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The group stages have been somewhat magnificent. Teams we all thought would make it didn’t, and teams that seemed like outside chances of getting anywhere have. Some are claiming this is the best Euro group stage ever, and personally, I think it’s pretty spectacular so far. Generally, what the group stages this year have proven this year is that 1) In footballing terms, host countries don’t deserve automatic bids into the tournament 2) adding more teams of the quality of Ireland to a pool of 16 teams at the European Championships would dilute the competition.
Group A looked like a dud, to be honest, at the onset of the tournament, but it was a great display of teams that overachieved and others that didn’t live up to the moment. Russia was especially disappointing. In their first game, they looked like they would run away with the group, but a subsequent draw with Poland and a loss to the Greeks put them out. The Greeks definitely overachieved with many of us forgetting they were even in the tournament. The Poles put up a good fight, but they wasted their chances and now get to play host, not participant. The Czechs picked themselves up from getting thrown around by the Russians and put together a series of good, solid performances.
The group of death would be matched up with the group of debt (Group A) at the end of the group stage. Portugal and Germany survived the company of Holland and Denmark. Elimination was hard on Denmark after they performed to well against the Dutch, lost to a late goal to Portugal, and fought hard and well against a superior German side. If the Danes were in any other group, they would have moved on. Of course, who is to say they would have played as hard and elevated their play if they had the likes of the Czechs and Greeks in their group. Portugal look like a team getting ready to go on a tear with Ronaldo leading the team to impressive attacking displays and with a defense anchored by Pepe and Bruno Alves. Germany were simply good and haven’t put it into second gear yet, I reckon. I’m afraid to see what they look like when they actually show their teeth. And, Holland… much has been said about the Dutch, but really they just plain suck. 0 points out of 3 matches.
I think the popular opinion among the English-speaking Twitterverse is that Spain are boring. They continue to go back to this 4-6-0 formation with no striker. When they do have a striker on, it’s Fernando Torres, and he needs a million chances to put away one goal. The Spanish suffocate their opponents like a boa constrictor; they don’t tear into their prey like lions. Maybe that’s what people expect from great teams, but in the end, the beast gets fed. I expect much of the same cruel, beautiful efficiency in the knockout rounds. Italy are just fun to watch. It’s a roller coaster of emotion, skill, and plain fun. Balotelli is proving why Prandelli taking a gamble by bringing him along was a good idea. He’s capable of creating that one special moment that turns a match on its head. He’s that spark that a match needs. He can be that focal point. Unfortunately, sometimes, I think he’s not ready to be the center of attention just yet. Croatia’s elimination is another reason why host countries should not be allowed in automatically. If they get slotted into any other group, they might win it. They played well and deserve a place in the final 8. Ireland’s fans sang well…?
England did it! The public boarded up their houses. They packed bags full of sand. They curled up into the fetal position in a windowless room waiting for the torrent of failure to wash over England, and it never came. Roy Hodgson has England playing like a team. Gerrard is playing effectively. ANDY CARROLL IS SCORING GOALS. ROONEY IS BACK. Now the families are finally starting to come outside and admire the sunlight, fresh air, and calm breeze, but it is just be the eye of the storm. They get to face Italy in the next round. France quite possibly played the best football in the group, but they allowed themselves to be bested by Sweden. So, first goes to England. I imagine France not getting past Spain in the next round because Mexes exists and so does that stupid ponytail. I expected more from Sweden, and I think a lot of people did. They have experienced players from top leagues in Europe, but they couldn’t get it together. Also, it was nice to see Sheva at the Euros. We often forget, in the Anglophilic world, that Shevchenko is/was/should always be remembered as an amazing player. His time at Chelsea follows him the English media, but his time everywhere else should be his legacy. It was nice to see the Old #7 back.
Although it was super hard to pick, here is my Tournament XI:
Neuer; Pereira, Bruno Alves, Hummels, Coentrão; Pirlo, De Rossi; Krohn-Dehli, Özil, Ronaldo; Dzagoev