2014 World Cup: Group A Scenarios

Brazil

-Qualifies for the next round with a win or draw. They should qualify with a loss, as long as either Mexico or Croatia win. (However, if Croatia wins, and Brazil loses by 2 goals more than Mexico loses by, or 1 goal more while scoring 3 less (2 = drawing of lots), then they would be out.)

-Finishes first with a win, unless Mexico wins and makes up 2 in goal differential (again, the complex scenario comes in where Mexico finish first if they win by 1 more goal than Brazil, and score 3+ more, or 2 more and winning the drawing of lots).

-Finishes first with a draw if Mexico and Croatia draw

 

Mexico

-In with a draw or win

-In a very unlikely scenario, they could advance if they lose. Mexico would need Brazil to lose by 2 goals more than they do (or 1 while Brazil scores 3 less goals— if Brazil scores 2 less, there would be a drawing of lots)

-Finishes first with a win and Brazilian failure to win, draw and Brazil loss, or win by 2 goals more than Brazil (or 1 goal more and score 3 goals more, 2 to draw lots)

 

Croatia

-Advances with win

-Advances with draw and Brazil loss

-1st with win and Brazilian failure to win

 

Cameroon

Eliminated.

 

Group B

Chile and Holland are the teams to advance in this group. Their head-to-head match will determine 1st place, with the Netherlands taking first unless Chile win.

 

 

51 reasons Chelsea should not have hired Benitez

The more I think about this hiring, the more a hate it. 51 reasons why:

1. The fans hate him. He will not get a warm reception, to say the least.

2. They don’t have much passion, though. At least according to Benitez. We’ll see about that Sunday, when chants of “There’s only one Di Matteo” and “fat Spanish waiter” could resonate through the stadium.

3. Some more Benitez quotes:

“Chelsea is a soulless club.”

“Drogba is a diver, a whiner, and a cheat.”

“We don’t need to give away flags for our fans to wave.”

“If Chelsea is naive and pure, I’m Little Red Riding Hood.”

“I would never take that job, in respect of my former team at Liverpool, no matter what.”

4. He’s a poor man manager. Apparently, he never talks to players in training sessions.

5. He’s also a micro-manager. In these two respects, as well as in his lack of tactical versatility, and his relationship with the media, he reminds me of Andre Villas-Boas.

6. Chelsea’s Senior Players. Chelsea might have the hardest dressing room in the world to deal with. They don’t like being micro-managed, and they were what ultimately did AVB in.

7. By contrast, the fans, players, and rival coaches all respect Di Matteo.

8. Rafa’s Personality is very similar to Abramovich’. Wanting to be in complete control.

8. Di Matteo’s personality, again,is the complete opposite.

9. Benitez picks fights with other managers.

10. He plays politics within the club. Abramovich, and the people who control the club, notoriously pushy, won’t like that.

11. He has poor relationships with owners. He has blamed both Hicks and Gillett, and Moratti, for his failures at Liverpool and Inter, respectively, and seemed to have a rocky relationship with them even when he was at each club. In today’s press conference, he seemed to believe Abramovich would be easier to work with than Hicks and Gillett. Er…no.

12. The fans and media are waiting for a first loss. So the fans, owner, players, and media all have reasons for trying to take down Benitez. What happens after the first loss, or even before then, will be interesting to see, and the nosy media will be sure to jump at the slightest rumor.

13. And the first game is against… Manchester City, trying to stay within touch of the Premier League leaders. Why would you fire your coach right before the biggest game of the season so far? If Benitez looses this one, it’s hard to see him staying at Chelsea for long.

14. He often takes a while to find tactical balance. To make matters worse, Benitez had a very poor start at Liverpool, and there is reason to suspect the same here. Rafa is rightfully lauded for his well-organized 4-2-3-1, but he never changes his formation to suit the players. At Liverpool, he bought thirteen players a season as he tried to fit them in to his rigid system. It took a while to find tactical balance, time he doesn’t have at Chelsea. And the main reason RDM’s side performed so poorly in recent weeks was the lack of balance between defense and offense.

