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A Complete Guide To The Final 16 Teams Of The Champions League

UCL-Draw

Manchester United and Arsenal, the only two remaining English sides, will be looking to avoid the big guns in the draw for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, which takes place in Nyon (Switzerland) on Thursday 10:30am GMT.

Manchester United qualified as Group H winners and so are seeded in the draw but they still could be drawn against the big sides, while Arsenal finished as runners-up and like United could face the top guns especially Barcelona (third time in the past four seasons) in the knockout stages. On the other hand, Chelsea became the first holders to be eliminated in the group stages, while Manchester City were completely knocked out of Europe as they ended bottom of their group.

Group Winners: Paris Saint-Germain, Schalke, Malaga, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United
Group Runners-Up: Porto, Arsenal, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia, Celtic, Galatasaray

Below we have a look at each of the above 16 teams in detail..

PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN

Country: France
Coach:
Carlo Ancelotti
Key Player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Other Star Players: Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi & Javier Pastore
Rising Star: Marco Verratti
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Semi-final 1995
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Arsenal, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia, Celtic, Galatasaray
Chances: PSG are one of the richest clubs in the world and have ambitions to win the Champions League this term. If striker Ibrahimovic can continue his superb form from the group stages, it might just happen.
Prediction: Quarter-Finals

SCHALKE 04

Country: Germany
Coach:
 Jens Keller
Key Player: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
Other Star Players: Benedikt Howedes, Lewis Holtby & Kyriakos Papadopoulos
Rising Star: Julian Draxler
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Semi-final 2011
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, AC Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk, Galatasary, Valencia, Celtic, Real Madrid
Chances: The Germans were unbeaten through their group which consisted the likes of Arsenal, Olympiakos and Montpellier, which shows they are not a team to be taken for granted. One their day they could upset the big guns.
Prediction: Round of 16

MALAGA

Country: Spain
Coach:
 Manuel Pellengrini
Key Player: Isco
Other Star Players: Joaquin, Martin Demichelis & Eliseu
Rising Star: Francisco Portillo
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Debutants
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Arsenal, Shakhtar Donetsk, Celtic, Galatasaray
Chances: Have been very impressive so far in their debut season in the Champions League, but their inexperience in the competition may prove costly in the knockout stages.
Prediction: Round of 16

BORUSSIA DORTMUND

Country: Germany
Coach:
 Jurgen Klopp
Key Player: Marco Reus
Other Star Players: Roberto Lewandowski, Mats Hummels & Mario Gotze
Rising Star: Moritz Leitner
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1997
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, Arsenal, AC Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia, Celtic,Galatasaray
Chances: The reigning Bundesliga champions have very much caught the eye in the group stages after finishing at top of the Group of Death and are the team to beat. Considered as the dark horses for the title.
Prediction: Quarter-Finals

JUVENTUS

Country: Italy
Coach:
 Antonio Conte
Key Player: Arturo Vidal
Other Star Players: Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon & Giorgio Chiellini
Rising Star: Paul Pogba
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1985, 1996
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Valencia, Celtic, Galatasaray
Chances: The reigning Serie A champions remained unbeaten in the group stages and topped their group by winning on the final matchday. The Italians are expected to step it up when the competition resumes in February.
Prediction: Quarter-Finals

BAYERN MUNICH

Country: Germany
Coach:
 Jupp Heynckes
Key Player: Franck Ribery
Other Star Players: Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger & Philipp Lahm
Rising Star: David Alaba
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1974, 1975, 1976, 2001
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, Arsenal, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Celtic,Galatasaray
Chances: The current Bundesliga leaders ended as the beaten finalists last season and will be looking to make amends for it. They have been in fine form so far and are one of the favourites to lift the trophy in May.
Prediction: Semi-Finals

BARCELONA

Country: Spain
Coach:
 Tito Vilanova
Key Player: Lionel Messi
Other Star Players: Andres Iniesta, Xavi & Sergio Busquets
Rising Star: Christian Tello
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1992, 2006, 2009, 2011
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Arsenal, Galatasaray, AC Milan
Chances: The Catalans were the pre-tournament favourites to win the competition and there has been very little so far to suggest that they won’t win it this term. Vilanova has done brilliantly since taking over from Pep Guardiola in the summer.
Prediction: Winners

MANCHESTER UNITED

Country: England
Coach:
 Sir Alex Ferguson
Key Player: Wayne Rooney
Other Star Players: Robin van Persie, Nemanja Vidic & Antonio Valencia
Rising Star: Rafael
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1968, 1999, 2008
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Porto, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Valencia, Celtic
Chances: Unlike last season, United have marched pretty easily into the knockout stages and with Van Persie & Rooney both in form they are a team to fear. Surely one of the contenders for the title.
Prediction: Semi-Finals

PORTO

Country: Portugal
Coach:
 Vitor Pereira
Key Player: Jackson Martinez
Other Star Players: Joao Moutinho, Lucho Gonzalez & Nicolas Otamendi
Rising Star: James Rodriguez
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winner 1987, 2004
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: Schalke, Malaga, Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United
Chances: The Portuguese champions have gone all the way before but its very unlikely it will happen again this season. They have a very good squad with some very talented players but its highly unlikely they will trouble the big teams.
Prediction: Round of 16

ARSENAL

Country: England
Coach:
 Arsene Wenger
Key Player: Santi Cazrola
Other Star Players: Jack Wilshere, Thomas Vermaelen & Lukas Podolski
Rising Star: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Runner-up 2006
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Malaga, Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona
Chances: The Gunners have had a stuttering season both domestically and in Europe – especially at home. They will need to improve a lot in the second half of the season if they want to be genuine title contenders.
Prediction: Quarter-Finals

AC MILAN

Country: Italy
Coach:
 Massimiliano Allegri
Key Player: Stephan El Shaarawy
Other Star Players: Philippe Mexes, Ricardo Montolivo & Kevin-Prince Boateng
Rising Star: Mattia De Sciglio
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1963, 1969, 1989, 1990, 1994, 2003, 2007
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United
Chances: Like Arsenal, the Rossoneri are struggling this term domestically and in Europe. They are not the force of the old, although their pedigree and experience in this competition means they should not be taken lightly.
Prediction: Round of 16

REAL MADRID

Country: Spain
Coach:
 Jose Mourinho
Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo
Other Star Players: Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos & Mesut Ozil
Rising Star: Raphael Varane
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1966, 1998, 2000, 2002
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United
Chances: Its been over a decade since Real Madrid last won the Champions League and the boss Mourinho has never appeared more determined to win the tournament for the club this season. With the team they have they are regarded as the joint favourites alongside Barca.
Prediction: Runners-Up

SHAKHTAR DONETSK

Country: Ukraine
Coach:
 Mircea Lucescu
Key Player: Luiz Adriano
Other Star Players: Darijo Srna, Willian & Fernandinho
Rising Star: Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Quarter-final 2011
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Malaga, Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United
Chances: Like Dortmund, Shakhtar are another side that have grabbed the attention of many in the group stages. They are the ones who dumped Chelsea out of the tournament and a side very few people would want to face in the knockout stages.
Prediction: Round of 16

VALENCIA

Country: Spain
Coach:
 Ernesto Valverde
Key Player: Roberto Soldado
Other Star Players: Jonas, Sofiane Feghouli & Adil Rami
Rising Star: Daniel Parejo
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Runner-up 2000, 2001
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Dortmund, Juventus, Manchester United
Chances: The Spaniards have been very impressive in the group stages with their star striker at the top of his game but do not appear equipped for a really extended run in competition this season.
Prediction: Round of 16

