Euro 2012: My Team of the Tournament

Last night’s resounding 4-0 win for Spain sealed their third straight major tournament victory and furthered their case to be considered the greatest international team of all time and as such it is no surprise at all that they have dominated my team of the tournament.

Spain Win Euros

Spain answered their critics with an outstanding performance en-route to a 4-0 win in last night’s final

The team is as follows…

Formation: (4-3-3)

Iker Casillas:

It is very hard to argue with Casillas’ stunning record of five clean-sheets in six games and with him now homing in on a staggering 140 caps  for his country one might be forgiven for thinking that he could yet go on to reach an even more unbelievable total of over 200 caps! His form has been terrific and he has fully justified his continuing superiority over and above the likes of Pepe Reina and Victor Valdes in Spain’s goalkeeping pecking order which is littered with an embarrassment of riches.

Mathieu Debuchy:

Until he was played out of position in the quarter-final against Spain, Debuchy had looked a very useful attacking right back and it is easy to see why several clubs appear to be interested in acquiring his services in time for the new season.

Mats Hummels:

Having heard much about Hummels’ development at Borussia Dortmund but having not actually seen much of him play myself I looked forward to seeing what he had to offer and he didn’t let me down. He looks strong, comfortable on the ball and very assured in the challenge whether it be aerial or on the deck and I think he proved that he has the makings of one the world’s finest centre-halves.

Sergio Ramos:

Ramos may have spent much of his career as a right back but he looked very assured in the central role and he grew in stature throughout the tournament. His contribution to five straight clean-sheets was immense and it will be hard to see Carles Puyol getting his place back in the side if he were to choose to keep playing international football.

Jordi Alba:

Alba deserves a place in this side even if only for the remarkable off the ball run he produced to score the second goal in the final. He has had a fine tournament and he deserves an enormous amount of praise not only for his attacking value at full-back but also for proving that his defensive abilities are right up there too.

Xabi Alonso:

I think Alonso might well be the most underrated player in the Spanish side. As well as providing a tremendous work-rate and a bit of steel in the Spain’s sextet of midfielders, his passing ability sometimes goes under the radar when playing alongside the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Silva and Fabregas but it is supremely good over both short and long distances. Alonso also deserves great credit for his two well taken goals in the game against France and the composure he demonstrated in scoring his penalty in the semi-final shootout with Portugal.

Bastien Schweinsteiger:

Like Alonso, Schweinsteiger gets through a hell of a lot of work in the ‘engine room’ of his side’s midfield and his ability to play a slick, slide-rule pass is second to none (…well, very few anyway…) Gomez’s prowess in front of goal impressed in the group stages for the Germans and it was  mainly Schweinsteiger’s hard work which earned the front man his best opportunities.

Andrea Pirlo:

If it weren’t for the outcome of the final then he would be a runaway winner of the player of the tournament award as he was at the heart of all that was great about a surprisingly strong showing from an Italian side that few people fancied to make a huge impact on this tournament. Against England and Germany in particular Pirlo played wonderfully well from deep in the Italian midfield and his exemplary displays of passing football demonstrated exactly what many of the sides at this tournament lack; a midfielder with so much class and ability that they can create space for themselves and dictate the play from multiple positions on the field.

Andres Iniesta:

Iniesta had a fabulous tournament and even though he may not have scored any goals he was a constant threat to all opposition that Spain came up against and the pressure built by his passing play and smart movement contributed significantly to Spain’s third straight major tournament success. He has been named the player of the tournament by Uefa having not managed to get himself on the scoresheet at any point in the tournament and this speaks volumes about his contributions.

Cristiano Ronaldo:

Love him or hate him, you have to respect him. I definitely and unashamedly veer on the side of ‘love him’ and was pleased to see him have a major impact on a major tournament in international football, as it has put many of his doubters to shame and it demonstrated that he does indeed possess the leadership skills necessary to captain a Portugal side who impressed throughout much of this tournament. He may not quite have inspired his side to make it all the way to the final but he goes home with a share of the ‘golden boot’ award having bagged three goals.

