Three straight: La Roja reign in Kiev

Posted by ESPN Stats & Info

By John Parolin, ESPN Stats & Information


Spain won its third-straight major tournament title Sunday, finishing a successful EURO 2008 title defense with a 4-0 win over Italy in Kiev.


Spain is the first team in history to win three major tournaments (EURO 2008, World Cup 2010 and EURO 2012) by exorcising a historical demon, beating the Italians for the first time at a major tournament. Italy previously had a 3-0-4 record against Spain in World Cup and EURO competitions.


Spain defended its European Championship by doing what it does best: creating and exploiting a possession disparity in the attacking third. Spain completed 179 of 227 passes into the attacking third against Italy (78.9 percent), while holding the Italians to 54.9 percent (67 of 122) passing into the attacking third.


Spain’s higher completion percentage stemmed from attempting high-percentage passes- The average Spanish pass into the attacking third traveled 16.0 yards, while Italy’s average pass traveled over seven yards further (23.2 yards).


Spain opened the scoring in the 14th minute with a David Silva header that capped off an impressive start for La Furia Roja. In the opening 15 minutes, the Spanish had 44 touches in the attacking third, tied (with themselves vs Ireland) for the most in the opening 15 minutes of a match this tournament.


Down 2-0 and without any substitutions left in the 60th minute, any chance the Italians had of climbing back in faded when Thiago Motta left with an apparent hamstring injury. Over the last 30 minutes of the match, Spain had a 237-99 passes completed advantage. After the Motta injury, Spain had a 17-0 touches in the box advantage.


Spain posted the second-best completion percentage on passes into the penalty area in a game this tournament. Spain completed 22 of 41 (53.7 pct) passes into the box and scored three times off those passes, while Italy completed only seven of 27 passes into the box (25.9 pct).


Italy’s midfield wizard Andrea Pirlo completed one of eight passes into the box (12.5 pct), his worst percentage of the tournament and worst in any game since completing one of eight (12.5 pct) for Juventus in a 1-0 win Jan. 8 at Lecce.


Pirlo wasn’t the only Italian who struggled. Striker Mario Balotelli finished the match with 33 touches in the attacking third, his second-highest total in a tournament game. However, for the first time this tournament (including his 19-minute substitute appearance against Ireland), Balotelli failed to record a single touch in the box.


Spain finished the tournament with 1,087 completed passes into the attacking third over six games, more than Ireland, Greece, Sweden, Poland and Denmark combined (1,068 in 16 games).


Ready for the final

By John Brewin, Senior Editor at ESPN Soccernet


Kiev has never staged an event like it. Two of the biggest names in the business were showing an audience that had flocked from all over how it was done. Many stood outside the auditorium peering in to catch a glimpse of the superstars.


The first was a dependable force with decades of success at the top level who almost always comes through with a big performance, even in times of scandal and vice. He has a reputation for drama and tantrums but is also known as a hard-working and dedicated professional. The other broke the mold several times over but is now forced to get by without a front man, forcing its maestros to supply much of the creativity in the absence of the man up top.


Yes, Saturday night in Kiev played host to none other than Elton John and Queen, and it was heartening to see the welcome afforded to both acts. The city was all but closed to those who did not want to be part of the evening's entertainment. The "Fanzone" currently taking up much of the city's central area was packed to the rafters. Tens of thousands stood beyond its boundaries. The crowd was of all ages, with the majority surely unable to remember the days when the pair were in their '70s pomp.


A wig-fitted Elton Hercules John (or Reginald Dwight to his mum) belted out his classic repertoire from telling the locals that "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" to a reminder that "I'm Still Standing." "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" is appropriate for a city where dawn occurs at 3 a.m. Elton, along with Queen drummer Roger Taylor, are known for being big football fans, so the pair of them have chosen to do what they once did best in return for a ticket to the city's other notable event of the weekend.


