Euro Final Four Preview
by Trevor Whenham - 06/24/2008
The action so far at Euro 2008 has been spectacular, and it doesn't show any signs of letting up. It always makes for a good tournament when the unpredictable becomes the norm, and that is certainly the case here. Of the semi-finalists, Spain was expected, and Germany's win over Portugal made sense given their overall form if not based on what had happened leading into the tournament. On the other hand, Turkey's win over Croatia certainly qualifies as unlikely, and Russia beating the Netherlands as badly as they did was so bizarre that it doesn't yet seem real.
These semi-finals aren't the ones we might have expected, but they should be good nonetheless. Here's a look:
Germany vs. Turkey (Wednesday, June 25, 2:45 p.m. ET) - Here's all you really need to know about this one - Bodog has Germany at -280 to win it, and Turkey is at +700. This one, on paper at least, is as one-sided as a game can be. Germany was the favorite to win it all coming into the tournament, and outside of a completely unexpected loss to Croatia in which they didn't concentrate and basically forgot to show up they have looked like it. They didn't look particularly outstanding against Austria or Poland, but they didn't need to to win. Against Portugal they were facing a good, confident team, but they were clearly better.
Turkey has been the story of the tournament so far. They are definitely playing the role of the cardiac kids. They seem to relish getting behind early because it gives them a chance to rally and crush the life out of their opponents. Though they have done that several times this tournament, nothing typifies it better than the game against Croatia. After playing 118 scoreless minutes, Croatia scored a goal that should have ended it. Most teams would have given up, but Turkey stormed back and tied it up just over a minute later, and then went on to win it decisively in the penalty kicks. They are the team that just won't quit.
I'd love to pick Turkey as the upset here, and indeed they could be, but it just isn't likely. They have struggled with suspensions from yellow cards the last two games, and they will be missing starters as a result of that. On top of that, they are faced with some pretty serious injury problems. They will be playing short-handed, and without the lineup that has got them this far, so it is certainly an uphill task. Germany is heavily favored here for a reason.
Spain vs. Russia (Thursday, June 26, 2:45 p.m. ET) - Guus Hiddink, the coach of Russia, has always thought he was a genius. It's getting harder and harder to argue with him. This tournament is just the latest proof that Hiddink is a master at getting the most out of the talent that he has around him. He made his name when he led the Dutch to the semi-finals of the 1998 World Cup. That was about what was expected, but four years later his results certainly weren't. He was at the helm of the host South Koreans. They had never won a World Cup game, but they won two in the first round, including a shocking upset of Portugal, and played to a draw in their third. In the elimination round they rocked the soccer world by beating Italy, and then they lost to Germany in the semi-finals. He performed another miracle in 2006 when he got Australia out of the first round of the World Cup. That team had never scored a goal in the tournament before, never mind win a game.
Hiddink says that the Russians are the most coachable team he has ever been at the helm of, and that shows - they do pretty much exactly what he would want them to do. They beat the Dutch not because they got lucky, but because they were the better team from start to finish. The team was humiliated in their first game, yet instead of folding the young team rebounded nicely and has been as good as anyone since.
Unfortunately, that humiliating Russian loss was a 4-1 setback to Spain. Spain has a ridiculously potent offense, and it has been firing on all cylinders all tournament. The Russians didn't know how to handle it then, and it remains to be seen if they are any more prepared for it this time. If there is a concern for the team it is that their win over Italy in the quarterfinals seems like the only time they have been tested, and they needed penalty kicks to win. They will likely have to step their game up here, and it remains to be seen if they can. On paper it should be no problem, but this team has a bad habit of underachieving so it is not guaranteed.
The bookmakers see this one as much closer than the other game, but the Spaniards have the edge. Bodog has Spain at -105 to win, while Russia is at +250.