Portugal labored against the Czech Republic, but given the run of play they could have won by two or three goals.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who has slowly improved as this tournament has progressed, scored the winner to send his nation into the semifinals.
As one of many stars who usually under-performs for his country (both through the team’s tactics and his own failings), Ronaldo has defied his critics thus far in leading his nation through the decisive matches.
Before the goal, the threat of a Czech counter-attack goal loomed large, but when Ronaldo’s diving header went in in the 79th minute, the Czechs looked demoralized — understandably — and the game was essentially over. Overall, the defensive tactics employed by the Czech Republic were understandable, but in the end were too difficult to successfully execute the entire game against an attack including Ronaldo, Nani, Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles.
Germany-Greece was the most one-sided of these quarterfinals.
The Germans set up for all out attack, which was sensible given that Greece played the most defensive game of the tournament so far. The German captain, Philipp Lahm, handed the frustrated Germans the lead in the 39th minute, and it looked like smooth sailing going into half time.
The game was made a little more interesting when Georgios Samaras equalized for Greece, but parity was short-lived and overall the rampant Germans were by far the better side, and deserved qualification, winning 4-2.
France’s Euro dream came to an end in rather meek fashion in the third quarterfinal, falling 2-0 to Spain.
They didn’t create enough, and in the end their defense-oriented setup failed to stop Spain’s incessant passing.
Arguably still the team to beat, Spain were again majestic in possession and their late penalty goal (for a Xabi Alonso double) made the scoreline a better reflection of the run of play.
France’s attackers should be disappointed with their showing, though, and they could have had more, especially with Franck Ribery looking in the mood for large portions of the match.
The last match, which saw England attempt to suffocate Italy’s attack for 120 minutes, was also the first game to end 0-0.
Italy had a huge amount of chances — 35 shots, 20 of those on target, but failed to to score.
In the end, however, Italy triumphed 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out, with the two Ashleys failing to score: Young hitting the crossbar and Cole having his penalty saved, with Italy’s Andrea Pirlo chipping his effort.
So, the semifinals are set, with Germany playing Italy and an Iberian rivalry between Portugal and Spain. Germany will be favorites against the Italians, but the Italians should prove to be the biggest challenge yet for them.
The game may come down to a battle of playmakers, with Mesuit Ozil of Germany and Pirlo pulling the strings. Then again, if the enigmatic Mario Balotelli can find his shooting boots, an upset could be in the cards, regardless of who wins the midfield battle.
Spain are the other favorite, but Portugal’s little brother status will mean that they will be up for this game.
Portugal can be deadly on the wings, especially in the counter-attack, which is what Spain are most susceptible to, so don’t be surprised to see goals for both sides.
In the end, Spain’s passing should see them create just enough chances to see them through, while Germany may outlast the Italians in a close-fought match in the other semi.
A repeat of 2008’s final is in the cards, but even if that doesn’t happen, the semifinal round of Euro 2012 will be epic. Kickoff is at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, on ESPN.