Well, wasn't that exciting! But for the lack of England. That said, part of me is happy they weren't in the tournament - I'm not living and dying by every scoreline and praying for the health of million-pound metatarsals. So here we go, a final wrap-up of the EURO Round Robins before we get into the serious business of knockouts. The round robins this year were spectacular, dramatic and above all, extremely entertaining. The teams that played crap football were shown the exit, the teams that played the good stuff found their way through (for the most part). Everyone deserved their place, Austria and Switzerland included, and showed their worth on the big stage. Well in!
GROUP A: Portugal winners, Turkey runners-up
See my last post, I summarized Group A's second and third matches given the time when the article was written.
GROUP B: Croatia winners, Italy runners-up
Croatia - Lovely performance. The dark horse struck Group A by storm, and led them to the winner's spot, to face Turkey in Friday's Quarterfinal. The Croatian subs and reserves proved their grit against a physical and defensive Polish side, coming out with the win. Their match against Turkey shouldn't be overly difficult, but they will have to play the same flowing and attacking football they displayed themselves capable of against Germany last week.
Germany - The Germans need to sort themselves out, schnell (I think that means quickly?). After playing beautiful stuff against Poland in their opening match, the German footballing machine has left a lot to be desired. They beat the Austrians by the skin of their teeth, with Ballack's booming freekick, but no other goals. The Austrians kept the Germans on their toes all match, Gomez continued to be a waste of space in a white kit...get rid of him and bring Schwiensteiger into the starting XI. There's no obvious reason for their apparent downfall, and with a quarterfinal date with the Portuguese today, Germany needs to take stock and reorganize.
Poland - They tried, they failed. Turns out their brand of defensive, physical football is fooling nobody. I saw dirtier play from the Poles than I've seen out of anyone in a really long time. They showed they could attack once the Croats could score, and led me to wonder why they didn't pressure in that way for the whole match. Ah well, something to think about when the World Cup qualifiers start in September.
Austria - I'm impressed. After everyone wrote them off, they gave all three teams they played a serious run for their money. Heavily pressuring opposition defenses, causing all types of trouble for opposition attacks, and all 3 goals scored against them this tournament were extremely preventable (a penalty, a free kick, and an offside goal). The Austrians had very little luck going their way, but showed real signs of a team that could succeed. I'm looking forward to watching their qualifying run.
GROUP C: Netherlands winners, Italy runners-up (HAHAHAHA I CALLED IT PERFECTLY! Group of Death my foot!)
Netherlands - HUP ORANJE! Love it. The subs and reserves ran rings around a defensively minded, boring Romanian side. Total Football is back, and, though I'm afraid to get too optimistic, I see great things on the horizon. Not to mention, Dutch qualification wins me two pints through a bet...by great things on the horizon I could mean beer. I like beer. Cheers Phil!
Italy - Before I start - Fratelli d'Italia is one of the coolest national anthems out there. Just saying. As for the predictions, I got it right but I'm regretting their progress. Romania deserved to progress out of their group, not because they were good, but because they weren't as bad as Italy or France. Against a 10-man, tired and depressed French squad, for 80 minutes, Italy only scored off a penalty and a free-kick which was going well wide but for Thierry Henry's deflection. Italy will face major challenges in the quarterfinal against Spain unless they get their act together. Di Natale needs to partner Toni up front, attacking midfielders must be brought in, and the Italian defense needs to tighten the hell up.
France - Les Bleus sont bleu (I don't know if that made sense in French - The Blues are blue...sad. Bad team, bad pun). Domenech made some horrible team selections coming into this tournament, counting on an aging squad and tactics that relied on Zidane to provide midfield brilliance when Zidane wasn't around, while leaving out various French footballing icons (Gael Clichy, Mathieu Flamini, David Trezeguet, and Phili Mexes) who could well have proved to be the difference in this tournament. The Italian match was proof that the gods of football punish stupid managers - Ribery injured in 10 minutes, Nasri came on, Abidal sent off very early, Nasri came off (poor bugger), and the second Italian goal being scored by Thierry Henry's deflection. There was no flair, no passion and no energy from the French, and Zurich was their Waterloo.
Romania - Boring as all hell, but they deserved to go through more than Italy. They caused problems to some of the world's biggest footballing names, and turned many heads in the process. Another team that was written off right from the get-go, the Romanians had something to prove. Even though they got run over by the Dutch, they shook serious doubts into Italy and France, and showed that even the biggest names can be bested.
GROUP D: Spain winners, Russia runners-up
Spain - The Greeks were facing elimination, the Spanish were guaranteed a quarterfinal berth, so they played their subs and reserves. Not a bad idea, though the Greeks caused an early scare by scoring the first goal. The Spanish came back and scored two. There's not much analysis left to be done on this team, they're very, very good. The question becomes whether they have the bottle to win when it counts. We'll see as they carry on, but, judging by history, I'm wary of their carrying on.
Russia - THIS was what I was talking about. Absolutely lovely. This performance, mixed with Croatia's owning Group B makes me feel far less embarrassed at England's no qualifying. The Russians showed that getting back to basics leads to beautiful football, and mixed with the right amount of speed, can be deadly. They played a phenomenal closer to guarantee their berth in the quarterfinals, and I couldn't be more excited to watch them and the Dutch kick-off, should be a spectacular affair.
Sweden - Not at full fitness, playing against Russia-avec-captain was never going to be easy. The fact that their qualification depended on getting at least a point out was dangerous too. The Swedes threw real doubt into the abilities of the Spanish side, but they couldn't get it together for the Russia match. That said, their performance at EURO should give them a great boost for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Look out for a new and improved Sweden in two years!
Greece - Na na naa naa, na na naaa naa, hey hey hey, goo-ood byyyyye. I'll say it again, good riddance to bad rubbish. They came into the tournament expecting that, if they played the same way they did four years ago, they'd win. Trouble was this; everyone was expecting it this time around. You can't show off your playbook then expect to win. I feel really bad for the Greek fans who spent huge amounts of money to travel and watch their home-side disappoint.
Okay - so, how were my predictions, and what are my predictions?
Round 1: 6-2
Round 2: 3-5
Round 3: 5-3
My predictions for the Quarterfinals, you may ask? These were, of course, all made before the tournament, I'm presently worried about my Germany and Italy prediction, but we'll see how it goes.
Portugal - Germany
Croatia - Turkey
Netherlands - Russia
Spain - Italy