We take a look at the players who have been the key performers up to the semi final stage. This is based on past performances, Euro 2012 statistics and the Castrol Edge Index to find the key players for the remaining four teams in the competition.
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The Castrol Edge Index uses statistical analysis to find the most in form players based on their key skills, passing, shooting and tackling, in key areas of the pitch. In Euro 2008, the Castrol Edge Index ranked Spain’s Xavi Hernandez as the top player. I believe these four players will hold the key for their respective teams as Euro 2012 approaches its climax.
Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo
The current Portugal first team consists of nine international standard players, one superstar and a centre forward. Their first team players all ply their trade in the top echelons of European football but one man stands out.
Cristiano Ronaldo has started to hit his straps in the competition scoring three goals in the last two games and winning two man of the match awards. His first two goals beat world cup finalists Holland securing a route out of the group of death after a poor start against Germany. In the quarter final against the Czech Republic he scored the vital winning goal when his team appeared to have run out of ideas.
After winning La Liga with Real Madrid he will be desperate to beat Spain and will know that his performances in Euro 2012 could give him the edge in his battle with Messi for the Ballon d’Or award. Ronaldo has had 29 efforts on goal so far during the championships, including four that have hit the woodwork. This is an all time record in European Championships and his 14 shots on target is also nearly half of Portugal’s tally of 33.
In the last game between Portugal and Spain, the Real Madrid winger was the key man in a 4-0 Portugal win scoring the fourth goal and will hope to replicate that sort of form again. Spain are unbeaten in 18 competitive international matches and will be confident that the route to beating Portugal is by keeping Ronaldo quiet.
Spain: Xabi Alonso
In a team that have swept all before them over the last two tournaments and with superstars packed into a congested midfield it is not easy to point to a single top performer. Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets are the passing maestros, David Silva the mercurial playmaker but the glue that holds the midfield together is Xabi Alonso.
Alonso has a pass completion rate of 84% in the tournament which is second only to Xavi. However he has also scored the two vital goals in the quarter final win against France and is the joint top scorer in the Spanish squad alongside Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas despite his deep midfield role.
In the Castrol Edge Index he is the highest ranked Spaniard, a testament to his role in a team congested with eye catching Barcelona superstars. Alonso offers Spain a plan B, his long range passing can compliment Xavi and Iniesta but it is also a dangerous route one weapon.
If Vicente del Bosque decides to scrap the ‘false nine’ position that Fabregas has been fulfilling and play a more traditional forward then Alonso can be the catalyst for a more direct style of play should Spain need to break down a defensive minded Portugal.
Italy: Andrea Pirlo
Andrea Pirlo received all the plaudits in Italy’s penalty win over England in the quarter final, he controlled the game and his audacious penalty effort. In the semi final Pirlo who is 33 and reaching the end of his career, will have a tougher test against a vibrant and energetic young German team.
He has always played in a deep midfield role, using his incredible passing ability to dictate the tempo of play. Like Ronaldo and Alonso he too is coming into the tournament after a successful season having won Serie A with Juventus following his move from AC Milan last summer.
During the quarter final against England, Pirlo was the game’s leading passer with 131 while his ageing legs did not stop him covering 11.58 kms in 120 minutes, more than any England player. In part this was due to Italy enjoying 68% of the possession but there is no denying his class.
Pirlo enjoyed twice as much possession as Gerrard and Parker put together, double the passes with a higher pass completion rate (87% to Parker and Gerrard’s 80%) and managed eight crosses, four of which were successful. The England duo only managed five, none of which were successful in 120 minutes.
Italy will need another classy display from their elder statesmen if they are to overcome the industrious German midfield pairing of Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger. He will not be given as much time on the ball and the space he normally operates in will have to be shared with Germany playmaker Mesut Ozil.
Germany: Mesut Ozil
During the 2010 world cup, Mesut Ozil shot to fame in a meteoric rise as Germany ended the tournament in third place. His subsequent move to Real Madrid saw him join Europe’s elite although many wondered if he would falter amongst the galacticos.
In four years Ozil has grown from German wunderkind with a promising future and a prominent role in the German U21 side to a key player at Real Madrid and the national side. He is a player that epitomises the current German side.
Ozil has become Germany’s consummate playmaker by coordinating their attacking threats providing three assists to tournament top scorers Germany. The team is set up to play through Ozil, he is the fulcrum of their midfield play combining surprising strength on the ball with a deft touch. He is also selfless in defence happy to press without the ball despite his primary role being in attack.
The midfield maestro touched the ball 144 times in the quarter final against Greece which was the most in the German side and made 117 passes, second only to Bastian Schweinsteiger. He has completed the second most crosses in the tournament thus far and maintained a 93% pass completion rate including two assists, four dribbles and three shots on target.
Yet again a Real Madrid player is in outstanding form after a title winning season. In a key clash in the semi final, Ozil will probably be asked to mark Pirlo. Since one of Ozil’s main strengths is that he is given the licence to roam wide, Pirlo might be given time and space on the break. Undoubtedly the outcome of the contest between these two players will have a significant impact on the result of the semi final.