Mario Balotelli:

As is the case with Ronaldo you may well love or hate Balotelli, but regardless of which side of the fence you sit on it is hard to deny that he isn’t a joy to watch one way or another. Throughout lengthy periods of this tournament Balotelli was superb and his behaviour was generally pretty decent by his standards which perhaps showed signs of increased maturity in the unpredictable young front-man. He too will return home with a share of the ‘golden boot’ and one would hope that he can look back on this tournament as the start of a more consistent and reliable stage of his developing career.

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Euro 2012: Quarter-Final 2 Prediction

Germany Vs. Greece:

Having sent shockwaves through the entire competition with their surprise win against Russia in their final group game, in the quarter-finals Greece now face the challenge of taking on Germany who have recently taken over from reigning champions Spain as the bookies favourites to win the tournament.

Mario Gomez and Bastien Schweinsteiger

Gomez and Schweinsteiger have been the two stand-out performers for tournament favourites Germany

It would be fair to say that the Greek side isn’t packed with household names or with players that possess real star quality but their performance against Russia and the willingness to fight for a result which they showed in the second halves of their other two group games against Poland and the Czech Republic have impressed and Germany must be prepared to face up to a very committed and resilient side this evening.

Greece may not have superstars at their disposal but they appear from the outside to be a harmonious group of players intent on taking the national side as far as they possibly can in this tournament and though they don’t seem keen to get too far ahead of themselves they will surely be thinking back to 2004 and wondering whether they could do it all over again.

As with the Portugal-Czech Republic game yesterday though, I am finding it very difficult to see beyond the overwhelming favourites to win the game and in today’s quarter-final Germany are undoubtedly befitting of such a billing.

Before the tournament begun I was tipping Germany to win the tournament as their team appeared to have a very decent blend of youth and experience as well as the deadly combination of style and substance. Many were expecting them to continue in the same vain as their performances in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which at the time were being labelled as ‘very un-German’ as they were full of vibrancy and excitement as opposed to the more stereotypical solidity and efficiency of many former German national sides but thus far in the tournament we have seen more of a return to the days of organisation and attacking ruthlessness.

Some have even dared to mock the German side for their less fluent approach so far in the tournament but I think Joachim Loew has got his tactics absolutely spot on as his side have come through the hardest group in the tournament having dropped not a single point along the way.

Sure, the German side at the Euros have played with more structure  and perhaps less excitement than the side that won so many admirers in South Africa two years ago but that is because they were quick to realise that this was exactly the requirement if they were to stand the best chance of advancing from ‘the group of death’ and giving themselves the best route possible to the final of the competition.

I think that this quarter-final tie with Greece will provide Germany with a greater opportunity to express themselves and play a more adventurous brand of football, as on paper it is arguably the easiest game they have had in the tournament thus far.

We should however expect Germany to stick with the winning formula that has served them so well in the group stages where their performances have been based upon an understanding of togetherness, cohesion and the knowledge that they must be clinical when chances to score come their way.

I think that Greece will  struggle to live with Germany’s work rate and dominance of possession and I think Germany will be afforded the opportunity to press forward more than they did in the group stages  and  I’m going for a  3-0 Germany victory which would set up a semi-final against either England or Italy.

 

Euro 2012: Day 2 Predictions

Denmark Vs. Holland:

Both sides will head into their opening game with real optimism having both qualified for the Euros in very convincing fashion. Holland will be the favourites courtesy of their wealth of high profile and world class performers as well as being buoyed by their run all the way to the final of the World Cup in 2010 but they will have to be on their guard to avoid dropping points to a very decent Denmark side.

Holland Denmark

Holland overcame Denmark at the World Cup in 2010 and will be expected to do so again at the Euros

The favourites to win the opening game of Group B are blessed with an attacking contingent that is the envy of most sides in international football and they will be heavily reliant upon the threat that this unit provides as their defence is by comparison a little weak.

Denmark will have to be willing to attack Holland if they are to avoid defeat as it will be very difficult indeed to keep the Dutch’s attacking threat at bay for the whole of the ninety minutes. Their attacking burden may have to be shouldered by the promising Christian Eriksen whose pace and craft has caught the eye of many.

