There's one thing I wish to say before talking about the Euro championships in France: I deeply regret the news that Lionel Messi has declared he no longer wishes to play for Argentina's national team. My only explanation is that something must have happened, otherwise you don't simply stop playing for your country at the age of 29. In any case, it is a shame, also for the many fans who will no longer see him playing for Argentina, and even though his presence in the team never was enough to win a title.
Turning to the European championships, things have developed in a way that I hoped would not. We, the highly-touted Germans, must play Italy in the quarterfinals on Saturday. We have never had any luck against them in the big tournaments. Four years ago, in the Euro semifinals, we were beaten 2-1. Goalkeeper Oliver Kahn said at the time: "You can lose against Italy without even noticing it." That's the way it happened this time in the Final 16 round for Spain, who four years ago had beaten Italy 4-0 in the final.
The hulking defender Giorgio Chiellini shocked the Spaniards with a quick goal to take the lead. And by all appearances Italian trainer Antonio Conte surprised his colleague Vicente Del Bosque with his offensive strategy. The same players who previously had mainly played defensively suddenly became attackers. And I was amazed that Italy, as the oldest team in the tournament (average age of over 31 years), was able to keep up the pace to the very end and that they even made it 2-0 in the final minute on a goal by Graziano Pelle.
I feel bad for the Spaniards. After a series of two European titles (2008 and 2012) and the World Cup title (2010), an era is coming to an end. The FC Barcelona players looked tired and burned-out, even though they started the tournament strongly and Andres Iniesta seemed to be in his best form ever. But the signs of fatigue were already starting to show in the 2-1 loss to Croatia, and were even more apparent against Italy.
Germany's advantage is that the team is younger and appears to be much fresher. This time, despite our poor tournament record against Italy, I believe the Germans will win out against the experienced Italians.
There have been a number of surprises elsewhere. Probably nobody was betting on a quarterfinal matchup between Poland and Portugal. The Poles so far have not been really convincing, not even counting the penalty shoot-out victory against Switzerland. It's different with the Portuguese, who knocked out Croatia, one of the favourites. Even though they were somewhat lucky with the 1-0 winning goal shortly before the final whistle. But no matter: If all the other players alongside Cristiano Ronaldo can raise their game, then they can beat Poland.
Nobody thought Wales would make it through thanks only to an own-goal by the rather harmless Northern Ireland. The Welsh team is riding along on the momentum produced by their superstar Gareth Bale. But in the quarterfinal against Belgium, I expect a clear victory for the Belgians, who keep improving from match to match and who have two of the best players of the tournament in Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne.
Iceland, meanwhile, has achieved more than just mere victory. Their 2-1 win over England is the greatest sensation in the history of the Euros! I had not expected England, with their young team, to play a great tournament, but this loss is a debacle, a humiliation for the English. The resignation that trainer Roy Hodgson in all fairness announced afterwards will have further repercussions. By contrast, the Iceland players will remain heroes forever back home. In 100 years' time people will still be talking about this match.
All the same, I believe that France, Iceland's next opponent, remains the top favourite in this tournament with their home field advantage. I have rarely seen such a perfectly-executed header such as that of Antoine Griezmann of Atletico Madrid. That equaliser against Ireland was world class, and his goal a few minutes later to put France ahead was virtually the logical consequence. I expect to see France in the semifinals -- despite Iceland's enthusiasm which, as we have seen, can move mountains.