With just three more matches to go before crowning the new champions of European football, the Euro 2008 tournament has thrown up the usual potent mix of proven talent and shocking upsets. Few punters would have bet their money on seeing Russia and Turkey in the semi-finals, while perennial powers Germany and Spain have been convincing in their tournament performances so far.
Ahead of the semi-finals we profile the top talents to look forward to over the next few days as we approach the grand finale at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna on 29 June.
Roman Pavlyuchenko: Pavlyuchenko is the perfect foil to Arshavin’s incisive attacks. The Spaniards will not be as easy to subdue as the Dutch in front of the goal. Pavlyuchenko will need to pair up well with Arshavin and will look to top the tournament goal tables. He has three in his kitty so far.
Guus Hiddink: The Dutchman is truly the coach with the golden touch. His record of making mediocre teams outperform is unmatched. But with a talented team in Russia, Hiddink will be confident of taking this campaign to the ultimate end.
David Villa: All set to be the tournament’s top goal scorer, Villa is in good form and will hope to carry his streak into two more games. He will look to add to his tally of four goals.
Micheal Ballack: Germany will be many people’s favourites to lift the cup on Sunday. Ballack will need to marshal his men and ensure that the strikers get plenty of the ball. The Turks have proven time and time again their ability to fight to the end. The Germans will look to Ballack for guidance.
Lukas Podolski: Like Pavlyuchenko, Podolski will hope to overtake Villa in the race to score most goals. Podolski has been in good form in this tournament and is a critical element of the German attack.
Rustu Recber: With Volkan Demirel still in suspension for a red card, Turkey will hope Recber is on his best behaviour guarding the goal. The quarterfinals saw the best and worst of the veteran goalkeeper in the span of minutes. With a World Cup third place finish in 2002, Recber is no stranger to the big stage.
Semih Senturk: Senturk can do nothing else of note through the rest of the tournament and still return to Turkey a hero. His last gasp goal against Croatia propelled Turkey into the semis. But with a team reeling under injury and suspensions, Senturk will need to step up and play a larger role.
Massimo Bucassa: Officiating the semi-finals between Germany and Turkey will not be a walk in the park for this experienced official. Bucassa has a history of controversy and the Turks, known for their hard physical game, will do well to be watchful.
Roberto Rosetti: Hospital director by day and world-class football referee by night, Rosetti has been handed one of the top officiating jobs in world football—the finals of Euro 2008. The Italian is a stern, no nonsense character on the pitch who earned praise from all quarters for emerging clean from the Serie A match fixing scandal in 2006.
Photographs by AFP, AP and Reuters