The eight quarter-finalists for the European Championships have been decided, but there is yet to be a country that has stood out as a favourite to win the tournament. None of the four teams who topped their groups have played well in all of their games thus far and, with the knock-out stages beginning tomorrow, all of the sides will need to find their form fast.
Before the competition began, Germany and Spain were considered to have the best chance of emerging victorious, but both were just a goal away from elimination in the second-half of their final group matches. The Germans did win all three of their games – against Portugal, Netherlands and Denmark – yet, other than the first half versus the Dutch, they rarely showed their best form. Either side of their 4-0 thrashing of Ireland, Spain were held to a draw against Italy and only beat Croatia through a late goal, but the most troubling aspect of their performances was the amount of time they lined up without a recognised striker on the pitch. While passing prowess and dominating possession has been the cornerstone of both Spain and Barcelona’s success in the last four years, without the injured David Villa up front to provide clinical finishing, neither team has looked unbeatable.
England topped Group D – thus avoiding a matchup with Spain in the next round – after a resolute defensive performance earned them a 1-1 draw with France, before a spirited fight back resulted in a 3-2 win over Sweden and a functional display against the Ukraine secured another three points for Roy Hodgson’s men, although they did benefit from a non-given goal for the hosts that replay showed had crossed the line. England have shown a unity in their squad that has been absent in recent tournaments and with Wayne Rooney back in their lineup, after serving a two game suspension, they will prove a tough opponent in the knock-out rounds. The other group winners, the Czech Republic overcame their opening day 4-1 loss to Russia, beating Greece and Poland in their next to matches to progress. Despite winning their first fixtures, Denmark, Russia, Croatia and Ukraine all exited at the group stage.
Of the four runners-up, Portugal have been the most impressive. A 1-0 defeat to Germany was only through a late goal and then Portugal
overcame Denmark 3-2, despite throwing away a two goal lead and having their star player, Cristiano Ronaldo, misfiring. The best player in this tournament, Ronaldo found his shooting boots in his country’s final match against the Netherlands, scoring both goals as the Portuguese came from behind to win 2-1. If the Real Madrid man goes on to show any of the form he displayed during the club season this year, Portugal have a great opportunity to go all of the way in this tournament.
Greece took advantage of Russia’s failures in front of goal in their final group game to earn a 1-0 victory thanks to a Karagounis goal just before the break – that result moved the Euro 2004 champions into the quarter-finals on the first tie-breaker of head-to-head record. France progressed as runners-up in group D despite losing to an already-eliminated Sweden in their third match; and Italy came second behind Spain in Group C to ensure their continued involvement in the competition.
The first quarter-final, to be played on Thursday, is between Czech Republic and Portugal; the winners of which will face a semi-final against victors of Saturday’s game between Spain and France. The other half of the draw could see Germany and England squaring off for a place in a major final once again, should they beat Greece and Italy respectively. In both the 1990 World Cup and 1996 European championship, the two nations met in the semi-finals and each time the Germans progressed via a penalty-shoot out.
Predictions Competition Update
After the group stage, there are co-leaders in the Political Footballs Prediction Competition, both of whom have 48 points as they correctly predicted 6 quarter-finalists and had them in the right position in the group. The leaders:
|1||Karl Schmidt||Hitbat #1||48|
|=||Taggart McMahon||Dirt Chickens||48|
|=||Sean Morrissey||Where’s USA?||42|
|=||Pamela McVeagh-Lally||Imogen’s picks||42|
|=||Fraser Allen||Fallen Heroes||42|
There have been 60 goals in the 24 games played thus far and there has yet to be a goal-less draw in the competition.