15. Benitez plays the transfer market. Unfortunately, at Chelsea, the manager doesn’t control the transfers. (Chelsea are often criticized for this, but it’s actually a good thing— the owners change less often than the managers, so there will be some consistency to the transfer decisions). Emenalo will buy some players, and Benitez will have to fit them in.

16. Liverpool’s youth team. One of the best things Benitez did at Liverpool was build a good youth system. Players like Suso and Sterling are breaking into Liverpool’s first team, and given them hope in a dark year for them. But he can’t chase those players at Chelsea— the Blues have nine players twenty-one or younger better than either of those two (Courtois, De Bruyne, Hazard, Oscar, Lukaku, McEachran, Piazon, Moses, Chalobah).

17. Tactical Similarities to RDM. I suspect that RDM wasn’t fired for the only reasons that makes sense, his tactics, but if he was— well Benitez’ are almost exactly the same. A manager criticized for never moving away from his 4-2-3-1 is being replaced by a manager who always plays 4-2-3-1.

18. The Pivot. One of the main differences is Benitez’ reliance on a strong double pivot. But Chelsea have very few options in this area of the pitch, and their inability to cover for the four offensive players was one of the reasons RDM’s formation didn’t work.

19. Defensive Wingers. Benitez will almost surely make the wingers far more defensive. This will certainly help the pivot, but Chelsea’s defensive wingers- Bertrand, Ramires, Azpilicueta- are weaker players than the players who have been playing on the wing- Hazard, Mata, Moses, Marin. The key question of Benitez’ reign will probably be whether Benitez’ more defensive moves will be worth the decrease in offensive fluidity.

20. Lack of Plan B.

21. The defensive woes. These are the two main reasons, apart from Torres, that people have put up as reasons for RDM’s firing. With Terry and Cole’s long absences, Di Matteo’s remarkable job handling the defense last season, and Benitez’ similar tactics, the jury is still out as to whether Benitez’ tactics are better than RDM’s.

22. The spectacular fall of Benitez at Inter. Once again, debates with managers, a struggle to find balance, quibbles with the owner.

23. Inter’s treble. When Benitez took over Inter, they had just won the Champions League, Italian Cup, and Serie A. He left them fifth in Italy.

24. Where Inter are now. Leonardo took over Inter and led them back to second. Since then, though, Inter have stayed around fourth place in Italy. A lot of this blame can go to the ownership, but the same problems showed up at Liverpool.

25. Where Liverpool are now. Liverpool are facing similar problems to Inter. Selling Xabi Alonso, and buying a series of flops, had a part to play, and started Liverpool’s long slump.

26. He used to be Liverpool’s manager

27. He was fired at Liverpool.  Chelsea should not be picking up Liverpool’s leftovers.

28. He’s been unemployed for two years. His major achievements came more than five years ago. Doesn’t seem like a good fit for Roman Abramovich’s what-have-you-done-for-me-lately policy.

29. Torres will be happy. Fernando Torres hasn’t even tried to make runs. He’s created a bad atmosphere around Di Matteo. He’s been given chances for two years, during which Chelsea have done everything they could to make Torres more confident. It hasn’t worked. If Torres is happy, something is wrong.

30. Torres needs to stop being pampered. It hasn’t worked.

31. Too much money has been thrown at Torres. Not just 50 million pounds for the transfer. Just as much for wages. Three coaches, and millions of pounds to get them. Trophies and league placement bring price money, as well.

32. Financial Fair Play. If you took the money spent on Torres, and changing managers, Chelsea would easily pass, and be able to buy a Falcao-like player every transfer window. Instead, they have to cut down on wages to old players, and fall farther behind Manchester City.

33. The lack of positives.  So plenty of negatives; there must be some really good reason to buy him. The best seems to be that he will help Torres develop.

34. Torres has a peak. He’s slower than five years ago, and has Hazard, Oscar, and Mata on his team. At the beginning of the season, the team was able to win despite not having a striker. Just bench him.

35. Daniel Sturridge exists. This is probably what makes me the most frustrated about all of this. Di Matteo was finally tired of Torres. Due to an ill-timed Sturridge injury, he wasn’t able to start against Juventus; RDM tried the false nine, something he had to do considering the lack of striking options, and it failed spectacularly. But Sturridge was going to start, soon. Instead, it’s back to Torres.

