German machine moves up the gears

After removing the tag of underdog in the quarter-final against Portugal, the major tournament machine also known as Germany looks like steadily making its way to the Euro 2008 final in Vienna. Joachim Low’s side remain favourites (9/4) to take a fourth European title after a 3-2 victory in the last eight, putting them through to a semi-final against either Croatia (7/1) or Turkey (22/1).

As ever, what initially seemed an unremarkable German outfit, stuttering to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Croatia and making hard work of Austria in the group stages, have grown in stature as the competition has reached its latter stages.

Germany manager Low, suspended from the touchline for the Portugal game following an altercation with his Austrian counterpart in Group B’s final round of fixtures, oozed satisfaction with his team’s display, saying: “We had a lot of courage, had good combinations, moved well without the ball. All the things that we’ve done well in the past we did.”

Bayern Munich’s Lukas Podolski (7/2) is in a battle with David Villa (7/2) of Spain for the Golden Boot, Villa is 9/2 to be the tournament’s top goal scorer with Spain lifting the trophy, while Podolski and Germany are 9/1 to earn the same distinction.

If Germany are to replicate their memorable win at Euro 1996, they may have to overcome the daring Dutch in the final. Holland, who are 3/1 to bring home the cup 20 years after tasting glory in 1988 – when Germany hosted the event – have been the talk of the tournament, with their exhilarating brand of fearless football claiming resounding wins over giants Italy (5/1) and France in Group C.

Holland face a Russia (12/1) side which has turned a few heads since a humbling 4-1 defeat to Spain (4/1) in their opening game. The orange army will have a tough task countering Guus Hiddink’s fleet-footed, hard-working men, who underlined their potential in the 2-0 win over Sweden.

Robin Van Persie could be worth an outside shout to make a late bid for the title of top scorer. The Arsenal forward already has two goals in the tournament and is 20/1 to end up with the most strikes.

It is around this stage in a competition that Spain, who face world champions Italy in their quarter-final, usually crumble, but a renewed optimism seems to have surged through their ranks, bred by confidence in their two dangerous frontmen – David Villa and Fernando Torres.

Spain coach Luis Aragones has expressed his contentment with the quality at his disposal going into the last eight: “I think the team is ready for this kind of match. It learned a lot at the World Cup. I’ve got 23 very good players in my squad and in the second half we played some very intelligent, very good football.”

The Italians have failed to convince thus far, but like Germany possess a knack of performing when it really matters. A sound backline could provide a passage through to Vienna, if only the forwards could hit form. Luca Toni and Cassano have failed to find the net, with Italy’s major problem being a lack of goals.

Can the German giants justify their top billing?

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