‘Mario’s moment of madness hands Spain Euro 2012’

Could the above be Monday morning’s headlines across the world?

Alright, probably not, but with Italian striker Mario Balotelli you just never know.

The Euro 2012 final sees the favourites, Spain take on the tournament’s surprise package, Italy.

The Spanish have played most of the time without a striker, ensuring Fernando Torres’ miserable past few years show no sign of coming to an end, but despite this somewhat bizarre stance, they have found a way to overcome their opponents.

Meanwhile, Italy have defied expectations to reach the final. Their shock 2-1 victory over Germany in the semi-finals came totally out the blue.

It sets up an intriguing encounter between two of European football’s heavyweights.

The favourites will be current European and World Champions Spain, but Italy certainly have the ability to cause an upset and I think it will be an extremely close match.

Here are three clashes to watch out for:

Gianluigi Buffon v Iker Casillas
Two of the world’s best goalkeepers will be on display and it will take something special to get past them. Both have experience of winning major tournaments and both can win their sides matches. Expect top saves and few goals.

Xavi v Andrea Pirlo
Two midfield maestros who can spot a pass no-one else seems to see. Pirlo especially has shone so far in the tournament, and his ability to take a penalty may come in useful too.

Mario Balotelli v Sergio Ramos
Balotelli showed in the semi-final what he is capable of. If he is happy with how things are going and is presented with a chance, a goal is likely. If he is in a mood, expect a moment of madness, such as a lashing out at an opposing defender. Ramos has experience of tolerating rival strikers in El Classico, so will Mario make him crack?

Nerves will no doubt get the better of the two sides in the first half, but with 22, genuinely world-class players on show, there only needs to be one moment of magic to change the match.

I tipped Italy at the very beginning of the tournament so will stick by them.

I think Italy’s cutting edge up front will be the decisive factor, so am going for a 2-0 victory.

What do you think?

Leave your comments below.

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It’s ‘le Grand Depart’ for the 2012 Tour de France

BRADLEY Wiggins and Cadel Evans start as the favourites for this year’s Tour de France, the 99th in its history.

In what could potentially be a classic Brit v Aussie clash, Wiggins, 32, will be looking to overcome the disappointment of last year’s crash which brought his involvement in the Tour to a premature end, while Evans, 35, won the Tour last year and will not give up his title lightly.

Wiggins has had a stunning season so far, being virtually unbeaten in road stages and having won Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandy and the Critérium du Dauphiné.

Evans on paper is the better ‘all-round’ rider but it will be interesting if he is able to cope with the pressure.

The other contenders for the maillot jaune include Denis Menchov, Vincenzo Nibali, Levi Leipheimer and Ryder Hesjedal.

In terms of the best sprinter, Mark Cavendish is again the odds-on favourite, but will his Olympics preparation be too much of a distraction?

Watch out for Peter Sagan, Marcel Kittel, Matt Goss, José Joaquin Rojas and André Greipel, who will all be strongly competing for the green jersey.

This year’s route begins in Liege and covers almost 3,500km over the next three weeks, ending on July 22 on the Champs-Elysées.

There are nine flat stages, four medium mountain stages, five mountain stages, two individual time-trials, one prologue and two rest days.

Who do you think will win?

Will the British duo come out on top?

Leave your thoughts below.

 

Will it be the end of the road tonight for France at Euro 2012?

France take on Spain this evening in their Euro 2012 quarter-final tie, but their preparations have hardly been the best.

A stuttering 1-1 draw with England in their opening match set the scene for the French, who had high expectations going in to the tournament.

A win against the co-hosts, Ukraine followed, but a defeat against a very average Sweden side has ruffled a few feathers in the French camp.

It’s deja-vu, as supporters will feel it is the World Cup in South Africa all over again, when in-fighting ultimately cost the side.

Laurent Blanc admitted after the Sweden game that there were a few choice words said, something obvious seeing as the group stage was far from a success.

Having said that, France did make it out their group and qualify for the quarter-finals.

The next barrier is World and European champions Spain.

However, the Spanish have not looked like they once were, and a lack of cutting edge up front appears to be glaringly obvious, relying on an out-of-sorts Fernando Torres to fire them to glory, like he did in 2008.

You certainly shouldn’t write them off, but they are beatable, and the French will be keen to exploit this.

The defeat to Sweden may in fact be a blessing in disguise.

The loss will have hurt, and tonight’s game is now or never. The players will be fired up and will want to prove a point.

France beat Spain 2-1 in Euro 2000, and a repeat of that will do just fine tonight.

Laurent Koscielny is set to come in at the back for the suspended Phillipe Mexes, while Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery should be fit.

It’s a difficult one to call, and like the rugby side, it depends which French side turns up.

If they’re on form, I fancy them to beat Spain, but if not, Spain will edge it.

I’m going for 2-1 France.