36. January is near. And if Roman really doesn’t want to play Sturridge— just wait a month! Buy a striker in January, instead of firing a good coach, and hiring an OK one.

37. Too late for the Champions League. The timing of this mess is also ridiculous. Right before the Man City game, right after Chelsea lost control of their own destiny in the Champions League.

38. Di Matteo is a knockout round master. Last year’s Champions League, last year’s FA Cup, this year’s Capital One Cup. If Juventus does lose to Shakhtar, RDM, one of the leading candidates for FIFA coach of the year, would be the better manager to have for the rest of the Chmapions League.

39. Why fire RDM? Benitez might be the best manager available at the moment. The firing of Roberto Di Matteo, arguably the harshest Roman Abramovich sacking ever, was already questionable, and it would only make sense if Jose Mourinho was available. But Benitez?

40. Why not fire Di Matteo earlier? If Chelsea felt that Di Matteo wasn’t the right man to coach them long term, don’t extend his contract in the summer.

41. Laurent Blanc. Is Benitez the best unemployed coach not named Pep Guardiola? There’s certainly a case to be made for Blanc, another 4-2-3-1 coach who can have trouble with dressing rooms.

42. Not a good short-term choice. Most people believe Rafa Benitez is only an interim manager until Guardiola or Mourinho become available at the end of the year. Why would you hire the manager Chelsea fans hate most if its’ only for a few months? Just keep RDM, who is performing just fine.

43. Not a good long-term choice. Because of his tendency to fall out with owners, and the fans’ hatred, Rafa might also be the worst possible long-term coach.

44. RDM vs. Rafa: The Trophies

Roberto Di Matteo at Chelsea— less than a year, 1 Champions League, 1 FA cup

Rafa Benitez at Liverpool- six years, 1 Champions League, 1 FA cup

45. Di Matteo’s new team. The Di Matteo firing could hurt Chelsea in another way. What if he signs for another Premier League team. Mancini’s seat just got a little warmer.

46. Benitez’ style, defensive, well-organized, controlling the game without the ball, is unlikely to endear itself to Abramovich.

47. Defensive goals. Part of the Blues success this year has come from their goal scoring defenders. Under Benitez, Cahill, Ivanovic, and Luiz will probably be less likely to go forward.

48. Roman’s reputation.  With another coach fired, even more harshly, will top managers start to avoid Chelsea?

49. Torres will start. This can’t be emphasized enough.

50. Torres has a different team than at Liverpool. Instead of having strong pivot players, Torres has strong attacking midfielders, many of whom will be benched. Don’t expect incredible improvements.

51. How will the young players react? With fans booing, the coach under pressure, and the senior players unhappy, how will the young core of the team react? Will they really play better than under Di Matteo?

Champions League Update: Monchengladbach Give Kiev a Scare

Away from home, needing three goals in the second half, Borussia Monchengladbach almost pulled it off, scoring two (one was actually an own goal). A win for the German team would have given someone a very easy draw in the Champions League, by pushing up Olympiacos to Pot 2 and Celtic, the perhaps worst team in the competition based on recent seasons in Europe, into Pot 3.

Instead (unless something drastic happens):

Pot 2:

Dynamo Kyiv

Pot 3: 

Olympiacos

Galatsaray

Spartak Moscow

Lille/Copenhagen (in extra time right now)

Pot 4:

Cluj

Celtic

For the rest of the seedings, look at my last post.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid lead the Clasico on away goals. Still 75 minutes to go…

 

2012-13 Champions League Qualifiers and Draw

Today’s Champions League Qualifiers: 

Ironi Kiryat Shmona 1-1 BATE Borisov  (1-3 on aggregate)

Anderlecht 2-0 AEL Limassol (3-2)

Maribor 0-1 Dinamo Zagreb (1-3)

Udinese 1-1 (4-5 PSO) Braga (2-2)

Panathanaikos 0-0 Malaga (0-2)

No real surprises, then.

August 29th Champions League Qualifiers, 19:45 BST

The last two games are really mouthwatering, and Celtic could finally advance to the group stages.

