Boxing finally triumphs in Haye-Chisora freak-show but all is not forgotten

After months of idiocy and immaturity David Haye and Dereck Chisora have finally found themselves face-to-face in the ring and Haye’s victory tonight marks what would appear to be the final act in what has for the most-part been a pretty sorry affair both for British Boxing and for British sport as a whole.

It is almost unfair though to group tonight’s fight between the pair in with the rest of the frustratingly moronic pre-fight saga, as the fight itself was fast, fierce, compelling and generally speaking fought in completely the right manner.

Haye and Chisora embrace

Finally Haye and Chisora demonstrated a hint of decency towards one another after Haye defeated him tonight

Boxing is meant to be a sport of honour, bravery and skill and thankfully all three of these were on show tonight. David Haye, the eventual winner by way of knock-out, may have looked a little ring-rusty in terms of his fight-night fitness but his hands were as quick and as strong as ever and Chisora, bustling as usual, was busy, focused and intent on trying to fight on the front foot and on his own terms.

Haye’s tactics may well have proved successful courtesy of the extra fire, speed and conviction that he possesses and Chisora lacks a little but credit must be given to ‘Del-Boy’ for a brave performance which may have been a little too strategically predictable but still showcased an admirable faith in his own ability and perhaps more skill than we have seen from him on occasion, which thankfully Haye was quick to recognise in his physical and verbal post-fight reactions.

All too often boxing matches are remembered for moments of mindless behaviour, rule-breaking or controversial results and though many may have expected this fight to be up there with the most memorable in terms of indiscretions, it was a great relief to see both fighters concentrating on what they’re actually both very good at; Boxing.

The problem with Haye and Chisora though is that in spite of one night of admirable boxing and sportsmanship there still remains a streak of stupidity about the pair and it isn’t easy to forget just how appallingly they behaved at times in the lead up to the fight.

Chisora has always flirted with unjustifiable arrogance and petulance but never more so than when he stepped from behind the interview desk at last year’s Press Conference in Munich and physically fought with Haye before hurling a torrent of disgusting verbal threats at his ‘nemesis the particular highlight of which, or lowlight as the case may be, came when he said he would “physically burn” Haye.

Haye Chisora Brawl

The embarrassing events of Munich will live all too long in the memory and it will be hard for Chisora and Haye to recover their reputations in spite of tonight’s entertaining fight

This enormous lack of grace and dignity has though at times been matched by Haye who was provocative and completely irresponsible in his approach to verbally inciting Chisora’s advances in Munich before too getting too hefty a rush of blood and of monumental lunacy to the head when physically brawling with Chisora.

For all his talent, which much to my personal delight he demonstrated on fight-night against Chisora, Haye is still a sore loser and remains at times painfully wedged firmly up his own rear-end. Tonight he may have done the business with the gloves and with his ability to demonstrate the ‘gift of the gab’, but all too often in the past he has made a complete and utter backside of himself when really he is capable of great eloquence when compared to the vast majority of competitors in his sport.

I am able to get my head around boxing’s pre-fight fanfares and the need for talking a big-game and causing a stir in order to get a push up the ladder, after all had Haye not got through his full range of tomfoolery when he decided it was time to step up to the Heavyweight Division then he wouldn’t have got such a swift shot at the title and he may not have become a World Heavyweight Champion. What does bug me beyond belief though is the level of thuggery, impetuousness and ignorance that both Haye and Chisora obviously felt it necessary to demonstrate on that fateful day in Munich which led to tonight’s battle.

If they both wanted a fight with one another then they could have had one. What I mean to say is that they could simply have left it at verbals in Munich and arranged a fight themselves, to be carried out in a ring with a referee and a scoring panel of judges just as they experienced tonight. It could have been that easy and both men would come out of tonight with their head’s held high, with the reputation of British Heavyweight Boxing still well in tact and with a far greater chance of fulfilling their remaining ambitions in the world of boxing.

As it is though, they tonight have managed only to perform some damage limitation. The damage to their own names and that of British Boxing was already done after ‘Munich-Gate’ and in terms of their personal reputations the damage may well prove to be irreversible. Haye has tonight managed to prove he is still a very talented boxer no matter what weight division he fights in and Chisora has further enhanced his reputation as an offensive and exciting boxer to watch but will this be enough to secure them the fights they desire against the Klitschko’s?

