UEFA: Signs promising following exciting group phase
Euro 2012 has been a fantastic tournament so far with 61 goals scored in 24 group matches and with the culmination of the group stages last night comes a quarter-final line-up which promises plenty of action in the knockout stages.
It is sad that neither of the co-host nations, Poland and Ukraine, were able to make it through to the quarter-finals. Both countries had the chance to qualify in their final group matches but they also knew that nothing less than a win would secure their places in the last eight and it subsequently proved to be a mountain to climb. Poland had drawn their opening two matches against Greece and Russia but were ultimately undone by a late Petr Jiráček strike in their final match as the Czech Republic turned their fortunes around following a poor start. Last night saw Ukraine go out at the hands of an England side who, under the management of Roy Hodgson, have failed to excite but are taking a pragmatic approach to the tournament and scraped through 1-0 in Donetsk with Wayne Rooney’s goal taking the spark out of local interest. Ukraine, nonetheless, did win their opening game against Sweden with the double strike from Andriy Shevchenko proving one of the highlights of the competition so far. Following the defeat to England Shevchenko, a European champion at club level with AC Milan in 2003, announced his retirement from international football and went out on a stage befitting his talents.
Amongst the favourites the Germans were the only team to win all three of their group matches (against Netherlands, Denmark and Portugal) and to do so in the so-called “Group of Death” proves that they are the most serious contenders to take the title from Spain. Speaking of Spain, the European champions surprised many by not playing a recognized striker in their 1-1 draw against Italy but went on to claim victories against the Republic of Ireland and Croatia, the former put to the sword in an easy 4-0 stroll but the latter unfortunate to concede very late in a 1-0 defeat. The Italians could be an outsider for the title as they remained unbeaten in the group with one win and two draws despite having not performed anywhere near their best. If the Azzurri can get a lucky break in their quarter-final match up against England then there’s a possibility that Italy can finally win the second European title they’ve craved since winning their first in 1968.
Portugal are another team capable of causing an upset in the latter stages. Following a 1-0 defeat to Germany the 2004 finalists had to scrap their way to a 3-2 win over Denmark before they sealed their quarter-final spot with a 2-1 win over the tournament’s biggest disappointments Holland. The game against the Dutch signalled a change of form for Cristiano Ronaldo who had struggled in their opening two games but whose input proved the difference in the crucial final group match as he scored both goals in a 2-1 win. It is difficult to tell whether one should read too much into France’s 2-0 defeat to Sweden last night especially as Les Bleus looked the better team in their opening games against England and Ukraine. One player who should be of concern to supporters of the French team is Karim Benzema who has not looked like the player who scored 32 goals for Real Madrid last season. Greece, champions in 2004, are hoping to pull off another such shock but a tough quarter-final against Germany awaits them. The Greeks look to be using the same approach to guide them through this tournament, soaking up lots of pressure whilst hitting teams on the counter attack. This has meant that their performances in the group stage were topsy-turvy but somehow scored goals at crucial times and their 1-0 win over Russia meant that they finished second in the group ahead of the Russians who must be thinking what might have been and whose exit has prompted the departure of coach Dick Advocaat.
If the knockout rounds can maintain the momentum generated by the group stages then we should be in for a treat. After all there were no goalless draws in the group stages and it has been refreshing, for the most part, to see two teams in each game going out to win rather than not to lose. Obviously the stakes will be higher when the first quarter-final kicks off on Thursday night when Czech Republic plays Portugal so the tension of the occasion may incur on the attacking ambition of some teams. However, the signs are positive that the final seven games of Euro 2012 will only add to the legacy of the tournament.
21/06/12 Czech Republic v Portugal
22/06/12 Germany v Greece
23/06/12 Spain v France
24/06/12 England v Italy