June 2012: Two classic encounters in the battle for the final

There will be traditional encounters in the semi-finals of the 2012 European Championship. Germany and Italy will fight it out in a battle of world footballing giants for a place in the final in Kiev on July 1. The Iberian countries Spain, reigning World and European champions, and Portugal will meet in the first semi-final – a repeat of the knock-out stage at the 2010 World Cup in Cape Town (1-0). Former World Cup champions England were eliminated in the quarter-finals after a dramatic match against Italy (4-2 defeat on penalties), as were France (2-0 loss to Spain), the former European champions Greece (4-2 defeat to Germany) and Czech Republic (1-0 defeat to Portugal).

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The 2008 European runners-up Germany continued their smooth road to the final with a world record of 15 victories in competitive matches. Philipp Lahm (39th), Sami Khedira (61st), Miroslav Klose (68th), who achieved his 64th goal in his 120th international match, and Marcus Reus (74th) scored the goals for Germany’s 4-2 (1-0) win over Greece, and so progressed to the last four. This marked the fifth consecutive time the German team had reached the semi-finals in a major tournament -- the 2005 Confed Cup, the 2006 and 2010 World Cups and the 2008 European Championship. “That’s a fantastic achievement, particularly as we have the youngest team at the European Championship”, said national coach Joachim Loew.

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A young woman, fan of the German national team, brandishes a banner with the DFB emblem. (Photo: Firo/Augenklick)

Giorgios Samaras (55th) and Dimitrios Salpingidis, with a penalty for hand ball (89th), scored the Greek goals in front of 39,000 spectators in Gdansk. Loew sprung a surprise from the start.

Although his team were the only one with three wins from three group matches, he changed the line-up. He rejigged his successful offence, leaving all the players who had scored Germany’s previous five EURO goals on the bench. Loew replaced triple goalscorer Mario Gomez with Miroslav Klose, left out Lukas Podolski and Thomas Mueller and instead nominated Marco Reus and André Schuerrle. This brought four changes from the 2-1 win against Denmark, as Jerome Boateng returned from suspension to regain the right defending position from Lars Bender, who scored the winning goal against the Danes. After an hour the German team took complete control, with maestro Mesut Oezil directing brilliantly, and the new players performing convincingly.

Germany hit the goals – England fail in penalty shoot-out

The match between three-time European champions Germany and 2004 European title holders Greece was the game with the most goals. The same number of goals were registered in the last quarter-final between four-time World Cup champions Italy and England in Kiev – but they all came from the penalty spot. This first penalty shoot-out of EURO 2012 saw the Azzurri win 4-2. Alessandro Diamanti converted the decisive penalty in front of 64,340 spectators. For the first time in this tournament the score after 120 minutes had been 0-0. It was a nail-biting match. “We had character and team spirit, we are elated. Now we’ll enjoy the victory and then we’ll think about Germany”, said Italy’s coach Cesare Prandelli after the thriller. “Germany start favourites in the semi-final”.

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A female supporter of the Italian national team delightedly looks towards the pitch with great interest. (Photo: GES/Augenklick)


His team dominated, but the English also proved a difficult team to beat, despite lacking many injured players, and would certainly have been worthy semi-finalists. They lost a lead in the penalty shoot-out after Riccardo Montolivo’s shot had missed the goal. Then Ashley Young and Ashley Cole failed. Young cannoned the ball against the crossbar, while Cole’s penalty was saved by goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Outstanding player of the evening was Andrea Pirlo, who lobbed his penalty skilfully and coolly into the net.

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Without true brilliance, but again tactically excellent, Spain defeated France 2-0 (1-0) in the quarter-final in Donetsk. Xabi Alonso of Spanish champions Real Madrid earned his 100th cap and scored both goals, the first with a header (19th), the second from the penalty spot (90th+1) in front of 47,000 spectators. The French, whose successful run had already been stopped by Sweden in the last group match, had no answer by the end. Thus the Iberians remained unbeaten in 18 successive competitive games. Only Germany boast more victories. The historic “Triple” gets closer for the “Furia Roja” (Red Furies). No nation has yet achieved two European titles in a row, with a World Cup triumph in between. It was noticeable that the team coached by Vincente del Bosque dominated the encounter with the “no-striker tactic” employed from the first group match.

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A father with his small daughter on his shoulders celebrates the win by the Spanish national team. (Photo: GES/Augenklick)

However, the reigning World Cup champions did not win their games in the same style as European runners-up Germany, who scored four spectacular goals.

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In Warsaw 55,500 spectators watched another thrilling match. Cristiano Ronaldo headed the winning goal for Portugal’s 1-0 (0-0) victory over the Czech Republic in the first quarter-final. The 2004 European runners-up thus reached the European semi-finals for the first time in eight years. Ronaldo, the superstar of Real Madrid (formerly Manchester United), who had been criticised after his performances against Germany and Denmark, found the spectacular form he had shown against the Netherlands. With his goal in the 79th minute he decided the match, with the 1976 European champions matching the Portuguese for only one half. “We played brilliantly. Our great aim is now the final.

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“Ronaldo, here I am”. A young Polish woman, accompanied by her girlfriend, supports the top star and consequently the Portuguese national team. (Photo: Firo/Augenklick)

Our chances are 50-50, we only have to believe in it”, Ronaldo said. The encounter with Spain will be a very special match for “CR7”, Ronaldo’s abbreviation and trademark. In the stands his country’s former football heroes, Eusebio and Luis Figo, rejoiced and embraced each other. The excitement could increase further in the semi-final matches