Wednesday, 20 June 2012

England 1 - 0 Ukraine

Sadly, I wasn't able to see the last match of the group stages, because I'm at work.  So I can't offer any meaningful thoughts on the game itself.  But we see that England have qualified for the quarter-finals, as I predicted, and won the group, as I did not.

In the build up to the tournament, there was a lot of pessimism about England's chances.  In particular, many people seemed to predict that they would fail to make it out of the group.  My prediction was bold in that it went against that consensus, but conservative in that it followed history.  In the nine European Championships since the finals were expanded to eight teams, England have reached the last eight six times; only Germany, the Netherlands and Spain have a better record (and France and Portugal an equal one).  The problem with England has always been getting beyond that stage, which we only managed in 1996.  The five other teams I mentioned have all made the semi-finals at least three times, with the exception of Spain who only managed it twice (again, only counting finals since 1980).  In short, getting to the quarter-finals is the "typical" English performance.

Since I mentioned my pre-tournament post, let's consider some of my other predictions.  Tipping the Irish to be eliminated in the group stages was hardly a big risk.  As I said, they were unlucky with the draw.  In consolation, they shouldn't have to wait ten years for their next tournament appearance; France 2016 should be within their grasp.  My choice for dark horses was less impressive, with Poland finishing bottom of their group.  The Poles played well at times; they should have put Greece away on the opening day, and did well to fight back from a goal down against the Russians.  In the end, I think they didn't truly believe that they could progress.  Lastly, Spain continue to look good though their insistence on playing without a regular striker could yet cost them.

Finally, let's look to the quarter-finals and beyond.  First up we have the Czechs against Portugal.  Both teams started poorly but have improved as the tournament continued.  I think a lot will depend on Cristiano Ronaldo; if he performs as he did against the Dutch, Portugal should have no problems.  Germany against Greece will probably be the end of the Greek adventure; an upset is possible but unlikely.  Spain against France will be an easy Spanish victory unless the French remember how to play.  England against Italy is likely a bridge too far for Roy Hodgson's team, though I will continue to hope.

That would leave two cracking semi-finals, Portugal vs Spain and Germany vs Italy.  It's really hard to predict from that point, so I'll settle for saying that hopefully the games are good, since the final so rarely is.

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