If form is any guide then the tournaments two best teams, Spain and Germany, should meet again in a repeat of the 2008 final. Football though is a game almost designed for the underdog to cause upset and I still get the feeling we have a big one pending.
Semi-final one: Spain vs Portugal, Thurs June 28
The all-Iberian encounter looks to be the pick of the two semis. Spain, featuring the very best from Real Madrid and Barcelona, are rightly considered the best team on the planet. However, in Cristiano Ronaldo alone, Portugal have the one player capable of dethroning the reigning champs. Lightning fast, fearless, physically imposing and incredibly skilful Ronaldo can score from anywhere at anytime - the question is whether his countrymen are determined enough and clever enough to present him with the right opportunities.
To win this match Portugal will have to play at their maximum potential and hope it coincides with a Spanish "off-day". The key could well be Ronaldo's combination with ex-Manchester Unitd team-mate Luis Nani. The blitzkrieg breakout that scuppered the Dutch was set-up by a 35-yard cross-field first-time pass from Nani to Ronaldo.
Only play of an equivalent quality will be sufficient to unlock a Spanish defence that refuses to yield, the world champs having conceded just one goal at this tournament - and that from a freekick in their opening match versus Italy.
Spain is quite probably the most complete football side seen on earth since Pele and Brazil won the 1970 FIFA World Cup. Their biggest problem seems to be trying to squeeze all their attacking players onto the pitch at once, hence Fabregas (a midfielder) being used as a makeshift central striker. So far so good although we're yet to see them a goal down, or in any other circumstances than dominating possession and "passing their opponents to death". Do they have the fighting qualities and character needed when things aren't going their way?
It's unlikely Portugal will dictate the pace and tempo of this match so they'll need to defend in numbers, "swamp" the midfield and aim to suckerpunch on the break.
In Nani and Ronaldo, Portugal have two players that could swing this semi. Their only hope relies on giving them the chances to do so.
My prediction: Spain 0 Portugal 1
Semi-final two: Germany vs Italy, Fri June 29 NZT
Germany's biggest hurdle will be themselves, i.e. do they have the patience and self-belief to outwit and outlast the spoiling tactics of Italy? The Germans are the only team with a perfect four from four record. They boast essentially the same side that fell to Spain in the 2010 World Cup semi-final with the only engine-room in world football (Muller/Ozil/Khedira/Schweinsteiger) capable of comparison with Spain's Xavi/Iniesta/Alonso/Fabregas.
Italy, like the Spainards, are defensively resolute. Cautious, cagey, they're prepared to defend solidly for 90 minutes or more and are more than happy to play without the ball. Deadly at set-piece, they also have a mercurial frontman in Mario Balotelli who, like Ronaldo, can win a match on his own. Will they get given the space needed to exploit any German anxiety?
The longer this game goes without any goals, the more you'd sense it favouring the Italians who've long accepted you don't have to be the best side present to win these events - just be there at the finish and notoriously difficult to beat.
Germany must also avoid taking the field feeling like they've got "something to prove". Beaten finalists at Euro 2008, losing semi-finalists at the 2010 FIFA World Cup (on both occasions to Spain), the Germans won't need reminding they haven't won a major title since 1996.
Bayern Munich's home loss in the Champions League final to Chelsea will have only deepened that paranoia. Whether their temperament can cope with Italy's suffocating defence remains the key to German semi-final success.
Two final facts worth considering:
- Italy haven't conceded in over three and a half hours of
- Germany are still seeking their maiden major tournament win over Italy.
My prediction: Germany 2 Italy 0
Finally just to show Euro 2012 isn't all just serious sport absent of any humour, the best banner I've seen from any of the games was held up by the Irish fans in their group match with Spain. It read:
-the Group of "DEBT"