Euro 2012 quarter-finals: Feeling confident?
The quarter-finals kick off tonight and England fever is escalating. But how is the mood in the seven other nations left in Euro 2012? We went to each to find out
Thursday 21 June 2012
v Portugal, tonight (Warsaw 7.45pm)
By Jennifer Rigby, Prague
It was the worst possible start to the tournament. Losing the first game 4-1 was bad enough, but losing in that fashion to the Russians – a nation with whom the Czechs have a rather darker history than just dodgy refereeing decisions – was another thing altogether. However, following the sting of that initial humiliation, the team staged a remarkable turnaround and finished top of the group. They also won back the support of the nation – many who turned away, disgusted, after the first result can now be found dusting down their Czech flag and planning which pub is the best spot for the quarter-final.
Walter Novak is a Czech photographer who has spent much of the tournament so far in the "fan zone" in Prague's picturesque Old Town Square, where the famous Astronomical Clock is now overshadowed by vast screens and beer tents.
"The whole country, not just football fans, was disappointed with the Russia [game]," he said. "Czechs, if things go wrong, get angry and give up. But then there was the big surprise and the nation has come back."
Even the country's politicians have got in on the act, with Czech President Vaclav Klaus talking football on TV. However, there is an obstacle ahead which could put a stopper in this excitement, and it comes in the shape of Cristiano Ronaldo.
"Czech players could hardly face a bigger threat. If they want to succeed, they must stop Ronaldo," warned the daily broadsheet Lidove noviny.
The Czechs' captain, Arsenal's Tomas Rosicky, is also an injury doubt but the fans are staying positive. "We have a big chance. The big thing is if Rosicky is fit ... but we can play without him, though," said Novak.
v Germany, tomorrow (Gdansk 7.45pm)
By Daniel Howden, Athens
When Greece turned the football world upside down by winning Euro 2004, they did so with the voice of George Helakis ringing in their ears. The cigar-chomping radio commentator's manic descriptions were mixed into a dance hit that was played at the raucous reception attended by two million people when the team brought the cup home.
As Greece look ahead to a eurozone grudge match with Germany, the country is rocking once more to the words of Mr Helakis. In wrapping up another emotional commentary in Warsaw on Saturday after Greece beat Russia, he had a message for all of Europe: "This is how the ones who owe you go through, bring on Merkel!"
Greeks poured into Athens' Omonia Square to celebrate. The joyous chants from eight years ago were replaced with outbursts of political defiance. "Take your loans and shove them up your arse!" chanted the blue-and-white mob. "You can kick us out of the euro but we are taking the Euros," said Dimitris Kalogeras, one of the fans.
Concern over the suspension of Greece's captain, George Karagounis, has superseded much of the discussion over the new government. The lines between negotiations in eurozone talks in Luxembourg later this week and the showdown with tournament favourites Germany have been blurred. With the match only a few days away a vintage Monty Python clip has surfaced on Greek social media. It features philosophers' line-ups from both nations in an 11-a-side match. The game is settled in Greece's favour by a late goal from Socrates, despite objections from Kant who argues that his strike "exists only in the imagination".
v Czech republic, tonight
By Goncalo Lopes, Lisbon
The fans are very confident and the players are very confident that Portugal can beat the Czech Republic, as they are not that strong. The main thought here is that we are already in the semi-finals.
The Czechs are perhaps the weakest team we are going to play because of the strength of Group B, but we know that in football anything can happen. In Euro 1996 we played the Czechs in the quarter-finals and lost, but then they had a really nice team.
We do not believe that we can win the tournament. We think we can perhaps reach the final, but we are not thinking of winning because Spain and Germany are the strongest. We do not have the trophy on our minds. Even the players do not have the trophy on their mind. We know that we are good but we are not Spain: if one, two or three guys get injured we are not the same.
The 2-1 win against the Netherlands was the best performance of the Portuguese national team in the last five or six years. Many former players and coaches had said that Portugal would not beat the Dutch, but the players responded on the field, and Cristiano Ronaldo set the level. It was Ronaldo's best game for Portugal. The last time he played that well was in Euro 2004 when we beat the Netherlands 2-1 in the semi-finals.
We are confident that he can do the same against the Czech Republic and perhaps against Spain in the semi-final. People in Spain say that he does not play well against big teams, but for Portugal he plays well against top teams and less against lower teams. Against Spain he will do his maximum to beat them, he wants to respond to the Barcelona players.
v Greece, tomorrow
By Ben Gladwell, Munich
For Germany and the people here, it is a bit like the build-up to Bayern v Chelsea. They all seem to be convinced they are going to win it, almost to a point of arrogance, which is what I felt in Munich before the Champions League final. It seemed more a matter of when rather than if and it is the same now.
Nobody seems to be taking Greece seriously and, even if Joachim Löw said yesterday that he is not yet thinking of the possibility of playing Italy in the semi-finals (ignoring the prospect of England), he really will be thinking of revenge for 2006 and the World Cup semi-final defeat to the Italians. They always knew they were going to get through the group and this is what sets the Germans apart. They are so convinced with the way they prepare things, and so are always confident.