CFR Cluj-Basel (2-1)

Celtic-Helsingborg (2-0)

Fenerbahce-Spartak Moscow (1-2)

Dynamo Kyiv-Borussia Monchengladbach (3-1)

Lille-Copenhagen (0-1)

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DRAW

-Teams to avoid capitalized and in bold

-Lucky draws underlined

-Clubs cannot be drawn against a club from the same country

Pot 1

2

3

4

Chelsea

Valencia

Ajax

BORUSSIA DORTMUND

Barcelona

Benfica

Anderlecht

BATE Borisov

Manchester United

Shakhtar Donetsk

JUVENTUS

Dinamo Zagreb

Bayern Munich

Zenit St. Petersburg

PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN

Malaga

Real Madrid

Schalke 04

Winner of Copenhagen-Lille

Montpellier

Arsenal

MANCHESTER CITY

Winner of Spartak Moscow-Fenerbahce

Nordsjaelland

Porto

Braga

Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Basel, Celtic, or CFR Cluj

Galatasaray, Borussia Monchengladbach, CFR Cluj, Celtic, or Helsingborg

AC Milan

Dynamo Kyiv(with win)/Olympiacos

See Above

See Above

WHICH TEAMS WILL BE IN POTS 3 AND 4?

 

Cluj defeats Basel (Cluj up 2-1, at Basel)

Basel wins

Kyiv defeats Monchengladbach (Kyiv up 3-1, at home)

Pot 3: Olympiacos, Galatasaray

Pot 4: Helsingborg-Celtic winner, Cluj

Pot 3: Olympiacos, Basel

Pot 4: Galatasaray, Helsingborg-Celtic winner

Monchengladbach wins

Pot 3: Galatasaray, Celtic/Cluj

Pot 4: Cluj/Helsingborg, Monchengladbach

Pot 3: Galatasaray, Basel

Pot 4: Helsingborg-Celtic winner, Monchengladbach

Potential Group of Death:

Real Madrid

Manchester City

Juventus OR Paris Saint-Germain

Borussia Dortmund

The winners of Europe’s four major league could get drawn together (Madrid, City, Juventus, Dortmund)

Group of Life:

Porto

Braga

Anderlecht

Helsingborg-Celtic winner

Seriously, who would be favored to advance here? Porto crashed out of last year’s Champions League from a group that was just as easy- it did involve long trips to Russia and Ukraine.

Shaky Starts in the Premier League

Liverpool

After the hapless 3-0 humiliation at West Bromwich Albion, with games against Manchester City, Manchester United, and Arsenal coming up, it looked like Brendan Rodgers would not last long in the notoriously short-lived job of football manager. How one point changes perception so drastically…

Many of the same problems that haunted Liverpool last year are still around— most notably the weakness at the back (against West Brom) and the inability to win games they dominate (against Man City, who looked very poor in their 3-4-1-2).

In both games, the defense looked uncomfortable with Brendan Rodgers’ passing philosophy, but that is to be expected, after only two games. Indeed, the fact that the players stuck with the game plan despite the errors says something about their trust in Rodgers.

Long term, Brendan Rodgers will help Liverpool. The errors will disappear, the Premier League’s best midfield (together with Man City-the two cancelled each other last game) will flourish, and Liverpool will contend for the top four.

One thing Rodgers got wrong, however, was not moving to a more defensive lineup after his side took the lead the second time. Particularly strange with two wingers on the pitch, both unnecessary and exhausted.

United, Arsenal, and City have all lost points, and the Reds host the former two in two of the next three games.

Manchester United

The problem here is, quite simply, their defense. They were completely overrun against Everton and allowed two to Fulham. Yes, four of their five center backs are injured, but the one that isn’t, Nemanja Vidic, has looked terrible so far, even scoring an own goal. Two years ago, Vidic was the best center-back in Europe, and captain of a strong United defense. Now, in charge of a much weaker back line, with no central midfield, he looks out of his depth. Worrisome, for the Red Devils.

Manchester City

City have the best squad in the Premier League, but sometimes that doesn’t matter. They got all six points from the Manchester Derbies last year and only won the title on goal difference— United got six more points against everyone else in the league. The fact is, that no matter how much better City’s squad is than United’s and Chelsea’s, both of those teams will beat the Wigan’s and Aston Villa’s of the league most of the time. City, for some reason, doesn’t seem to have the same motivation as those teams against lesser sides.

