By: John Spackman
The first week of dramatic and exciting Euro 2012 football has highlighted everything we love about major international tournaments. And now as the group games come to a close and the cutthroat knockout stages begin, we take a look at all the engrossing goings-on in Europe.
Despite a scintillating start to their campaign, Russia are already on a flight home after being upset by Greece in a 1-0 defeat; although they only needed a draw in their final group game. The manner in which they decimated the Czech Republic in their opening game had many a pundit tipping them as the potential dark horses of the tournament. But after failing to win their next two games, the back door was left open for Greece to sneak through and join the Czech Republic in the knockout stages after an unlikely victory, leaving Russia and Euro 2012 co-hosts Poland quite literally fighting in the streets (see video below).
There was an even greater shock later in the week when pre-tournament favourites the Netherlands went crashing out without registering a single point. Even after losing their first two games they could still have qualified with a victory over Portugal. However, you expect to see the world’s best players on Europe’s biggest stage and Cristiano Ronaldo was on hand to hammer in two goals, along with the final nail in the Dutch coffin.
With Germany’s 100 per cent record in Group B intact, they will take on Greece in the quarter-finals, whilst Portugal will entertain the Czech Republic. Who will join them in them latter stages of the competition is still to be decided and there are no clear contenders.
In tonight’s games, Italy need a win over the hapless Republic of Ireland to have any chance of qualification; and while hoping that there is a winner in the game between Spain and Croatia, a 2-2 draw between the two sides would guarantee qualification for both nations and would spell an early exit for the Italians.
In the final Group, there is still all to play for as England take on co-hosts Ukraine, with both sides knowing that a win will be enough to see them through, though England have the added comfort of guaranteed qualification if the spoils are shared. France are expected to finish the group stages with a win as they take on a Swedish side that has failed to pick up any points in their opening two games. But this tournament has already shown on several occasions that we should not make assumptions.
We have seen enough of each team now to start making more educated guesses as to who can realistically stake a claim on the silverware. Spain and Germany have justified the pre-tournament hype that surrounded them, while the likes of France, Portugal and England have perhaps acquitted themselves rather better than expected. Once the knockout fixtures are confirmed, all eight teams involved will be only too aware that one poor performance, or even one individual mistake, could be enough to end their tournament prematurely. Add the prospect of penalty shoot-outs for those that don’t do enough to earn a win and there are likely to be many more twists to this tale.