Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A look at Euro 2008 super semi-finalists

Germany: German assistant coach Hans Dieter Flick summed up his team nicely by saying they were “a real tournament team”; however they did leave more to be desired with some of their performances in the group stage, where they lost to Croatia and scraped past Austria. They booked a quarter-final date with Portugal courtesy of wins over Poland and Austria, the first time since 1996 that the Germans have managed to survive the group stages in European competition. That year they went on to lift the trophy. The quarter-final itself was a straightforward affair with the Germans playing an attacking game with their two star wingers Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luckaz Podolski. Inspirational captain Michel Ballack also showed his class in a more attacking role as he scored the crucial goal in a 3-2 win.

This will be Germany’s sixth semi-final in European competition and so far their record is impressive, winning four out of five. Their only loss came on home soil in 1988. The Germans have been involved in six penalty shootouts across past competitions and have won five of them; their only defeat was in 1976.

The Germans have no players suspended, and three players are expected to return from injury. These include influential midfielder Torsten Frings who should play despite a fractured rib and defender Martin Jansen who overcame a shoulder injury. The Germans will field a full strength squad, and they also have history on their side. They are favorites to progress to the final on June 29.

Turkey: The Turks have been the undisputed comeback kings of the tournament. They were not expected to go past the group stages after having been drawn with the likes of Portugal and the Czech Republic. But they came from behind to win against Switzerland and the Czechs and ensured their passage to the quarter-finals, where they met the Croats. During the course of the game the Croatians huffed and puffed, eventually scoring in the 119th minute, but even then German striker Semih Senturk found a way through. The ensuing penalty shootout, the first-ever for the Turkish side, saw them win 3-1 with replacement 35-year old keeper Rustu Recber producing a fine save.

Turkey have only ever played in one semi-final, in the 2002 FIFA World Cup against Brazil, which they lost 1-0. Key players include Nihat Kahveci, Arda Turan and Semih Senturk, all of whom have been influential in their victories so far.

They do however have a lot of injury and suspension worries. Midfielders Arda Turan, Tucay Sanli and defender Emre Asik are suspended while Nihat Kahveci is injured. Brazil-born Midfielder Mehmet Aurelio will also return for the game. In their absence it can only be said that their coach Fatih Tehrim will attempt to unite the team and hope their determination will see them through.

Russia: Russia’s 4-1 mauling at the hands of Spain in their opening game of the tournament seems to have been forgotten, and why not, with the kind of slick passing football they have displayed? It is no surprise that they have gone so far in the competition. In the final two group games they defeated defending champions Greece and Sweden to book a meeting with tournament high-fliers the Netherlands. They pressed forward continuously and frustrated the Dutch strike force with some determined performances, eventually winning 3-1 in extra time.

Russia’s tournament came alive when midfielder Andrei Arshavin overcame injury in time for the final group match against Sweden. He brought added freshness and creativity to the Russian midfield which left many top sides defeated. His close control, passing, penetrative running and an ability to spot and deliver the perfect pass have been key factors in his team’s journey to the semi-finals. Performances from striker Pavlyuchenko and midfielder Torbinski have also proved vital. Torbinski and defender Kolodin will however miss the game against Spain through suspension, picking up yellow cards in the last game.

This is Russia’s first appearance in a major semi-final as an independent nation. In the days of the USSR, they were champions in 1980 and runners-up in 1964, 1972 and 1988.

Spain: For once, Spain have lived up to their pre-tournament ‘favourite’ tag. They are the only remaining team in the tournament with a 100 percent unbeaten record. They went through the group stage with convincing victories, and found themselves rewarded with a quarter-final meeting with world champions Italy. In a game in which both teams had world-class goalkeepers, it was fitting that they were the ones who eventually settled the affair, with Spanish keeper Iker Casillas saving twice from the penalty spot. In doing so the Spanish have broken their June 22 jinx – they have previously lost quarter-final penalty shootouts to Belgium, England and South Korea on the same date in the past.

Spain have twice reached the European Championship semi-finals, where they have a perfect record. They have only once gone on to win the tournament, however, in 1968. They have been involved in six penalty shootouts, of which they have won three. Spain’s most potent player is striker David Villa who is also the top scorer in the tournament. Apart from scoring goals he has provided a number of assists, free kicks and penalties. Other star players include the midfield trio of Cesc Fabregas, Marcos Senna and Xavi Hernandez. They have no suspension or injury worries for the game, on top of which defender Carlos Puyol and winger David Silva have been declared fit to play.

On paper there is a good chance we may get to see a dream Germany-Spain final but with the presence of Turkey and Russia who have shown determination and class throughout the tournament there is no telling who will play in Vienna on June 29.