I think this is a game which looks like it will contain a few goals as Holland’s ambitions are based upon their lethal attacking options and because Denmark will seek to exploit any weaknesses that their opponents may have in their rear-guard. I am going for Holland to win 3-1 but I expect Denmark to carry a decent threat throughout and to cause a few scares.

Germany Vs. Portugal:

In arguably the most anticipated match of the tournament so far we are likely to find out a little more about how far Germany’s youthful squad have come since the World Cup in 2010 and whether Cristiano Ronaldo will be supported strongly by his Portugese team mates in their quest to prove not only that they aren’t a ‘one man team’ but also that they have the ability to exceed expectations and qualify from the ‘Group of Death’.

Germany Portugal

Ronaldo is undoubtedly the key man for Portugal but most fancy Germany to limit his threat and dominate against the Portugese

I think Germany are undoubtedly one of the stand-out teams in the tournament and I think their blend of youth, in the form of players like Mats Hummels, Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze, and experience, in the form of players such as Philip Lahm, Bastien Schweinsteiger, Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose, looks set to provide the platform for a genuine crack at winning the competition.

Portugal on the other hand are being almost written off by many and they will be determined to prove that they do have a chance not only of progressing to the latter stages of the competition but also that they should be considered contenders to win the tournament. I think it would be grossly unfair to label the Portugese a ‘one man team’ as they have plenty of world class performers such as Pepe, Fabio Coentrao, Joao Moutinho, Danny and Nani, however, their will undoubtedly be a great reliance upon Ronaldo to weigh in with a heavy goals contribution if they are to prove to be a serious threat.

Germany will have to be at their best to ensure victory in a game which most people fancy them to win and I think they’ll get the result. I am going for a 2-1 win for the favourites in a closely contested match but I am not totally writing off Portugal who possess a great threat to some of the more fancied sides in Group B. Expect to see Germany control the possession of the ball and Portugal to have real menace on the counter-attack.

The Key Head-to-Head battles in Munich

This evening’s Champions League final pits firm-favourites Bayern Munich against underdogs Chelsea both of whom have had to defy the gods en-route the final.

Heynckes Di Matteo

Bayern’s Manager and Chelsea’s Interim Manager will have a huge say in tonight’s final

Bayern Munich, who I tipped as my Champions League winners in a blog post at the start of the season, will have the huge advantage of playing the final of European football’s showpiece event on their own pitch, in front of a lot of their own fans and in the comfort of their own stadium.

As nice as it is for Bayern to be playing on home turf, if some were to level criticism at them for winning the trophy in favourable circumstances then that would be grossly unfair given that they have overcome the likes of Real Madrid en-route to the final.

Madrid who early in the second leg of their Semi-Final clash had a 3-2 aggregate lead and a 2-0 lead on the night, were eventually out-gritted and out-done by the kings of German football who somehow found the strength to claw their way back into the tie and win it on penalties.

It is also hard to estimate just how much of an advantage it will prove to be for the giants of German club football to be playing at the Allianz Arena given that their home fans will theoretically have a far smaller ticket allocation than they would usually have for matches in their own ground. However, given that Munich are hosting the final it is more than likely that the ‘neutral’ sections of the ground will be awash with the red shirts and this anticipated wealth of support should give them the edge if they didn’t already have that in terms of their arguably superior playing personnel.

Opponents and ‘visitors’ Chelsea have endured a very strange season indeed. They have already slumped to a pretty dismal sixth-placed finish in the Premier League but they have also managed to land themselves some silverware in the FA Cup.

The other major positive in Chelsea’s season of contrasting fortunes has been their rise from the ashes in this season’s Champions League which has seen them recover from 3-1 down against Napoli after the first leg of their Second Round tie and from 2-1 down and a man down half an hour into their Semi-Final against a much-vaunted Barcelona side.

The man who must receive the most credit for dragging Chelsea’s season up from the cusp of a crisis is undoubtedly their Interim Manger Roberto Di Matteo. The young Italian has led the side he once played for with admirable calmness and confidence and should he fulfil the Chelsea Owner, Roman Abramovic’s, dream of landing the Champions League then surely he will be named the full-time boss come next week.

