The second week had concluded in the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine which meant that the knockout stages had befallen the tournament and with the performances of Germany and Portugal lighting up the first half of the groups were backed up against the stern performances of Spain and England who hadn’t performed to their capabilities but still won their respective groups. The likes of Czech Republic and Greece from Group A as well as 2006 world cup finalists, Italy and France from the other two groups – the quarter finalists were complete.
June 21 – Czech Republic 0-1 Portugal
After Portugal’s lifeless display against Germany to open the tournament, Cristiano Ronaldo and co. have improved magnificently and no more so in the opening quarter final of the tournament as they dumped the Czechs out of the Euros thanks to a third goal of the championships via Cristiano Ronaldo. For the opening games against Germany and Denmark the Real Madrid forward who hit 60 goals in the season for the La Liga club cut a frustrated figure as he led the Portuguese line.
However, his brace against Holland ensured Portugal’s passage into the knockout stages and he continued his goalscoring form going into this match. He had struck the post with a well worked volley in the first half as Petr Cech in the opposition goal was being bombarded all match and the Real forward soon struck the post from a free kick in the second half.
Even Nani was getting in on the act and forced Cech into a couple of fine changes from distance but Portugal were getting no closer to finding that elusive goal which would take them into the semi-final. With ten minutes left, the combination between a delightful Joao Moutinho cross and the onrushing swing of a Cristiano Ronaldo head left the finished product as a Portuguese winning goal, a winning goal which had been coming the entire night.
June 22 – Germany 4-2 Greece
Germany had gone into the tournament amongst the usual crop of favourites looking most equipped to go on and win the tournament come July the 1st in the Kiev Olympic Stadium. As the group stages wore on, Germany only provided the bookmakers with more betting slips with their name on to win the competition outright. In a group of death, Germany managed to wriggle their way into the quarter finals with a 100% record, beating the likes of Portugal, Denmark and Holland without breaking sweat and possessed the best record in the tournament.
They would hole up in Gdansk for the quarter final against the 2004 winners in Greece who again had reached the knockout stages despite having the whole world against them as they had surprisingly beaten the Group A favourites in Russia thanks to a Karagounis winner. Unfortunately for Greece, their captain and match winner against the Russians would be suspended.
This didn’t deter Greece as they held out for just short of 40 minutes when Philipp Lahm’s rasping effort from distance burst the net. Just when it seemed that Germany would open the taps and go to town on the Greeks, Georgios Samaras got the well needed but perhaps not deserved equaliser that ensured Germany would be given a run for their money.
However, not even 20 minutes had elapsed when the scoreline had just about ticked over to read that Greece were losing 4-1. Sami Khedira’s thumping effort, complimented well seven minutes later thanks to another Miroslav Klose header at a major tournament was followed up by a ferocious strike from Marco Reus 16 minutes from time. Not to be outdone, Greece closed their tournament on a high as Dimitris Salpingidis converted a penalty in stoppage time as Germany booked their place in the final four of a major tournament for the fifth time in their previous six attempts.
Not for the first time this year might Greece be kicked out of the euro.
June 23 – Spain 2-0 France
The holders of the competition began their knockout phase of defending their European Championship and they would face a French side that they hadn’t beaten in the knockout stage of a major tournament before. France seemed evolved from their debacle in the South African World Cup two years ago from their first two group games against England and Ukraine. They waned slightly in their final match against Sweden, going down 2-0 to a late double from Ibrahimovic and Larsson.
Spain looked sketchy in their final group match as well, only managing a 1-0 win over Croatia in Gdansk. Vincent del Bosque opted to revert for their tactics for their opener against Italy by fielding no recognisable striker as they stuck Iniesta, Fabregas and Silva up front with Fernando Torres forced to settle for a final 15 minutes at the end. In turn, Laurent Blanc dropped Samir Nasri after a supposed off-pitch dispute whilst playing two right-backs in Debucy and Reveillere to combat both Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta down the right.
