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Champions League Group Stage Ultimate XI

Group Stage Ultimate XI

The Champions League group stages are done and dusted with Chelsea becoming the first holders in the history to be knocked out in the group stages, Manchester City completely out of Europe, Real Madrid finishing second and Lionel Messi in fine form.

Here, IntoTheTopCorner picks its Group Stage Ultimate XI, containing the very best performers over the six matchdays in a 4-5-1 formation. There’s an alternative to each selection, so have a look at the team below…

GK – FRASER FORSTER (CELTIC)

Forster

Celtic are through to the knockout stages for the first time since the 2007/08 season and they had some individual performances to thank for. The former Newcastle United shot-stopper is one of them, as he had two brilliant games against Barcelona that actually secured their qualification. A last-gasp defeat at the Camp Nou and a historical win at Celtic Park did their confidence a world of good, and their final matchday win over Spartak Moscow was more than deserved.

Alternative – Joe Hart (Manchester City)

RB – PHILIPP LAHM (BAYERN MUNICH)

Lahm

Bayern’s skipper and Mr. Consistent, Philipp Lahm, has proved dependable yet again as the Bundesliga leaders secured the top spot in Group F ahead of Valencia. Though, the German international captain did his best work on the left flank he comes in our side as a right-back. He managed three assists and won one penalty in the five matches he played and looked very solid at the back.

Alternative – Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund)

CB – THIAGO SILVA (PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN)

Thiago Silva

The Brazilian is known as one of the best defenders in the world of football at the moment and he didn’t let anyone down. The former AC Milan centre-back was very consistent throughout the group stages as he helped the French side to first place in Group A in their long-awaited return to Europe’s elite. He scored two goals including the opener in PSG’s important win over Porto on Matchday six.

Alternative – Martin Demichelis (Malaga)

CB – MATS HUMMELS (BORUSSIA DORTMUND)

Hummels

Dortmund – surprisingly – topped the Group of Death and they had their solid defence to thank for it. Hummels, the integral part of the reigning Bundesliga champions’ back four, was at his very best as Die Schwarzgelben remained unbeaten in all of their six group games and also managed to keep three clean sheets in the process.  All the defence played their part, but the German international was perhaps the standout performer in Jurgen Klopp’s back four.

Alternative – Nicolas Otamendi (Porto)

LB – GIORGIO CHIELLINI (JUVENTUS)

Chiellini

Juventus secured their passage through to the knockout stages as Group E winners thanks to an unbeaten run of six games. Their last three were impressive wins and also clean sheets, while the Old Lady came out victorious in Donetsk – a feat achieved by very few teams in the past 12 months or so. The Italian international was perhaps the most impressive player in Antonio Conte’s back three.

Alternative – Christian Fuchs (Schalke)

CDM – ARTURO VIDAL (JUVENTUS)

Vidal

The Chilean international has to be one of the players of the group stages. The former Leverkusen man is a typical box-to-box midfielder combining defensive steel with goal-scoring prowess at the highest level. His partnership with Claudio Marschisio is the engine of Conte’s team. In the group stages, he averaged 4.8 tackles per game and scored three goals with one assist—an absolutely remarkable feat for a defensive midfield.

Alternative – Victor Wanyama (Celtic)

CM – WILLIAN (SHAKHTAR DONETSK)

Willian

The Brazilian alongside the Chilean gives our side some South American feel in the midfield. Willian, who has attracted a lot of interest from the Premier League clubs like Chelsea and Tottenham in the past, was one of the top performers for Shakhtar scoring four goals and creating two as they made it through to the last-16 and dumped the holders out of the competition in the process.

Alternative – Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk)

CM – ISCO (MALAGA)

Isco

The 20-year-old Spaniard scored twice and assisted two in six games to announce himself on the European stage and walk straight into our line-up. While he has failed to to translate this form into his La Liga games, Isco has been in super form in the Champions League. It’s his form in the in Europe’s elite competition that has clubs scrambling to meet his €18.5 million buyout clause before Malaga extend his contract, and it’s clear this kid has something slightly special.