The outcome of the final could well be result of the team selection’s which both of the manager’s make and the reason for this is that both of them will be without several key players due to suspension.

Bayern will be without youngsters Holger Badstuber, David Alaba and Luis Gustavo who all would have been probable starters and Chelsea are missing their captain, John Terry, the ever-reliable Branislav Ivanovic and energetic midfielders Raul Meireles and Ramires who performed brilliantly against Barcelona in the Semis.

The probable line-ups for tonight’s game are as follows:

FC Bayern: (4-2-3-1)

Neuer

Lahm

Tymoschuk

Boateng

Contento

Schweinsteiger

Kroos

Robben

Muller

Ribery

Gomez

 

Chelsea FC: (4-2-3-1)

Cech

Bosingwa

Luiz

Cahill

Cole

Mikel

Lampard

Kalou

Mata

Bertrand

Drogba

 

I think the key battles to look out for tonight at the Allianz Arena will be as follows:

 

Bosingwa Vs. Ribery

Chelsea’s probable selection at right-back will be Jose Bosingwa who isn’t exactly renowned for his exemplary defensive strength and discipline but in the absence of the suspended Ivanovic he has to play ahead of Paolo Ferreira as he has the pace to try and deal with the rampaging runs of Franck Ribery.

Ribery Robben

Ribery and Robben will give Chelsea a lot of problem’s down each flank

Ribery is one of the the most talented players in the Bayern side and although he has failed to truly prove himself on the very biggest stages of world football thus far, maybe tonight will provide him with the chance to shine. Going up against Bosingwa will have it’s difficulties in terms of Bosingwa’s speed which should help him keep with the Frenchman but Ribery’s craft and dribbling ability could cause the Portugese full-back to have a torrid evening. If Bosingwa keeps Ribery in his pocket then much of  Bayern’s threat will be negated.

Boateng Vs Drogba

In the absence of first-choice centre-halves, the versatile German international Jerome Boateng provide’s Bayern with their only obvious option to command the central area of their back-line and the task ahead of him could hardly be more difficult than having to deal with Drogba.

Drogba Boateng

Drogba looks to have the beating of Boateng but the young German could emerge as the star for Bayern if he keeps Drogba quiet

There is arguably still no better player on the planet than Drogba when it comes to playing up top as a solitary front-man and if he is at his best then I would be surprised if Boateng and co keep him quiet for long. If Boateng is partnered at centre-back by an out of position and perhaps more importantly rather short Anatoliy Tymoschuk then much of the defensive burden may fall on his shoulders and he could be almost solely reliant for taming the undoubted threat which Drogba poses.

Schweinsteiger Vs. Lampard

Two of this final’s veteran players could have a huge say in the outcome of the match as both of them hold the key to their side’s passing games.

Lampard Schweinsteiger

Could these two decide the outcome of the final with their possession-play in midfield

Both Lampard and Schweinsteiger are seen as their side’s dictators of play and much will rest on each of their shoulders as they seek to win the possession battle which could prove very significant on the night.

Cahill Vs. Gomez

Having played very little football over the past few weeks due to injury, tonight could go one of two ways for Chelsea’s January recruit Gary Cahill. One possibility is that this short-term absence has kept him fresh and ready to take on Bayern tonight, but the other possibility is that he may be under-cooked which he simply cannot afford to be when taking on the likes of Mario Gomez who has already scored 41 goals this season in all competitions.

David Luiz

Gary Cahill will need to be at his very best after a brief injury lay-off

Gomez has some similarities with Chelsea’s target-man Didier Drogba in that they are both part of a rare-breed of tall and strong strikers who aren’t merely physical presences but who are also very mobile and very technically sound footballers. If Gomez performs to something like the best of his abilities then Cahill will have to produce an epic performance to try and keep him under wraps as his likely parter at centre-back will be David Luiz who in spite of an improving level of awareness still represents something of a liability.

 

My Prediction:

I think that both sides will provide a threat due to their respective absences of key players in key positions but I think Bayern will come out on top and deny Chelsea from winning a first Champions League title.

Score: Bayern 2 – 1 Chelsea:

Scorers (In order) : Gomez (First Half), Robben  (Early Second Half), Drogba (15 minutes to go)