CELTIC

Country: Scotland
Coach:
 Neil Lennon
Key Player: Giorgos Samaras
Other Star Players: Fraser Forster, Victor Wanyama & Gary Hooper
Rising Star: Anthony Watt
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Winners 1967
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Málaga, Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United
Chances: Had little hopes of making it through to the knockout stages after being grouped with Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow but they did it. Anything else from now will be a bonus for the Scottish champions.
Prediction: Round of 16

GALATASARAY

Country: Turkey
Coach:
 Fatih Terim
Key Player: Burak Yilmaz
Other Star Players: Felipe Melo, Nordin Amrabat & Hamit Altintop
Rising Star: Semih Kaya
Previous best in CL/European Cup: Semi-finals 1989
Possible Round of 16 Opponents: PSG, Schalke, Málaga, Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona
Chances: Snatched the second spot from CFR Cluj on the final matchday. Like Celtic, anything else they achieve from now on will be a bonus for the Turkish side and very few teams will fancy making the trip to the intimidating Turk Telekom Arena in Istanbul.
Prediction: Round of 16

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IntoTheTopCorner’s UEFA EURO 2012 Awards

Spain created history on Sunday night in Kiev by winning their third successive major tournament, with a dominating 4-0 win over Italy in the UEFA EURO 2012 final at the Olympic Stadium in Ukraine.

UEFA EURO 2012 has been an exciting and very competitive tournament with some tight, action-packed and mouth-watering matches.  Looking back to last 23 days’ of action, IntoTheTopCorner brings you it’s own UEFA EURO 2012 awards.

TEAM AWARDS

BEST TEAM – SPAIN

Many have criticised La Roja for being boring at times during the tournament, but when it mattered the most they turned on the style and silenced all the critics with emphatic 4-0 win in the final over Italy. Although Vicente Del Bosque’s men have not been at their best throughout the competition, they have done what is needed to win the trophy and ended the campaign with an outstanding performance in the final.

WORST TEAM – REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

Some fans expected Ireland to cause some upsets or shocks in Group C, but it never happened. The team had a good blend of players but completely failed to perform when needed. They were completely out of depth and ideas. Giovanni Trapattoni’s men lost all of their three group games, conceding nine goals and scoring just one.

OVERACHIEVERS – GREECE

Most didn’t expect Greece to make it through to knockout stages from Group A, but in the end they were eliminated from the competition along with the likes of England and France. Coming into the tournament as huge outsiders to make it to the last eight, the 2004 winners stunned Russia in the last group game and then scored twice – without their inspiration skipper – against Germany in the quarter-finals.

UNDERACHIEVERS – NETHERLANDS

Group B or the “Group of Death’ was always going to be tough but everyone expected Netherlands to reach atleast the last four if not the finals. The 2010 World Cup finalists came into the Championships with virtually the same squad that was present in South Africa but yet they failed to deliver. The team showed no unity at all with every player playing for himself rather than the team. In the end, the Dutch ended at the bottom of the group with no points on the board.

WORST CHOKERS – RUSSIA

Russia came into the tournament as the favourites in Group A, and they made the best possible start with a win (4-1) and a draw (1-1) in their first two matches. With a point needed from their final group game against Greece, they were surely going through to the last eight. But they choked badly and lost 1-0 to the 2004 champions, which saw them drop down to third – from the top spot – in the group table and that meant they were going back home.

BEST MATCH – GERMANY 1-2 ITALY

Although this tournament has thrown up many great games to watch, the semi-final clash between Germany and Italy was a great game for the neutrals. Germany were the favourites to defeat Italy and progress to the finals, Mario Balotelli struck twice to give Italy a shock two goal lead in the first half. The second half had more end-to-end action and the game could have gone either way but Cesare Prandelli’s men held on to a 2-1 victory and made the final.

WORST MATCH – CROATIA 0-1 SPAIN

UEFA EURO 2012 has had very few matches which were boring or not entertaining, and the Croatia-Spain game was one of them. The final Group C game had a place in the quarter-finals up for grabs but Spain -who started the game without a striker – made it an one side affair by keeping possession with no real threat or penetration. Croatia had a couple of chances in the second half but Spain tired their opponents by keeping the ball and went on to score a late winner.

SHOCK OF THE TOURNAMENT – NETHERLANDS 0-1 DENMARK

There have been quite a few upsets throughout the tournament but this one was perhaps the biggest of them all. Everyone expected the Dutch to perform well in Poland/Ukraine but they were shocked in the first game itself. Netherlands completely dominated the possession and create a lot of chances but just failed to convert one of those chances. While on the other hand, the Danes had a very few chances but were very clinical and scored the only goal of the game in first half, which was enough in the end.

INDIVIDUAL AWARDS

BEST PLAYER – ANDRES INIESTA (SPAIN)

In the team loaded full of superstars, Andres Iniesta is one of the most underrated player. His control of the ball, accurate passing and deft touches lifts him way ahead of his teammates.   The Barcelona midfielder was the spark that carried his team forward. He was a constant attacking threat for the opposition and with Spain playing without a true centre-forward his penetration and positioning in the last third was very important. Completely deserves the Golden Ball award.

WORST PLAYER – ARJEN ROBBEN (NETHERLANDS)

After coming from a poor season with Bayern Munich, everyone expected Arjen Robben to show his true colors for his country in Poland/Ukraine but it didn’t happen so. The former Real Madrid and Chelsea winger was a complete failure and at times was very selfish. His behavior was no good and his worst moment came when he was substituted off against Germany. Rather than cross the pitch and complete the substitution normally, he merely stepped over the nearest touchline, ripped his shirt off and walked angrily around the side of the pitch.

BEST MANAGER – CESARE PRANDELLI (ITALY)

This one was a tough choice but the former Fiorentina boss deserves credit for his work with Italy. He dragged a team made up of players past-their-peaks and misfits all the way to the final. He did this with a combination of tactical innovation and expert man-management. Reinvented Italy as an attractive, attacking team, and showed himself to be a thorougly decent man on and off the field.

BEST YOUNG PLAYER – MARIO BALOTELLI (ITALY)

Mario Balotelli was already hyped for his on-and-off field antics prior to the tournament, but he showed his real talent and class on the field with his performances in Poland/Ukraine. The Manchester City man was not so impressive in the first two games but scored a classic volley against Ireland in the last group game and then put in a solid performance against England in the quarter-finals. His real moment came against Germany in the semi-finals, when he displayed his true talent, potential and class and also scored both the goals that helped his side reach the final.

BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE – CRISTIANO RONALDO (PORTUGAL 2-1 NETHERLANDS)

After being heavily criticsed for his below-par performances in the first two games of the tournament against Germany and Denmark, the Real Madrid man came to life when it mattered the most. In the final group game against the Netherlands, Portugal needed a win to make it through and the former Manchester United star put in a man-of-the-match performance and scored twice which ensured his side won 2-1 after the Dutch had taken an early lead.

BEST GOAL – ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC (SWEDEN 2-0 FRANCE)

With Sweden already out of the tournament with defeats to Ukraine and England in their first two games, the Scandinavians were playing for pride in their final Group D game against France. The AC Milan forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic was one of the stars of the tournament and he ended his tournament in style with an acrobatic volley past keeper Hugo Lloris from the edge of the area, which helped his side to a shocking 2-0 win.