I enjoyed tonight and was glad to see Haye and Chisora demonstrate something dangerously close to sanity and dignity but I hope the Klitschko’s turn down any future opportunities to fight against the pair. The fights would surely make compelling viewing and I happen to think that they have a good chance of materialising over the next year but as far as I’m concerned Haye and Chisora have both disgraced themselves too greatly over the past twelve months for them to be deserving of a shot at the titles of the sometimes annoyingly squeaky-clean Ukranian brothers.

For all their high and mighty nonsense it is hard to deny that the Klitschko’s are still the men to beat in the Heavyweight division and it is  more than fair to say that their teachers-pet like behaviour is by far the lesser of two evils when compared with some of the disgusting behaviour of the two protagonists of the current British Heavyweight scene.

We now await to see whether tonight’s showing has earned bad boys Chisora and Haye enough brownie points for them to get the fights they so desire, only time will tell.

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Wimbledon 2012: Piecing Together The Tournament’s Best Male Player

Every year our TV screens are awash with a Stat-Attack throughout Wimbledon fortnight so I have used the official Wimbledon statistics website to piece together the men’s tournaments most successful players in all areas of the game and tried to come up with a resulting amalgamation of a player that would be unbeatable on the courts of the All England Club. Here goes nothing…

Federer wins Wimbledon

Roger now has seven titles to his name at Wimbledon and he features heavily in the component list for my imaginary hybrid player…

Serving Power: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga topped the charts with the tournament’s fastest individual serve when he rattled an 140 mph-er past Andy Murray in the Semi-Finals.

Aces: Philipp Kolschreiber produced the most aces in tournament with an impressive total of 98 at an average of around 20 per match on his journey to the Quarter-Finals where he was beaten by Tsonga.

Serving Accuracy: The tournament’s highest serving accuracy statistic belongs to Albert Montanes who landed 80% of his 1st serves in play. The Spaniard did however have little else to cheer about in his tournament as he fell at the very first hurdle.

Winning Points On 1st Serve: The big-serving Croat Ivo Karlovic produced a percentage of first serve points won of 86%, which is hardly surprising given the speed and angle his enormous frame helps him generate when his first serves find their required destinations.

Winning Points On 2nd Serve: Ernest Gulbis produced the tournament’s finest record in terms of winning points on his own 2nd serve with an impressive 66%. Sadly though this impressive stat couldn’t save him from an early second round exit from the competition.

Winning Points Against The 1st Serve: The now seven-time champion of the All England Club, Roger Federer, managed an impressive tournament topping total of 186 points won against his opponents 1st serves, which is of course a statistic aided by the fact that he played more matches than any other player in the tournament other than Andy Murray who also played seven times but his average of around 27 points won against the first serve per match is also superior to all other players in the draw.

Winning Points Against The 2nd Serve: Andy Murray, the beaten finalist at this year’s championships, topped the charts in this category with an enormous tally of 192 points won against his opponents 2nd serves throughout the tournament. His nearest challenger in this category was Federer who beat him in the final but the gap between the two in this department was a gaping 40 points.

Break Points Won: The tournament’s most prolific breaker of serve was unsurprisingly it’s champion, Roger Federer. Rodge notched up 38 breaks of serve in his seven matches in the tournament, 8 more breaks than his nearest challenger both in this category and in the tournament as a whole, Andy Murray, who managed 30 breaks of serve.

Break Point Conversion: Without a pause for thought you might just assume that the tournament’s strongest performers in this department would have the highest percentage of break point conversion but actually logic prevails and two first-round flops Simone Bolelli and Thomas Berdych share the honour of having converted 100% of their break points in the Championships. This, if you think about it, is an unsurprising outcome as they only managed one break a-piece in their only matches of the tournament.

