After Tuesday’s final group games we now have the final eight nations. First up, Portugal versus Czech Republic gives us a first-class quarterfinal, with both nations growing nicely into the tournament. Who would have thought the Czech Republic would be here after being totally outplayed by Russia in the first game? Portugal are another improving team. With Cristiano Ronaldo now showing his Real Madrid form you cannot write them off. It’s Portugal for me. Then Germany play Greece and based on the evidence so far, Germany should be far too strong.
Now for the two really interesting ties on Saturday. Spain, who were the favourites before the tournament opened, play France. The French team must be kicking themselves for not topping the group after Tuesday’s defeat against Sweden. The French have wonderful attacking options with the likes of Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery but defensively they have been found wanting. Philippe Mexes has been especially looking out of form. You simply cannot look past the splendid Spanish with Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez looking outstanding for the world’s No. 1-ranked side.
Finally on Sunday two of my underdogs take to the field. I have a real soft spot for the Italian team having spent three years during my playing days with AC Milan. They have eased their way through, being tactically very astute changing from a 3-5-2 formation in the first game and then back to their more natural 4-4-2 in their last group game. The loss of Giorgio Chiellini, the Juventus rock, is a huge blow. One of the outstanding performances has been Andrea Pirlo; the Juventus midfielder has controlled the middle of the pitch superbly. The Italians, however, will need their great goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon to be at his best.
We are there!! England have qualified, topping our group with seven points. It hasn't been an easy passage, based more on organization, grit and determination rather than silky, sublime skill. Defensively we have been excellent from back to front and in Joe Hart we now have one of the best goalkeepers on show. The return of Wayne Rooney worked because he scored to beat Ukraine but he will need to up his game. Rooney looked a bit ring rusty, not only on the ball but also his fitness looked below par.
In Roy Hodgson we have a very intelligent coach whose tactics in all three games have been spot on. We also appear to be very relaxed away from the pitch which is very important because it's never easy being away for such a long period without family and friends. Put this all together and I believe we can beat Italy. To do so, however, we must retain the ball better especially in the attacking areas.
In my humble opinion the last four will be: Germany, Portugal, Spain and England.
Cities & Stadiums
The Top 3 Teams of Previous Tournaments
|2008||Spain||Germany||Russia / Turkey|
|2004||Greece||Portugal||Netherlands / Czech Republic|
|2000||France||Italy||Netherlands / Portugal|
|1996||Germany||Czech Republic||France / England|
|1992||Denmark||Germany||Netherlands / Sweden|
|1988||Netherlands||Soviet Union||Italy / West Germany|
|1984||France||Spain||Denmark / Portugal|
|1972||West Germany||Soviet Union||Belgium|