Queen is of course shorn these days of Freddie Mercury and even Paul Rodgers, the leather-lunged former Free frontman who stood in for the great man once Brian May and Taylor decided to revive her majesty. Instead, the singing is done by one Adam Lambert, a veteran of musical theater it says here, who is frankly no substitute for Freddie or even Rodgers. But then again, who is? Brian May's poodle perm and the guitar he built with his dad out of a fireplace does much of the work. Bassist and quiet man John Deacon, he of "Another One Bites The Dust" fame, has long since hung up his Fender. "We Will Rock You" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" closed the set, followed by an even louder 10-minute display of fireworks. Then Kiev calmed down in readiness to stage football's showpiece occasion of 2012.


Kiev's Olimpiysky will be the venue, a vast arena steeped in Soviet traditions. The ladies and gentleman of the football media have been housed in the arena building next door, the Palace of Sports, which among many big events staged the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest. Lying to the south of the city, the twinned venues are surrounded by what looks like some rather grim blocks of housing.


The city is something of a concrete jungle with very little space given over to greenery until you get north of the main drag, where the Valeriy Lobanovskyi Dynamo Stadium, named after the father of Ukrainian football and indeed modern football tactics, lies behind a large patch of trees.


Saturday was a calm afternoon and evening for those whose focus was the soccer. Both Spain and Italy gave assured media performances full of respect for their Sunday night opponents. Some jocularity was on show, too. Gianluigi Buffon sardonically denied that he ever watched an "adult movie" before the England game as opposed to a DVD of penalty takers. In training, Mario Balotelli yawned while his teammates started their stretching exercises. He trailed dead last in the sprints, too. No one seemed to care too much.


Vicente Del Bosque treated an exceptionally long-winded question about how the Italian team has no hope against him by taunting his interlocutor. "You are very negative considering you are Italian," he said, almost breaking his hangdog dulaps into a grin before thinking better of it. Meanwhile, Xavi was forced to deny that he and Spain are boring on repeated occasions. "We are not bored, we enjoy our game," he countered at one point. The implication is understandable; Spain's players, coach and indeed their fans do not find success bordering on the unprecedented in any way tedious.


Spanish fans are in the majority around Kiev so far, though it was difficult to tell amid all the fans of classic rock on Saturday. La Roja's third major final in four years is not being treated as a formality since there is still a fear of the return of the old ways in which Spain blew the big occasions while the Italians came through on the outside.


Then, there is a question of form. Italy looks to be peaking to a crescendo while Spain goes into the final seemingly still looking for a formula. Del Bosque was guarded on the subject of his formation. The 4-6-0 that has met with such opprobrium is expected, but he was giving little away. "We will play with three attackers. There will be three men in front who will be responsible for attacking," he said, not revealing if this offensive trio will be midfielders by usual trade.


Buffon, accompanied by a smiling and often droll Cesare Prandelli, spelled out the secret of Italy's achievement of success against the odds and amid turmoil. "There is something unique in the Italian mentality," he said. "Beyond all the rumors, Italians have a lot of love and respect for the national shirt that goes beyond our physical limitations."


The stage was set. As Queen once had it, "The Show Must Go On" since "These Are The Days Of Our Lives." And to rob from Elton's oeuvre, the question of who will be singing "Sad Songs" will not be answered until late on Sunday night.


But who will be singing, "We Are The Champions" after the game?


Opportunistic Azzurri challenges Spain's ball control

Posted by ESPN Stats & Info

By John Parolin, ESPN Stats & Information


Spain and Italy will meet Sunday in Kiev in the EURO 2012 Final, the fourth EURO final between former group opponents. Italy and Spain drew 1-1 on Jun. 10, and Italy is unbeaten (3-0-4) at major tournaments against the Spanish.


Historically, Italy is the only side Spain has never beaten in at least five major tournament matches. However, Spain is playing for history of its own.


Winners of EURO 2008 and World Cup 2010, Spain looks to be the first team to win three straight major tournaments as well as the first to repeat as EURO champions. A Spain win would make La Furia Roja the second team to win the EUROs three times (Germany).


Italy’s last appearance in a EURO final was 2000, falling to France 2-1 in extra time. The Italians have not won the European Championship since 1968, a 2-0 replay win against Yugoslavia.