BEST PENALTY – ANDREA PIRLO (ENGLAND 0-0 (2-4P) ITALY)

With Ricardo Montolivo already having missed one of Italy’s penalty during the quarter-final penalty shoot-out against England, the Juventus playmaker Andrea Prilo stepped up to the mark. With Joe Hart jumping around and making faces to put his opponent off, the former AC Milan midfielder causally chipped his spot-kick down the middle and completely fooled the Manchester City keeper who dived to his right.

BEST SAVE – IKER CASILLAS (CROATIA 0-1 SPAIN)

May not be the best save of the tournament, but surely was the most important one. Just after the interval, Luka Modric put in a cross from the outside of his right foot, which was perfectly met by the head of Ivan Rakitic from 6 yards, but the Real Madrid and Spain skipper produced a great reflex save to deny the Sevilla man from scoring the goal which could have knocked out the defending champions in the group stages itself.

BEST GOAL CELEBRATION – MARIO BALOTELLI (GERMANY 1-2 ITALY)

Having already scored the opener against Germany in the semi-finals, Mario Balotelli rifled the second past Manuel Neuer – which turned out to be the winner in the end – before running away towards the edge of the area, taking his jersey off and showing his upper body in Hulk style.

WORST MISS – CRISTIANO RONALDO (DENMARK 2-3 PORTUGAL)

With the Denmark-Portugal game finely balanced, the Portuguese skipper Cristiano Ronaldo had a glorious chance to gives his side 3-1 lead when he was one-on-one with the Danish goalkeeper Stephen Andersen.However, very unlike Cristiano Ronaldo, he placed his effort well wide of the right-hand post.

OTHER AWARDS

HIGHLIGHT OF THE TOURNAMENT – ENTERTAINING FINAL

Everyone expected the Spain-Italy final to be a cagey affair with both teams trying to keep the possession a lot and defend, but the it was anything but that. The game was an open, end-to-end affair with Spain – as expected – dominating the game with a lot of possession, but at the same time playing some attacking football and creating a lot of goal scoring chances. Italy, on the other hand, also had chances to score but they failed to do so. In the end, as the scoreline shows the final was an entertaining affair and the defending champions completely outclassed their opponents.

LOWLIGHT OF THE TOURNAMENT – RACISM AND UEFA FINES

Despite it being a good tournament played in the right manner generally, ugly incidents of racism reared their ugly heads at times. No place for this in society or the beautiful game. Another low point of the tournament was the ridiculous fines by UEFA. Most of the racist fans of various countries were fined way less than Nicklas Bendtner for showing the sponsors on his underpants.

BEST FANS – REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

Republic of Ireland didn’t give their fans much to cheer about in terms of performance or goals, but the travelling Irish fans created quite the noise at their side’s Group C games and at the same time were not involved in any trouble in and out of the stadium.

BEST TATTOO – DANIELE DE ROSSI

While most of the footballers opt to ink their wives’ or children’s names, tribal symbols or pair of angel wings on their skins, Daniele de Rossi’s road-sign design tattoo to leave his opponents in no doubt as to what is in store was by far the best tattoo and a true innovation up to which the rest of the football world show now be aiming to live.

WORST HAIRSTYLE – RAUL MIERELES

The Portugal and Chelsea midfielder’s pathetically scruffy skull-fuzz, stuck halfway between a total shave and a Mohican with the style points of neither, combine with his off-putting wall of tattoos on his whole body put him only one step away from the ‘Derelicte’ range of homeless fashion as invented by Will Ferrell’s Mugatu in ‘Zoolander’.

BIGGEST GAFFE – RUSSIA DAY CELEBRATED IN WARSAW

Biggest blunded was by the person who allowed 20,000 Russia fans to march through Warsaw to celebrate ‘Russia Day’. That’s 20,000 Russians marching through the Polish capital. What could possibly go wrong? It resulted in 183 arrests in the biggest incidence of hooliganism for decades.

UEFA EURO 2012 Final Preview – Spain v Italy

European glory is up for grabs on Sunday night at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium when the defending champions Spain go head-to-head against the 2006 World Cup winners Italy.

Neither side have lost a match in the tournament so far but it will be the Italians who enter the showpiece in better form. Cesare Prandelli’s side were excellent in their quarter-final win over England – which was only decided on penalties because of their poor finishing – and they backed it up with a superb 2-1 victory against an in-form Germany. And although Spain will enter the final as favourites, Prandelli is confident his side can cause problems for their opponents. “We only have one day to prepare for this game but we will try to find Spain’s weaknesses,” Prandelli said. “They are the world and European champions and they are an example to everyone. But we have grown and we should not fear them. We have to have the strength to face them with ideas and quality.”

Reigning European champions Spain had the opportunity to eliminate Italy during the group stage, with both sides slugging it out in Group C. A 2-2 draw against Croatia in their final group game would have been enough to see Spain and the Croats progress at Italy’s expense. Del Bosque’s side play to win, though, and a late effort from Jesus Navas, coupled with a 2-0 victory for the Azzurri over the Republic of Ireland, kept things fair. Del Bosque has no regrets at having passed up the chance to send a rival packing and is looking forward to renewing acquaintances with a side that posed Spain plenty of problems during a 1-1 draw in the opening round of fixtures.  “Never have we regretted not drawing with Croatia to eliminate Italy. This wasn’t good for sport,” Del Bosque said. “Italy and ourselves have lived parallel lives and now we have to be at the level that a final demands. In the game in the group stages they were possibly superior in the first half. They were the team that gave us most problems.”

TEAM NEWS

Spain

Spain boss Vicente del Bosque is expected to have a fully-fit squad for the Euro 2012 final showdown with Italy. The 61-year-old’s biggest selection dilemma is likely to be over whether to field a recognised striker after Alvaro Negredo’s anonymous performance in the semi-final win over Portugal. With Fernando Torres seemingly out of favour, and with Fernando Llorente yet to make an appearance at the tournament, Cesc Fabregas could be restored to a ‘false nine’ role up front alongside Andres Iniesta and David Silva.

Italy

Italy defender Ignazio Abate, who missed the semi-final win over Germany with a muscle injury, is likely to return to fitness in time for the final, while fellow full-back Christian Maggio is also available after serving a one-match ban. Coach Cesare Prandelli may persist with the same formation that served him well against the Germans rather than revert to the unorthodox 3-5-2 line-up used in the opening match against Spain. AC Milan-bound Riccardo Montolivo is likely to keep his place in the team ahead of Thiago Motta after an assured performance in the semi-final.

ROAD TO THE FINAL

Spain

10 Jun – Group C – Spain 1-1 Italy (Fabregas)
14 Jun – Group C – Spain 4-0 Ireland (Torres(2), David Silva, Fabregas)
18 Jun – Group C – Croatia 0-1 Spain (Jesus Navas)
23 Jun – Quarter-Finals – Spain 2-0 France (Xabi Alonso(2))
27 Jun – Semi-Finals – Portugal 0-0 (2-4P) Spain

Italy

10 Jun – Group C – Spain 1-1 Italy (Fabregas)
14 Jun – Group C – Italy 1-1 Croatia (Pirlo)
18 Jun – Group C – Italy 2-0 Ireland (Cassano, Balotelli)
24 Jun – Quarter-Finals – England 0-0 (2-4P) Italy
28 Jun – Semi-Finals – Germany 1-2 Italy (Balotelli(2))

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Played – 30
Spain Wins – 8
Draws – 12
Italy Wins – 10

FORM GUIDE

Spain – DWWWD
27-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Portugal 0-0 Spain
23-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 2-0 France
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Croatia 0-1 Spain
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 4-0 Ireland
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy

Italy – WDWDD
28-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Germany 1-2 Italy
22-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – England 0-0 Italy
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Italy 2-0 Ireland
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Italy 1-1 Crotia
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Iker Casillas (Spain)
The Real Madrid and Spain captain is often unsung, but he steers the game out of the back, organizes the defense and restarts the attack. In Spain’s best games, he often has little to do which makes his concentration all the more remarkable: he is the rare keeper who can make the important save after sitting idle for 89 minutes. That’s a more valuable asset than most fans realize.

