After the group stages of Euro 2012 we have lost both of the host countries as well as Holland and many people’s dark horses Russia – but there is no outstanding favourite to win the tournament. Many of the top teams have made it through to the knock out stages, along with a former winner who know how to win as an underdog in Greece. But while there have been a few decent games the tournament has not really taken off as yet.
Group A started well for Russia, who looked very good in beating the Czechs 4-1. Who would have thought at that stage that the team to go through from the pair would be the Czech Republic? But for the Russians, a draw with Poland and then defeat to Greece in a game they dominated without scoring sent them home. Poland also found themselves going out after two draws and a defeat. The unfancied Greeks once more made their way through to the knock out stages in dour style with four points from nine.
In Group B, the Germans came through with three wins, although were not at their fluent best. The other favourites in the section Holland imploded, beaten in all three matches and losing out in the final decider to Portugal. Outsiders Denmark came close but ultimately failed to qualify.
Group C saw Spain top the table as expected, although they were well below their normal scintillating form. Italy edged out Croatia for the second spot, while the Irish failed to win a game and finished pointless. But their fans will surely win any awards going for their tremendous support of their side.
England managed to win Group D playing exactly as expected: difficult to beat but with little flair. A draw against France and victories over Sweden and Ukraine saw them comfortably through. France will join them in the quarter finals despite defeat against Sweden. The high point for the Ukrainian co-hosts was a win over Sweden with two goals from national hero Andriy Shevchenko.
In the race to become top scorer there are three players who scored three times in the opening three games: Mario Gomes of Germany and two players who are already on the way home, Alan Dzagoev of Russia and Mario Mandzukic of Croatia. Several players have two goals, including Fernando Torres and Cesc Frabregas of Spain.
So now we move from group play to knock out football. Portugal and the Czech Republic clash in the first match, with the Portuguese probably slight favourites and I think they will have enough class to make it through.
Germany take on Greece in a clash that will be interesting given the economic background in Europe at the moment. On the field I expect Germany to be as dominant as they are in financial terms, and the Greek FA will save on any further hotel bills.
Spain will play France in the third match. France have not looked great, while Spain, as many thought they might, have lacked a cutting edge. Still, when you play with six midfielders and no strikers, what do you expect? Spain should win this one, and will hopefully rediscover the flair that often makes them such a fine team to watch.
And finally England will play Italy. Two well organised sides, strong in defence. It has a draw, extra time and probably penalties written all over it. Neither team has excited so far and I can see this one being a rather dull affair. And I have a feeling that England might just steal it.
So that would give a final four of Spain v Portugal and Germany v England. Now those would be games to savour – although I stand by my pre tournament prediction of a Spain v Germany final.
Knock out football can sometimes free teams up after the permutations of the group stage, and I hope that we see more attacking football in the latter part of the tournament.
Still, it keeps us football fans busy during June when there’s not a lot else happening, doesn’t it?