The Italians were opportunistic in the group stage draw against Spain, with Antonio Di Natale’s first touch of the game a 61st-minute goal after entering as a sub five minutes before.


Di Natale converted the only pass he received from midfielder Andrea Pirlo in the match to open the scoring. The matchup between Pirlo and Spain’s Xavi in the midfield was a microcosm of the match.


Xavi had over twice as many touches (121) as Pirlo (49) in the match and had a 10-3 advantage in passes completed into the penalty area. Pirlo created a single chance in the match, assisting on Di Natale’s goal with a perfectly-weighted pass.


Spain equalized three minutes later when Cesc Fabregas finished a David Silva pass. Spain pushed for a winner after Fernando Torres entered in the 74th minute, but could not crack the defense.


Overall, Spain had a 239-85 advantage on touches in the attacking third in their group match. There was a similar dynamic in Italy’s semifinal win against Germany, as the Germans posted a 249-92 touches advantage in the attacking third.


Germany had a 38-25 edge in the first 20 minutes. Once Mario Balotelli put the Italians up, the Azzurri were content to defend, and the disparity grew to 211-67 over the last 70 minutes of the match.


Balotelli recorded only 10 touches in the attacking third, his tournament-low in a start. However, his brace (on his only two shots on target) exemplified the attacking efficiency the Italians need when conceding such a drastic possession advantage.


Continued opportunistic finishing would be critical for an Italian win, especially when Spain has controlled the ball better than any other team in the tournament.


Spain has completed 909 passes into the attacking third in its five games, or 86 more than the bottom four teams - Ireland, Greece, Sweden and Poland - combined in their 13 games. Italy’s ability to defend against Spain’s possession-heavy style will decide the outcome.


ESPN’s Soccer Power Index rates Spain a 72.4 percent favorite to win the title. Spain is ranked first in SPI, based on offensive and defensive ratings that are each about 50 percent better than Italy, which SPI ranks 15th.


Germany's latest disappointment

I spent a good portion of Thursday night on German public transportation. I took the train out to Ludwigshafen to meet my wife and her colleagues before the Germany versus Italy semifinal, and I took


the train back after the game. Such was the difference in atmosphere aboard the two trains that one could have missed the match entirely, not spoken to anybody in the meantime, then boarded the night train and immediately comprehended what had taken place.


The outbound train left Heidelberg at 5:15 p.m. local time. The commuters on board at this hour normally wear a familiar tired-yet-relieved look having just finished work, but this train wasn’t full of the work-weary; it was full of confident German soccer supporters who happened to have just gotten off work. Some of the men on board had already changed out of their dress shirts and into Die Mannschaft’s white and black strip. They still had their slacks and nice shoes on, however, and the two types of dress (formal, work-related; casual, football-related) created that strange incongruence we all know from seeing similarly dressed diplomats in the VIP boxes in stadiums around the world. Where the executives in luxury seats seem uncomfortable in trying to exist as both soccer fans and serious public figures, the guys aboard the commuter train just looked excited.


Obviously the atmosphere on the return train was different. All the enthusiasm from the early evening had dried up. Many of the passengers looked like they’d been drinking all evening; they were headed home to dry up too.


I watched the match at a bar called Hemingway’s. (I’ve lived in Germany only one month and this is the second bar I’ve been to named after Big Papa. Are the Germans obsessed?) Tobacco leaves hung from the ceiling and the place peddled Mexican food to its patrons. And while the atmosphere and food were both strange, the bar did have a big screen set up for the game. As it neared 8:45 in the evening, the place filled up with drinkers. Nearly all of them wore the Germany strip and many of them had painted their faces. There was even a guy with a drum.


The German team started brightly. There weren’t great protests when Andrea Pirlo cleared the ball off the line. In fact, the drum beat continued steadily until Mario Balotelli’s 20th-minute strike, a goal that hushed the bar. Hands were on faces and the stunned audience watched through its fingers as the replays showed Antonio Cassano wriggle past Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng and hit that perfect little cross


for Balotelli to bury.


