After 12 days and 24 matches, we are down to the nitty-gritty of the knockout stage at UEFA EURO 2012, and for the remaining eight teams, the prospect of lifting the Henri Delaunay Cup on 1 July has edged that little bit closer.
Defending champions Spain are among six former winners still in the frame along with Italy, Germany, France, Greece and the Czech Republic, who won the 1976 tournament as part of the former Czechoslovakia. Portugal, the 2004 runners-up, and England are also still alive in a competition that will resume on Thursday when the Portuguese kick off the quarter-finals against the Czech Republic in Warsaw.
Poland's National Stadium Warsaw will host two teams who bounced back impressively from opening losses to win their remaining group fixtures. The Czechs, who topped Group A, will start as underdogs against a Portugal team playing their fifth consecutive quarter-final; however, that was also the case when these nations met 16 years ago and the central Europeans prevailed through a famous Karel Poborský lob at EURO '96.
Gdansk stages Friday's second quarter-final between Germany and Greece when Joachim Löw's Mannschaft will took to continue their so far flawless progress at this EURO. Germany are the only team with a 100% winning record in Poland and Ukraine – indeed they have won every game since qualifying began – but Greece know a thing or two about springing a surprise. Few expected them to earn the victory over Russia that got them into the last eight – a 1-0 success that rekindled memories of the last time they got this far, and duly went all the way in 2004.
When Spain and France last met in a major tournament, Les Bleus came from behind to eliminate the Spaniards in the last 16 of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. That was the last time La Roja suffered a knockout blow on the big stage and the Spain that France will meet in Donetsk on Saturday are a different proposition following their world and European conquests. France advanced as Group D runners-up despite defeat against Sweden, but the manner of Spain's own nervy qualification against Croatia – and an unbeaten record against their neighbours in competitive fixtures – will give Laurent Blanc's side a glimmer of hope.
The last quarter-final in Kyiv on Sunday pits Group D winners England against Italy. England have never reached a EURO semi-final on foreign soil, but after starting amid untypically low expectations they now find themselves just one step away from doing just that following successive victories against Sweden and Ukraine. That said, Italy came through a tough Group C unbeaten and are masters of timing their runs in major competitions, so a close contest appears on the cards.
Thursday 21 June 2012
#25: CZE v POR, 20.45CET, Warsaw
Friday 22 June 2012
#26: GER v GRE, 20.45CET, Gdansk
Saturday 23 June 2012
#27: ESP v FRA, 20.45CET, Donetsk
Sunday 24 June 2012
#28: ENG v ITA, 20.45CET, Kyiv
Wednesday 27 June 2012
#29: CZE/POR v ESP/FRA, 20.45CET, Donetsk
Thursday 28 June 2012
#30: GER/GRE v ENG/ITA, 20.45CET, Warsaw
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