On a different note, the 3-4-1-2 is not working. Strange for Mancini to try it against Liverpool’s 4-3-3.

Neither Arsenal nor Spurs have won yet, with Arsenal’s offense lacking both the assist and the finish, and Tottenham already finding out why Andre Villas-Boas failed at Chelsea.

One Year To Go: Financial Fair Play

How Europe’s top clubs are dealing with Financial Fair Play

Country by country breakdown. Most data from the Swiss Ramble.

PREMIER LEAGUE:

Arsenal: Of course, one of Europe’s most profitable clubs is safe.

Chelsea: Contrary to common belief, also safe. We Ain’t Got No History wrote “There’s no reason to think that the club won’t be able to break even, as far as FFP is concerned, in the 2011/12 season. Things are looking pretty bright, even if we break the bank in the summer.” This was before the club received three pieces of £30 m worth of good news: winning the Champions League, the new Premier League TV deal, and a suspicious deal with the world’ s most profitable company.

The Champions League win seems even more important now: in addition to the prize money, it means £20 million for making the CL next year, and an immeasurable amount of money in sponsorships and global appeal.

Liverpool: The Reds have wormed themselves into quite a hole as far as Financial Fair Play is concerned. Without the usual Champions League money, Liverpool are quite close to the cut-line, so they will not be able to spend heavily in transfer windows until they get the money from making the Champions League back. Unfortunately, because FFP comes into affect at the end of next season, they will punished if they spend big this season, whether or not they make the Champions League.

The punishment in this scenario would not be a ban from Europe, even with a big spending spree. The transfer fees are amortized over a period of five seasons, so only a fifth of the money spent would count against them for the purpose of the first Monitoring Period, which would mean a minor violation of FFP, and, in all likelihood, a minor punishment—- ironically enough, it may be a fine.

It might be best, therefore, to accept the punishment, ensure Champions League qualification this season, and avoid forever having to play catch-up when UEFA really gets serious about FFP.

Manchester City: It will be interesting to see how close City come to reaching the €45 million limit, but ultimately, it shouldn’t matter. In yet another clause of the Financial Fair Play rules, if a club’s finances are improving, and City’s, so bad to start with, certainly are, then the club will not get punished. So Manchester City will be fine for the first few years—but eventually they will have to break even. Will they continue to show this year’s prudence in the transfer market?

Currently, City are far behind England’s “Big Four” in terms of revenue, so they need to increase this to stay competitive. Or they could sue UEFA, with a very, very good chance of succeeding. They still have a decade to decide.

Manchester United: The Red Devils have huge financial problems, as they pay £50 million a year in interest on their debt. That doesn’t count toward Financial Fair Play, though, so Man U will be fine.

Tottenham Hotspur: Staying both profitable and competitive, the sale of Modric  and the genius of Levy will ensure their passing FFP for the considerable future.

LA LIGA:

Barcelona: Intriguingly, Barca might have a lot of difficulty meeting the rules. Nobody seems to suspect the Catalans of being FFP’s biggest casualty, and that was the only piece on the topic I could find. I suspect they are in the same boat as Manchester City, AC Milan, and Liverpool- they wouldn’t have made it last season, but still have the ability to avoid getting punished. But what about the future? While Real Madrid remain profitable, will Barca have the funds to compete? Is Real winning the war to become the one dominate team in world football? What if La Masia goes through a dry patch? The Spanish League decides to distibute TV money more evenly….

Malaga: With no TV money, and very richer owners, this team looked like they would be the case study as to how UEFA would deal with a team breaking the rules. Unfortunately, Malaga seems to be in a financial crisis, as the owners haven’t paid transfer fees or player wages in a while. Keep an eye on them this summer.

Real Madrid: The biggest club in the world, the biggest beneficiaries of Financial Fair Play. Even with their ridiculous spending, they have been making huge profits year after year, while others (Barcelona) will soon have to rein in their spending.

Valencia: At first glance it looks like Valencia will qualify easily, but without a wealthy benefactor, their target could be €5m, not €45m. Their profits in past season have come from selling players, so they will have to continue to do this. Keep in mind that UEFA could be harsher on Valencia than on “big clubs,” and continuing to get the money from qualifying to the CL is paramount for this team.