(All stats provided by the official Wimbledon website: http://www.wimbledon.com/en_GB/scores/extrastats/rally_count_ms.htm

The Conclusion:

So, according the official stats for the tournament the make-up of this year’s perfect men’s player at Wimbledon would be the serving power of Tsonga, the Ace-making ability of Kolschreiber, the 1st serve accuracy of Montanes, the 1st serve points conversion of  Karlovic, the 2nd serve points conversion of Gulbis, the 1st serve returning talents of Roger Federer, the 2nd serve returning talents of Andy Murray, Federer’s prolific serve-breaking powers and finally the break point conversion and ruthlessness of Berdych and Bolelli.

Unsurprisingly, it is Federer that has dominated proceedings in the creation of this Wimbledon ruling hybrid player make-up but there were also a fair few surprises thrown into the mix. The fact that Federer topped the most categories though goes a long way towards explaining why he won his seventh Wimbledon crown and why he could yet go on to win even more, he has an exceptional all-round game and over the past fortnight very few challengers have been able to live with him! Surely, he can for now be labelled at very least the equal best player of all time?


Maturing Murray the Protagonist in British Tennis’ best fortnight in 35 years

Andy Murray’s four-set defeat to Roger Federer in the men’s singles final at Wimbledon may have been a bitter blow for Murray and his ever-growing fan-base to take but his well navigated journey through to the final, in which he gave his all, proved to arguably be the highlight in what was ultimately a very encouraging couple of weeks for British tennis.

Murray Wimbledon 2012

Murray took another step closer to Grandslam glory but was denied by the wonderful Roger Federer

He may have been the star of Britain’s Wimbledon fortnight but for a change he wasn’t alone in bringing joy to the ever-faithful British tennis following who battled through some of the worst conditions the All England Club has ever had to deal with during their busiest period of the year. Thank god we now have a roof on Centre!

In the women’s championship the British fans were treated to predictable opening round victories for Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha before second round exits for the pair and to the equally predictable host of first round exits but among the first round exits was that of Laura Robson who continues to look more and more adept at Grandslam level in spite of her loss.

Topping Robson’s efforts though was Heather Watson who played as well as we have ever seen the youngster manage at Grandslam level in convincing straight-sets victories in the opening two rounds, even if she did then go on to get firmly put in her place by eventual ladies finalist Agnieszka Radwanska in round three. It may not seem that exciting on the face of it that one of our female competitors managed to make the third round but she was the first to do so in a decade which was great to see from one so green.

In the men’s championship there was also a couple of rays of light to accompany Watson’s showing and Murray’s best performance at Wimbledon to date. These came from youngster Oliver Golding who threatened an opening round victory over the very experienced Igor Andreev before losing in four sets on his Wimbledon men’s debut and James Ward who managed a victory in the opening round of his Wimbledon bow before losing in five sets to 10th seed Mardy Fish.

The fact that Golding’s tight opening round loss, Ward’s debut victory and Watson’s run to the third round are being seen as encouraging signs may reek of desperation amongst British tennis fans to see the good in what is really a disappointing crop of players but it does seem that British tennis is slowly improving across the board and that our group of British females in particular are beginning to make more of an impression at the highest level.

The two genuine success stories though for British tennis during Wimbledon fortnight were those of Johnny Marray who became the most unlikely of victors in the men’s doubles with parter Frederik Nielsen and of Andy Murray who took his quest for Wimbledon and Grandslam glory a step further in reaching his first Wimbledon final and in winning his first ever set in the final of a Grandslam event.

Marray Nielsen

Who had honestly seen Marray play before Wimbledon fortnight? I know I hadn’t!

Marray and Nielsen’s win in the men’s double may not match up to what might have been had Murray landed the men’s singles title but it is an achievement which must lift the heart of all real British fans. It really has made for an astonishing tale of triumph against all the odds and it was a pleasure to watch Marray become the first British man in over 70 years to lift  the men’s doubles trophy and the first Brit to win a senior’s Wimbledon title since Jamie Murray won the mixed with Jelena Jankovic a few years back.

It was genuinely exciting as a British tennis fan to get to watch two of our players make the finals of their respective competitions this weekend and though Marray’s triumph would have been sacrificed by nearly all British fans in exchange for a Murray triumph in his final it was still an enormous pleasure to behold both matches and Murray far from undersold himself in his defeat.