Andres Iniesta (Spain)
Against Portugal, the Barcelona playmaker was shackled and kept quiet. It showed in Spain’s insipid play. Iniesta has to have the ball and he has to have room to create. When he has both, Spain are the most vicious team on the planet, slicing apart defenses with abandon. But when he is off – and he rarely is – they are reduced to a passing team that must play keep-away and is very boring to watch.

Cesc Fabregas (Spain)
Del Bosque’s insistence on packing his side with as many playmakers as possible has rendered Spain slow and predictable in possession, with not enough width to stretch the opposition. The 61-year-old could compensate for this by ordering Fabregas to make runs behind the Italian backline as often as possible to drag defenders out of position, thus creating space for Iniesta and Silva to run into.

Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
Pirlo may control the game, but Buffon is the man who saves it. He was brilliant against Germany, swatting away shot after shot and showing control of his area that most keepers can only dream of. A consummate competitor, he also stalked off the field after their win, clearly unhappy. Why? Italy had wasted too many chances at the other end. That kind of fire drives teams, and Italy’s captain has fire in spades.

Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
Even though Balotelli was praised by the football fraternity for his two goals against Germany, it was Pirlo’s brilliance on the field that won him his third Man of the Match award for the tournament. Pirlo has been able to topple all the opponents with his accurate passes and wise decisions creating opportunities for his team-mates to score goals every now and then. Along with Balotelli, Italy will need Pirlo to use his experience for a formidable show.

Mario Balotelli (Italy)
Even though many disagree on the striker’s maturity level, none would doubt Mario Ballotelli’s ability on the pitch as a footballer. He proved his worth against Germany in the last four as he was key to Italy’s place in the final. After being inconsistent throughout the tournament, Balotelli was the catalyst against Germany which rung the bells for the defending champions. The fans would expect an encore from Balotelli and with a formidable show; he can also bag the much coveted golden boot.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

Spain (4-3-3): Iker Casillas (C); Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba; Sergi Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso; David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta.

The Spaniards are expected to field the same side that featured against the Italians in the first game in Group C. Cesc Fabregas, who scored the winning penalty against Portugal, will come in place for Alvaro Negredo, who was quite annonymous during the semi-finals. The rest of the starting XI will be the same. But at the same time, Del Bosque is not shy of throwing in some surprises and might actually play Pedro or Jesus Navas or Fernando Torres in place of David Silva or in the central striker role. Pedro and Jesus Navas were very impressive against the Portuguese after coming on as substitutes and caused Cristiano Ronaldo and co some problems.

Italy (4-3-1-2): Gianluigi Buffon (C); Ignazio Abate, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Federico Balzaretti; Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi; Ricardo Montolivo; Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano.

It hardly seems that boss Cesare Prandelli will change his winning team that defeated Germany in the semi-finals. However, a solitary change is a possibility with the AC Milan right back Ignazio Abate coming back in the side for Leanardo Bonucci with Federico Balzaretti going back to his normal left back position. Rest of the side will remain the same with Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marschiso and Daniele De Rossi playing in center midfield just behind Ricardo Montolivo. Up front, the attacking duo of Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano are set to start yet again after an very impressive display against the Germans.

KEY BATTLES

Sergio Ramos v Mario Balotelli
With Carles Puyol ruled out for the entire tournament by injury, Sergio Ramos has cemented his place as Gerard Pique’s partner at the heart of Spain’s defence. His replica of Andre Pirlo’s penalty in the semi-final penalty shoot-out win over Portugal demonstrated his confidence. Mario Balotelli appears to be maturing before our very eyes at UEFA EURO 2012. His form and attitude were questioned in Italy’s first two games but he has been almost unplayable since scoring the stunning goal as a substitute against Ireland.

Xavi v Andrea Pirlo
A mouthwatering showdown between two of the best passers ever to grace the game. Xavi’s status as an all-time great has already been assured but he has yet to hit the heights in Poland/Ukraine and will be desperate to do so on Sunday. Andrea Pirlo has been peerless for Italy and almost has the Player of the Tournament award wrapped up ahead of the final.

Andres Iniesta v Ignazio Abate/Federico Balzaretti 
If Spain decide not to play a striker, their midfield will have to fill the void and no-one is more capable of doing so than Andres Iniesta, whose goal settled the 2010 World Cup. The 28-year-old also likes to drift out wide, where he will doubtless come up against Ignazio Abate or Federico Balzaretti. The AC Milan right-back and the Juventus defender both have been very impressive going forward during the tournament.

THE STADIUM

Name: Olympic Stadium, Kiev
UEFA Capacity: 
64,640
Record attendance: 
102,000 (2-0 FC Dynamo Kyiv v FC Bayern München on 16/03/1977)
Tenants: 
Ukrainian national team
Opened: 
1923 (reopened October 2011)

• Located at the foot of city’s central Cherepanov Hill in Pechersk, the venue started life as the Red Stadium of Lev Trotsky and has enjoyed numerous face-lifts (minor and major) since.

• The latest stadium reconstruction, from December 2008 to October 2011, saw the demolition and rebuilding of the lower tier, a new West Stand with a two-level press box or VIP seats between the two tiers and the addition of a new transparent roof.

• Andriy Yarmolenko scored the first goal at the renovated Olympic Stadium on 11 November 2011, a crowd of 70,000 in attendance as Ukraine led 2-0 and 3-1 before drawing 3-3 with Germany.

• It has had several monikers, too. It became simply the Red Stadium before being renamed the Republican Stadium in 1936 and, barring a 17-year stint as the Central Stadium (1962 to 1979), kept the title until 1996. Then it adopted its current Olympic name, a nod to the 1980 Moscow Olympics when it hosted seven games.

• The stadium is the traditional stage for Dynamo Kiev’s European games, replacing the 16,973-capacity Valeriy Lobanovskiy Stadium.

• Because there were no seats the venue often exceeded its official 100,062 capacity. Newspapers used to just report attendance as being ‘chock-full’.

(source: uefa.com)

THE MATCH BALL

The adidas Tango 12 Finale features a modern interpretation of classic Tango design, used during FIFA World Cups and UEFA European Championships during the early 1980s, including bespoke graphics designed to represent the two host countries and the key characteristics of football – unity, rivalry and passion.

Developed over a two-year period, it has been constructed in the same way as the ball which will be used during the rest of the tournament. That ball was presented in December 2011 at the EURO draw and distributed to the participating teams.

The final ball underwent two rigorous types of testing – qualitative player testing, which was conducted across eight different countries, using players, federations and clubs from both elite and grassroots football, and quantitative lab testing, which concluded that the adidas Tango 12 Finale meets and exceeds all FIFA standards for an official match ball, making it the most tested ball adidas has ever produced.

(source: uefa.com)

THE TROPHY

Spain’s Iker Casillas had the pleasure of becoming the first captain to lift the updated version of the Henri Delaunay Cup in June 2008, with the new trophy a fitting replacement for the prize that has been synonymous with the UEFA European Championship.