Alternative – Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich)

RW – CRISTIANO RONALDO (REAL MADRID)

Ronaldo

Love him or hate him, but the Portuguese is surely one of the best players in the world and he proved it with his performances for the Spanish champions in the group stages. The former Manchester United star managed to scored six goals in the group of death and will be hoping to score many more in the later stages as he hopes to guide the Los Blancos to their first ever Champions League title in over a decade.

Alternative – Juan Mata (Chelsea)

LW – LIONEL MESSI (BARCELONA)

Messi

A Champions League team without the best player in the world? Not possible at all. The Barca striker is at his very peak and was again at his very best in the group stages scoring five goals and creating two as he helped the Catalans top their group. The Argentine has had the best year having scored 90 goals and will be hoping more of the same in 2013 as he looks to guide his team to yet another European success.

Alternative – Burak Yilmaz (Galatasaray)

ST – ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC (PARIS SAINT-GERMIAN)

Ibrahimovic

Out strike force is a nightmare to any team and Ibrahimovic leads it. The Swede has played for the many elite club during his career but his contributions for the French capital side in this season’s campaign can’t be ignored. He has managed to score just two goals in the six games but it’s the five assists that are the most impressive. Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore and Jeremy Menez must really enjoy playing alongside the Swede as he continues to impress.

Alternative – Jackson Martinez (Porto)

Group Stage Ultimate XI

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FIFA 13 – Cover Stars

EA Sports revealed via youtube live stream that Joe Hart and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be on FIFA 13 UK Cover along with the three time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi.

Here’s the latest pack shot of the trio in action and the YouTube stream just in case you missed it…

Several FIFA 13 cover stars like Roberto Soldado, Karim Benzema and Claudio Marchisio have already been announced and have a look at those pack shots below..

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)

Team Of The Group Stages

With the group stages done & dusted on Tuesday and the knockout stages to begin from today, with the Czech Republic v Portugal match at the National Stadium in Warsaw, we have decided to create the team of the group stages. A team consisting of the best performers in every position from the three group game. Here is the team below using the 4-2-3-1 formation.. 

IKER CASILLAS (GK) – SPAIN

Casillas has been by far the most consistently performing goalkeeper in the this year’s European Championship. The Real Madrid shot stopper has been an inspirational skipper and has led his country from the front making several very important saves in the three games he has featured in. The most important of all his saves has to be the terrific save from a Ivan Rakitic close range header in the second half against Croatia which kept Spain in that game and most importantly in the tournament.

THEODOR GEBRE SELASSIE (RB) – CZECH REPUBLIC

Selassie has been one of the gems of the the tournament. The right back from African origin was completely unknown outside Czech Republic before the European Championships, but with his energetic performances for his country in the three group games so far he will surely attract many and bigger European clubs in the summer. The Slovan Liberec full back has impressed everyone with his pace and work rate on the right side of the Czech defence and also created his side’s second goal in the important win over Greece.

PEPE (CB) – PORTUGAL

Pepe has been the rock in the center of the defence for both Portugal and Real Madrid this season. The former FC Porto man has been a determined customer at the back and at times has been seen shouting out instructions to his fellow defenders and kept them well organised. He is not only a very good defender but also an attacking threat from the set-pieces. He scored his side’s opener from a corner against Denmark in the second group game and was very close of doing the same against Germany in the first game.

MATS HUMMELS (CB) – GERMANY

If Pepe was the reason for Portugal’s success from the so called Group of Death, then the Dortmund defender has been Germany’s reason for success in the same group. Hummels has been an imperious presence in the heart of the German defence that have conceded just two goals in the three group games they have played. His aerial ability and no-nonsense defending has been the keys aspects to his defending. At the same time he is a threat from the set-pieces and is also good going forward with ball, as he showed against the Dutch.