Though we have still been left longing for a winner of a men’s singles victory in one of the four Grandslam events, Murray’s performance in the final and the performances he produced in the previous rounds of the tournament were beyond anything that we have seen from a male competitor in a Grandslam since Fred Perry way back in the 1930’s and the demeanour which Murray has shown throughout the competition was so much more positive and endearing than anything we have seen before from the young Scotsman.

I have always been frustrated by the criticism which Murray has been targeted with by many Brits in that he is a professional sportsman and not a comedian or a tv personality but I concede that it would be beneficial for Murray to become more endearing and engaging as a public persona and I hope that not only his interview blubbing episode but also his on-court and off-court character, throughout the entirety of this tournament in particular, has helped him in becoming so.

I personally have always managed to see something beyond the ‘dour’ and ‘bleak’ public persona which people have attributed to Murray but the past couple of weeks in particular have definitely seen him become a little more at ease with the glare of the media and of the expectant British nation and perhaps it is this sense of Murray maturing and becoming more comfortable with the limelight which has made him get closer than ever before to winning a Grandslam title.

Hopefully this perceived improvement and greater demonstration of his emotions will continue to have a positive effect on his game and I think it is clear to most now that Murray can win a Grandslam title and that he probably will do at some point. If he needs any greater source of belief to cling to than his own undoubted ability in his unrelenting quest to become a Grandslam winner, then he would do well to look to Johhny Marray’s success story for inspiration.

Marray and Nielsen’s win may have been something of a ‘freak’ victory but perhaps it will take something freaky for Murray to finally get past the awesome trio of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in a Grandslam event, which I for one think he will do at some point in the next couple of years.

Call me deluded but I honestly think he will not only go the distance once in a slam but that he will still go on to win more than one. Perhaps this is far too much wishful thinking on my part though… We can but dream….

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.

Euro 2012: Prediction for The Final

Spain Vs. Italy:

So, here we are. It is time for the final and time for us to find out who will be crowned either the kings of Europe or the new kings of Europe.

Spain Vs Italy

Spain will of course go into the game as favourites but Italy should be hopeful that they can cause an upset

Spain head into the final hunting a third straight success in major tournament football, a feat which has never before been achieved and Italy are looking forward to trying to prevent the Spaniards from taking the title and also continuing their uncanny run of achieving major tournament success in the wake of or in the midst of major match-fixing scandals within their national game.

So far many have deemed Spain’s performances a little lacklustre when considering their enormously high standards but such thoughts and pessimism regarding the Spanish must be unfair given that they have once again made it all the way through the tournament and into the final.

Italy on the other hand have been the recipients of an enormous amount of praise for the way in which they have surprised people not only with their ability to carve out important results but also the way in which they have gone about their business on the pitch, playing with perhaps a greater emphasis on the attacking side of the game than has been evident in former Italian sides in major tournaments.

The man behind most of Italy’s attacking play has been Andrea Pirlo who has had an astonishingly good tournament and who has shone above the likes of Xavi and Iniesta of Spain each of whom have become the benchmark for creative midfielders to aspire to over the past few years. Pirlo’s range of passing has been at the forefront of Italy’s success in each and every one of their matches thus far and Spain will have to deal far better with the threat he poses from deep in the Italian midfield than either England or Germany managed to do in the previous two rounds.

Contrastingly, Spain have struggled to decide upon their ‘go-to man’ in this tournament and perhaps that is why they haven’t been quite so fluent as people have come to expect them to be. Some of their best attacking play has though been provided by Andres Iniesta who has been given a more forward-thinking role over the past couple of years by the Spanish coaching team and they will need him to be at his very best if they are to make history this weekend.

I have a feeling that this will be a very close game indeed and I think that things will unfold in similar fashion to how they did when these two sides met in their opening group game where Italy took the lead and were pegged back by Spain. I think that normal time will again see these two sides locked at 1-1 and I think Spain will win in extra-time in spite of a brave Italian performance.

I actually think that Italy could well be the side creating the bulk of the game’s best chances but I am backing Spain to fight their way to the narrowest of victories courtesy of some clinical finishing.

