England or Italy to complete semi-final lineup
KIEV, June 24 — The final piece in the Euro 2012 semi-final jigsaw will be put in place after England take on Italy in Ukraine’s capital today, with heavyweights Spain, Portugal and Germany already plotting their title assault.
England, unbeaten under Roy Hodgson, and Italy, playing with a more positive style thanks to coach Cesare Prandelli than they have with past Azzurri managers, have so far defied the lower than usual expectations surrounding both national sides.
The experienced and much-travelled Hodgson, whose appointment in May was greeted less than enthusiastically by British media, has overseen a five-game unbeaten run.
Italy, chasing a first European title since their only triumph in 1968, have played positively under Prandelli, whose preparations for the tournament were overshadowed by another domestic league match-fixing scandal.
Police expect about 6,000 England fans to attend the game in Kiev, the largest number so far following their group games against France, Sweden and Ukraine.
The prize for victory today is a semi-final with Germany in Warsaw next Thursday. Holders Spain will face Iberian neighbours Portugal a night earlier in Donetsk.
France’s tame exit from Euro 2012 at the hands of Spain yesterday was greeted with unflattering headlines back home.
“Gone without trace” said L’Equipe, describing the team as having “no character” after the 2-0 quarter-final defeat in which the French barely troubled the possession-hungry holders.
France showed “no conviction”, Le Journal du Dimanche wrote.
Laurent Blanc’s side must now pick up the pieces after a tournament, which began brightly with a draw v England and a win over co-hosts Ukraine, ended with talk of player disharmony and a foul-mouthed rant at a journalist by midfielder Samir Nasri.
France also returned home from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa amid bitter recriminations following a player strike.
While Blanc was left to ponder his future after being linked with a move to the Premier League to replace the sacked Harry Redknapp at Tottenham Hotspur, Germany had the unwanted distraction of trying to track down a mole who has been leaking team lineups to the media hours before the start of games.
Without having the edge of a cold-war spy thriller, coach Joachim Loew is still keen to catch the culprit while captain Philipp Lahm said the person passing on information “has a problem”.
Germany are also fretting over a nagging ankle problem for midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger who has missed some training sessions in the past few days.
Portugal will hope former great Eusebio makes a swift recovery in time to cheer the side on against Spain after he was described as being in a stable condition in a Polish hospital following a heart procedure.
“The news is good. Doctors are satisfied that his condition is stable and we will see where we will go from here,” a Poznan hospital spokesman said.
The 70-year-old Eusebio, who has been admitted to hospital three times since December, was in the stands for the quarter-final win over the Czech Republic, cheering alongside former Portugal captain Luis Figo. — Reuters