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UEFA European Championship 2008 Quarter-Finals Preview Part II

This article has been submitted by Mostafa El Beheiry.

I’ll kick off the second part of the quarter-finals breakdown by introducing everyone to Trix and Flix, mascots for this year’s competition. Probably the gayest mascots ever conceived in the history of the illustrious profession. Anyways, the second half of the quarters will prove to be just as, if not more, exciting as the ties in the first half which have by this posting gotten underway. With the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and Russia in the first knockout round we should see some beautiful football. Here’s how the teams match up.

Netherlands vs. Russia (Group C Winner v Group D Runner Up), June 21st
The Dutch surprised everyone with their gorgeous attacking football that led them to impressive wins over the 2006 World Cup finalists as they easily topped what was seen before the tournament as the group of death. The Oranje go on to face Russia, who qualified for the quarters on the back of a decisive win against fellow 2nd place contenders Sweden in which they demonstrated superior player fitness and creativeness on the pitch.

Dutch Keys to Success
• Maintain their momentum from the group stage; Ruud Van Nistlerooy, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt and Robin Van Persie need to keep their attacking form. The Dutch have had 7 different goalscorers in the tournament so far, indicative of a tight nit group that knows how to share the ball and work off of each other’s strengths.
• Maintain their solid defensive form (1 goal against in 3 games). The Dutch back four were predicted to be their vice and unfortunately for them, they still haven’t been tested by a quality attacking (even from France and Italy) team. Their system uses two holding midfielders that strengthen the defense by playing just in front of the back four and has been successful so far.
• Look for the counter-attack; Spain was able to dismantle Russia on the counter and this fits right into what we’ve seen of the Dutch system. They’ve proven that the best defense in this year’s Euro has been a vicious offense and they shouldn’t lose sight of this.
• Maintain their uncharacteristic unity – usually Dutch international teams self destruct as egos clash, but so far there are no signs of this. With players laughing it up on the bench at a Rafael Van der Vaart fart during the game against Romania, these guys look loose and show no signs of internal strife.

Russian Keys to Success
• Andrei Arshavin: The Zenit St. Petersburg striker led his club to the UEFA Cup Championship this season and in returning from a two game suspension for Russia’s quarter-final clinching game against Sweden he showed how important he is to the Ruskie’s attack, netting a goal and narrowly missing on a couple of other chances.
• Need to improve their finishing – they could have made it 5- or 6-nil against Sweden if they capitalized on their chances. There’ll be no margin for error against the Dutch and with Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko up front, they can definitely be the team to cause problems for the Dutch defense.
• Get the first goal; the Netherlands haven’t been down in a game in these Euros and taking an early lead against them could throw them off their game.
• Guus Hiddink (famous for leading South Korea to the 2002 World Cup Semi-Finals) is a proven world class international manager and has shaped this team into a very fast attacking squad and should be able to give the Dutch a taste of their own medicine.

Notable Absences
None in this one, both teams are healthy and suspension free.

Mocash’s Money Pick: It’s not as clear cut as some might think. With Arshavin back, Russia are a much more dangerous team than they showed themselves to be in their first two games. That being said, they’re a young team and have a bright future under Hiddink, but the Euro 2008 semis aren’t in that future. The more experienced and well rested Dutch team will take this game. 3-1 for the Netherlands.

Spain vs. Italy (Group D Winner v Group C Runner Up), June 22nd
Spain went through their group with ease, clinching their spot in the quarters after an injury time winning goal against Sweden from the current leading scorer in the Euros, David Villa (4). Italy’s Euro hopes were dashed by a Dutch thrashing in their first game and were subsequently saved by an incredible Gianluigi Buffon penalty stop against Romania’s Adrian Mutu. In a must win situation, they triumphed over a dismal France squad but even with the win were only put through to the quarters following the Dutch second team’s win over Romania.

