Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Euro 2012 Update

Today Sweden beat France 2-0 and England beat Ukraine 1-0, so I called both games wrong. Oh, well. Here's how Group D finished (teams advancing to the knockout round are in bold):

England: 2-0-1 (7 points)
France: 1-1-1 (4)
Ukraine: 1-2-0 (3)
Sweden: 1-2-0 (3)

Now that the group stages are finished, we're ready for the quarter-finals. Here are the match-ups:

June 21 (Warsaw):
Czech Republic v. Portugal

This should be an evenly matched game between two small countries. But whoever wins here will be favored to lose to Spain in the semi-finals. I have a mild preference for a Portugal victory because I would like to watch a Spain/Portugal match-up.

June 23 (Donetsk, Ukraine):
Spain v. France

Spain is the best team in the world. They won Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup. France are a tough, scrappy team, but it will be a huge upset if they beat Spain.

June 22 (Gdansk, Poland):
Germany v. Greece

All sorts of interesting history at work here. Until World War II, most Americans knew of this city as Danzig, and it was a major part of Prussia and the German Empire in the years before World War I. A dispute over Danzig was one of the Hitler's excuses for invading Poland in 1939. After the war, the city was taken from Germany for good and given to the Poles. It's ironic that Germany is returning to Gdansk for this game. It's also ironic that the game features the two countries most at odds with each other over the euro crisis. But history is likely to be main source of interest; Germany will be overwhelming favorites.

June 24 (Kiev):
England v. Italy

When it comes to soccer, no two European countries are more at odds than England and Italy. England likes to attack; Italy likes to play defense. England takes pride in its scrupulous competitions; Italy is hit with the occasional match-rigging scandal. England plays on emotion and regularly suffers heartbreak in international competitions; Italy is coldly ruthless and is excellent in the clutch.

Unfortunately, these two giants rarely play each other -- this will be their first meeting at the European Championship since 1980 (Italy won 1-0), and their first match that wasn't an exhibition since a World Cup qualifier in 1997 (a 0-0 draw in a game where Italy needed a win). England hasn't beaten Italy in a game that counted since 1977 -- since then the Three Lions have gone 0-3-1 against the Azzurri (not counting exhibition games). Two of the most emotional fan bases in Europe now have almost a week to work themselves into a frenzy of rage against an opponent whose approach to the game is one that they despise, so this should be quite a battle.

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