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Euro 2012 semifinal projections: Germany, Spain most likely to meet in rematch of '08 final

Entering the semifinals, the AccuScore computer calculates Germany and Spain to meet in the European Football Championship final for the second consecutive time. Whereas the probability of Spain and Germany meeting in the Euro 2012 final was 29 percent before the start of the quarterfinals, now it's up to 42 percent and is far and away the most likely matchup.

As was the case entering the quarterfinals, Spain is still slightly more likely to make the final than Germany, but the Germans are marginally preferred in a rematch of the Euro 2008 final. However, before Spain and Germany get too far ahead of themselves, Italy and Portugal are both formidable semifinal opponents hitting full stride at the right moment and pose a genuine threat to the two pre-tournament favorites.

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The computer doesn't prefer Spain starting Fernando Torres up front. (AFP)

Italy, in particular, has performed at a remarkably high level at the 2012 European Championship despite dark clouds of a betting scandal thundering overhead. The Italians have continuously improved as the competition has progressed, and if they were slightly more efficient in front of goal, the Azzurri may even be considered favorites against Germany.

Italy opened Euro 2012 against defending champion Spain and managed an impassioned 1-1 draw. Despite being out-possessed 60-40 and out-shot 18-10, Italy created good chances and was certainly in position to collect three points. It went on to face Croatia next, and the Italians again only secured a 1-1 draw. Against Croatia, though, they out-possessed the Croatians 52-48 and created five more shots than the Slavs. In its final group stage match, Italy continued to show improvement against Ireland, taking 21 more shots than Giovanni Trapattoni’s men and out-possessing the Irish 60-40 to advance to the quarterfinals.

In the quarterfinal against England, Italy improved on its performance against Ireland. This time, midfield general Andrea Pirlo directed the Azzurri to an impressive 64-percent possession against the Three Lions. Also, the Italians created 26 more shooting opportunities than their English counterparts. Despite the impressive performance, Italy failed to score over 120 minutes and required a penalty shootout to advance. Gianluigi Buffon, again, performed when it mattered most. The Juventus shot stopper saved a crucial penalty, and now, the steadily improving Italians have a semifinal date with Joakim Löw’s German army on Thursday night at the National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland. (Note: With Poland neighboring Germany, the German supporters expect to significantly outnumber the Italian supporters).

In the other semifinal, Iberian neighbors Spain and Portugal meet in the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine on Wednesday night. Portugal is a 35-65 underdog to advance to the final, but Portugal has the best player in the world (not named Lionel Messi) in form and scoring goals. Cristiano Ronaldo was unable to open his scoring account in his first two matches of the tournament despite taking 11 shots and putting eight of them on target. To be honest, he made a mess of some easy chances. However, in his last two matches, the Real Madrid hit man found his feet, scored all three of Portugal’s goals and is now joint top scorer in the competition.

With Ronaldo playing his club football in Spain, scoring the match (and, effectively, the league) winner against Barcelona last season and tallying 46 goals in 38 La Liga appearances during the 2011-12 season, the Furia Roja are well aware of the attacking threat facing them on Wednesday.

Spain, however, has its own attacking dilemma. Vincente Del Bosque opted not to start a natural striker in Spain’s tournament opener against Italy before trusting Fernando Torres in the final two group matches. Despite winning both matches that Torres started, Del Bosque reverted to starting Cesc Fabregas as a false No. 9 against France in the quarterfinal. Considering Spain won, controlled the match and controlled possession, Del Bosque is expected to continue with Fabregas in the most advanced role.

AccuScore’s computer simulated the Spain vs. Portugal semifinal 10,000 times in a purely statistical environment with Cesc Fabregas starting, and then re-simulated the all-Iberian semifinal with Fernando Torres replacing Fabregas to see which option was statistically superior.

Although the computer calculates Spain as a heavy favorite in both cases, the computer favors starting Fabregas because Fabregas has a higher probability of scoring (28 percent) than Torres (24 percent). Spain also has about a five percent higher probability of winning with Cesc starting over FT. Interestingly, the computer calculates Portugal to have a higher goal average with Torres in the lineup, hinting that Spain manages to hold the ball better with an extra midfielder starting, and thus, allows fewer chances for Portugal.

Ultimately, Portugal and Italy are both heavy underdogs against Spain and Germany, respectively. Although either underdog winning would not shock considering the recent form of both Italy and Portugal, the computer still calculates Germany and Spain as the far more likely teams to advance. So if everything goes according to plan, Spain and Germany will play for the European Championship at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday night.

Probabilities for each team to advance to the Final and win Euro 2012
















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