The quarterfinals come to a close as Spain meet Italy for the right to face Russia in the semifinals. Both teams opened the group stages with blowout games- Spain winning 4-1 over Russia and Italy finishing on the wrong end of a 3-0 result against Holland. Spain continued to roll, winning Group D with a 3-0 mark. Italy rebounded from the early set-back to slide into second in Group C at 1-1-1.
Is there a disadvantage to winning your group at this tournament? Group winners are 0-3 in the quarters, with those three losing teams all having rested top players in their final group stages. Did it leave those teams a little less sharp for the quarters? Spain hope to disprove the theory. If David Villa, the leading scorer from the group stages, is on target again, they should have no problem doing so.
Italy's biggest concern is the loss of two starting midfielders out with yellow card accumulations- Andrea Pirlo and Genaro Gattuso. Their absence puts added pressure on striker Luca Toni to lead the Italian charge. Italy have, in my opinion, the tournament's best goal keeper in Gianluigi Buffon. No save in the group phases was bigger than his PK stop against Romania to keep Italy alive.
The venue: Ernst Happel Stadion, Vienna, Austria
The broadcast: ESPN, 2:45 pm ET
The prediction: Really? You want my prediction? I'm 0-3 in the quarters so far. But one of these group winners has to win, right? With the quality of the goalkeeping, don't expect a high scoring affair. I'll go with Spain to win 1-0.