Euro 2012: Power Rankings After Game 1
The first group games of Euro 2012 have now been completed after Ukraine's impressive comeback victory over Sweden.
There were some surprises already seen in the first four days of the competition, and new contenders have emerged while other teams thought to have a chance came up short.
Here are the current power rankings after the first eight games.
16. Czech Republic
In my lifetime, I have never seen the Czech Republic look good on the big stage. Perhaps with no expectations, the team would manage to shine.
That optimism was met with a resounding thud though as the Czechs were dominated in every way possible by Russia.
Credit the Russian team for displaying some of the best offense we have seen thus far in the tournament. But the Czechs looked lost, which sadly is nothing new when it comes to a big competition.
Przemyslaw Tyton became a household name for soccer fans thanks to his penalty-kick save against the Greeks on their way to a 1-1 tie but that was about as good as it got for the tournament co-hosts.
Despite having Greece down to 10 men, the Polish team actually seemed to get worse as time went on with the man advantage. After Greece tied it, the team continued to play more and more tentative.
With Group A being by far the weakest in the tournament, they still have a shot to move on, but they were hardly impressive.
Poland's opponent did not look much better in their 1-1 draw.
Yes, you have to give them credit for tying the game with only 10 men. You also can sympathize at the injustice at seeing one of their defenders unjustly given two yellow cards that led to him being red-carded.
But despite all this, the team had a win waiting at the feet of Giorgos Karagounis, who had a penalty kick in the 71st minute. With the momentum Greece had, not to mention both teams now playing at 10 men, you could tell Greece had victory in its grasp.
But a poor kick by Karagounis was stopped and the team lost much of its momentum, and thus the two teams had a draw.
Again, with Group A being so poor, you probably need to consider the Greeks as the other favorite to get out of here and get into the quarterfinals.
But it is a testament to just how bad this group is that out of 16 teams, these three are the worst ranked thus far in the tournament.
Sweden is always a hard team to figure out.
There are times when in groups of death they surprisingly emerge when in other big tournaments they disappear. Sadly, it seems the latter is going to be the case for this Swedish squad.
After AC Milan star Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the 52nd minute, the underdog and co-hosting Ukrainians stormed back.
Andriy Shevchenko, who was replaced by Ibrahimovic at AC Milan, scored two goals in seven minutes to give Ukraine a 2-1 win.
Now with zero points and games left against England and France, you cannot like Sweden's chances of getting out of this group.
By pure talent alone, the Netherlands arguably are the second-best team in this tournament.
But talent and performance are two completely different things.
The Dutch may have only lost to Denmark 1-0 but it was how they lost that made it so unforgivable and why they are ranked so low.
Despite 28 shots at goal, only five actually made it onto the net, a paltry 17 percent. Compare that to 50 percent for Denmark, which got four of their eight shots onto the net.
You would think with such a shot advantage they would have possessed the ball more, yet the Dutch only held a 53-47 advantage.
You would also think that being down a goal, the Dutch would show some urgency. That did not happen.
Simply put, the Dutch did not look like they cared. Is it a World Cup hangover? Do they not care about the Euro tournament?
Whatever the case, their lack of urgency is going to quickly end any chance of advancing with games against Germany and Portugal left on their plate.
I actually thought Ireland got a raw deal in their 3-1 loss to Croatia.
Bad deflections and a controversial second goal doomed the Irish. Take nothing away from the Croatians though, who emerged as a dark horse contender in this tournament.
With games left against Spain and Italy, the Irish are likely doomed. However if they were in another group, they would still have the potential to advance. Unfortunately for the Irish, they are in the true Group of Death.
Give full marks to England for getting a draw against France despite missing four starters, most notably Wayne Rooney.
However, with France riding a 22-game unbeaten streak and a Ukrainian team that just won and is playing in front of their home fans, I still believe the English are on the outside looking in.
Their match with Ukraine, the last match of the first round, could be a fascinating spectacle. But I think their injuries and all-around so-so play in recent months will lead to many disappointed English fans when the group stage reaches its conclusion.
Perhaps the best moment of the first set of games in this tournament came in the second half of the last one.
Andriy Shevchenko, the 35-year-old Ukrainian striker, has had a career that has at times been brilliant and at other times an utter disappointment.
From 1999-2006, he scored 127 goals in 226 games at AC Milan. In the last six years though he has just 33 goals in 119 matches with Chelsea and Dynamo Kiev that included a quick loan back to Milan.
Now the oldest striker in this tournament, he scored twice to lead Ukraine in a win over Sweden that will go down in Ukrainian soccer history.
It was a great moment that now has Ukraine in the drivers' seat to be a surprise participant in the quarterfinals.
They can now go into their game with France with no pressure as the big game left will be against England on June 19th.
If Portugal were in Groups A or D, they would likely be able to get through to the quarterfinals. But such is life when you lose a game in an unforgiving Group B.
