With all 24 group stage games in Euro 2012 completed, eight teams are preparing for quarter-finals, whilst the other eight have been eliminated and will head home. Ahead of the first knockout game between Czech Republic and Portugal on Thursday night, here is Soccerlens’ review of the tournament so far.
Group A was touted as one of the tightest groups, and lived up to its billing with all four teams in contention to progress going into the last round of fixtures. In the end, Czech Republic topped the four, sealing their place in the last eight with a win over Poland. Michal Bilek’s men have recovered from an opening-day thumping at the hands of Russia, and will fancy their chances against Portugal in the knockout stages. Greece also showed fantastic heart and resolve to power their way through to the knockout rounds as group runners-up, beating Russia 1-0 in the process.
Co-hosts Poland had a football-made nation cheering them on, but failed to deliver, ending up in last place out of the four. Russia meanwhile looked odds on to top the pool after winning their first game 4-1 in commanding fashion, but a consequent draw and defeat sees Dick Advocaat’s men disappointingly eliminated.
Group B, or ‘the group of death’, saw some spell-binding games, with Germany and Portugal progressing at the expense of Netherlands and Denmark. Germany justified their early-favourites tag by winning all three games to top the group, and will take some beating this summer. Portugal finished in second after Cristiano Ronaldo rediscovered his form to score a brace against Netherlands in the decisive final fixture.
Denmark were expected to be the whipping boys of the group, but actually applied themselves well, looked to take on their illustrious opponents and leave the competition with their heads held high. Netherlands were a major disappointment, losing all three games, and now are likely to face a revamp of their squad and coaching situation.
Spain and Italy were thought to be the teams to beat in Group C, and this proved to be the case as the pair progressed unbeaten. Vicente del Bosque’s La Roja side topped the group, but have not been their ominous selves, despite the odd flash of genius. The Azzurri drew their first two games before beating Republic of Ireland 2-0 to seal a last-eight spot.
Croatia started well in the tournament, and showed some exciting and assured football at their best. However, a defeat to Spain ended Slaven Bilic’s side’s competition, and the coach’s tenure. Republic of Ireland lost all three games, and were out of their depth from first minute to last.
Group D turned out to be a battle between old enemies England and France, who progressed at the expense of co-hosts Ukraine and Sweden. Roy Hodgson has got his tactics right so far this summer as his team topped the pool, but have been unconvincing in attack. France slumped to defeat against Sweden on the last day, but qualification is still guaranteed; they have Spain to face next.
Ukraine huffed and puffed but did not show adequate consistency to warrant a place in the next round, as Andriy Shevchenko called it a day at international level after two goals at the tournament. Sweden will be irate after losing their opening two games despite taking the lead, but salvaged some pride with a win over France.
- Czech Republic vs Portugal: This should be tightly contested, but with Cristiano Ronaldo starting to find his feet, Portugal should make the semi-finals.
- Germany vs Greece: The Germans have not been tested in the tournament as yet, and should be too good for a dogged Greece side.
- Spain vs France: Although world champions Spain are favourites to make it through this one, France will make it difficult for them – Spain to win, just
- England vs Italy: Two cautious sides go head-to-head, and the more adventurous of the two may well be rewarded with a place in the semi-finals; England to win a close game.
- Most impressive team: Germany – Three wins from three and an impressive squad with a mix of experience and ability, Joachim Low’s men put the group of death to the sword.
- Biggest disappointment: Netherlands – Despite a tough group, with the quality at Bert van Marwijk’s disposal the nature of the Oranje’s exit has been a surprise.
- Highlight: Cristiano Ronaldo inspiring Portugal to victory over Netherlands with two well-taken goals
- Lowlight: Repeated instances of racism and fan violence from a minority of ignorant and stupid ‘fans’.
- Best goal: Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s acrobatic volley to open the scoring for Sweden against France.
- Best game: Denmark 2 Portugal 3 – An end-to-end game, with a late winner from Silvestre Varela.
It is Czech Republic against Portugal in the first of the quarter-finals on Thursday night; same time same place tomorrow for all the fallout, news and incidents from Ukraine and Poland.