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Euro 2012 Quarterfinal Preview, Predictions: England, France, Italy, Spain

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First, a quick look at Part 1 of the predictions. Both games with the winner predicted correctly, and the margin of victory dead-on.

The actual score? Not so much.

But still--I predicted a Portugal 1 goal victory, and it came to pass. I predicted a German 2 goal victory, with domination that suggested a larger margin of victory, and it came to pass. Thanks in no small part to Khedira's flying smash.

Now, an honest handicapper of Euro Cup matches would say something like, "Hey--to be fair, these matches, based on what happened in the Group play were pretty open-and-shut picks. Portugal beating the Czechs was hardly going against the grain, and everyone who can identify a particular ball as a soccer ball could tell you that Germany would beat Greece." But I'm not an honest handicapper, and I'm going to bask in my imaginary kudos. In my imagination, those kudos rain from the ceiling like the rose petals from Mena Suvari's breasts in American Beauty.

I'm sure there was some a-hole out there who was arguing that Greece had a chance. In fact, I know an a-hole who argued exactly that. But who cares about a-holes who argue stupid stuff? Let's get to the predicting!

Saturday: Spain vs. France

I will not lie to you, dear reader. I'm having trouble handicapping this match, at least in part because of my incredibly small stakes gambling efforts, in which I have France advancing. Many of you may take one look at France losing to Sweden 2-0 in their last game of qualifying play and say, "Nope--a team that can't handle Sweden certainly can't handle Spain." And I am sympathetic to that argument.

But has Spain really been that impressive? Maybe they have been. They certainly beat the you-know-what out of Ireland. (Which led to one of those moments in Euro Cup that makes American sports writers go, "Why the f*** don't we do that?--specifically, the Irish fans singing a heartfelt ballad called "The Fields of Athenry", even when their team was down 4-0.)

Spain hasn't beaten anyone in their Finals group--let's be clear. They went 2-0-1, and scored 6 goals. That sounds impressive, if you know how group play works in the Euro, but do consider this: take out that drubbing of that poor old, sad Irish team, and you are left with a record of 1-0-1 and two goals. It isn't Spain's fault that Ireland was in their group. But it is up to Spain that they have so little confidence in Fernando Torres that they actually attempted to play a game with no strikers at all. It is up to them that they defeated a strictly OK Croatia squad 1-0. Can Spain be gotten?

Yes they can. France doesn't have a striker dicking around in the MLS, like Ireland had in Robbie Keane. They have Benzema. They have Malouda. They have Ribery and Nasri on the flanks. They also have a questionable defense, made all the more questionable by the fact that starting defender Phillipe Mexes is sitting out due to too many Yellow Cards.

France hasn't played anyone of import, either, you could argue. They tied England (though they were clearly the better squad there), beat a lackluster Ukraine, and against Sweden, barely looked interested whilst folding 2-0.

I'm going to look at the history of the Euro Cup and World Cup and note that no team has ever won 3 of those championships in a row, and Spain is currently in possession of the 2010 World Cup and 2008 Euro Cup. Statistics say that they lose at some point. I think most folks looking for a loss for Spain see Germany in the Final, but why not France? Dangerous offense, a solid keeper. Spain is running a system that seems to have been figured, and they don't have the alternative scoring threats that Germany has. I think and want to believe Spain loses this game. But it will be close. One goal margin. Maybe even PK's

Players to watch:  For Spain, Sergio Ramos. An excellent wing defender, with excellent overlapping skills that Spain has neutered by moving him to central defense. He needs to be involved. Fernando Torres needs to make the defense sweat, a proposition that is a coinflip the last few years. For France--Lloris, the goalkeeper will probably need to stop shots from distance; Benzema will need to keep the Spanish defensive line high and tight and allow speedsters like Malouda and Ribery to overlap. The defensive back 4 will need to come up big.

Prediction: France advances by a whisker, and we get our first upset of the Quarters.

Sunday: England vs. Italy

I don't have a gambling dog in this fight, and I can apply my clear eyes to this match-up and say that it will probably be low-scoring, as between England's Hart and Italy's Buffon, it will take great strikes/massive mess-ups in the defense to score goals.

After decades of ungrounded high expectations of England, the lack of expectations seem to be working wonders for them. The same thing could apply to Italy.

However, I have watched both of these teams play, and I know how England has scored, and I know how Italy has scored. And I can say with some confidence that the goals England scored against Sweden and Ukraine won't be available against Italy. The goals Italy has scored have been about pace and spacing and talent.

I think this one is a bit of a surprise in the gambling world, only because there are so many English gambling firms, and they've convinced themselves, yet again, that this team is good. It isn't that good.

Players to watch: Ashley Cole. He's looked old in this tournament, and I can't help wondering if the Italian offense is going flow to his wing and test his mettle. Joe Hart needs a big game. Wayne Rooney scored a gift, but he wasn't impressive. England needs him to be impressive, along with Ashley Young. For Italy, we're looking the oddest combo up top in the Euros--Balotelli has yet to leave his mark, due to some questionable stuff that Marco Balotelli is all about. Cassano has been brilliant at times. Those two, combined with sneaky veteran Pirlo suggest to me that if Italy cracks the first goal, it may lead to 2 and 3 shortly thereafter. Let's see if England's other wing back, Glen Johnson, doesn't wander too far from his spot on an ill-advised run. I feel like he's got at least one of those a game.

Free kicks could determine this game--that's a Gerrard vs. Pirlo contest, essentially.

Prediction: Italy 2, England 0

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