If defending was a little lax on the first goal, it was downright pathetic on the second. As soon as the ball was played over the top—before Balotelli even controlled it—a woman in the audience


screamed “LAHM!” The tone and emotion in her cry were perfect in that moment. Any one of us could have screamed the same thing, because what the hell was he doing back there?


And that was basically the game, right? It never felt to me like Germany was going to pull it back, except for the last five minutes when the late penalty made me wonder.


So what went wrong? There’s a feeling around here that overconfidence was an issue. But there were other issues too: The German defense had been suspect at times throughout the tournament and the German starting lineup wasn’t optimal. There seemed consensus among the folks I watched with that Mesut Ozil should have played through the middle instead of out wide, where it’s harder for him to pull the strings as he did in Germany’s preceding games. The Italians played a great game, but the Germans could have—should have—done better.


The big worry is that these players might have a confidence issue going forward. After all, they’ve shown well in the knockout stages of several recent tournaments, but they haven’t won anything. It’s tempting to label them “nearly men,” a team that succeeds only to a point but can’t finish. But this shouldn’t worry supporters too much. The German team was the youngest at Euro 2012 and will learn from its mistakes rather than internalize and suffer repeated failure. Furthermore, the Bundesliga’s reformed academy system, only just entering its second decade, is producing top players with the haste and consistency of a Mercedes plant churning out luxury cars. Whoever emerges from this talent pool over the next two to four years won’t carry any of the psychological baggage some in this group might.


Sure, the Germans are disappointed—many are downright devastated—but, as the stereotype goes, they’re a practical people. The team will learn from its mistakes and look toward the future. It should have done better Thursday night, but the future is bright.


Goodbye, Warsaw

By John Brewin, Senior Editor for ESPN Soccernet


After three weeks traveling in and out of the city, it is time to bid farewell to Warsaw and to wave goodbye to Poland as a whole too. There have been testing times, but both the country and its capital city are recommended as a destination for those seeking friendliness and entertainment.


From my understanding, a European budget airline of notoriety is readying to open a direct flight path to Warsaw from the United Kingdom. There is much to offer should that happen. What first seems like an uninspiring place offers many delights. Parts of it may be unfinished - scheduled for completion ahead of the Euros only to miss the target - but such damage is merely cosmetic.


The British tradition of the stag do/bachelor party, or "lads' trip" as it is known when no betrothal has taken place, will soon find a home here. The beer is cheap, the women are often beautiful and the Poles know how to party. Other staples of such events may be on offer, too, but your correspondent has not investigated. However, a cab driver did look shocked when I dismissed his offer to take me to a "good club." I must have looked the type.


Beyond such earthy delights lies a city rich in history, though often the backstory is none too pleasant. Many of the city's major hotels lie within proximity of the remnants of Warsaw's Jewish Ghetto, a place where 30 percent of the city's population was crammed into just 2.4 percent of its area by the Nazi occupiers, and a reminder for today's visitors of an era of atrocity.


Dominating the skyline around the ugly Communist Bloc building of Warszawa Centralna railway station, viewable whenever one appears on the streets from the rabbit warren of surrounding underpasses, is Warsaw's Palace of Culture and Science.


This building's distinctly Soviet architecture derives from its founder, none other than Uncle Joe Stalin himself. It is said that the building was built in gratitude to the Poles' resistance to the Germans and Stalin himself is said to have offered either a palace or an underground metro system. However when the Poles opted for the railway, Stalin pleaded poverty and built the palace instead, calling it (with typical despotic understatement) Palac Kultury i Nauki imienia Józefa Stalina (Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science). Stalin is not a popular chap these days so his name has been removed. It's understandable that for all its imposing grandeur, the building is rather unloved by the people of Warsaw.


Stalin would probably have been appalled by its grounds' most recent use - a staging point for the Fanzone, a hedonistic park in which football fans could watch the matches, drink, eat and make merry, usually to an appalling soundtrack of Europop and bad cover versions. Its sound system dominated the aural landscape too, right from the early mornings when the full kit was tested in a sound check until the night's viewing came to a close around midnight.