The second version of the trophy is based on the original designed by Arthus-Bertrand in 1960 and named after Henri Delaunay, the former president of the French Football Federation and UEFA’s first general secretary, from the body’s founding on 15 June 1954 to 9 November 1955.

It is 18cm higher and 2kg heavier than the original, made of sterling silver, and has retained its historical name. The trophy was reincarnated to reflect the scale and size of Europe’s most prestigious international tournament.

The responsibility for creating the original went to Pierre Delaunay, son of Henri, the visionary behind the competition. Henri Delaunay died in 1955 before seeing his idea come to fruition, but the updated prize is testament to his enduring legacy, maintaining its classic style.

Minor differences between the original and updated version include the silver base being enlarged to make it stable. In addition, the names of the winning countries that had appeared on the plinth have been engraved on the back of the trophy, which weighs 8kg and is 60cm tall.

Unlike the original, which was the work of the Chobillon goldsmith and was later bought by Arthus-Bertrand in Paris, the making of the modern equivalent was entrusted to Asprey London.

Asprey, renowned silversmiths, jewellers and goldsmiths, have a long history of trophy-making stretching back to the America’s Cup, which their sister company Garrard produced in 1848. UEFA wanted to improve on the quality but also the scale of the trophy, and have a focal point for the event – it was felt that the original trophy was too small to do this.

(source: uefa.com)

THE REFEREE

Pedro Proenca of Portugal has been selected to referee the UEFA EURO 2012 final between Italy and Spain at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv on Sunday. The appointment completes a memorable end to the season for the financial director from Pinhal Novo, who oversaw last month’s UEFA Champions League showpiece in Munich, where Chelsea defeated Bayern Munich on penalties.

Sunday’s fixture will be the 41-year-old’s fourth of the tournament, having taken charge of two group stage matches – Spain’s 4-0 victory against the Republic of Ireland on 14 June and Sweden’s 2-0 defeat of France five days later – as well as the England-Italy quarter-final in the Ukrainian capital.

Proenca will be assisted by countrymen Bertino Cunha Miranda and Ricardo Jorge Ferreira Santos, with Manuel Jorge Neves Moreira De Sousa and Duarte Nuno Pereira Gomes acting as additional assistant referees. The fourth official will be Cüneyt Cakır and the reserve assistant referee Bahattin Duran, both from Turkey.

Proenca has been on the rise in European refereeing circles since handling the UEFA European Under-19 Championship final in 2004. Promoted to UEFA’s Elite category at the start of 2009/10, he was in the middle for four games in that season’s UEFA Champions League, five in the 2010/11 edition and six this term, culminating in the Fußball Arena Munchen decider on 19 May.

(source: uefa.com)

THE  CLOSING CEREMONY

Kiev’s Olympic Stadium will host the UEFA EURO 2012 closing ceremony on Sunday, an unforgettable curtain-raiser to the final between Spain and Italy.

Inspired by football, the 16 participating teams and the tournament’s values, the 12-minute show will be presented shortly before kick-off, and will feature more than 600 volunteer performers. The concept has been created to celebrate the end of a historical event – the first UEFA European Championship staged in central and eastern Europe. It will also promote the participating nations together with key competition values: unity, rivalry and passion.

Both the opening and closing ceremonies were devised by Marco Balich, the president of Filmmaster Events, along with artistic director Lida Castelli and show director Bryn Walters. Balich has designed many international events, including the 2002 Olympic flag handover in Salt Lake City, the 2006 Olympic ceremonies in Turin and the Carnival of Venice.

The official tournament song, Endless Summer, will be performed live by German singer Oceana. The UEFA EURO 2012 hit is the first single from Oceana’s outstanding new studio album, recorded in London, New York and Berlin with producers including Rob Davis (Kylie Minogue) and Blair McKichan (Lily Allen). The national anthems of both finalists will be presented by Tamara Khodakova and Mykhailo Humenniy – soloists from the Kyiv Municipal Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, under the leadership of Anzhela Maslennikova.

A total of 150 million viewers are expected to watch the UEFA EURO 2012 final live.

(source: uefa.com)

BETTING ODDS

Match Result
Spain – 6/5
Draw – 11/5
Italy – 5/2

To Lift The Trophy
Spain – 8/15
Italy – 6/4

Method Of Victory
Spain in extra time – 10/1
Italy in extra time – 14/1
Spain on penalties – 9/1
Italy on penalties – 9/1

Correct Score
Spain 1-0 – 5/1
Draw 0-0 – 11/2
Italy 1-0 – 15/2
Spain 2-0 – 17/2
Draw 1-1 – 11/2
Italy 2-0 – 18/1
Spain 2-1 – 9/1
Draw 2-2 – 22/1
Italy 2-1 – 14/1
Spain 3-0 – 25/1
Draw 3-3 – 125/1
Italy 3-0 – 66/1
Spain 3-1 – 22/1
Draw 4-4 – 250/1
Italy 3-1 – 50/1

Half-Time/Full-Time
Spain / Spain – 11/4
Draw / Spain – 4/1
Italy / Spain – 28/1
Spain / Draw – 16/1
Draw / Draw – 7/2
Italy / Draw – 16/1
Spain / Italy – 33/1
Draw / Italy – 15/2
Italy / Italy – 13/2

Under/Over 2.5 Goals
Under 2.5 Goals – 4/9
Over 2.5 Goals – 13/8

Both Teams to Score
Yes – 5/4
No – 4/7

Goalscorer
No Italy Goalscorer – 6/5
No Spain Goalscorer – 15/8
Mario Balotelli – 12/5
Fernando Torres – 5/2
Cesc Fabregas – 5/2
Antonio Di Natale – 7/2
Pedro – 7/2
Antonio Cassano – 7/2
David Silva – 7/2
Fernando Llorente – 11/4
Alvaro Negredo – 11/4
Fabio Borini – 11/4
Sebastian Giovinco – 11/2
Alessandro Diamanti – 11/2
Andres Iniesta – 4/1
Andrea Pirlo – 6/1

Winning Margin
Spain by Exactly 1 Goal – 5/2
Italy by Exactly 1 Goal – 7/2
Spain by Exactly 2 Goals – 6/1
Italy by Exactly 2 Goals – 12/1
Spain by 3 or more Goals – 14/1
Italy by 3 or more Goals – 33/1

(source: skybet.com)

PREDICTION

Spain are the favourites to go and defend their European crown, but no team in the history has ever done that and so it would be a huge achievement. Spain came to Poland/Ukraine as the pre-tournament favourites, but they have not looked any where near their best. This is the best possible time to play Spain as they have grinded out results in almost all their games – except the ones against Ireland and France – and looked too tired against Portugal in the semi-finals. On the other hand, Italy have defined the odds to come so far and have beaten the likes of England and Germany on the way. The Azzurri are finding the right form at the right time in the tournament and they have all the weapons they need to hurt their opponents on the counter.

Predicted Score – Spain 0-1 Italy

Germany v Italy Preview

Joachim Low’s Germany will have to defy history if they are to beat Italy today at the National Stadium in Warsaw and set up a repeat of the 2008 final against Spain on Sunday.

Germany boss Joachim Low knows his side must disturb Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who was allowed to dictate play in Italy’s quarter-final victory over England. Low said: “He’s the Italian player who directs the game. “We have to disturb him, stop him playing, get in his way, and think of a way how we can do better than Italy in midfield.” But Low has also called for focus from his own side, believing they must play to the strengths which has seen them win all their games so far. “It’s a confidence thing. We have to be cheeky, strong and brave,” he said. “We have to concentrate and work very hard. I don’t think we have to worry too much about our opponents. We have to impose our own ideas.”