Euro 2012: Semi-Finals Predictions

Portgual Vs. Spain:

Though the reigning champions Spain will go into the first semi-final as big favourites to win and progress to a third straight final in major tournament football, their opponents and next-door neighbours Portugal are arguably in better form and will be keen to get one over on their more celebrated neighbours.

Ronaldo Casillas

This international ‘derby-match’ makes for a mouth-watering semi-final clash at the Euros

It isn’t as if ‘getting one over’ on Spain is Portugal’s only huge incentive to take this run further either, they are also hugely driven by their failure to capitalise on their run to the final on home turf in 2004 and to some extent are still embarrassed by their loss to huge underdogs Greece in that final and they are more than keen to try and erase such bitter memories with an incredible rise to prominence at this tournament.

If Portugal were to defeat Spain and then whoever would be lying in wait in the final then the Portugese will have landed the trophy in the most spectacular of fashions having come through the ‘group of death’ defeating Denmark and Holland along the way and then having defeated rivals Spain and then either one of footballing super-powers Germany or Italy in the final.

Typically, to win a major tournament you have to have overcome some serious opposition along but with their quarter-final draw aside, if Portugal were to win the tournament come Sunday evening then they would surely have had one of the more amazing runs ever seen in a European Championships.

Portugal will need to keep their dreams in check though for now, as they must try and do what nobody has done since France in 2006 and find a way to get the better of Spain in the knockout stages of a major competition.

Spain have been on the receiving end of a wave of criticism in this tournament for their perceived negativity in not selecting an ‘out-and-out’ striker  in half of their games but their record stands up against any criticism and scepticism as they have won three out of their four matches and drawn with fellow semi-finalists Italy.

Arguably their most criticised performance was their quarter-final showing against France but the facts are that they won the game 2-0 against very strong opposition and that they hardly ever looked even remotely troubled throughout. People have begun to turn against Spain as they do with many sides that are successful over a long period of time, as success does grate on some and any complaints about Spain’s strategy at this tournament and also the lack of excitement for the neutrals in a couple of their matches is just grown out of bitterness.

It is very hard indeed to justifiably have a pop at Spain and Vicente Del Bosque’s preferred tactics as they have once again found themselves unbeatable up to this point of the tournament. However, if Portugal harbor real hopes of becoming the first team since France to get the better of Spain in a major tournament then they would do well to follow in the footsteps of Croatia who may have ended up losing to Spain but along the way they caused some major concerns for their more celebrated opponents and could really have won the game had they made the most of their chances.

I think Portugal are actually quite well set up to cause Spain some issues and I think that inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo they will draw the game 1-1 in normal time. If this predicted score is to materialise then I will back Portugal to win either in extra-time or on penalties even if just to make this score prediction a little more ballsy.

 

Italy Vs. Germany:

The second of the semi-finals is set to be a very intriguing game indeed and in the wake of Germany’s performance against Greece in the quarter-finals which was full of attacking intent and ambition, their coach Joachim Loew now has some very tough selections to make in his side to face an Italian team who are likely to pose a greater threat and greater defensive resistance than Greece were capable of.

Pirlo Italy

Pirlo’s ‘Panenka’ spot-kick capped a wonderful night’s work against England both for him as an individual and for Italy as a whole

Arguably the toughest of Loew’s decisions regarding his line-up for the semi-finals will be whether he can find a place for the very impressive Marco Reus. Reus was behind much of Germany’s best play against the Greeks and he got his name on the score-sheet in emphatic style and may well have played his way in Loew’s thinking ahead of the Italy clash, as this individual performance was arguably more impressive than any other by one of Loew’s usual first-choice trio of attacking midfielders Thomas Mueller, Lukas Podolski and Mesut Ozil thus far in this tournament.

It seems a formality that Mario Gomez will come back in for Miroslav Klose as the lone striker and Germany will be heavily reliant upon Gomez to prove himself just as clinical this time around as he was in the opening two games of the tournament, which saw him score three goals having had possession of the ball for just 22 seconds throughout these two matches. This conversion rate was staggering and it proved many of Gomez’s doubters very wrong indeed and now Germany will hope he can return to the side in similar goal-scoring fashion.