From there, a thrill seeker could peel off into the nightclubs that lie around that Centrum area, though the best place to relax with friends is undoubtedly the Old Town, the Stare Miastro, a place littered with squares and streets where restaurants and bars will serve you beverages and local fare if you so choose. The Poles cook pork particularly well and herring is a regular starter. The best dish I sampled was Zurek, a sour soup containing bacon and vegetables but all wrapped in a loaf of bread. It was stodgy but most certainly filled a hole.


The Old Town is almost always the best place to go in Poland's cities. Poznan's rather spread-out town planning finds its focus in a medieval square. Gdansk may be surrounded by forbidding dockyards and cranes -- and its stadium is impossible to get to without a 45-minute walk through wasteland unless you manage to get a train there -- but its center is delightful, littered with churches of elaborate design. Its waterfront also offers good food and much to look at. Gdansk is a city rebuilt in the image of its former self after it was leveled by bombing in the Second World War and it works. It's possible to imagine a market scene of centuries gone by as you walk the streets. The press pack that had been covering the Irish, Spanish and German camps was unanimous in its desire to return and see more when work isn't quite so busy.


The stadia I visited were all superb. Warsaw's National Stadium was described by a well-travelled colleague from the BBC as the best stadium he had ever been to. It was hard not to agree. Poznan's Stadion Miejski was Poland's only non-purpose-built ground and its compact setting and perfect pitch would place it as the envy of many a Premier League club. Gdansk's PGE Arena, once circumnavigated, is excellent, too. Your correspondent sadly never made it to Wroclaw, but reports were similar.


But if there is to be a memory of watching the European Championship here, it will be of Poland's football fans and their devotion to the cause -- even their commitment beyond it. The best supported team at any game, regardless of who was playing, was "Polska." The Germans traveled to the town they call "Danzig" (Gdansk) in huge numbers but still the greatest noise was to be heard from those dressed proudly in the host nation's colors.


"Polska(aaaaa...), Bialo-Czerwoni" is the anthem ("Poland, we are red and white") to the tune of the Village People/Pet Shop Boys' "Go West." A Saturday evening in the city when the football was being played in Ukraine saw the night sky filled with renditions of that song. By this point, Poland had been out of the tournament a week.


Even as Italy was ending German dreams on Thursday, this was the anthem that rang loudest in the National Stadium. The Poles continued to have pride and they have much to be proud about. They have been truly excellent hosts.


Balotelli brace sends Italy to the final

Posted by ESPN Stats & Info

By John Parolin and Zack Singer, ESPN Stats & Information


Italy ousted Germany from EURO 2012 with a 2-1 win in Warsaw behind a pair of goals from Mario Balotelli. The Italians are headed to Kiev to face Spain, who advanced yesterday on 4-2 penalty kicks after a 0-0 draw with Portugal.


Balotelli had only 10 touches in the attacking third and three total shots against the Germans, but netted both of his shots on target. It’s the fewest touches Balotelli has had in the attacking third in any start this tournament.


Balotelli’s brace gives him three goals at EURO 2012, and ties him with Antonio Cassano for the most goals ever by an Italian at the European Championship.


The Italians held off German pressure to advance. Germany posted a 249-92 touches advantage in the attacking third on Thursday.


Through the first 20 minutes, the Germans had only a 38-25 edge until Mario Balotelli scored the first Italian goal. The Italians were content to defend after gaining the lead, and the disparity grew to 211-67 over the last 70 minutes of the match.


Germany tried attacking from the wings against the centralized Italian defense. The Germans had 72 percent of their total touches from the left or right third of the field, while the Italians had 46 percent of their touches in the central third.


Germany’s reliance on the wings led to tournament-high totals in crosses attempted (45) and completed (11), but Germany’s 24 completion percentage on crosses ranked 28th in a game this tournament.


