Germany, Spain still favorites as Euro 2012 quarterfinals begin
WARSAW -- A new tournament starts in Euro 2012 on Thursday with the first of four quarterfinals, a showdown between Portugal and the Czech Republic here at the National Stadium. After a breathless run of 24 games in 12 days, Wednesday was the tournament's first off-day, which gives us a chance to do a new set of power rankings and preview each quarterfinal.
Let's dive in with the rankings:
The Ronaldo-led Portuguese are the clear favorites, and Czech coach Michal Bilek said his team will play more defensively than usual to cope with Portugal's attacking threats on the wings. Tomas Rosicky won't be at 100 percent even if he plays, and if the Portuguese defense continues to prove itself I can't see the Czechs pulling off another surprise.
Badstuber told us Tuesday that there are no easy games at the Euros, and the Greeks certainly won't make it that way here. But without Karagounis, Greece will likely have issues even creating minimal chances or the set-pieces they often rely on for goals. Look for Özil to have a breakthrough game here and continue making a case for himself as the tournament's top player.
At its best, France can give Spain plenty of trouble, not least with such attacking talents as Franck Ribéry, Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri. But the defense is shaky, and though the loss of suspended Philippe Mexes may be addition by subtraction, France's options in his place aren't solid either. Don't look for a Spanish blowout, but I do think Fernando Torres is going to bag a goal as the Spanish possession domination eventually wears down Les Bleus.
This is the hardest pick of the quarterfinals. England is more effective as a team with fewer attacking ambitions, and Italy figures to have a bit more of the possession. Rooney got a goal in his return on Tuesday, but he also showed some rust in front of the goal. Chiellini's injury is a concern for the Azzurri, but if Pirlo continues his superb tournament pulling the strings, I like Italy's chances in a tense, memorable battle.