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Wileman: Five thoughts from the final group matches

Luke Wileman
6/18/2012 6:42:01 PM
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Six of the eight quarterfinal places have now been filled at UEFA Euro 2012, with the final two spots set to be decided on Tuesday. As Group C came to a conclusion on Monday, Spain and Italy advanced but both teams found a determined challenger in their way.

Here are five thoughts from the final round of group matches at UEFA EURO 2012:

Spain's Cutting Edge

It certainly wasn't a classic performance from Spain, but if you're going to be a champion you have to find a way to get the job done. That's exactly what Spain did against Croatia. They were nowhere near their best, but Jesus Navas made an impact coming on as a substitute and scored the goal that won the match with just two minutes remaining.

The question for Spain is whether they have enough to be able to break teams down. Croatia defended well and kept many players behind the ball, forcing Spain to try and find a way through. In the end they got the breakthrough, but for long periods of the match it looked as though the reigning World and European Champions would fail to find a goal.

Spain advance to the quarterfinals as the winners of Group C and will now play the runner-up of Group D on Saturday in Donetsk, but they will have to find more of a cutting edge when they come up against the most stubborn defences in Europe if they are to create history and win a third straight major tournament.

Italians March On

Cesare Prandelli changed his formation for Italy's final group match against a Republic of Ireland side that had already had their chances of progressing ended. Prandelli switched to a back four after playing with three at the back during their opening two matches. Whichever formation the Italians use, they have looked calm and composed in defence for most of the tournament so far.

Mario Balotelli had picked up a knee injury in training but there was talk leading up to the match that he wouldn't have been included in the side anyway. Prandelli left the Manchester City forward on the bench, but he came on with a point to prove and gave Italy the insurance goal in the 90th minute.

Balotelli won't be happy about being left out. He isn't known for his calm response to situations and it will be interesting to see how he reacts if Prandelli doesn't include him in the eleven for the Quarter Final. It's a big decision for the Italian coach who needs to keep Balotelli on side.

Ronaldo Shines

Cristiano Ronaldo has received much criticism for his performances in a Portugal shirt but he answered his critics in Portugal's 2-1 win over the Netherlands on Sunday to book their place in the quarterfinals.

He has made more of an attacking impact with each game of this tournament. Against Germany he had to play a more defensive role, while in the game against Denmark he was given more of a free reign to attack. In that match he missed a few good chances, but he wasn't going to suffer the same fate against the Dutch.

Ronaldo kept his cool to finish well on both goals, and the way in which he stepped inside the defender to score his second was a classy move. It also speaks well about Ronaldo's mentality. He didn't let the pressure get to him and let his ability shine through.

Group A Surprises

Hands up all those who successfully predicted that the Czech Republic and Greece would make it out of Group A? I certainly didn't. In fact, I couldn't have been more wrong predicting Russia and Poland would qualify for the quarterfinals.

A group that was dubbed the weakest in the tournament produced some really entertaining matches and its fair share of surprises.

Greece are never going to be pretty to watch, but they found a way to win and that's all that matters. They aren't playing to satisfy the football purists. Their sole goal is to go as far in the tournament as they can, and credit to them for finding a way to progress. Unfortunately for Greece, they now come up against a German team that is looking like a well oiled machine.

Dutch Disaster

The Netherlands go home with their heads held low. It's crazy that a side filled with that much quality has failed to make it out of the group stage. But that's what happens when you get a squad that plays as individuals rather than as a team.

They started with a shock defeat against Denmark and couldn't find a way to get back on track. For a squad that included 10 of the 11 players that started the World Cup Final two years ago to lose all three of its matches in this tournament is inconceivable. The position of Netherlands coach Bert Van Marwick has to come under question moving forward. What a letdown.

Luke Wileman

Luke Wileman


Luke Wileman is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca.

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