A Historic Spanish Treble?

Should Spain beat Portugal in this Wednesday’s Euro 2012 semifinal, it will be one game closer to making history by becoming the first team to achieve a unique treble: the first to win consecutive European, World, and European titles. But standing in their way could be either Germany or Italy, who will settle their semifinal on Thursday. Italy qualified for the unenviable position of facing Germany with a shootout win over England in Sunday’s quarterfinal — unforgettable not because England’s old penalty-kick curse could not be shaken off but for Andrea Pirlo’s cheeky shot, so calmly taken that even the England manager Roy Hodgson could not help but praise him: “The cool, calculated way Pirlo chipped it, that is something you have or you don’t have as a player.”

Spain will look to continue their success against Portugal, whom they defeated in the Round of 16 in the 2010 World Cup. The core of Spain’s team are the Barcelona players Xavi and Andres Iniesta, both of whom are very familiar with Portugal’s talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, who plays for Real Madrid, Barcelona’s bitter rival. (Real Madrid beat Barcelona for the La Liga title this year.) Also familiar with Ronaldo are Spanish defenders Sergio Ramos, Raúl Albiol, and Álvaro Arbeloa, along with midfielder Xabi Alonso (whose two goals sent France home on Saturday). All of them play with Ronaldo at Real Madrid. But Portugal’s defenders Pepe and Fábio Coentrão both play at Real Madrid and know their opponents well. Portugal will hope that Ronaldo continues his present form at Euro 2012

If Spain does make it to the final to face Germany, it will be a thrilling repeat of the Euro 2008 final when the Spanish defeated the Germans to win their first major title since 1964. Two years later, Spain defeated Germany again in the 2010 World Cup semifinals. For his part, German coach Joachim Löw is looking for revenge, since he has yet to beat Spain. Germany’s midfielders Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira will be familiar with their Spanish counterparts, since they currently play for Real Madrid. But Germany must first dispatch Italy, whom Germany last met in the 2006 World Cup semifinal — considered to be the best game of that tournament, which Italy won before clinching the title against France, unforgettable for Zinedine Zidane’s ejection for headbutting Italy’s Marco Materazzi.

Germany has never beaten Italy at a major tournament, so history sits with Italy. But there are always upsets. Before Spain dispatched France on Saturday, it had not beaten them in a major tournament. Prior to the 2006 World Cup semifinal between Italy and Germany, the two nations met in the 1982 World Cup final in Spain, which Italy claimed. And twelve years before that, the two nations played in what is considered by many Italians to be the greatest game ever, the 1970 World Cup semifinal. Current Italy manager Cesare Prandelli recalls, “For us 14-year-old kids Italy 4–3 Germany . . . was the game.”

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