Group winners pay the price for rotation at Euro 2008
Three drama-filled quarter-finals and three group winners are gone. Spain should be worried.
Three of the four sides that qualified for the knockout stages after two games are out of the championship. Spain, the fourth, face world champions Italy on Sunday hoping to avoid completing the quartet.
Netherlands, Portugal, Croatia and Spain looked impressive in the group stages and chose to field second choice lineups in their final group games to give a break to their main players.
However, successful international football teams rely on continuity in their play, matches are spread out across the year and players get little opportunity to learn how to play with their colleagues. We have seen over the past three days that the more a team can play together inevitably the better they perform.
Germany finally “clicked” after stuttering through the group stages. Russia have improved in every game after a poor start. Buoyed by the return of playmaker Andrei Arshavin, they were worthy winners over a surprisingly lethargic Dutch team for whom most of the starting XI had enjoyed an eight-day break.
Spain’s expected starting lineup has had a similar length of rest.
Italy were poor against the Dutch, fortunate against Romania, but showed signs of improvement in the 2-0 win over France.
Will the pattern continue?