What do you think?

Leave your thoughts below.

Germany: Euro 2012 champions elect?

GERMANY’S 4-2 victory over Greece maintains their 100% record at Euro 2012 with four wins in four.

And with a maximum of two games left, the signs are already looking ominous for the teams remaining in the competition.

It all started in their opening group clash with Portugal. Both sides showed nothing too special to worry others, but as time wore on, you felt there was a goal ‘in it’. And there was, late on, with Mario Gomez’s header enough to claim the victory.

Then came Holland, who, prior to the tournament, were tipped as possible winners, but were easily brushed aside by Joachim Loew’s outfit, again thanks to Gomez who scored twice in a 2-1 win.

Finally, Denmark threatened to spoil the party, and, at one stage could have sent the Germans packing, but a late effort from full-back Lars Bender ensured qualification for the quarter final was secured, as group winners.

Loew warned pundits and supporters alike after the win that the Germans would only improve, as Greece found to their cost.

So, from being potentially a kick away from going home, Germany are now in the semi-finals and looking arguably favourites for the title.

On paper and on the field, there is strength all round, and there is strength in depth, shown by the fact that Loew left out three of his main players against the Greeks.

From Neuer at the back, through to Khedira, Ozil and Gomez, they look a formidable opponent for either Italy or, hopefully England in the next round.

They are organised, efficient and effective in everything they do.

The quarter final win was the Germans’ 15th straight win in competitive games.

It’s going to take someone very special to stop them.

What do you think?

Are any side capable of stopping Germany?

Leave your thoughts below.

Euro 2012 – everything you need to know

What’s it all about?

16 teams compete for the biggest prize in European football – the Henri Delaunay Trophy.

Henri who?

Mr Delaunay was UEFA’s first General Secretary, but died in 1955, so was unable to see the very first tournament which took place in France, in 1960. He was essentially the brains behind it.

When does it all start?

Friday, 8th June is when the first game takes place, between Poland and Greece.

And finish?

The final will be on Sunday, 1st July.

Where’s it being held?

Poland and Ukraine.

The Polish host cities are Warsaw, Gdansk, Wroclaw and Poznan.

The Ukrainian host cities are Kiev, Kharkiv, Lviv and Donetsk.

Who’s been the most successful team in the tournament’s history?

I’ll give you one guess. Correct – Germany. They’ve won it a total of three times, in 1972, 1980 and in 1996.

What happened last time?

2008 was when Spain started their era of world dominance. They won the championships in Vienna, beating Germany 1-0 in the final, thanks to Fernando Torres’ strike. (He knew where the back of the net was back then.)

Who’s favourite this year?

It’s very hard to look past Spain, the current holders and World Cup winners. However, write off the Germans at your peril, while there are several sides looking very strong on paper, including France and Holland. (But don’t forget games aren’t played on paper.)

And England?

Ah, yes. Well, expectations are certainly lower this time around, and there appears to be more optimism now Mr Capello has departed. Nevertheless, it’s hard to think the likes of Stewart Downing, Danny Welbeck and Phil Jagielka are going to strike fear into the minds of the major sides.

No chance at all?

Obviously you can never completely write England off, just because they are England, and there’s always a glimmer of hope things may come good one day. In reality though, no. (sorry)

Any players to look out for?

Yes, here’s a few:

Robert Lewandowski – Polish striker who scored 30 goals for German champions Borussia Dortmund last season. A good, outside bet for the Golden Boot award.

Mezut Ozil – on his day, can be the best player in the world. Arrives on the back of a championship-winning season with Real Madrid, Ozil can now combine his outstanding talent with top-level experience.

Mario Balotelli – sure to do something that will attract the headlines. Will it be a stroke of genius or a moment of madness?

Anatoliy Tymoshchuk – seen it (but not quite done it) all. Still, controls the Ukrainian midfield and brings with him a vast amount of experience having won 115 caps.

5 weird and wonderful European Championship facts:

The semi-final in 1968 between the USSR and Italy was decided on a toss of a coin. Imagine if that happened nowadays?! (Italy won, by the way)

Horst Hrubesch – who scored both of Germany’s goals in the 1980 final victory win, was known as the ‘header monster’.

Denmark won in 1992, but did not actually qualify for the tournament. They took Yugoslavia’s place, as they were expelled due to the war in the Balkans.

This summer’s championship has the longest distances ever between stadiums. Nearly 2000km separates Gdansk in Poland with Donetsk in Ukraine to the east.

Germany were the first side ever to lose a penalty shoot-out (in 1976 to Czechoslovakia).

And one for the stattos:

Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas will be playing this summer in a record fifth Championships.

Who do you think will be the star performers?

And most importantly, do England have a chance?

Leave your thoughts below or tweet me @jonathanl50

(For what it’s worth – I’m going for the Italians to win the tournament).