Italy finished with 32 total clearances, 25 of which came from its own penalty area (both tournament highs). England posted 25 total clearances against Italy in its quarterfinal clash that went to extra-time. The previous high for clearances out of a team’s defensive penalty area was 17, by Greece in its quarterfinal game against Germany.


Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo was named UEFA’s Man of the Match. Pirlo completed 60 of his 65 passes (92 percent) against Germany on Thursday. Pirlo has now improved his passing percentage in three straight games, topping 80 percent in each contest.


Two of Europe’s Glamour Sides Meet for Finals Berth

Posted by ESPN Stats & Info

By Zack Singer, ESPN Stats & Information


Longtime rivals Germany and Italy square off in Warsaw on Thursday for a spot in the EURO 2012 Final.


Germany has only failed to advance to the final once in six previous European Championship Semifinal appearances, in 1988. Italy has never won a European Championship Semifinal, advancing to the 1968 Final on a coin toss, and winning a shootout to make the 2000 Final.


The Italians are undefeated against Germany at major tournaments, including two draws at the European Championships.


Germany eased into the semis with a 4-2 win over Greece. Die Mannschaft pressured Greece throughout the game, finishing with 349 touches in the attacking third and completing 271 passes into the attacking third. Both were single-game highs for any game at the European Championships since 1980.


Mesut Özil was the star of Germany’s quarterfinal win, with two assists on chipped passes. Germany has attempted only 108 chipped passes in the tournament, the fewest of any team. Despite rarely using this style of pass, Germany is tied for the tournament lead in assists on chipped passes (3).


Ball control has been a staple of the German attack at EURO 2012. The Germans are second in touches, touches in the attacking third, and touches in the box, trailing Spain.


One reason Germany has had so much possession of the ball is that its rarely given it away, committing just 39 turnovers, fewer than every knockout stage team except Portugal.


Italy’s place in the semis came via penalties, after drawing 0-0 with England. Despite not scoring, the Italians dominated the match, completing 801 passes, the second-most for any team at EURO 2012.


Andrea Pirlo will long be remembered for converting a chipped penalty kick with his side trailing in the shootout against England.


But Pirlo dominated play long before his signature moment, finishing with 154 touches, 39 more than anyone else on the team. Pirlo’s 118 completed passes were 23 more than any other Italian, and 88 of those passes originated in the middle third of the field.


The midfield has been the key for Italy throughout the tournament. Italy has 1,409 touches in the middle third, second to Spain, but leads the tournament in chances created on passes from the same area, with 17.


Bastian Schweinsteiger is available for Germany despite a nagging ankle injury. Schweinsteiger completed 92.4 percent of his passes against Greece, and had the second-most passes completed and attempted on the team.


Italy expects Giorgio Chiellini (hamstring injury), Daniele De Rossi (sciatic nerve problem) and Ignazio Abate (left leg injury) to be available. The only player suspended due to card accumulation is Italy’s Christian Maggio, thanks to the caution he picked up after coming on for Abate against England.


The winner of this match plays Spain in the final on Sunday in Kiev.


Spain looks for third straight major title

Posted by ESPN Stats & Info

By John Parolin, ESPN Stats & Information


Spain advanced 4-2 on penalties after a tightly contested 0-0 draw in Donetsk with Portugal. Portuguese captain Cristiano Ronaldo, set to take the fifth kick for Portugal, did not participate in the shootout despite converting 23 of 25 penalty kicks (including shootouts) in the past two La Liga and Champions League seasons.


After the French failed to handle Spain by sitting back and defending, Portugal started out by taking a more offensive approach to containing the Spanish attack.


Spain held a narrow 65-55 touches in the final third advantage at halftime. As the match went on that disparity grew, but Spain couldn’t convert a 138-54 advantage into a goal over the final 75 minutes.


Spain outshot opponents by an average of over 10 shots per match in its first four games, but only outshot Portugal 11-10 on Wednesday.


The wing play from both sides was poor. The teams combined to complete two of their 43 crossing attempts, the worst percentage in a game this tournament.


