England face Italy tonight in the Euro 2012 Quarter Final. Both teams are strong and should they qualify will join the likes of Spain, Germany and Portugal in the last four.
The defending Champions Spain, played their Quarter Final last night, facing a resurgent France. With the likes of Benzema, Ribery, Xavi, Iniesta etc. all on show, it shaped to look a rather tasty match.
It wasn't to be for the French though, losing 2-0 too a brace from Xabi Alonso.
The Spanish, despite being under pressure from Laurent Blanc's side, were too strong - and it took just 19 minutes for The Champions to make their breakthrough - good work on the left by Alba, who crossed perfectly for Alonso, Alonso headed downwards past Lloris to leave France chasing for the rest of the game.
Spain then further sealed the win the 90th minute with the award of a penalty, Revillere fouling Pedro to end any hopes of a French come back - which Alonso dispatched with ease - sending the defending Champions through to face Ronaldos Portugal.
Despite being comfortable on the ball [like normal] the Spanish were made to work for their victory and were it not for a lack of ruthlessness in the final third, it may have been a different result.
Portugal who had qualified already, faced a stubborn Czech Republic side in their Quarter Final - with Ronaldo playing the role of the proverbial 'wolf'.
He huffed and he he puffed his way through the game, hitting the woodwork twice - and at one point it looked a Czech Side who refused to attack might actually stifle Portugal and snatch an unlikely winner. Eventually however, after 17 shots on goal (with ONE from The Czechs), Ronaldo finally blew the Czech house down, sealing the win with a superb header on the 79th minute.
For a fourth major tournament in a row, Germany have qualified for the final 4 - having dispatched a weak weak Greek side 4-2.
Lahm, Khedira, Klose, and Reus all providing excellent finishes - with the picks being Lahms goal, and Reus volleyed effort.
The Germans in all truth look very strong. Despite playing one of the most defensively minded teams in the tournament they produced a clinical, ruthless performance to condemn the Greeks to an early exit.
Ozil, Lahm, and Khedira all had solid games, and bar The Spanish, Germany will be hot favourites to go on and win this. They have a maturing side now, with the likes of Ozil, Lahm, Neuer, Hummels, Schweinsteiger, Khedira all fit enough to represent any major European club team. Who they face in the Semi however is anyone's to guess.
England are looking to set up one of the biggest grudge matches in International football, but Balotelli and co will have other ideas on their mind. The Italians are a strong side (perhaps not AS strong as previous seasons) and certainly have the players to damage England.
England of course, will want to beat the Italians for a chance of revenge in the Semis - especially after the last World Cup - but first they must produce a strong performance against Italy.
5 goals in 3 group games (despite criticism on the style of play), and hard work when not in possession, have given England a reasonable chance to progress.
The players themselves seem in good spirit - a good bond seemingly developing through the squad. The usual expectations that have surrounded England in recent tournament's has been seen a somewhat dramatic slump. Seemingly media and fans alike both righting off England's chances of making the Final.
Given recent performances in tournaments it is hardly a surprise, but it has gone from one extreme to another. The so called 'Golden Generation' lead by Golden Balls himself David Beckham failed to deliver on the hype surrounding the players.
This time around, Roy Hodgson (despite initial reaction to the squad) has brought together a well gelled group. The players themselves seem more relaxed in media interviews, and more importantly - for the first time in years - seem to be playing for each other on the pitch. The squad is balanced with the likes of Scott Parker, Milner, Young, Hart, Welbeck and Carroll all proving their worth at some point.
Despite optimistic views of a Final appearance - a Semi Final would be a major achievement for an England squad written off by so many. The last time England got to a major Semi (Euro '96) it was against, surprise surprise Germany. Despite being blessed with several excellent players over the years, England rarely looked a unit ala Germany and Spain, and the football became far to inconsistent, but were they to make it to the Semis today anything is possible.
The result tonight is a close one to call - with extra time a real possibility [and the England way], but rewind 4 years and the England players were watching the tournament on their 60" LCD TV's, and so making the Quarter Final represents improvement in itself!