SERIE A:

AC Milan:  AC Milan were in big trouble because of the low attendances in Italy, but the sales of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will help for the next eight years (five years for amortization, three years for Monitoring Periods). By that time, if, somehow, the FFP rules are still around, no team will be allowed to post a loss in any three-year period. AC Milan will need to make a huge youth investment (which doesn’t count toward FFP) now, so that, by the time 2019 rolls around, they will have a strong home-grown base of players from which to select, instead of being so reliant on Berluscini (who will probably not be around by then) and his transfer wheedling.

Inter Milan: Just like their cross-town rivals, this team is in a lot of trouble, both on and off the pitch and needs significant rebuilding. And just like the Rossoneri, the Nerazurri have a trump card which will give them time to make drastic changes, and still participate in the Champions League (if they make it.)
In Inter’s case, it is their age— wages on contracts signed before June 1st 2010 do not count toward FFP, and this allows Inter to write off no less than 66 million euros from their accounts.

Juventus: With ever-improving finances, a focus on youth development, and the poor financial condition of the Milan clubs, UEFA will surely look at Juvy very favorably. The Swiss Ramble’s projection of a €10 m loss in 2011-12 is good enough to pass the FFP test with ease. The other Italian teams should have no trouble passing.

BUNDESLIGA:

Bayern Munich: The most well-run team in football, able to compete consistently by spending almost as much as they make. Have had a profit for 17 years in a row.

Borussia Dortmund: Survived a huge financial crisis, and, amazingly, started to win trophies. Like every German team, whether Leverkusen, Schalke, or Monchengladbach qualify, they will pass. If worst comes to worst, Dortmund can sell ne of their plethora of young stars.

LIGUE ONE:

PSG: Farther from breaking even and earlier in the process of building a dream team than Manchester City, PSG will not be able to use any of UEFA’s loopholes to get out of Financial Fair Play. They are so far in the red that a ban is a realistic, if not likely, possibility. Since the takeover, PSG lost more on transfers than any other team in the world, while the other Ligue 1 teams remained profitable. Will be UEFA’s first major decision relating to Financial Fair Play.

IN REVIEW (for first monitoring period only):

SAFE:

Arsenal

Chelsea

Manchester United

Spurs

Real Madrid

Valencia

Juventus

Every Bundesliga club

SHOULD BE SAFE:

Liverpool

Manchester City

Barcelona?

Malaga?

AC Milan

Inter

IN TROUBLE:

Anzhi

PSG

Paris Saint-Germain will be the first team for which UEFA officials will sit down and seriously discuss a ban for breaking the Financial Fair Play rules. The benchmark case will tell us a lot about how harsh UEFA plans to be, and what type of punishment a first-time violator who is heavily in the red will face.

If Russian big-spenders Anzhi make the Champions League or Malaga’s rich owners re-emerge, those teams could face questions too. Every other team in Europe should feel good about passing UEFA’s first ever FFP tests.

Chasing History

Spain advanced to the final of Euro 2012 in less than convincing fashion, but, in the end, it only showcased another weapon in their impressive arsenal.With Iker Casillas in goal, and Barca and Madrid players used to high-pressure scenarios taking the penalty kicks, Spain will be the favorite in most penalty shoot-outs for a long time to come. How do you beat them?

The main goal of Spain’s tiki-taka is increasingly becoming a negative one— if you don’t have the ball, you can’t score; if you can’t score, you can’t beat us— eliminating upsets like Switzerland’s at the 2010 World Cup, but the possibility of keeping a clean sheet against Germany is a slim one.

Spain have been down this road before. It took a shoot-out, and a Fabregas winner, to advance to the semifinals of Euro 2008— and with Buffon in the opposite goal, no less—while their 2010 World Cup win was notable for a string of 1-0 wins.

The frustrating thing about yesterday’s game is that, had Portugal scored in the first eighty minutes, Spain would almost certainly have gotten a goal. Instead, both teams were happy with a penalty shoot-out.

