After the first round we’ve had thrills, spills and a couple of shocks, and now the European Championships get to the sharp end. Competition has intensified as the final eight sides look ahead to a maximum of three more matches that could be the biggest of their careers, with the exception of World and European champions Spain, of course, but even Vicente Del Bosque’s all-conquering side have a new hurdle. If they can win this competition they will be the first side ever to win three consecutive international tournaments, and that would be a fitting testament to the revolution in international football they have engendered.
Punter tip: Bet football at bet365 and you could get a $200 bonus plus monthly rebates on certain losses.
In the first quarter final two sides meet that were probably less than certain they’d even make this stage. The Czech Republic definitely had a chance before the groups, with Russia, Poland and Greece to compete with, but a lot of the focus in Group A was on the Russians, right up until the point they lost it and capitulated against Greece. Likewise Portugal, who were drawn in the ‘group of death’ alongside Holland, Germany and Denmark, but left the Dutch and the Danes bloodied on the floor to make it into a game they will very much feel they can win.
PaddyPower make Portugal 4/5 to go through to the semi-finals, with the Czechs unfancied at 4/1, and these odds seem a bit extreme given how Portugal have struggled at times, and also the fact the Czechs come in as Group A winners. After a slow start Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo has found some form, and at 4/1 with StanJames is the favourite to be first goalscorer in this game. Personally, I can see the Czechs pulling off a surprise victory, and the 12/1 with SkyBet on them winning 1-0 looks nice. Almost all the Portuguese attack so far has been on the break, and if the Czech coaches realise this they could make things tricky for their opponents.
In the second quarter final Germany will take on Greece, and the German side was the only one to come through their group with a perfect nine points. There were shaky moments for them, with a defensive frailty we have come not to expect on show at times, and the manager will have been very concerned at how tired some of the Bayern players have looked at times, but overall they are on track to meet Spain again in a final to relish for neutrals as well as fans of the two nations.
The disparity between the two teams can best be summed up in the odds, with Germany 4/11 favourites with BetFred, while you can get 21/2 on a Greece win with VictorChandler. There are signs that the Greeks can trouble Germany, but with Mario Gomez on great form and 7/2 as first scorer with StanJames their defence are in for a torrid night. Don’t completely rule out a shock Greek win, as nothing is certain, but the fact Ladbrokes have 6/1 on a 2-0 German win as the most likely result should be a clue to the probable victors.
Spain play France in a game that would have been a direct reverse ten years ago, when the French were the dominant side in world football and boasted the best midfielder of his era, Zinedine Zidane. Now the Spanish have Xavi and Iniesta in their hearts, both on the pitch and figuratively, and they are surely the natural successors to Zidane in terms of grace, timing and poise. While the France team is full of talent, there is a feeling this side is yet to find its way at this level, as evidenced by the loss to Sweden.
Due to the Spanish dominance of international football over recent years you can only get 7/8 on them to win at 188Bet, while BoyleSports rate France a 4/1 shot. Had the French not capitulated so against Sweden they may have been closer in the odds, and I quite like the 8/1 on Karim Benzema as first scorer, but I’d have to go with Coral’s 5/1 on a 1-0 Spain win if I were betting on this myself. They haven’t been the free-scoring wizards we expected, but it is very hard to get the ball from Spain, and without it France cannot win the game.
Finally, England take on Italy in an extremely interesting tie that could well come to define the reign of new England manager Roy Hodgson. If he can find a way to beat Italy, and make the semi-final, then he will have vastly exceeded expectations at this early stage, and could get complacent for a while, or deal with heightened expectation. On the other hand, a lot of the press feel winning this match is well within the grasp of the current England team, and would probably pile on a considerable amount of grief were the boys to come home on the back on an humiliating loss.
This is also clearly a game the bookies don’t really have a firm favourite for. The Italians are available at 15/8 with BoyleSports, but England are on at the same price with StanJames making this virtually even-money. If it goes to penalties both sides have excellent goalkeepers, but the edge then would probably go to the Italian Gianluigi Buffon, who is more experienced than Joe Hart if not much better on skill alone. I’d like to think the 11/1 with StanJames on a 2-1 England win is a good bet, or the 6’s with Bet365 on Rooney as first scorer, and although the Italy team is talented I see no reason for England to be afraid.
Overall, the loss of Holland has probably been the biggest shock so far, as many thought they could make the final, but for the rest the magic is just beginning. This tournament is now beautifully poised to deliver some great matches as eight of the best international sides battle it out for supremacy over the home of elite football.