- 19 Jun 08, 10:00 AM
OK, no beating around the bush. I'm tipping Germany, Croatia, Netherlands and Spain to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2008.
Why? Well, the Germans have the experience and mental toughness to win when it matters, the Croatians have oodles of self-belief, no-one can stop the Dutch scoring, while Spain have too much firepower for the stubborn Italians.
The Germany-Portugal quarter-final is being billed as Michael Ballack against Cristiano Ronaldo, but, for me, the key man in Basel will be Torsten Frings. That's if he passes a fitness test, of course. He will be the man who will be responsible for denying Ronaldo the space to weave his magic when he comes in off the flanks. But it will be a hard task. Ronaldo has such a short backlift on his shots that he only needs a split second to unload on goal.
As for Ballack, well, he is starting to show real glimpses of his majestic best. The free-kick against Austria was simply sensational. I know they slipped up against Croatia in the second group game, but the Germans can never be written off. They know what it takes to win big matches like these and I think they'll be too good for the Portuguese.
Croatia-Turkey is bound to be a passionate affair. The two sets of fans are among the most emotional in the world. But I think Croatia will edge this one. They look such a cohesive unit, even when they made all those changes for the final group match against Poland. All their players look comfortable on the ball and they have a strong defence.
Nihat is the key man for Turkey. He made all the difference in their stunning comeback against the Czech Republic. If he's on song again, then the Turks may have a chance. That said, the whole team will be full of confidence after coming back from 2-0 down with 15 minutes to go against the Czechs. I suppose the worst thing that can happen if you're a Croatia fan is for your team to take the lead.
The Netherlands-Russia clash looks the most appetising given the form of the two sides. The Dutch are red hot, scoring nine goals in three group games and conceding just once. I can't see the Russians stopping them from adding to their tally, so that means they will have to score more than the opposition. With the likes of Andrei Arshavin in their side, they have the potential to do that. They were fantastic against the Swedes, creating chance after chance. Still, I don't think they can do it.
It will be an intriguing game for lots of reasons, not least for the fact that Guus Hiddink will be going up against his countryman. His track record in major tournaments is one to be envied, but Marco van Basten has shown he is very capable, too.
Ironically, I think one of Russia's strengths could turn out to be one of the major weaknesses. Their full-backs like to bomb forward when the team is attacking, which could leave them exposed when the Dutch take their turn to go on the offensive. There is no better side in this tournament when it comes to exposing deficiencies at the back. That's why I'm tipping the Netherlands to come out on top.
Finally, it's Spain-Italy in the last of the quarter-finals. Everyone knows what I think of the Spanish by now. They've shown they have the flair, talent and resolve to go a long way. I think they'll have too much for Italy, though Roberto Donadoni's side have shown just how resilient they are, too.
The Italians came within a whisker of going out of Euro 2008 after just two group games, but thanks to Gianluigi Buffon's penalty save against the Romanians, they lived to fight another day. They brushed past France to secure their place in the last eight, but they will be without both Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso against Spain. It was going to be hard enough without those two, so I'm going for the Spanish.
So, that's what I think. Let's have your views...
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