Two goals by Mario Balotelli was all Italy needed to beat Germany 2-1. Balotelli scored both goals in first half. Mesut Ozil added a late penalty kick, but it was too little too late. Italy moves on to play Spain in the final on Sunday. The two teams met in the group stage and the match ended in a 1-1 draw.
Spain ousted Portugal 4-2 on penalties in a match that finish 0-0 on Wednesday. The first 120 minutes were forgettable as each team was off their game. The penalties will be remembered for several reasons including Cesc Fabregas’ winner that hit the post and went in. The biggest story from the night that will be remembered for a long time is that Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t have a chance to take a penalty. Spain plays Germany or Italy in the final on Sunday in Kiev.
Spain vs. Portugal on Wednesday
The first semifinal is a very interesting matchup between two geographical neighbors. A matchup to watch is Cristiano Ronaldo against several of his teammates and many of his rivals. Ronaldo plays at Real Madrid with playes such as Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso. He’s also familiar with several Barcelona players from tense clashes on the club level. This is also a rematch of the 2010 World Cup when Spain beat Portugal 1-0 in the round of 16. Expect Portugal to allow Spain to pass the ball in the midfield and hope that Ronaldo can provide a counterattack goal, just like he did against the Netherlands in group play. Spain is a tough team to score against and I think they will record another clean sheet.
Spain 1, Portugal 0
Germany vs. Italy on Thursday
Germany will be looking for revenge against Italy. It was the Italians that eliminated the Germans in the 2006 World Cup semifinals when the tournament took place in Germany. The pressure is on the Germans, who will be favorites to advance over Italy. Germany had two extra days of rest and has more depth. However, you can never count out the Italians especially with Andrea Pirlo as the anchor of the midfield. One of Germany’s question marks is their defense and Italy forward Mario Balotelli could be a tough matchup for the Germany back line. It will be interesting to see if Germany keeps the same lineup as the Greece match or go back to the starting 11 that was used in the group stage.
Germany 2, Italy 1 (After extra time)
Italy defeated England on Sunday in penalty kicks. Italy were the more deserving winners, but this was another cruel way for England to exit a tournament. Italy will be playing a well-rested Germany team in Warsaw on Thursday.
England vs. Italy in Kiev
How they got here: England won Group D, despite all the injuries and pressure. The 1-1 draw against France was useful because England beat Sweden 3-2 and Ukraine 1-0. Italy drew their first two matches by a score of 1-1 to Spain and Croatia. Italy finished second in Group C when they beat Ireland 2-0.
England player to watch: Wayne Rooney- England are a different side when Rooney is in the lineup. He scored the goal against Ukraine and he makes fellow strikers Danny Welbeck or Andy Carroll more effective. Italy is expected to be without Giorgio Chiellini so Rooney could play against a weaker Italian back line.
Italy player to watch: Andrea Pirlo- The creative playmaker will force England midfielders Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker to be more responsible defensively. This matchup in the center of the pitch could decide the outcome of the match.
England strategy: Some have said that this England team plays like Italy, and ironically even more Italian than the current Azzurri. England is a hard team to score on and make the most of chances in front of net. Instead of starting an offensive threat like Theo Walcott, England will play a safer option in James Milner who can back track on defense. That is the kind of game Roy Hodgson likes and if England wins, then fans won’t complain.
Italy strategy: Italy was terrific against Spain and really should’ve won against Croatia until they crumbled in the second half. Italy maybe played down to their competition against Ireland. The Italians will look to play very defensively without Chiellini, and hope Cassano and Balotelli can work well with Pirlo.
Prediction: England 1, Italy 0
Spain defeated France 2-0 on Saturday. Xabi Alonso scored both goals, one in each half, to put Spain in the semifinals where they will play Portugal on Wednesday.
Spain vs. France in Donetsk
How they got here: Spain won Group C in the waning minutes in their last group match. They started with a 1-1 draw against Italy when they didn’t start a natural striker. They manhandled Ireland 4-0 and scored very late to beat Croatia 1-0. France started well with a 1-1 draw against England and 2-0 win over Ukraine. France had a bit off a setback with a 2-0 defeat to Sweden to drop them to second place in Group D.
Spain player to watch: David Silva- The winger will be playing against club teammates Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy. When Silva is on form Spain plays better as a team. If he’s ineffective then the pressure is on Andreas Iniesta and Xavi to setup an inconsistent striker like Fernando Torres.
France player to watch: Yann M’Villa; The young central midfielder was healthy enough to start against Sweden. If he starts again, he has a chance to increase his transfer value and make a statement against Spain’s midfield. Arsenal is one of the teams that would love the services of the 21 year-old.
Spain strategy: Spain is always lauded for playing attractive soccer, but they were very sloppy against Croatia. Even in past major tournaments, they have played many 1-0 games and that’s when David Villa was in the lineup. Spain needs to give Torres some chances to make them a more dangerous threat against a shaky France defense.
France strategy: France is due for a bounce back game after a flat performance against Sweden. A good start might be important and scoring first would be vital. If France can force Spain to come from behind it will be hard to Spain to equalize.
Prediction: France 2, Spain 1