Spanish Keys to Success
• Forget about history; Spain haven’t won a competitive match against Italy in 88 years. The Spanish media has been quoted saying “Italy don’t scare me, they terrify me.” The players need to put that behind them and realize that history means nothing, they just need to be confident in their own ability.
• Attack the Italian defense at every opportunity; the Dutch embarrassed the Italians with their attacking football and Spain plays a similar game, and with the likes of David Villa and Fernando Torres up front and the creativeness of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez in midfield, they should be able to break down the Italian defense easily. Their counter-attack can easily put the Italians out of this competition.
• Key players need to get healthy; Xavi, midfielder David Silva and center back Carles Puyol all picked up injuries in Spain’s second group match and each will be needed by this squad. Though Puyol isn’t the best of defenders, he’s still a leader on the field and is a gritty mother (has some caveman hair too). By the time this quarter plays out, they’ll have had a week to rest up so it shouldn’t be an issue.
• Use the bench; the Spanish arguably have the most depth in the tournament, especially considering that players of the caliber of Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso can’t make it into the starting XI. The game against Greece gave the substitutions a chance to shine with Ruben de la Red and Daniel Guiza being the outstanding players of that game.
• The defense may not be able to deal with the physical presence of Luca Toni in the box and so should look to stopping crosses from coming into him rather than battling out for crosses already made. Fullbacks Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevila will need to make sure not to get caught too far ahead on attacks so that they can get back and deal with that threat.

Italian Keys to Success
• Shore up defensive issues; losing their captain and best defender in Fabio Cannavaro was a huge blow to the Azzurri, whose back four haven’t looked good all tournament and defense is usually an Italian strength. They seemed to have settled on Gianluca Zambrotta, Christian Panucci, Girogio Chielleni and Fabio Grosso as their starting back four and they did do well against France, keeping the likes of Thierry Henry and Karim Benzema off the scoresheet. Marco Materazzi had a horrible first game against the Dutch and will likely be warming the bench.
• Gianluigi “Gigi” Buffon; world’s best goal keeper, without a doubt. He’s the reason they’re in the quarters. I mean did you see that penalty stop?!
• The Azzurri need to put pressure on the ball carrier to prevent the Spanish from settling into their typical short passing possession game. The Spaniards are happy to pass the ball around and slowly chip away at a defense until they find an opening; consistent ball pressure will disrupt their passing game and force turnovers that should be capitalized on.
• Related to the above point, big games will be needed from Massimo Ambrosini and Alberto Aquilani who will likely being filling the roles of suspended Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso. These two haven’t shown too much of themselves in the game time they have seen and need to step it up.
• Finally, Italy’s big striker and Bundesliga top scorer this season (24 goals) Luca Toni needs to see crosses coming into the box. He’s got a huge height advantage against the Spanish defense and the Itals need to exploit this. He also needs to start finishing as he’s missed countless chances already leading to his sum total of 0 goals in the tournament.

Notable Absences
Andrea Pirlo (ITA) and Gennaro Gatusso (ITA): as mentioned, both were suspended for getting their second yellow cards of the tournament against France. Their midfield presence will be sorely missed.

Mocash’s Money Pick: Spain haven’t won a major international tournament since the 1964 Euros; the Leafs haven’t won Stanley’s Cup in 40+ years too… as a Leafs fan I see some interesting parallels. I also picked Spain to win this tournament from the outset, and I’m sticking by that. They have one of the best teams they’ve ever put together and they showed that they’re able to win games when they’re not playing well (vs. Sweden and Greece); an integral quality of a Championship side. Italy, on the other hand, squeezed into the quarters and aren’t looking like World Champions. Spain takes this 2-1.

That wraps up the quarter-finals of these Euros, hope the matches are as exciting as they should be and I’ll see you again for the semis.

This article has been submitted by Mostafa El Beheiry.

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3 Responses to “UEFA European Championship 2008 Quarter-Finals Preview Part II”

  1. Mostafa Says:

    Van der Vaart’s fart. It rhymes so well.

  2. Habib Says:

    I have been wearing my Oranje jersey way to much and have yet to wash it since the beginning of euro, hopefully this trend will continue till they win the cup?

  3. AJ Says:

    My Dutch hat, drunkenly referred to about a week ago, awaits me in Canada…kind of hoping Holland/Netherlands/the Dutch are still around a week from now….the hat is a freakin megaphone!

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