I was a bit surprised by the reaction to the 2-1 defeat of Denmark. Not one of the Germans even mentioned the penalty not awarded against Holger Badstuber at 1-1. Watching that game, I sensed the Germans were getting tense at the 70-minute mark when Denmark suddenly started to play a bit more. They were sitting back a bit more and playing far more cautious passes rather than anything risky, but there was absolutely no insinuation afterwards that anything was at risk and, instead, Low seemed to criticise the Danes for being so negative and poor.
I have watched the daily press conferences in Gdansk and Löw is looking the most relaxed I have seen him. When he first took over, he hated the media and shirked any chance to speak to them, but now I get the impression that he really enjoys the limelight now.
v France, Saturday (Donetsk 7.45pm)
By Pete Jenson, Madrid
Apart from a brief dip in confidence on Tuesday – when it dawned on them they'd be facing France instead of England in Saturday's quarter-finals – the Spanish remain confident they will progress towards the 1 July final in Kiev.
They have never beaten France in a tournament, with five defeats and a draw; defender Alvaro Arbeloa admitted having tipped France to reach the final and he is not alone in seeing them as potentially the second strongest team in the tournament. They also have the advantage of already being based in Donetsk, where the game will be played.
But the collective groan back home when Zlatan Ibrahimovic's wonder goal diverted France into Spain's path has given way to positivity, inspired by Vicente del Bosque reminding everyone that no one had more shots, scored more goals or conceded fewer in the group stages than the favourites.
Spain's head coach – who has his team facing Germany in the final in the squad sweepstake – admitted that the French were the "most complicated" rival to progress from Group D but he and his players know avoiding England is not without its advantages.
Many of the squad watched the group games together, having gone bowling in Gniewino on Tuesday. And the feeling among those with Premier League experience is that France will be less defensive than England, making for a more open game that should suit them.
There is added motivation. French TV joked about Spanish sporting success being based on performance-enhancing drugs in a Spitting Image-style show. There was Spanish anger at being the butt of such satire and that won't be forgotten in the build-up to the match.
v Spain, Saturday
By John Lichfield, Paris
At least they got off the bus this time. At least they won a match – the first victory in a major tournament since the World Cup semi-final in 2006. But the limp performance in the 2-0 defeat by Sweden on Tuesday suggests that Laurent Blanc's "new" France are unlikely to match the exploits of the great "Bleus" who won the World and European titles in 1998/2000.
Some France players suggested yesterday that they would prefer to match football wits with Spain than assault the Italian trenches. Karim Benzema, the France striker who plays with several members of the Spain squad at Real Madrid, said: "There will be space to play in. They love to attack from the back. But they have weaknesses and we think we can do something."
The French fans and media were holding out little hope. They described Spain as "the biggest of obstacles… the hardest of all challenges… the team that plays the best football in the world".
By contrast, France, after a fluent performance in beating Ukraine 2-0, looked once again like a "bunch of panicked kids", and were still a "team without a brain".
With talent like Franck Ribéry, Benzema and Samir Nasri, this French generation had been tipped to reach the semi-finals at least. Before Tuesday's defeat, they had won or drawn 22 matches in a row.
The "nouveaux bleus" had almost rubbed out the memory of the player revolt during South Africa 2010 and the three defeats in the European Championship of 2008. Against Sweden, many of the old failings returned, and L'Equipe said yesterday: "A lack of imagination in attack and naivety in defence."
v England, Kiev (Sunday 7.45pm)
By Michael Day, Milan
Suddenly Italy is united again. From a bunch of mutually suspicious provinces and regions to a single nation seeking to make its mark on Europe.
It happens for a week or two every other year as gli azzurri (the blues) compete in the European or world football competitions.
And interest in Euro 2012 has reached feverish levels now. Ahead of Italy matches, people are rushing home from work early and the roads are strangely empty.
The tension for fans during Italy's match against Ireland was ratcheted up by the first major heatwave of the summer and the belief that Italy were competing against not one but two foes – the rugged Irish and a possible "biscotto" (stitch-up) – for a place in the last eight. Had Spain and Croatia settled for a mutually beneficial draw, the Italians might still have been show the door even with a victory over Ireland.
The country's obsession with something that didn't happen seems more like a national case of projection – and says more about the corrupt state of Italian football; earlier this week, the Italian football federation sanctioned 21 clubs in a match-fixing trial.
But Italians won't be worrying about that for the next couple of weeks. Italy's coach, Cesare Prandelli, noted in La Gazzetta dello Sport that "20 million fans in front of the television for Italy v Ireland means that this side is winning the hearts of Italy".
And not surprisingly, given Italy's record in major competitions, the whole of the country now thinks it's on a roll. An online poll in yesterday's La Repubblica newspaper suggested that a quarter of Italians now believed their country would go on to lift the cup.
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