Despite Germany dominating the possession battle, it was Portugal getting better chances, most notably Pepe hitting a crossbar in the 44th minute.
Ultimately though, Germany got their goal and Portugal could not put any of their quality chances into the net.
Portugal is not out of it, but they need to sweep through their last two games if they want to move on.
It has certainly been a turnaround for the French side since their 2010 disaster.
Unbeaten in 22 matches, the French had a fairly disappointing draw with England, considering the English were playing without four men, including their best player, Wayne Rooney.
With poor passing and a surprisingly loose defense, the French had to rebound after going down 1-0 with a 39th-minute goal by Samir Nasri.
The good news for the French is the path is still clear for them go get out of the group stage. If things play out the right way, a win over Ukraine in their next game could already clinch it.
But as comes with the territory of an opening-game tie, if they somehow manage to blow it against Ukraine, they could yet again go home from a major tournament a big disappointment.
There are those that will refuse to give Denmark credit for their 1-0 win over the Netherlands because the men in orange did not put forth a good effort.
But Denmark has three points in what was called the pre-tournament Group of Death. No matter how they did it, you have to be impressed.
Not getting credit is nothing new for Denmark. After all, how many of you knew that they are actually ranked in the top 10 of the current FIFA rankings?
With games left against Portugal and Germany, the path is still difficult for the Danes to move on. But they could not have asked for anything more with their win over the Dutch.
If you took a look at those FIFA rankings, you will see Croatia is also in the top 10. So it should not be a shock that they looked so good against the Irish.
What is important about their win is the fact they have a plus-two goal differential, which could be very important when the final standings are out on June 18th.
Though they had some favorable bounces, the Croatians had more shots at and on goal and had more time of possession. They looked bigger, faster and stronger against their opponents, which are all great signs.
Another good sign for Croatia? They had little expectations coming into this tournament. It is when they are expected to perform well that they so often have come up short.
Though Group B was known as the Group of Death, I have to believe Group C is. There are, in my opinion, three teams capable of winning the entire tournament, but one of them will not even make it to the quarterfinals.
Is it possible Russia's dominant 4-1 win over the Czechs was due to the fact the Czech Republic just simply is not very good? Sure.
But no matter the opponent, Russia looked good. Really really good. Potential threat to surprise everyone and win Euro 2012-type good.
If you look at the stat sheet, it looks like the Czechs did well. They had more shots on goal and even had a small lead when it comes to possessing the ball.
But this is when merely looking at a box score does not do the game justice.
Russia was far more threatening, was faster and flat-out hungrier from the first minute until the 90th.
Roman Pavlyuchenko had the prettiest goal of this tournament in the 82nd minute by just playing with the Czech defense and ultimately sending a bullet past Petr Cech.
Playing in the worst group in the tournament, Russia has a very real chance to be the only team to sweep the competition and get nine points.
Russia, a team that has been on the cusp of becoming an elite level team for several years now, seems poised to finally fulfill that potential.
If I were the rest of the field in this tournament, I would be very afraid. Why?
Germany, though they had a solid advantage over time of possession, clearly lacked sharpness. From bad passes toward the net and shots not getting on goal, the German side just lacked something.
Despite this, Mario Gomez scored a goal late in the second half to give the Germans a 1-0 win.
If Germany can play a generally poor game and still beat a quality side like Portugal, you have to be worried what this team will look like if they begin to fire on all cylinders.
Speaking of teams that were not as sharp, the 2010 World Cup champions did not look all-world against the Italians.
Yes, they had better offensive stats but both teams were very even when it came to quality chances. But for a team many people still consider the best in the world, you just seemed to be waiting for more from the Spanish.
The 1-1 tie, while certainly not a disaster, sets the stage for some tension-filled games against Ireland and Croatia.
The good news for fans of the red, blue and gold? The Spanish were up against it in 2010 as well after losing their opening game to Switzerland. That game was the last one the Spanish have lost in international competition.
Fears of the demise of Italy may be quite unfounded after they went toe to toe with Spain in the most entertaining game of the first eight matches.
The Italians, known for their stingy defense, instead looked like the Spanish offensively, exchanging quality chances with a Spanish team known for its creative brilliance.
Italy managed to look this impressive even though controversial star Mario Balotelli looked horrid on the field. Between temper tantrums, foolish yellow cards and refusing to shoot the ball on a breakaway, it was an all-around disaster.
Antonio Di Natale restored order though and scored on a beautiful goal to initially give the Italians the lead.
Why do I rank them above the World Cup champions? Because they were able to overcome Balotelli's antics and still look like a quality team against the world's best.
If they are able to get out of the group stage, I think Italy could easily go on a run similar to 2006, where they kept a low profile and crept up on everyone until they were raising up the World Cup trophy.
While people are talking about Germany, France and the Spanish as favorites, it could be the Azzurri enjoying Euro 2012 glory before all is said and done.