Czech Republic v Portugal
Kicking off the Euro 2012 quarter-finals are Portugal and the Czech Republic – two teams that have stormed back into contention for the title after losing their opening matches. Portugal will still consider themselves unfortunate to have lost to Germany, but the Czech Republic looked clueless in a 4-1 defeat by Russia. Since then, however, the Czech coach Michal Bilek has helped turned around the team’s fortunes with shrewd changes on and off the field.
Portugal's run in the tournament was reflected in the unyielding resolve Cristiano Ronaldo showed against Netherlands in the previous match. Portugal qualified for Euro 2012 via the play-offs after finishing runners-up in their group following their worst start to a qualifying campaign in 14 years, and many could say they are the underdogs against the Czech Republic who topped their group. This is, after all, the country that finished as runners-up in Euro 1996 and claimed third place in Portugal eight year later.
The first quarter-final has the makings of being a cracker.
Germany v Greece
Players and coaches sought to play down the political meaning of a clash between Greece and Germany, between Europe’s poorest economy and its largest one against the backdrop of a deepening economic crisis, but there is no ignoring the fact that a Greek victory would lift the mood of a discontented public. Greece, which staged the largest upset of the tournament in knocking out Russia 1-0 to earn their quarter-final spot, know the joy they are bringing to their country.
Victory over Germany - the only team that won all their group matches - is unlikely to happen, though the possibility of Greece being inspired by the financial turmoil at home was not lost on German midfielder Lars Bender. The Bayern Leverkusen player scored the winning goal against Denmark on Sunday as Germany qualified for the last eight, and believes the Euro 2004 champions will prove as hard to break down as the Danes.
This too promises to be an interesting tussle.
Spain v France
The two sides last met in a friendly prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, when goals from Sergio Ramos and David Villa handed Spain a 2-0 win at the Stade de France.
France have made significant changes to their squad in the intervening two years, and the settled pack of Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa, Samir Nasri, Florent Malouda and Franck Ribery has produced results. They are underdogs, but victory against the defending champions would assume huge significance considering the shameful behavior of the French squad at the 2010 World Cup. Going into the quarter-finals, Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque is aware of how much the French side has changed since.
Laurent Blanc, meanwhile, has warned his side they will need to improve if they are to stand a chance against Spain, coming off a 2-0 defeat to Sweden which meant they finished as runners-up in Group D behind England – their first loss in 24 internationals. Les Blues may also draw comfort from the fact that Spain have not been as convincing as their tournament wins at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.
England v Italy
For Italy, who meet England in the quarter-finals on Sunday, success at Euro 2012 would help smooth over the ugly match-fixing scandal that has rocked their domestic game. They beat Ireland 2-0 on Monday night to finish second in Group C behind world champions Spain, and having overcome a tricky group phase Italy will be confident.
England, meanwhile, came into the tournament with such low expectations – they failed to qualify for Euro 2008 – that should they beat Italy and reach the semi-finals it could earn new manager Roy Hodgson plenty of plaudits after the stormy start to his tenure. England profited from a goalkeeping howler and a goal-line controversy as they beat Ukraine 1-0 to top Group D and still look shaky, so the Italians will be out to expose even the smallest chink.