JORDI ALBA (LB) – SPAIN

The Valencia full back, who is expected to sign for Barcelona in the summer, has been one of the players to watch during the European Championship and he has not let anyone down by his performances. The fast improving left back has been very impressive for La Furia Roja in Poland/Ukraine, as he has been a threat to deal with when going forward, and at the same time solid at the back. He has been the important part of the Spanish defence that has kept two cleans during the group stages and will be hoping to do the same against France in Donetsk.

STEVEN GERRARD (CM) – ENGLAND

In the absence of Wayne Rooney, all eyes were on Gerrard on how he would lead his team in the European Championship and he has done a brilliant job. Played in a bit defensive role by Roy Hodgson, the Liverpool skipper has shown his class in all the three group games he has played in, and has led his team from the front with some clam performances. He has been the inspiration figure on and off field, and at the same time has been his side’s and tournament’s top goal creator with three assists. His good form in the knockout stages will be the key for England success in the competition.

CLAUDIO MARSCHISIO (CM) – ITALY

Coming from winning the Serie A with Juventus, Marschiso has carried his club form for his country in the European Championship. The center midfielder has been Italy’s top performer in Poland/Ukraine. The Juventus man has put in energetic displays in all the three group games but the game against Spain stands out. He showed some great stamina to run the Spainish defence to the end and force a late save from Casillas. At the same time, he was solid in the midfield and often stole possession for his side.

CRISTIANO RONALDO (AML) – PORTUGAL

Ronaldo was not at his best against Germany in the opening group game and missed a couple of golden chances against Denmark in the second game but when it mattered the most, he scored twice against the Dutch in the final game and guided his country to the last eight. The Real Madrid star has been a constant threat to defences in this tournament with his pace, trickery and his ability to shoot from distance.  The Czech defence will have to be at their best to deal with threat possessed by Ronaldo, and if they succeed in keeping him quite then Petr Cech’s side are in with a huge chance.

ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC (AMC) – SWEDEN

Even though Sweden are not through to quarter finals, Ibrahimovic makes the team as he has been the most valuable player of the tournament. Playing just behind the main striker, the AC Milan hitman has been very impressive for Sweden by scoring goals and creating chances for his teammates. He scored a goal against Ukraine but it was all overshadowed by Andriy Shevchenko’s brace and Ukraine’s victory, he was his team’s best player against England and scored most probably the goal of the tournament against France which won him the Man of the Match in the final group game. Sweden ended at the bottom of Group D, but Ibrahimovic has been one of star performers this summer.

ANDRES INIESTA (AMR) – SPAIN

Cesc Fabregas grabbed the headlines for scoring the equaliser against Italy, Fernando Torres did the same after scoring a brace against Ireland and Jesus Navas got took the back pages with the winner against Croatia, but the real hero in all three three matches was Andres Iniesta. The Barcelona playmaker has been Spain’s unsung hero in the tournament so far. The Spainiard has been superb throughout the tournament creating numerous chances for his teammates and has hardly misplaced a pass. He has adapted very well to the advanced role when Vicente Del Bosque has opted to play without a striker.

MARIO GOMEZ (ST) – GERMANY

Gomez has scored 41 goals this season for Bayern Munich and he has continued his club form for his country in the European Championships. The German striker has been deadly in front of goal and leads the race for the Golden Boot award with three goals in three matches so far. The former Stuttgart striker scored a powerful header that turned out to be the winner against Portugal in the first game and then scored a brilliant brace against the Netherlands in the second game that guaranteed his side a place in the quarter finals.

SUBSTITUTES

Manuel Neuer (Germany), Stipe Pletikosa (Croatia), Alvaro Arbeloa (Spain), Olof Mellberg (Sweden), Joleon Lescott (England), Fabio Coentrao (Portugal), Vaclav Pilar (Czech Republic), David Silva (Spain), Mario Mandzukic (Croatia), Alan Dzagoev (Russia), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany), Karim Benzema (France).