A battle of former finalists is due this Thursday night. Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal will try to crack the Czech Republic in the quarter-finals of EURO 2012 in Warsaw. RT’s Kate Partridge previews that match as well as all the other playoff clashes.
The group stage guillotine of Euro 2012 has dispatched co-hosts Ukraine and Poland, not to mention World Cup finalists Holland, and early prospects Russia. But how will the remaining teams fare in the knock-out stage? After a day’s break, the focus is back on the quarter-finals where history could help decide the prospects of the eight that made the cut.
First up, at the National Stadium in Warsaw on Thursday, Group A winners the Czech Republic versus Group B runners-up Portugal. Captain Cristiano Ronaldo is coming off the back of a scintillating personal performance and two-goal haul against the Dutch and now goes up against a Czech side, which went through with a negative goal difference.
However, the Czechs did precisely the same at Euro’96, when they reached the semi-finals. And they did so, by beating Portugal 1-0 in the last eight. The equally magnificent Karel Poborsky produced the now trademark “Poborsky Lob” over the advancing Vitor Baya to send the Portuguese packing. This time though, the bookies are backing Paulo Bento’s skipper to grab the goals.
Meanwhile, the victors this time round will face either, Group C winners and defending champions Spain, or Group D’s second-placers France, who do battle on Saturday at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk – an encounter Spain coach Vicente del Bosque is relishing.
Not surprisingly. The last time La Roja faced Les Bleus was in a friendly, in Paris, ahead of France’s embarrassment at the 2010 World Cup. Ominously, goals from David Villa and Sergio Ramos handed the future World Champions a 2-0 win. But a subsequent French national outcry, a change of coach to Laurent Blanc, and a 23-match unbeaten run also means Del Bosque isn’t taking France lightly, as the Spanish uniquely seek to retain their title.
While the men that pipped the French to first place in Group D – old enemies England – take on Group C runners-up Italy in Kiev on Sunday. Surprisingly, for two giants of European football, these two rarely play one another. The upcoming quarter-final will be their first competitive contest in almost 15 years. And the only time the two have previously met at the European championships was in the group stage on June 15, 1980. England needed to beat the Italian hosts to progress – but it was the Azzurri who triumphed 1-0, thanks to a goal from now Ireland assistant manager, Marco Tardelli.
Yet, most memorably for England fans was qualifying for the 1998 World Cup with a battling goalless draw in Rome, against ten-man Italy. Glenn Hoddle’s side knew a point would see them into the finals – which they duly claimed. However, Ian Wright and Christian Vieri – both missed late chances in a dramatic finale, while bloody and bandaged Paul Ince produced a valiant performance for the Three Lions. In 2012, one goal might be all the difference with Wayne Rooney and Mario Balotelli taking domestic rivalry onto the European field.
And whoever emerges as victor will take on Group B winners Germany, against Group A runners-up Greece – after the two go head-to-head at the amber colored Gdansk Arena on Friday.
Greece have lost five and drawn three of their eight encounters with Germany. But, before righting off Fernando Santos’ team, remember your Greek history. In 2004, after knocking out defending champions France 1-0 in the last eight, Angelos Charisteas was again the hero scoring the 57th-minute winner in the final as his side beat Portugal 1-0, in Lisbon, to win the European title – one of the biggest shocks in football history. A superbly drilled side by then coach Otto Rehhagel stifled Portuguese flair, and the tactics remain the same allowing Greece to beat Russia en route to the last eight.
However, against Germany, they face a powerhouse. Three times the champions, three times the runners-up, the Germans have effectively made the Euros their tournament. They won Group B – the so-called Group of Death – with three victories, the only team to do so. And, with a midfield engine driven by Bastian Schweinsteiger, plus three-goal Mario Gomez staking a claim for the Golden Boot, it would probably take a second Trojan Horse to breach their defenses. But then – the Dutch are out, the Italians haven’t won since 1968, and the English have never lifted the trophy. History is there to be made.
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