Portugal entered the match having completed the second-most crosses (22) of any team at EURO 2012. However, the Portuguese completed only 1-of-19 crosses (5 percent) against Spain, the fourth-worst percentage of any team at the tournament.


Spain had averaged 14.5 crosses per game in its first four games, completing 26 percent of attempts. Against Portugal, Spain completed 1-of-24 crosses (4 percent), the third-worst in a game this tournament.


While Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty kick status will dominate the conversation, his teammate on the opposite wing had his worst game of the tournament. Nani finished with 37 total touches in 120 minutes after averaging 46.5 per game in his first four games. Nani created 13 chances in his first four games, and failed to create one against Spain.


La Furia Roja posted a tournament-low passing percentage (81 percent) and completion percentage on passes into the attacking third (71 percent). For the tournament, Spain has completed 909 passes into the attacking third in its five games, or 86 more than the bottom four teams (Ireland, Greece, Sweden and Poland) did in their 13 games combined.


Spain has clear edge in passing game

Posted by ESPN Stats & Info

By Jonathan Costa, ESPN Stats & Information


Portugal and Spain meet in an elimination match for the second straight major tournament, following up their meeting in the Round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup.


Spain was victorious 1-0 in that match en route to winning its first ever World Cup. Portugal is still seeking its first major tournament trophy and a win over Spain would put Portugal into its second major tournament final, having previously reached the final at Euro 2004.


When these two teams met in South Africa, Portugal was without two players who have made a major impact at this summer’s tournament – Nani and João Moutinho.


Moutinho has completed 178 passes at an 84 percent success rate, both numbers surpassing what any Portuguese midfielder accomplished in South Africa. Nani, meanwhile, currently leads all Portuguese players with 13 chances created and his two assists are tied with Moutinho for the team lead.


Portugal’s passing as a team is leaving something to be desired at this tournament. It has the second-fewest passes completed and second-worst completion rate among teams that made the quarterfinals.


The driving force behind Portugal’s success has been the play of Cristiano Ronaldo. His three goals have him tied for the tournament lead and his 29 shots are more than any other player has taken so far.


His headed goal against Czech Republic was his sixth career goal at EURO, tied with Nuno Gomes for most by a Portuguese player and leaving him just one behind England’s Alan Shearer for second-most in EURO history. He also became the first Portuguese player to score at five different major tournaments.


Unsurprisingly, La Furia Roja also have the tournament’s best passing display so far with a tournament-high 2,779 passes completed. Spain’s 78 percent completion rate in the attacking third also leads all teams and its 60 chances created are second-most in the tournament behind Italy’s 77.


Keying the passing charge from Spain’s midfield is Xavi. He has completed 416 passes and has 19 chances created, both which lead the tournament.


Spain comes into this semifinal with a 299-minute shutout streak, 25 minutes shy of the longest single-EURO streak, a 324-minute run by Italy in 1980.


One key to its near-perfect defense has been its ability to simply keep the ball away from its opponent. Spain has a 61 percent possession rate in its first four matches, more than any other team.


Spain is limiting opponents to a 62 percent completion rate in its defensive third, best among the four semifinalists, and has also limited its opponents to just 17 chances created in the attack third.


The winner of this match takes on the winner of Thursday’s Germany-Italy match in the final on Sunday in Kiev.


Trouble for my internal jukebox

By John Brewin, Senior Editor at ESPNsoccernet


My internal jukebox, that part of the brain that plays a random song throughout the day, can often be controlled. It usually places the first song heard in the morning onto constant rotation. So, just make sure that the first song is one that you like. By the end of a day, you probably won't like it much anymore, and especially if the jukebox, a keen indicator of stress and state of mind, decides to go into overdrive. But you can limit the psychological damage.


Working at a football tournament does not allow such discipline. Early mornings and late finishes, and in my case the loss of the necessary equipment, do not lend themselves to quiet moments of reflection, and thus the piping in of a favorite song can greatly enhance mood. A mere stroll into the breakfast room can wreak havoc.


