Euro 2008 heads for KO after quality first half

19th June 2008, Comments 0 comments

Football Euro 2008 news - final group games, updates with quarter-final fixtures…

19 June 2008

SWITZERLAND - Eight teams are left while defending champions Greece, World Cup finalists France and the two hosts Austria and Switzerland have bid farewell as Euro 2008 heads to the knock-out stage and becomes a two-city tournament, with Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Croatia, Germany, Portugal, Turkey and Russia left.

With quarter-finals and semi-finals taking place in Basle and Vienna, the latter hosting the June 29 final, it's also farewell after Wednesday to six venues - Geneva, Zurich and Berne in Switzerland, and the Austrian cities of Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Innsbruck.

It's been a frenetic first half for the tournament, marked by entertaining, and at times dramatic football. There is now little time to catch breath as the quarter-finals come thick and fast, starting with Thursday's meeting between fancied Portugal and record winners Germany in Basle.

The group stage produced a number of highlights and some memorable moments. Four teams, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Croatia, were able to qualify from their groups after just two games and could well find themselves in the last four if they can continue their form.

UEFA president Michel Platini is delighted with the first half of the tournament, saying it has been marked by "dazzling" individual performances.

"We are privileged to be experiencing a tournament of exceptional quality combined with an extraordinary atmosphere," Platini told the organizers' website before the last of the group-stage matches.

"The results of the first 16 matches have already upset the established hierarchy and cast doubt on the most firmly rooted certainties.

"The quality of play is extolled by everyone, defensive tactics are nowhere to be seen, team play is not stifling the talent of individuals, who are frequently giving some particularly dazzling performances."

He no doubt has players such as Spain's four-goal striker David Villa, Dutch midfielder Wesley Snijder, twice voted man-of-the-match in his two appearances, or Portugal playmaker Deco in mind, but there have been many stand-out performers.

A former French playing great, Platini will not have been too pleased to see France go out after defeat to world champions Italy on Tuesday. The Italians can meanwhile thank a penalty save from Gianluigi Buffon against Romania for still being around.

The event may now take on a different flavour in the knock-out stage where almost inevitably at major tournaments a team's progress or failure could come down to a penalty shoot-out.

Two quarter-final matches at Euro 2004 went to shoot-outs, while the 1996 tournament in England saw two quarter-final games and both semi-final matches decided by spot kicks.

The Dutch, who swept to resounding victories over Italy and France, have every reason to be wary after being involved in penalty shoot-outs at the last four tournaments since winning the title in 1988.

They lost three in a row - against winners Denmark in 1992 (semi-final), France in 1996 (quarter-final) and Italy in 2000 (semi-final) - before overcoming Sweden on penalties in the quarter-finals in Portugal four years ago.

They face Russia, who are coached by former Bondscoach Guus Hiddink and looked like a very powerful side in their 2-0 victory against Sweden in their last group game, in the round of the last eight.

Meanwhile perennial let-down Spain have also impressed, with Villa scoring a hat-trick in a 4-1 pounding of Russia.

Spain have not gone beyond the quarter-finals since winning the tournament in 1964 and now have a tough task awaiting them against Italy in Vienna on Sunday.

Germany got off to a good start with a 2-0 victory over Poland but were brought down to earth by Croatia who are in confident mood after three straight wins as they go into a clash with Turkey in Vienna on Friday.

The Turks have been involved in two of the most dramatic games, with last-gasp victories, over Switzerland amid a deluge in Basle and after coming from 2-0 down against Czech Republic, whose goalkeeper Petr Cech was a forlorn figure after his mistake allowed Turkey to pull level.

The tournament has inevitably been not without its refereeing controversies and three players have so far been shown red cards, while two coaches - Germany's Joachim Loew and Austria's Josef Hickersberger - were also sent off. Loew now serves a one-match suspension for Germany's quarter-final with Portugal.

Platini accepted there had been occasional errors by match officials but said the overall standard of refereeing had been very high.

By Barry Whelan





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