Euro 2008: And Then There Were Four

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Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas celebrates after scoring the winning goal on Sunday.

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Germany faced a similar situation as the Russians had. Portugal had won its first two games in style, and possessed both the magic of Cristiano Ronaldo and a host of stylish players like Deco and Joao Moutinho. Germany was not about to trade scoring chances with that offense and opted for a much more basic approach. The Germans simply knocked over Ronaldo & Co. whenever they could — they outfouled the Portuguese 8-3 in the first half. Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari had feared Germany's size, since it's a team that averages 1.849m (6.06 ft.). Yet it wasn't size that put Portugal in the hole, it was the speed of Bastian Schweinsteiger. Playing wide on the right, Schweini made a terrific diagonal run across the field to meet Lukas Podolski's cross at the near post at 22 minutes, with Portugal's Paulo Ferreira unable to match his pace. It was a staggering shot across the Portuguese bow, and completely unexpected.

Then it was time for Schweini and Germany to play what U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller calls "Monsters in the Box." It works this way: Germany wins a free kick and then Schweinsteiger whips the ball into the area where any number of German players attack it. For Germany's second goal, it was Miroslav Klose, not the biggest German at a mere 1.82 m tall, but he could have been no taller than a garden gnome and scored as he was completely unmarked, putting Portugal in a hole from which it never recovered. Ronaldo was still to be heard from, but Germany never figured to contain him for an entire game. Sure enough, in the 40th minute he came screaming down the left channel and fired a shot that Jens Lehmann could only parry, and Nuno Gomes was there to scored Portugal's first after snatching the rebound.

But the German scheme to bottle and bump Ronaldo would hold up, unlike Portugal's dead ball defense. If there's one thing Greece's championship run taught us, it's that every dead ball situation is a potential match winner. And having already allowed a goal on a set piece you'd think Portugal's D would rise up. Nope. In the 61st minute German captain Michael Ballack, having conveniently shoved his marker out of the way, was there to meet another free kick for a 3-1 lead. A frantic Portuguese comeback would yield a goal from Helder Postiga in the 87th minute, but the Germans held on.

That puts Germany in line to meet Turkey in the semis. Ordinary, that would be a good thing, given the fundamentals of the two teams, but Turkey, like its great rival Greece in 2004, is having a magical ride in Euro2008. Having played the Croats to a standstill for 118 minutes, and thrilling minutes at that, the Turks seemed finished when Ivica Olic — who'd earlier blown a wide-open chanced from yards away — caught Turkish keeper Recber Rustu off his line and lobbed a pass to Ivan Klasnic for a free header and a goal at 119 minutes. But nothing seems to motivate the Turks more than getting behind, as they demonstrated in clawback wins against both Switzerland and, sensationally, the Czech Republic. The Croats had barely pulled themselves off of their victory pile when Semih Senturk somehow responded at 121:46 (the latest ever goal in the tournament's history) with an unstoppable smash off a long kick from Rustu that somehow ended up on his foot. It's a wonder that volatile Turkish coach Fatih Terhim's head didn't explode. The Croats, unnerved, were a disaster in the penalty kicks, with the normally cool Luka Modric missing the target in the first kick. They would miss 3 of 4 kicks, which isn't easy.

In their upcoming semifinal game against Germany on Wednesday, the Turks have a numbers problem. Emre Aşık, Arda Turan and Tuncay Şanli are suspended. Its two other Emres, Belozoglu and Göngör, are injured and hero striker Nihat Kahveci, who shattered the Czechs earlier with an injury-time goal, is already home with a thigh problem. There were 14 players available at a recent training session. No problem, says Rustu. "Turkey's never-give-up attitude shouldn't be forgotten." Maybe Germany should just let Turkey score first. It just might get them off their game.

The Russians, that other surprise package, pretty much know what's in store in their semifinal against Spain since the Iberians thumped them 4-1 in the opening group game. This is not the same naïve bunch that gambled so recklessly in that contest. Look for them to attack early and defend deep and take their chances against a very talented Spanish side. And be thankful that they won't play like Italy.

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