That tactic didn’t seem to deploy, like a broken parachute, for Blanc as Alba skipped past both men down the right before clipping in a well weighted cross in for Xabi Alonso on the back post who duly converted with a downward header. Many said that an early goal such that Alonso’s was that the match would force both into an attacking match.
That ‘many’ were disproven as Spain were given more room and time on the ball as the first half fizzled out into bore. France were without the suspended Phillippe Mexes but soon brought Samir Nasri and Olivier Giroud into the fray to join a frustrated French side of which Ribery displayed most of. For Spain’s performance, or lack of, the French side lacked the cutting edge with most of their attacks extinguished by a competent Spanish defence.
You expect tentativeness from a quarter final but for France not to show any interest it seemed going into the final quarter of the match where they should be looking to equalise will be disappointing for the supporters in the crowd. Spain didn’t look like world champions and Euro holders either and they should be worried if they put in a similar performance against Portugal on Wednesday night in Donetsk.
Spain were able to put the French out of their misery as Pedro was tripped in the penalty area allowing Xabi Alonso to double his tally for the night and tournament with a well taken penalty kick to knock a subdued French side out of the European Championships.
June 24 – England 0-0 Italy (Italy win 4-2 on penalties)
England suffered the malicious heartbreak of the penalty shootout loss for the seventh time in eight shootouts in Kiev in the final quarter final on Sunday evening. The match marked the first goalless draw but also marked the first shootout of the tournament and, sadly for England, it concluded the way so many have in the past 22 years.
Everybody was expecting a large share of possession heading the Italian way, testing England’s resolve to its fullest but in an ultimately a fair and halved match. However, as many a tournament has passed England by, particularly at the quarter final stage, the sword fell on England’s participation.
The match burst into life when Daniele de Rossi’s expertly sliced effort from distance struck the post to give England an early scare. England’s reply was a mazy run followed by intricate play between Walcott and Johnson before the latter couldn’t shovel the ball past Gianluigi Buffon.
That would remain to be England’s best chance of the entire match for which they held the ball for just 32% of the match. Johnson’s attempt was the only chance on target for England in the entirety of the 120 minutes although Hodgson’s outfit went close through Danny Welbeck in the first half.
Daniele de Rossi had a glaring opportunity go begging after the break after he sprung the offside trap from a set piece whilst Mario Balotelli was being a nuisance for the England back line. The Man City striker’s various chances which equated to a lot of Italy’s 39 attempts on goal featured an innovative overhead kick and an attempted lob in the first half that was thwarted by a crucial challenge.
As the match bore on into extra time, Wayne Rooney’s glorious effort in the second half stoppage time was blazed over the bar from an overhead kick which would have settled the game. The likes of Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott changed the match as Carroll gave England something to aim for and an outlet for the likes of Young, Walcott and Rooney making runs off the Liverpool forward.
Italy did have the ball in the net a few minutes from the end of extra time as Alessandro Diamanti’s stooping header was ruled out only slightly correctly via an offside ruling. The match would return to penalties, a format that had previously seen 6 out of 7 losses since 1990 for England.
Mario Balotelli calmly slotted home his penalty before Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney’s emphatic efforts saw England fired into a 2-1 lead after Montolivo fired disappointingly wide. Andrea Pirlo subsequently had the nerve to attempt a chip which flummoxed Joe Hart who had attempting to put the Italians off.
England were still ahead in the shootout would Ashley Young convert but his powerful effort cannoned off the crossbar to leave Italy with initiative to go ahead in the shootout. Antonio Nocerino duly supplied Italy’s third penalty before Ashley Cole, who had scored in Munich in the Champions League final had his timid effort saved.
This left Alessandro Diamanti with a slice of redemption, redemption for his cancelled goal in extra time and the ex-West Ham forward calmly slotted the penalty home to send the Italians into the semi-final against Germany.