The Polish, while often a shy bunch, don't much enjoy the sound of silence. Instead, pop radio must be belted out at high decibel levels, even when a bleary-eyed hack is contemplating his continental breakfast of bread, cheese and unidentified processed meat. And Polish pop radio is no place for a pretentious elitist. The very furthest reaches of irony are tested by their playlists. My early days in the country had me first amused and then increasingly horrified by Bucks Fizz's "Land Of Make Believe" pumping out in taxis and restaurants.


Another forgotten favorite, Kim Wilde's "You Came," also revealed a country's love for the "Kids In America" hit maker. The late 1980s, a time when Poland was struggling to find a new identity after four decades of communist oppression, was a time of cultural awakening. Here was perhaps the first time that music from the West could be heard and cherished.


The cut-price imperialism of Stock, Aitken and Waterman made its way swiftly east. Rick Astley, Jason Donovan, Kylie Minogue and late-period Wilde are thus still cherished by Polish radio DJs. Meanwhile, Rochdale chanteuse Lisa Stansfield and Sade, once the seduction choice of many a lager-supping smoothster in London's wine bars of the '80s, still have an appreciative audience here.


Europop's classics live on, too. Dr. Alban and Ace Of Base bring back the spirit of 1993, while Roxette's exhortations to join the "Joyride" are still responded to. It was only a matter of time until Haddaway totem "What Is Love?" would be heard, and that moment arrived in a cab from Gdansk Airport to the PGE Arena. With a week still to go, Sydney Youngblood must surely be in the offing.


Those of a more rockist bent can be sated by Alannah Myles' "Black Velvet" and a selection of Bon Jovi's post-"Slippery..." efforts, with "Keep The Faith" leading the charge. It would seem rude not to, it had to happen and, yes, The Scorpions' "Window Of Change" rang out triumphantly as we sped down the Pomeranian coastline to Sopot in the small of hours of a morning. Stockport lads 10cc's "Dreadlock Holiday" had one wondering whether the Polish either don't like cricket or instead love it.


My three weeks have been a trip down a musical memory lane that I would rarely choose to venture down. One central Warsaw hotel I stayed in had the "advantage" of being near the ever-noisy fan zone. There, a combination of the previously described classics and songs in the latter-day Polish hit parade pump out from 8:30 a.m. until its closure beyond midnight. Even when I stayed during a supposed "rest day," I was treated to a school choir performance and, later that evening, an excruciating cover version of 4-Non Blondes' "What's Up?" -- that summer of 1994's call to arms to the misfit.


That night, I heard the show eventually shut down with some relief, drifting into a sleep that would soon be disturbed. The greatest of the many thunderstorms I have witnessed here began around 2:30 a.m. and raged on. It eventually calmed at 4 a.m., only to be replaced by the ringing sound of feedback from the fan zone PA, which had clearly either been hit or jolted by the lightning. It was eventually switched off at 5 a.m. to the relief of the inhabitants of my hotel and a concierge desk clearly bored by repeated questions from guests about when the noise might stop. Sleep was resumed, only to be ended by the testing of the damaged PA at 8 a.m. It fired itself up with the Jarzębina's "Koko Koko Euro spoko", the handiwork of a group of singing nuns.


But if ever there were a place to ravage the internal jukebox, then it is a Euro 2012 stadium itself. And there is one song above all others that has polluted and then infested my troubled psyche. As at World Cup 2010, a stadium has a playlist, only this time it's even more limited. I now yearn for "Waving Flag" by K'nann or even Shakira's "Waka Waka." I would prefer the torture to be the more credible sounds of The xx's "Intro" or even the prog-rock of The Alan Parsons Project "Sirius." Yet I am denied by a piece of modern Europop that is truly inescapable.


Considering its ubiquity and infectiousness, Oceana's "Endless Summer" possesses an apt title. It provides the bed music for Polish TV coverage, moments between halves and while match highlights play on stadia's big screens.


I dare you to listen and not to find its onomatopoeic charms worming their way in or the sound of the "drum, drum, drum" beating its way into heavy rotation on your internal jukebox. Resistance, for me at least, has been useless.



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