We get two dark horses for the price of one. Turkey and Russia each knock out teams that sailed through unscathed to match up, respectively, with traditional powers Germany and Spain.
POR 2 - 3 GER - As was expected, Poof-naldo, showing the heart of his predecessors, was nowhere to be found in the big match. He is a victim of his talent, immaturity and the EPL, none of which have prepared him for knockout tournament football. He found out that he can't simply run around the flanks against motivated opposition. Moreover, he was scared to mix it up with Germans bigger than he.
For all the pretty running the Portuguese do, it was the German attackers' pace that proved more potent. The Portuguese had no natural striker, which has yet again, come back to bite them in the ass...although Poof-naldo likes that shit.
HRV 1 - 1 TUR (Turkey advance 3 - 1 on penalties) - Can't fault the Turks' guts, but Croatia lost this game as much as the Turks won it. Hitting the bar from 4 yards, something only Andy Cole can appreciate, seemed to take the starch out of them. They stopped running and their attack bogged down as their passing became less fluid. Though hardly looking threatening, the Turks once again showed their mettle.
Nonetheless, the Croats seemed to have things locked up when they scored in the final minute of extra time. The Turks found magic from the proverbial last-gasp effort, when their striker, with his off foot, shot between two converging defenders and into the top left corner. He couldn't do that again if you left him out there for three days...but he doesn't have to, does he?
I was told that Croatians don't miss penalties, but they had nothing left for the shootout.
NED 1 - 3 RUS (a.e.t) - I didn't see the game, as I was busy securing a 2 - 0 victory of my own. I'm told that, just as I explained, the motivated Russians matched the Dutch pace and had the lion's share of the chances. While they seemed the strongest side, I've never been keen on the Dutch. Robben and Robin are overrated and I have no respect for Van Nistelrooy. Once you get past that, what is there, besides an ordinary squad with a (still) top-flight keeper?
ESP 0 - 0 ITA (Spain advance 4 - 2 on penalties - Again, Spain have shown marginally more toughness that I'm used to seeing. Italy's defense was stronger than it had been, but it came at the expense of attack. Perversely, that's how the Italians like it. They would rather lose like this than win 3 - 2. So, the Italians can go home with no gripes. The only issue I would have is that, if they were going to bring on Del Piero (whether he should have been playing, given his age and that he doesn't like to take penalites, is another argument), they should not have waitied until the 2nd half of extra time.
Generally, the only real issue I have is that so many of these games are coming down to PKs. I don't have a problem with the PKs per se, but it didn't happen as often before 1990, so it was a novelty. As tactics have become more corporate and playing styles have converged, it seems that, all too often, 90 minutes aren't enough to settle matters. If we're going to have half of these matches settled at the spot, let's just go to golden goal. Leave them out there as long as it takes and, once we get to extra time, lift the cap on subs and let substitued players back on the pitch. I'm never going to remember any of these PK shootouts like I remember Bierhoff in '96 and Dellas in '04.