Despite never having lost a competitive match against Germany, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli knows it will be tough to beat their opponents. “The Germans, alongside Spain, are the favourites to win the European Championship,” he said. “I’m not the first to discover how good they are, they are playing very well.”

TEAM NEWS

Germany

Low has received a boost with the news influential midfielder Bastian Schweinsteigerwill be fit after shrugging off a sore ankle following the 4-2 win over Greece. But he has decisions to make after surprisingly leaving Arsenal new-boy Lukas Podolski, Thomas Muller and tournament top scorer Mario Gomez out of his starting line-up against Greece. He is expected to restore the trio to his side, despite Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle adding pace to the German attack in their place, while Miroslav Klose scored against the Greeks.

Italy

For Italy, the team’s medical staff are doing their bets’ to get injured Daniele De Rossi, Ignazio Abate and Giorgio Chiellini back to fitness for the game, with the trio undergoing intensive physiotherapy. Midfielder De Rossi and right-back Abate were substituted with muscle injuries in Sunday’s quarter-final penalty victory over England, while Chiellini missed the game with a thigh problem. Chiellini has since returned to training and will probably come in for Leonardo Bonucci if he is fit, while Antonio Nocerino will likely replace De Rossi should he miss out. Coach Prandelli has a big decision to make if Abate fails to recover as fellow right-back Christian Maggio is suspended.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Played – 30
Germany Wins – 7
Draws – 9
Italy Wins – 14

FORM GUIDE

Germany – WWWWW
22-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Germany 4-2 Greece
17-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Denmark 1-2 Germany
13-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Netherlands 1-2 Germany
09-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Germany 1-0 Portugal
31-May-12 – Friendly – Germany 2-0 Israel

Italy – DWDDL
22-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – England 0-0 Italy
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Italy 2-0 Ireland
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Italy 1-1 Crotia
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy
01-Jun-12 – Friendly – Italy 0-3 Russia

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany)
The 27-year-old Bayern Munich midfielder has been struggling with an ankle injury and looked uncharacteristically wasteful in possession against Greece in the quarter-finals. With the Italian midfield packed with skillful passers of the ball, the German star will be under pressure to cover plenty of ground and set the rhythm and tempo of the team in the middle of the park.

Mesut Ozil (Germany)
The Real Madrid playmaker has had a quiet tournament until the quarterf-inal game against Greece where he showed his true best setting up two goals. The former Werder Bremen midfielder is the main creator of chances in this German lineup. His smart passes and brilliant through balls would be the key to unlocling the solid Italian defence. If he is kept quiet then the Italian would have a real chance.

Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
The former AC Milan player has been Italy’s best player in the tournament so far and he singled handedly dominated the previous game against England. He has been an inspirational and the guiding force behind the Italian success till now. He has been dictating the game from his defensive midfield posituon and has shown his quality time and time again. Another classy performance today and his side will have a huge chance of upsetting the favourites.

Mario Balotelli (Italy)
The Manchester City forward was one of the star performers for Italy during their penalty shoot-out win over England. The former Inter Milan striker has shown he has got the talent and potential to be the best in the world but has failed to perform on a consistent basis. His pace, his ability to get in the right position at the right time and to shoot from distance, can trouble the opposition but he needs to work more on his finishing and convert the chances he gets.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

Germany (4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Holger Badstuber, Philipp Lahm (C); Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger; Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski; Mario Gomez.

The Germans are set to bring back their three big guns Mario Gomez, Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski after handing them rests in the quarter-finals against Greece. Joachim Low is set to stay with his 4-2-3-1 formation that has worked like a dream till now. However, the only worry is a nagging injury to the experienced Bastian Schweinsteiger, however, the German campaign has declared that the midfielder will play through the pain and is expected to take the field against Italy today.

Italy (4-3-1-2): Gianluigi Buffon (C); Ignazio Abate, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Federico Balzaretti; Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi; Thiago Motta; Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano.

The Italians will start with the same 4-3-1-2 formation that started against England in the previous game. However they might have to make a couple of chances with Ignazio Abate and Daniele De Rossi struggling with injuries. If Abate fails to recover in time then Prandelli will have to change back to the 3-man defence with second-choice right Christian Maggio suspended. Antonio Nocerino may come in for De Rossi, if he fails to pass the fitness test. Thiago Motta will be another chance in the side and will replace Ricardo Montolivo in the lineup.

MATCH ODDS

Germany 5/6 Draw 12/5 Italy 18/5

PREDICTION

If last night’s drama was anything then this match is going to be a cracker of a game. Germany have been the team of the tournament, while Italy have been the best defensive side. The fact that Germany had 48 hours more than Italy to prepare and rest for this match is a huge advantage. The Italians were too good against an average England side, but beating the pre-tournament favourites – who have won all their matches so far – is a huge task. The history is on Italy’s side and if they are able to get past Germany today then it will surely be an upset.

Predicted Score – Germany 2-1 Italy

England v Italy Preview

England and Italy both arrived in Poland/Ukraine to take part in UEFA EURO 2012 without much expectations, but today they meet each other in the quarter-finals in Kiev believing this could be their year. 

England topped Group D to reach this stage, preserving Roy Hodgson’s unbeaten record as national coach in the process -with four wins and a draw taken from five fixtures to date. Hodgson’s early success has been based on making his side as difficult to beat as possible, with greater emphasis placed on the need to be solid at the back and defend as a collective unit. Italy’s footballing philosophy is much the same as their opponents. It has been suggested that the two sides will cancel each other out, with the fear of losing set to outweigh the desire to attack and take the game by the scruff of the neck.

Past meetings between the two countries suggest it will be a tight affair, with all but one of the last nine encounters having ended all square or been settled by the odd goal. Unfortunately for England, they have emerged victorious in just one of those outings. The Three Lions’ record in quarter-final clashes is also not the best, having lost seven out of 10, and they are looking to grace a major semi-final for the first time in 16 years. Italy will be hoping to pile more misery on their success-starved opponents this weekend, and in Cesare Prandelli they boast a coach who is yet to taste defeat in 13 competitive matches in charge of the Azzurri.

TEAM NEWS

England

England have all 23 members of their squad fit and are in contention for a starting berth, but it is likely that the same XI which started the Three Lions’ final group game against Ukraine will take to the field in Kiev. That means James Milner’s abilities going backwards will once again be favoured over Theo Walcott’s going forward, and Danny Welbeck will get the nod ahead of Andy Carroll in the battle to partner Wayne Rooney up front. Skipper Steven Gerrard is among those one caution away from missing a possible semi-final date through suspension, with Ashley Cole, Ashley Young, Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also walking a disciplinary tightrope.

