June 2012: World champions encounters in quarter-finals

World and European champions Spain against France, England versus Italy. These are the two encounters bringing together four giants of world football in the quarter-finals of the European Championship. The big four, who have each won the World Cup title at least once, progressed through thrilling last group matches on Monday and Tuesday (June 18,19). Earlier the first two quarter-finals were determined with the Czech Republic to meet Portugal and Germany taking on Greece. The final matches in Group C and D produced sporting drama with spectacular action and top performances from players.

“They denied us a goal”, bewailed Ukraine coach Oleg Blochin after the final whistle in Donetsk. The European Championship newcomers, who had reached the quarter-finals at the 2006 World Cup, lost 1-0 to England. For both EURO hosts, Poland and Ukraine, the tournament was finished after the first round. England won thanks to a Wayne Rooney goal in the 48th minute. The brawny Manchester United striker, who was suspended for the first two group matches, headed the deciding goal from short range after a mistake by Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Piatov.

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John Terry clears Marco Devic’s shot in the goal. England continue to lead 1-0 against Ukraine. (Photo: Getty Images)


Then another wrong decision by the officials again triggered furious argument. The Ukrainians rejoiced in vain in the 62nd minute. John Terry cleared a shot by Marko Devic which had clearly crossed the goal line. Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai disallowed the goal as the linesman alongside the goal offered no reaction. Once again the question was asked -- what about modern goal line technology? “This has been the tournament with the best ever refereeing performances”, Michel Platini, president of the European Football Association UEFA, had said on Monday. “We don’t need such systems, technology, satellites, GPS or chip in the ball”, the Frenchman declared.

The legendary disallowed goal by Frank Lampard against Germany at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa would have been ruled in by a goal linesman, he maintained. “It is his job to see whether the ball is behind the line”, Platini added. The English, who won their group with seven points, accepted this lucky gift on the night. It was recompense for their bad luck during the 4-1 loss to Germany two years earlier when the ball was clearly over the line with the score at 2-1 for Germany, but the goal was disallowed. However, that didn’t console the Ukrainians.

Sweden stop successful French run

In the parallel game France stumbled into the quarter-finals. The successful run by the 2000 European champions ended with a 2-0 defeat by Sweden. It was their first defeat in 23 matches, but the “Equipe Tricolore” went through. The punishment for this weak performance is a meeting with Spain in the quarter-finals. But at least it’s France’s first participation in the round of the best eight at a major tournament since 2006. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (54th minute), with a stunning goal, and Sebastian Larsson (90th+1) scored in Kiev, to help Sweden celebrate their first victory over France for 43 years. The “Tre Kronor” team had no chance to make the quarter-finals. The encounter was for them a first preparation game for the upcoming World Cup qualification, with Germany among their opponents.

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic (left) scores the 1-0 after a tackle with Philippe Mexes against goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Sweden win 2-0 and stop France’s successful run. (Photo: GES/Augenklick)


France’s coach Laurent Blanc intends to follow the Croatian example of how to pressurise the Spaniards. “They showed what you have to do against Spain”, the 1998 World Cup champion said. For Croatia had made life very difficult for the Spaniards on the previous day in Gdansk. The title defenders found it hard work to finally win 1-0 with a much disputed goal by Jesus Navas (88th). The Croats protested for offside, but the German referee Wolfgang Stark and his goal line assistant Florian Meyer were not deterred. Stark had earlier brought an outcry from the Croats. They felt he should have awarded a penalty when Sergio Ramos fouled Mario Mandzukic (26th). The final whistle proved a bitter pill to swallow for the Croats, as they had taken the highly favoured “Furia Roja” to the brink of defeat, but in the end had to return home.

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Spaniard Jesus Navas (centre) celebrates his goal to beat Croatia 1-0. Gordon Schildenfeld (left) and Ivan Perisic (right) are too late to stop him. (Photo: GES/Augenklick)


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Italy ascertained second place with a 2-0 win over Ireland, who returned home to the Emerald Isle without a point. The strikers Antonio Cassano (35th) and Mario Balotelli (90th) scored the goals for the “Azzurri”. “Now bring on anybody. We don’t fear any team”, said Cassano, the AC Milan striker, after the victory over an Irish team led by Italian Giovanni Trapattoni, the former Italian national coach. “We can take on any opponent”, said coach Cesare Prandelli, who did an excellent job. The four-time World Cup champions went through to the knock-out stage with five points and without a defeat. The Tifosi at home were ecstatic. The quarter-final against England on Sunday need not be their last match at the 2012 European Championship.

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Mario Balotelli (front) scores the goal for Italy’s 2-0 victory over Ireland against John O’Shea. (Photo: Firo/Augenklick)

Every football expert knows that Italy are a tournament team, just like Germany. The Azzurri have a habit of improving slowly. The 1982 and 2006 World Cup finals are prime examples.