The opening ceremony of Euro 2012
Now that each team has played one match in Euro 2012, it's only natural to summarize the tournament up to this point and predict how the groups will go from here.
Right now, only one team has been realistically eliminated (Ireland, it was nice knowing you). So here's my look at how the rest of the first round will shape up.
The Russians should have more reasons to celebrate.
Group A. The group is Russia's to lose. Dick Advocaat's squad looked brilliant on the attack, and if Andrei Arshavin and Alan Dzagoev can duplicate the form they displayed against the Czech Republic, the rest of the field should watch out.
But the other spot from Group A in the knockout stage remains for the taking.
While Poland has the home crowd behind them, they face the above-mentioned dangerous Russians tomorrow without No. 1 goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. A loss against Russia will see them needing the beat the Czech Republic to advance to the quarterfinals.
As for Greece and the Czech Republic, the Greeks will enter their match against the Czechs boosted by the strong second-half performance by Dimitris Salpingidis. If they draw against the Czech Republic, they still might find themselves in good shape to advance to the knockout stage—that is, if they face an already qualified Russia squad (who might rest players) in their group finale.
As for the Czechs, the best thing about being spanked by the Russians is that they can say they got their most difficult match out of the way—in addition to the fact that they shouldn't be scared by Greece and Poland. But it would also help them if Peter Cech would display the form that has had many consider him among the world's elite goalkeepers.
My prediction: Russia and Greece advance.
Muller and Gomez should be smiling after one more match in the group stages.
Group B. The Netherlands dug themselves a big hole by losing to Denmark 1-0 in the tournament's biggest "upset" thus far. A similar result against Germany would in all likelihood kiss their chances of the knockout stage goodbye.
Despite the fact that they are loaded in attack, reaching the quarterfinals appears to be a tall order as they face one of the tournament's favorites in their next match.
As for the team that beat the Dutch, Denmark should be feeling very confident—especially as they produced an outstanding defensive display to shut down the Netherlands (with a little help from the post in the first half).
If they can contain Cristiano Ronaldo like Germany did, the Danes might well very get a result against Ronaldo. But will that be enough to help see them through to the quarterfinals?
Germany should advance, but second place in the quarterfinals is still very much up for grabs. I don't see the Dutch defense holding up against Germany, and while they'll beat the Portuguese, I envision the Danes getting a point from their next two matches.
My prediction: Germany and Denmark advance.
Cesc goes to the rescue against Italy.
Group C. Ireland, I'm glad you qualified you because you always bring a passionate following to any major tournament you qualify for. That said, Ireland's lack of quality was exposed against Croatia, and it will be difficult to imagine them beating either Italy or Spain.
That said, Euro 2012 was more fun with a bit of green in the stands.
The men from the Emerald Isle will face Spain next. While the Spanish attack wasn't in high gear against Italy (and certainly not helped by Fernando Torres' lack of form), the defending champions should be able to take an advantage of an opening or two in any defense they find to snatch the three points.
As for the other two teams in Group C, the Italy-Croatia winner (if there is one) will probably determine who advances to the quarterfinals. Italy showed they're not the Azzurri of old by not simply just dedicating themselves to defending.
If Mr. Balotelli has his head on straight, they have several formidable options in attack with him, Antonio Cassano and Antonio Di Natale. It will interesting what formation Italy uses against Croatia, who will lean on Mario Mandzukic to reproduce the magic he displayed against Ireland. If he can, watch out for the Croatians. But will their back line hold up against Italy?
My prediction: Italy and Spain advance.
Reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated.
Group D. If he wasn't already a national hero, Andriy Shevchenko cemented his place in Ukrainian lure by notching a brace against Sweden and lifting his team to a victory.
But can he lift the co-hosts to the knockout stage?
Up next for Ukraine is the group's most talented squad, France. The French seemed content with a draw against England, but will need at least one victory to ensure passage to the quarterfinals. Expect them to build up their attack faster than they did against England in the next two matches.
England was content as well with the draw in Donetsk. But I don't see them being as content to essentially sit back and defend against Sweden and Ukraine as they did against France, considering the French was their toughest opposition in the group.
The English didn't really show much in attack against France, and they have one more match without Wayne Rooney. But when they have the Man U man back, he just might be the spark to lead them into the quarterfinals.
My prediction: France and England advance.