Germany’s opponents Italy may not have frightened the life out of any potential opposition at this tournament with their failure to score over 120 minutes of football against England who they had on the back-foot for much of Sunday night but they did play well and they will be hugely encouraged by Andrea Pirlo’s glorious exhibition of passing football and one of Mario Balotelli’s more persistent, determined and perhaps most importantly mature performances in an Italian shirt.

Italy are under no illusions about the task lying ahead of them if they are serious about winning the Euros and they know they will have to be more clinical if they are to have any chance of doing so but there were many more positives than negatives to come out of their quarter-final performance and consequentially they will head into the Germany game with greater self-confidence.

I think that Italy will find it hard to adapt to being fronted up to when it comes to possession and in terms of territorial domination in this semi-final clash after the dominance they experienced in their game against England and what I think will hurt them the most is that Andrea Pirlo in particular is far more unlikely to have a huge say in this game as Germany are better equipped to deal with the significant threat which he poses.

I think Germany will win the game 2-1 and I still have them down as my favourites to win the tournament as I have throughout the entirety of the competition.

Euro 2012: Quarter-Final 3 Prediction

Spain Vs. France:

Throughout the group stages both France and Spain struggled for fluency at times and both flirted with elimination from the competition on match-day three of the groups when they were each given a real scare by ‘inferior’ opposition.

Spain France Euro 2012

Spain and France have struggled to find their best form so far in the competition

France in particular struggled to find form in the group stages and qualified from group D as runners-up having managed a total of just four points from their three matches, their most disappointing performance of all coming in their final game against Sweden where they were beaten 2-0 by a side already assured of elimination from the competition.

Arguably their best performance of the groups was against England in their opening game where they dominated the game for long periods but even with the amount of territory and possession they managed against the English they still didn’t look hugely threatening as they were all too often limited to long range strikes at goal.

If France are to have any hope of shocking the reigning European and World Champions Spain then they will have to find much more fluency and will have to find ways of getting in behind their opponents which is something they have really struggled to do in their group matches against England and Sweden.

When the French are at their best they find a way of getting their danger men into the action on a regular basis and it is essential that they provide the likes of Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery with plenty of ball so that they can use the full width of the pitch and stretch the game. If they don’t manage to do so then it is likely that Spain will be allowed to play within their comfort zone in the narrow areas of the pitch where they can really hurt France with their tight and slick passing.

If Spain have their own way then they will try and dictate the play as mentioned and keep the game in the central areas of the field where they are arguably more blessed than any other nation. In their final group game against Croatia they may have eventually snatched the points through Jesus Navas’ late tap-in but for long periods of the game they looked fragile against the counter-attacking willingness and talents that Croatia had at their disposal and they should really have been punished in the last half an hour when Ivan Rakitic failed to head home the easiest of his side’s chances.

Had Rakitic applied the finishing touches to Croatia’s most threatening break then Spain could well have been the tournament’s biggest opening round casualty but they managed to pull through in the end and they will be hoping they can re-find their best form in the knock-out stages where it really counts.

Spain’s finest performance of the competition thus far came when they defeated the Republic of Ireland by four goals to nil. In this match they found a balance between their suffocating midfield play and their ability to stretch the game when required and as such they created several good chances and made their opponents look horribly out of their depth.

Tonight Spain will have to do much the same if they are to get the better of a France side who will arguably provide Spain with their toughest challenge so far in tournament if they can find anything like their best form. I think that Spain will just about get the job done but I expect them to find the going tough throughout periods of the match before coming out of the game on the right side of a 2-1 final scoreline.

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: Quarter-Final 1 Prediction

Portugal Vs. Czech Republic:

In the first of the quarter-finals we have two sides that it would be fair to say weren’t fancied by most in terms of their chances of progression to this stage, however, both sides have overcome losing their first games of the tournament with Portugal finishing second in ‘the group of death’ and the Czech Republic topping Group A in spite of a crushing 4-1 defeat to the now eliminated Russians in their opening fixture.

Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal

In their final group game against the Dutch Ronaldo’s performance for Portugal was arguably the best individual performance of the tournament so far

Since this opening day confidence knock the Czech Republic side have recovered their position valiantly and though their squad isn’t blessed with tremendous depth or individual quality, they have found a way to win games and that has been no easy feat when you consider the sides they have beaten in their last two games. First, they had to beat Greece who so famously mastered the art of punching above their weight and winning games they shouldn’t have and then having conquered the former champions they had to muster a result against Poland in their own backyard.

These two wins demonstrated admirable and impressive resilience and a surprising ability to be clinical when match-deciding chances came their way, however, I simply can’t see any way that they can beat Portugal who have better options than the Czechs in arguably every single position on the field.

Though I don’t expect the Czechs to just lie down and take a beating, I think that this quarter-final tie will be fairly reminiscent of the events of the Czechs opening game against Russia. In the Russia match the Czechs battled hard throughout and at times they even brought the fight to their opposition on the offensive but eventually the superior quality of the Russian side told and they bagged a couple of late goals to underline their dominance.

I am going for a 3-1 win to Portugal and though I expect them to once again be heavily reliant upon their skipper Cristiano Ronaldo, who was at his unstoppable best against the Dutch in Portugal’s final group game, I hope to see the likes of Nani and Helder Postiga and perhaps even midfielders Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles start to contribute more meaningfully to the goals tally.

Euro 2012: Day 12 Predictions

France Vs. Sweden:

The simple equation for France is that they will not only qualify for the quarter-finals but will also top the group and receive a ‘preferential’ draw for the next round if they better England’s result against the Ukraine.

Benzema and Menez France

If France are to top the group and become a real threat at the Euros Karim Benzema will have to back up his decent performances with some goals

One might be forgiven for thinking that this should be a simple task given the fact the Sweden are already guaranteed to go no further in the competition and that they have lost both of their opening two games of the tournament. However, on numerous occasions we have seen sides in similar positions in major tournament football produce courageous performances in their final game when the pressure has been lifted from their shoulders.

In fact, last night’s performance from Ireland is a very good example as they played with tremendous heart and at times looked like getting something out of their game against an Italian side that needed all three points to have a a chance of progressing to the quarters.

Ireland may ultimately have lost the match as they had their first two games of the tournament but Sweden will surely be determined to produce a similar level of performance and to avoid going out with a wimper when things could have been so different had they not relinquished leads against both the Ukraine and then England.

I think France will win the game but I think Sweden will make them work for it. I think the final score will be 2-1 to the French with Karim Benzema to open his goal scoring account for the tournament.

 

Ukraine Vs. England:

For England’s third and final group game they know that they must avoid defeat to confirm their qualification to the quarter-finals and that they have to better France’s result against Sweden if they want to top the group and play Italy rather than Spain in the next round.

Rooney and Walcott Euro 2012

Rooney and Walcott look set for their first starts of the tournament

Standing in England’s way is a Ukranian side who they will be well advised not to under-estimate as they too could also go through to the quarters if they get a result and they could even top the group against all the odds if both results went their way on the final day of Group D.

Up to this point England have managed to get two very decent results and have placed themselves in a strong position going into the Ukraine game but neither of their two performances have inspired a great deal of confidence. They have shown great heart and resilience in both games but against France they were pinned right back onto the back foot for the bulk of the game and against Sweden they may have demonstrated more offensive ambition and ultimately have found the necessary killer instinct, but where they had done so well at the back against France they switched off to give Olof Mellberg two free headers for his brace which momentarily had England trailing.

Having struggled to find the right balance in their opening two matches, England will be delighted to have come out of these two opening games with four points to their name and they will today be welcoming their best player back into the fold as Wayne Rooney returns from his two match suspension.

As well as Rooney being included most are expecting Roy Hodgson to opt for Theo Walcott on the right wing after his match-winning performance having come off of the substitutes bench against the Swedes. With these two restored to the starting line-up England will have a much more naturally offensive look about their team and I think this is the right way to go against the Ukraine who have looked a little frail at the back and when taking into account that they need to outdo whatever the French manage against Sweden in order to win the group.

I think that  Rooney will come charging out of the blocks and will make up for lost time by scoring at least one goal in an England victory. I think the final score will be something like 3-1 but as it is England expect there to be a few twists and turns thrown in to put us fans right through the full spectrum of emotions.