FOX Soccer Exclusive
Star power headlines Euro semifinals
- France's Laurent Blanc steps down
- Platini unveils new Euro plans
- Eusebio leaves Polish hospital
- Croatia, Portugal fined by UEFA
- UEFA points finger at Spain, Russia
- Russia fined again over fans' behavior
- WAGS fight over Ronaldo hair
- England fined over failed invasion
- Croatia fined over Balotelli chants
- Neo-Nazi banner costs Germany
- Bendtner punished over logo
- Ronaldo takes swipe at rival Messi
- Police detain shirtless protestors
- Germany fined for fans' paper missiles
- Croatia cautions topless supporter
- Fan dies after 11 nights without sleep
Fans are braced for a “dream team” set of semifinals at Euro 2012 this week. Three of the world’s great powers will take the field, and one of the world’s best players will take center stage.
Defending champion Spain is aching for a shot at an unprecedented triple crown, with back-to-back Euro titles and a World Cup in between. Italy wants redemption in a tournament that has not often been kind to it, while Portugal may get a chance to grasp its first major trophy and erase the sting of a loss on home soil in 2004. And finally, Germany is trying to add to its string of titles and remain the most successful team in this tournament.
That great player mentioned earlier is none other than Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo will lead Portugal against defending champion Spain on Wednesday, while three-time champ Germany tries Thursday to handle a resurgent Italy team looking to win its first European crown in 44 years.
The Portugese are the odd ducks out at this stage — sorry, fans, but the fact is they never have won a major title — but they boast one of the era’s greatest scorers and playmakers in Real Madrid’s Ronaldo.
The former Manchester United man is better known in the United States for his flopping, his gelled hair and his cocky attitude — a somewhat out-of-date picture that he is working hard to erase. Ronaldo led Madrid to the La Liga crown this year in Spain, scoring 60 goals for the club across all competitions, and is displaying both the maturity and drive to finally lead his team to the promised land.
Ronaldo’s biggest problem is actually off the field. The world media delights in flogging him with comparisons to his rival, Lionel Messi, and he has grown increasingly impatient with the questions. But after years of suffering from the reputation as a choker, “CR7” has shown up in big games for his nation this tournament. For Portugal to reach Sunday's final, he'll have to continue to score the big goals.
Portugal must deal with a Spanish side that looks ripe for the taking. Coach Vincent del Bosque admits his side is tired, but it’s hard to discount a team stocked with Real Madrid and Barcelona talent. The Spanish midfield — Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Andres Iniesta — is the world’s best at playing keep-away and Spain has some proven scoring talent in Cesc Fabregas and Pedro.
The enigma is Fernando Torres. Chelsea’s expensive striker is fighting a very public battle to return to form. He’s not winning. As a result, Spain has used him sparingly, even fielding teams without a recognized forward. The results have been successful but boring, and the critics are starting to circle.
The Germans remain the odds-on favorites to win the whole thing. The other teams look a bit weary. Die Mannschaft, on the other hand, look like a freight train. Mario Gomez has shrugged off his awful showing in the Champions League final against Chelsea in May and seems to be scoring goals at will. Philipp Lahm has been brilliant box to box, making the big tackles and sparking one of the tournament’s most seamless attacks. Real Madrid’s duo of Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira continue to prosper in midfield.
What the Germans have is depth. Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus have been fantastic in supporting roles, while Mats Hummels has to be the defender of the tournament. The only question mark is over the fitness of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who is fighting an ankle injury. When Schweinsteiger plays, Germany rolls over its competition. Without him, it is a far more ordinary side.
Italy endured 120 minutes of scoreless soccer to down England on penalty kicks and set up the meeting with Germany in Warsaw. Give the Italians credit, though. They were the far better team on the night, and Andrea Pirlo turned in a master class in midfield. But this is not a vintage Italian team, and how it recovers from that brutal night in Kiev is anyone’s guess.
Their key player remains the mercurial Mario Balotelli, the Manchester City man-child who can be magical and frustrating in the space of a single minute. When he keeps his wits about him, he can score gorgeous goals and rip defenses to shreds. But he seems have a hair-trigger switch; he can turn petulant without warning and his penchant for collecting red cards reflects his immature behavior.
No matter what happens Wednesday and Thursday, fans are guaranteed to see star-studded action to cap what has been a classic tournament. Everything is on the line in a can’t-miss week of soccer.
Jamie Trecker is the senior editor for FOXSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclays Premier League.
More Stories From Jamie Trecker