Italy

Italy have nine players cautioned and one yellow card away from missing the semi-finals, with enigmatic striker Mario Balotelli, captain Gianluigi Buffon and combative midfielder Daniele De Rossi aware that they must tread carefully. It remains to be seen whether Balotelli will be offered the opportunity to line up against a number of his Manchester City colleagues from the start, with Prandelli announcing that he will not name his team until an hour before kick-off. It is expected that Thiago Motta will be in contention for a starting role, with the midfielder having overcome a hamstring injury. Giorgio Chiellini is ruled out with a thigh problem, though, and his place is expected to go to Juventus team-mate Leonardo Bonucci.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Played – 22
England Wins – 7
Draws – 6
Italy Wins – 9

FORM GUIDE

England – WWDWW
19-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – England 1-0 Ukraine
15-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Sweden 2-3 England
11-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – France 1-1 England
02-Jun-12 – Friendly – England 1-0 Belgium
26-May-12 – Friendly – Norway 0-1 England

Italy – WDDLL
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Italy 2-0 Ireland
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Italy 1-1 Crotia
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy
01-Jun-12 – Friendly – Italy 0-3 Russia
29-Feb-12 – Friendly – Italy 0-1 United States

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Steven Gerrard (England)
The Liverpool icon may be getting older day by day, but he has certainly enjoyed wearing the captain’s armband. In centre midfield, Gerrard’s passing, effort, and most notably his crossing and set-pieces has seen him be a driving force and set up three goals at UEFA EURO 2012. Up against pressure from Claudio Marchisio and Co, he’ll need to ensure his side make the best use of the ball when in possession, as he has done all tournament.

Wayne Rooney (England)
The talismanic striker announced his return with the winning goal in against Ukraine in the last group game. Having watched the first two games from the stands, the striker is desperate to make use of whatever opportunity he would get and made an impact in his first match itself. The Manchester United star forward has the skill to cause Italian defence some trouble and would surely be the man to watch out for in Kiev.

Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
The former AC Milan and current Juventus playmaker has been Italy’s best player in the Euros so far. His accurate passing and ability to create chances from the midfield has caused the likes of Spain, Croatia and Ireland a lot of problems in the group stages. If Pirlo – who has two assists and one goal to his name in the competition – is given a lot of space and time with the ball then he will surely create many opportunities for his teammates which will cause a lot of problems to the English defence.

Antonio Cassano (Italy)
Antonio Cassano has shown flashes of brilliance since returning from minor heart surgery that threatened to rule him out of the tournament, but was something close to his best before running out of gas in the 2-0 win over Ireland. Prandelli will look for more of the same from the Milan forward, hoping he can cause confusion in the organised English defence by dropping deep and playing some of his trademark passes into the area for his teammates to run on to.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

England (4-4-2): Joe Hart; Glen Johnson, John Terry, Joleon Lescott, Ashley Cole; James Milner, Scott Parker, Steven Gerrard (C), Ashley Young; Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck.

Roy Hodgson is expected to field the same side that defeated the co-hosts Ukraine as in the final group game as he would be keen on keeping the stability. Although Milner and Young have failed to impress, youngsters Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain look set to remain on the bench as Hodgson is set to use them as substitutes who can make a difference later in the game. The John Terry and Joleon Lescott partnership has done just enough to keep them top, but has been caught out on many occasions. Up top, the Manchester United pairing of Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck would be looking to cause trouble to the three-man Italian defence.

Italy (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon (C); Federico Balzaretti, Daniele De Rossi, Leonardo Bonucci; Ignazio Abate, Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Motta, Andrea Barzagli; Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano.

The Italians are expected to stick with their 3-5-2 formation, with Manchester City star Mario Balotelli starting alongside Antonio Cassano at the top. Leonardo Bonucci is expected to replace the injured Giorgio Chiellini in the back three, who would try and stop the opponents from running at in-form goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Andrea Pirlo would be the key man in midfield once again, and the veteran would look to continue to dictate play like he has done throughout the tournament.

MATCH ODDS

England 9/5 Draw 2/1 Italy 9/5

PREDICTION

This is a game between two teams who play very similar kind of football. Both teams would make sure they stay strong at the back and won’t let their opponents create a lot of chances. The battle between Steven Gerrard and Andrea Pirlo in the heart of the midfield seems to be a mouth-watering prospect. The game is expect to be a very tight and a cagey affair and maybe a moment or two of magic may be the difference between the two sides. Both the sides will be looking towards their explosive strikers – Wayne Rooney and Mario Balotelli for some individual class. Set-pieces or a counter attack will be important in this game between two teams who have been disappointing in recent international tournaments. The game has a huge prospect of being decided in extra time or on penalties. However, with some luck, England might just win this one and book themselves a place in the semi-finals.

Predicted Score – England 2-1 Italy (A.E.T)

Predicting Croatia v Spain And Italy v Republic Of Ireland

Germany and Portugal joined Czech Republic and Greece in the quater finals in the last night from Group B. Lars Bender scored the winner as Germany defeated Denmark, while Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice to send the Dutch home without a single point in the Euros this year.

Today it’s time for Group C as Croatia, Spain and Italy battle out for two places in the quarter finals, while Republic of Ireland are already out and have just pride to play for. Croatia take on the defending champions Spain in Gdansk, while Italy will look to win against Ireland in Poznan. Here are the predictions for the two matches.

Date – 18th June, 21:45 GMT

Stadium – PGE Arena, Gdansk

Prediction – This will be the match to watch today, as both the team – Spain and Croatia have been in good form so far. Spain are at the top of the group with 6 points from their two matches, while Croatia are second with four points. A draw will be enough for Spain and will help them qualify as Group C winners. On the other hand, a win for Croatia and they win the group but a draw could be risky. A high scoring draw other than 0-0 and 1-1 would be good for Croatia but if they draw 0-0 and Italy win then they are out or if they draw 1-1 then Italy must beat Ireland 3-1 to progress. A defeat may also be enough if Italy fail to win against Ireland, but that looks unlikely. Spain will come out with a strong side and look to dominate the possession, while Croatia will look to contain the world champions and try to hit them on the break. Spain will play their tiki-taka football and mostly in the opposition’s half with Xavi dictating the tempo of his. Fernando Torres, who bagged a brace against Ireland, will open the scoring for the Spaniards in the first half after a brilliant through ball by Andres Iniesta. Spain will control the game and create many chances but will fail to make them count and double the lead. They will take the slender 1-0 advantage into half time. Croatia will come out looking to attack and look to get the scores level after the interval and they will succeed in doing so. Nikica Jelavic, who has been in top form this year, will equalise for the Croatians early in the second half with a powerful header. Vicente Del Bosque will make a couple of attacking changes to his squad and Spain will continue to control the game again and create a lot of chances. As the game goes into its final ten minutes, the Spanish pressure will tell and Andres Iniesta will score the winner to break all the Croatians hearts. The win means, Spain go on to win the group with a 100% record, while Croatia are knocked out of the tournament.

Predicted Final Score – Croatia 1-2 Spain (Jelavic ; Torres, Iniesta)

Date – 18th June, 21:45 GMT

Stadium – Municipal Stadium, Poznan

Prediction – This is a huge game for both the teams – Italy and Ireland. Italy play for a place in the last eight, while Ireland – who are already out – play for pride and for their brilliant supporters. Italy, who are third in the group below Spain and Croatia with two points – must win this game and hope the other game doesn’t end in a high scoring. If the other game ends 0-0 then an Italy win will be enough, but if the other game ends 1-1 then the 2006 FIFA World Cup winners must beat Ireland atleast 3-1 or more to advance. In simple words Italy must win today to stand any chance of making it through. As expected, the Italians will come out and look dominate the game from the first minute itself. The Italian midfield which has been very solid and organised in both the games so far will look to dictate the game. Ireland, on the other hand, won’t sit back and let Italy attack, but will themselves go on the offensive and hope to shock the Italians. The Italians will create a lot of chances in the first half, and the Manchester City hitman Mario Balotelli will give them after some good work by Andrea Pirlo. The Italians will take the lead in to the interval. After the break, Ireland will go on the attack and will have some good chances but will fail to trouble Gianluigi Buffon. Andrea Pirlo, who scored against Croatians with a brilliant freekick, will score again from long range which will send Italy through to last eight. With Croatia losing to Spain in the other game, Italy go through to the quarter finals as the second best team from the group and will face the winner of Group D.

