Euro 2008 quarterfinals

I have seldom been more wrong than I was about the Euro 2008 quarters, which just goes to show how often one can be misled by the level of performance shown in the group stages. Now, as most of the experts predicted, Germany and Russia are in the semis; the two that no one expected to make it this far are Spain and Turkey. I find Spain to be easily the most impressive, which one might conclude was the kiss of death for them were it not for the fact that the Russians were in their group and they crushed them 4-1. A few thoughts on the quarters:

1. Both Germany and Portugal had difficulties in the back, but since the German strikers had shown nothing in the previous three games, I assumed that it would be the German defense that cracked under pressure. It was the other way around. Ballack did finally come through in a big game for the Germans, but I’d much rather have Bastian Schweinsteiger on my team.

2. There was never any doubt that Gus Hiddink was a great coach, he took South Korea past the group stage of the World Cup, after all. Even so, his architected demolition of a talented Holland squad whose firepower had camoflauged their defensive weakness was remarkable. The fact that the Russian midfielders were shooting on goal anytime they were within 40 meters indicated Hiddink’s doubts about the solidity of the Dutch defending and the results vindicated them. I’d be surprised if he didn’t try the same thing against Spain, what does he have to lose, after all? As for the Dutch, I think Bommel’s absence really hurt them and I can’t imagine that the premature birth and subsequent death of the midfielder’s child – the Oranje were wearing black armbands on the night – helped any.

3. I can’t even stand to watch Turkey. I don’t like them. I don’t think they’re very good. I have no idea how they keep squeaking through at the last moment. Having either Germany or Turkey in the finals is like watching the Raiders play the Colts for the AFC Championship. You just want them both to lose.

4. As I mentioned when the tournament started, Italy was in deep trouble. Maldini was retired, Cannavaro was injured, and Toni was overrated. None of these problems were fixed, and to be blunt, I could have done a much better job managing the squad than Donadoni, whose decisions approached the inexplicable. What Aquiloni was doing out there against Spain, I’ll never know, he was practically invisible the entire match. The entire Italian attack consisted of lobbing balls into Toni, which works so long as he’s being defended by dwarfs who have no idea how to position themselves against an aerial assault. Toni didn’t score a single goal in the tournament; even at 34, Inzaghi would have found a way to put several in the net. He and Del Piero should have led the Italian attack, with Toni as a second-half substitue. I am so annoyed with managers in every sport who are infatuated with physical size and value it over actual on-field results; the fox-in-the-box strikers may not score the flashy highlight-reel goals, but they all count the same.

Spain deserved to win, although FIFA really has to do something about the tie games. Instead of penalties, it would be much better if they simply required managers to remove one player every five minutes of overtime and made it sudden death. This would be exciting, guarantee scoring, and almost certainly require less than the 30 minutes of overtime play now required before it even gets to penalties.

I’m sticking with Spain to win it all, although on the basis of my performance in the quarters, one might reasonably suggest that I’m not the most reliable analyst here.