Everybody is waiting for Germany and Spain to play in the final of Euro 2012 so we can finally determine whether this Spanish team will become the first country to win back to back Euros, or if Germany is the new power in international soccer with their endlessly aggressive and creative game. There's only one problem: those teams need to win their semifinal matches to ensure that we actually get this final that everyone assumes is predestined. Do not think for a minute that Italy and Portugal are going to roll over and play nice for everyone else's sake. These matches are going to be battles.
Portugal vs Spain
Spain will possess, Portugal will counter, blah blah blah. You've heard this all before. The question, as Michael Cox of Zonal Marking correctly puts it, is how reactive Portugal chooses to be, how high they press Spain up the field. I was unimpressed with Portugal versus Germany because Portugal sat back in a shell and tried to counter quickly in order to steal a goal from a game where Germany dominated possession. My feelings are partly due to the fact that Portugal didn't look that comfortable sitting back with Germany pressing, but are more (if I'm being honest) because I find that strategy to be boring. I was very excited for Germany vs Portugal and it turned out to be a tame affair with one team possessing and looking to win and the other very obviously thinking it would be great if they could get a point from the match.
Portugal has improved much since then and given their recent success, it would be surprising if manager Paulo Bento didn't try to ride this current level of confidence and give Spain more of an effort. Don't get me wrong: Portugal are trying to win this game, but I would think that the manner in which they try will be different after beating Holland and the Czech Republic soundly. Expect the Portuguese to press Spain higher up the field rather than sitting everyone around the penalty area and parking the bus, with the counters to come quickly down the wings or wherever Cristiano Ronaldo can be found. Spain will do what Spain does: possess the ball, probe the defense, and try to break the opponent open. The only question comes with how they attack and that depends on their choice of striker. Otherwise, the defending champions will be unchanged but still nigh unbeatable.
Can Portugal win this match? Absolutely. Spain has shown that they lack a cutting edge at times and settle for possession too easily. It is not too difficult to see a game that doesn't quite go Spain's way where they can't finish their chances and Portugal grabs a goal on a counter or a superb individual effort, most likely from Ronaldo. But do I feel comfortable predicting it? Nope. 1-0 Spain when all is said and done.
Germany vs Italy
Everywhere I look, people are talking about Portugal vs Spain and I get that of course, it's going to be a great match. But honestly, I'm more looking forward to Germany vs Italy. I feel like I know what's going to happen with the Iberian match up whereas I have no clue how Thursday's game will play out. I should clarify: I think that Germany will win but the style of play seems impossible to determine. Germany are the better team and should possess more and get their chances, but Italy are no slouches and Andrea Pirlo can dictate games with his play. The forward combination of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli is the picture you see in the dictionary next to unpredictable and Antonio Di Natale is a creative asset, should Cesare Prandelli decide to use him.
In addition to the uncertainty over the Italians' approach, we also have to take our guesses over what Joachim Low's starting lineup will be for Germany. Sitting Lukas Podolski, Thomas Muller, and Mario Gomez against Greece was a surprise and there's no guarantee that was a one-time thing to give players rest. Marco Reus was impressive in the quarterfinal match and Miroslav Klose was certainly effective. Regardless of who starts, we can expect impressive ball control and attacks coming from all over the field, which is what makes Germany so much fun to watch and why I picked them to win at the start of the tournament.
Though I made a big deal about how these games were far from decided, I can't bring myself to pick against my my pre-tournament favorites or the defending champions. The fact is the Spain and Germany have been the two best teams in this tournament and I would love to see them settle everything on Sunday in the championship game. Germany beats Italy 3-1 and we all get the match we want to see.