Predicted Final Score – Italy 2-0 Ireland (Balotelli, Pirlo)

European Team Of The Season 2011/12

What an exciting season of football it has been across Europe this year. Real Madrid, Manchester City, Juventus all won their first ever league titles in years, while Montpellier won the Ligue 1 for the first time in their history and Dortmund made it two in two years in the Bundesliga. Chelsea shocked the footballing world by winning the Champions League against all odds and Atletico Madrid defeated their Spanish rivals Athletic Bilbao to win the Europa League in Bucharest.  

As we draw to an end to league football across Europe for the season and as we move closer to the European Championships in Poland & Ukraine in the summer,  we look at the eleven best players and one manager who form our European Team of the Season 2011/12.

Gianluigi Buffon (GK) – Juventus

He has been a loyal servant to the Bianconeri having stayed at the club through the Calciopoli Scandal and the relegation to Serie B in 2006/07. At 34-years of age, many thought he was past his peak but he has proved everyone wrong. Except for that one blunder against Lecce, the 2006 World Cup winner was back to his best and with 21 clean sheets and just 16 goals conceded, he has to be the best keeper around Europe this season ahead of the likes of Iker Casillas, Joe Hart or Manuel Neuer.

Lukasz Piszczek (RB) – Dortmund

The Poland international has been sensational for Dortmund this season as they went on to do the domestic double by winning the Bundesliga and the DFB Pokal. The 26-year-old has had an outstanding season for the Bundesliga champions this year and he comes in this team ahead of the German captain Philipp Lahm and Barcelona’s Dani Alves. Piszczek has been very good both offensively and defensively for his side and he is the leading goal scorer as a right back this season with 4 goals.

Mats Hummels (CB) – Dortmund

He is the second Dortmund and Bundesliga player in this team and truly deserves his place. Hummels has been a rock in the defence for the Bundesliga champions this season and his partnership with Nevan Subotic in center of that Dortmund defence, has conceded just 25 goals this season. He is in the team ahead of the likes of Sergio Ramos, Carles Puyol and Thiago Silva and is there for a good reason as he has been able to stop Bundesliga’s top strikers like Mario Gomez, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Lukas Podolski, Raul, Claudio Pizarro and Marco Reus from scoring any goals against BVB this season.

Vincent Kompany (CB) (C) – Manchester City

What a season this man has had. He led City to their first ever league title in 44 years and also scored the most important goal against Manchester United in the Manchester derby at the Etihad stadium which decided the title. Like Hummels, Kompany has been a rock in that City defence and the Premier League champions have missed him badly whenever he was injured or suspended. The Belgium international who has scored three goals and created one this season is also Premier League’s Player of the Year. He has been a true leader on and off the pitch and has also been an inspiration for his City team-mates and that’s why he is also the captain of this team.

Jordi Alba (LB) – Valencia

This year has been a dream year for Jordi Alba. The left back who came through the ranks at La Masia has been in form for Valencia this season, making the step up to the national team to become Spain’s first choice left back. With 2 goals and 5 assists, Jordi Alba has been a key member of the Valencia team that finished third for the third time in a row. With his performances attracting interests from the likes of Manchester United and Barcelona, dont expect him to be around at the Mestalla next season.  The young Spaniard is in the team ahead of Philipp Lahm, Ashley Cole and Patrice Evra.

Andrea Pirlo (CM) – Juventus

For me Pirlo has to be Serie A’s Player of the Season. Many thought the Italian international was past his prime and finished when he left Milan for free last summer and joined Juventus. But like Buffon, he has answered his critics by the performances on the field. The veteran was a  standout in his debut match against Parma as he put in an outstanding performance in 4-1 win and as the season progressed he got better and better. With 13 assists and 3 goals to his name in 37 league appearances this season he has proved everyone that he is far from finished and is surely a player to watch at the Euros this summer.

Yaya Toure (CM) – Manchester City

David Silva, Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero got all the praise for guiding Manchester City to their first ever league title in 44 years but Yaya Toure has played a key part as well. He play like what Patrick Vieira use to play during his times at Arsenal and is the driving force in the heart of the City midfield. The Blues missed the Ivorian badly when he was on international duty during African Cup of Nations but ever since his return he has been inspirational in their bid for the title. He also scored the two important goals for City at Newcastle in penultimate game of the season that got them one step closer to the title.

Mesut Ozil (CAM) – Real Madrid

For an attacking midfielder with an advanced role Mesut Ozil doesn’t score enough goals but has been a vital part of Real Madrid team this season as they went to win their 32nd La Liga title. The German international has just 7 goals in 52 appearances this season but has created 23 goals which is only second best to Lionel Messi (28). His movement off the ball is one of the best in the world at the moment and has been consistently the best attacking midfielder for the last two years for both club and country. He is in the team ahead of David Silva because he guided Los Blancos to the semi finals of the Champions League and also created the goal for Cristiano Ronaldo against Barcelona which handed the league title to Jose Mourinho’s men.

Cristiano Ronaldo (RW) – Real Madrid

The Portuguese failed to win the Golden Boot or the Pichichi Trophy this season as he ended just four goals behind Lionel Messi but it was Ronaldo who had the last laugh as Real Madrid went on to win their first ever league title since 2008. With 46 goals in the La Liga and 60 in all competitions, the former Manchester United player has played a pivotal role in helping Mourinho’s men win their 32nd La Liga title and also reaching the semi finals of the Champions League this season. The 27-year-old’s winner against Barcelona at Camp Nou guaranteed that the league title will be heading back to Madrid.

Lionel Messi (LW) – Barcelona

It hasn’t been a good season for Barcelona as they finished second behind Real Madrid in the league and were knocked out by eventual winners Chelsea in the semi finals of the Champions League but on a personal note it has been Messi’s best season as he continued to break more records. He went on to become the club’s all-time highest goalscorer this season with 252 goals in all competitions and also set a new record of goals in a European season with 72. He also created a new record of most number of goals scored in the league with an incredible number of 50 goals.

Robin van Persie (ST) – Arsenal

The Dutcman has single-handedly carried Arsenal on his shoulders and guided them to a third place finish in the Premier League after having one of their worst starts to the season. He scored 30 league goals this season and those goals consisted of both stunning striker and poacher like finishes which proves what a complete striker he is. The PFA Player of the Year and the Premier League Golden Boot winner has been a true leader for the young Arsenal side on the pitch and has brought them back from the dead too many times this season. He is the key to any future success that is in store for Arsenal and the Gunners must do everything possible to keep him at the club.

Antonio Conte (Manager) – Juventus

It was a tough choice to choose between Conte and Jose Mourinho as both led their clubs to league success after many years but in the end it was Italian for me. The former Juventus fan favourite was appointed as the new coach at the start of the season and did a tremendous job in his first season by lead the Bianconeri to their first ever  Scudetto title since 2006. In the process Juventus stayed unbeaten in the Serie A through out the season, winning 23 and drawing 15 games. Conte also guided the Zebras to their first ever Coppa Italia final since 2004 only to be beaten by Napoli 2-0. The Italian who joined in May last summer has now signed a new contract which will see him stay at the Juventus Stadium for the next three years.

Substitutes

Petr Cech (Chelsea), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Xavi (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United).