Portugal’ s effort has to be commended, as they were able to limit Spain to 64% possession and “only” 84% completion percentage, while making the midfield zone very competitive. They failed to put even one shot on target, but if they did it would probably have been a goal, due to their tactics in this match. Portugal’s counter-attacks were unusually sloppy, and Spain had to make several professional fouls.

It should be noted that Portugal had two extra days of rest. Had the situations been reversed, Spain would probably have won in normal time.

Spain is accustomed to playing extremely tired opponents in the last twenty minutes; indeed, their strategy almost depends on it.

Remarkably, Portugal did look the more tired team in extra-time, but only because Del Bosque had  cunningly instructed his team not to press at the beginning of the game, which would probably account for Portugal’s good play. Paulo Bento, meanwhile, decided to employ very open tactics, surprising considering his negative ones against Germany, and Portugal pressed heavily, forcing the Spanish defense into several mistakes. By extra-time, though, the roles had been completely reversed.

Spain’s vaunted midfield was not able to handle the press particularly well. It is hard to remember a game in which Barcelona and/or Spain were given so little space, and, with only Negredo up top, Xavi and Iniesta were not nearly as good as usual.

Incidentally, Spain also won Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 despite getting considerably less rest than their knockout opponents.

0-0 after 120 minutes was fair, and with Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos, and Iker Casillas on their team, Spain were clearly the favorites for the penalty shoot-out, even with Xavi substituted off.

Del Bosque’s decisions have at times seemed baffling, but, whatever the personnel, all of Spain’s games have been similar— out-played for large portions of the first half, but relatively eventless until Spain inevitably finds the breakthrough. In Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, and Euro 2012 combined, Spain have scored 9 first-half goals, 18 second-half goals, and 1 extra-time goal. The point is, though, that, assuming the same midfield base, Spain’s games will likely end the same way whether Jesus Navas or David Silva plays, whether Cesc Fabregas or Fernando Torres plays. Either player will pass the ball around for 70 minutes, then get out of the way of the midfield.

The quest for the treble continues. Never before has a side won three major international tournaments in a row.

Germany-Italy

Meanwhile, we are only ninety minutes away from a truly amazing spectacle, possibly the greatest international ever, the Euro 2008 final 2.0, only with both teams much improved. In the mean-time, Germany-Italy should be a very good game as well, with more goals in the works than yesterday’s affair had.

In the end, Germany should dispose of Italy rather more easily than Spain did of Portugal, but the game offers a very interesting tactical clash.

Both teams play through one player— here Spain are unique again— and stopping this player will be key to the teams tactical game-plans. For Germany, that player is Mesut Ozil.

The problem for Italy is, the way the formations are set up, Pirlo will be on Ozil. That’s fine when Italy attacks, but it isn’t going to scare the German midfielder when he has the ball. If De Rossi, a natural defensive midfielder, moves into the center, Ozil will have a much tougher time getting space, but Italy’s main play-maker will be forced wide.

Because Ozil naturally drifts right, expect De Rossi to start very narrow on the left, but tracking Ozil whenever Germany has the ball.

Unlike Ozil, Pirlo is a deep-lying play-maker, and, if Germany spend most of the game attacking (Italy’s coach suggested they wouldn’t), could have a much more effective performance than he did against England, where he dominated statistically, but could not penetrate the Three Lions’ deep defense. Pirlo is a master at picking out weaknesses in a defense, which in this case means that Holger Badstuber will have a long night. The player Badstuber is marking is Balotelli, who is also Italy’s better forward in terms of creating space.

Prandelli could completely change the story by unexpectedly switching back to the 3-5-2.

Elsewhere, there are the usual questions: Italy’s lack of width could finally be exploited, while Low has three momentous selection decisions. Reus and Podolski have been better than Muller and Schurlle, respectively, and should be the starting wide men, while the Klose-Gomez decision will likely come down to whether the manager prefers an intelligent (Klose) or physical (Gomez) forward. Look for Klose to start, with Gomez coming on if the offense is not clicking.

Both teams are strongest in midfield, and the formation choices make this a particularly interesting battle, as a central-midfield heavy formation (Italy; 4-1-2-1-2) takes on a team that likes to spread the ball wide.

Because of how (not) clinical their forwards have been, the Italians may have to dominate the rest of the field to win— entirely possible, given they way they have played so far.