By: John Spackman
With only three games remaining to determine who will be the champions of Europe, it has been a busy week of football. The conclusion of the group stages confirmed which teams made the knockout stages; spelling heartbreak for eight nations as their participation in the tournament ended.
As Group C’s matches came to a close last Monday, a dejected silence fell upon Muddy Murphy’s as the Irish were eliminated without troubling their opponents in their 2-0 defeat to Italy; whilst Spain’s victory over Croatia secured their route to the quarter finals.
England’s 1-0 victory over Ukraine meant they qualified along with France; despite France’s shock 2-0 defeat to Sweden. This left the Ukrainian co-hosts racking their brains as to what exactly the newly installed goal line officials were employed to do, after being denied a goal that clearly crossed the line.
It was all about one man in the first quarter-final as Cristiano Ronaldo highlighted why he is the most expensive footballer in history. Following his one man demolition of Holland, he set the tone of this match from the word go; beating players for fun, striking from a distance and looking light years ahead of any other player on the pitch. He scored the only goal of the game to give Portugal victory after twice hitting the post and an audacious overhead kick that went narrowly wide.
Spain’s victory over France was a familiar script as the reigning European and world champions dominated position for painfully long periods; before twice breaking down their opposition for a 2-0 win that booked their semi-final with Portugal.
A bold move by Germany manager Joachim Low saw him rest his first choice attacking unit; bringing in a blend of youngsters alongside veteran striker Miroslav Klose. His decision was vindicated as the perennial contenders netted four times in a dominant, if not spectacular, performance which gave them a 4-2 victory.
There was a sense of cautious optimism rather than any great confidence, whilst fans squeezed themselves into bars at Robertson Quay, for England’s clash with Italy. As the match unfolded it became a case of England’s defiantly durable defence trying to stand tall against the perilously precise passing of Pirlo. After 120 minutes of football the deadlock still had not been broken and the all too familiar scenario of penalties beckoned for the English. The gulf in class between the two teams, which was so frustratingly apparent throughout the game, continued into the shootout; epitomised by Pirlo’s cheeky chip down the centre of the goal as Joe Hart could only look up in embarrassment from the foot of his post. The Italians held their nerve to win 4-2 to set up their semi-final with Germany.
With the semi-finals booked, we are less than a week away from crowning the champions of Europe; will it be the relentless possession of Spain, the winning machine that is Germany, the organised Italians or Ronaldo’s Portugal?