It happens in every tournament. A team, a young striker, or even a struggling veteran will rise to the moment and reach heights few thought were possible.
Needless to say, Euro 2012 has been no exception. While much of the tournament has gone according to plan, it has not been without its surprises, both the pleasant, and the not so pleasant.
But which of the tournament's shocks have been the most surprising? Let's take a look, shall we?
Fernando Torres Finds His Feet
Sure, it was against an Irish side who have conceded more goals than any other team in the field, and sure, he was coming off a choke job of epic proportions in a crucial clash against Italy. But even so, it was quite surprising to see the struggling Spaniard net a brace in the team's second clash of the tournament.
But, it wasn't just the goals; it was the way Torres scored them that stunned fans across the globe. It looked to all watching as though the fearsome striker of old, the unstoppable force of nature who controlled the English Premier League between 2007 and 2010, had the skill and touch with the ball at his foot that was matched by few in the world. He looked more confident than he's been since that magical run of form, and if he truly has his touch around the net back, we haven't heard the last of him in this tournament.
It's not that people didn't think Croatia was skilled; most saw them as a solid, balanced side who would give opponents fits, but ultimately struggle to advance out of a group that featured both Spain and Italy. Instead, the balanced Croats have used a well-rounded offense and a suddenly stingy defense to jump the Italians for second in their group, trailing leaders Spain only in goal differential.
Led by striker Mario Mandzukic, the Croats' offense has been explosive, tearing apart a paper-thin Irish defense and wreaking havoc on the Italians back line throughout their match today. While the Croatians still need to prove their mettle against the cream of Group C, Spain, there aren't many pundits who would have seen them breathing down the Spaniards' necks heading into the final round of matches.
The Dutch Fall apart
Coming into Euro 2012, the Dutch were a popular pick to win the whole thing, and with good reason. A supremely talented attacking corps and a solid goaltender in Maarten Stekelenburg, the Netherlands figured to build on a strong showing at the World Cup in South Africa with another deep run in Poland and the Ukraine.
Unfortunately for the Oranje Army, that hasn't been the case; far from it, in fact. The Dutch defense has become a massive liability, failing to track the ball, or their men in losses to both Denmark and Germany. They've looked out of sorts on defense, which wouldn't be a tournament killer if the offense were on point. But, as anyone who has seen the Dutch play in Group B will tell you, the attack has been off the mark.
Superstar Robin Van Persie has seen plenty of fantastic chances turned away, while aging forward Arjen Robben has confirmed himself as the sport's most selfish player, failing to recognize the proper time to pass or shoot. To make matters worse, the team's leading scorer in qualifying, striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, has yet to start a match, and barely made an impact in limited duty against the Danes.
The icing on the cake appears to be the tactics of manager Bert van Marwijk. Rather than utilizing the considerable attacking prowess at his disposal, the always conservative manager has eschewed an open, exciting brand of football for an ill-suited grinding style that fits this Dutch team extremely poorly.
Put it all together, and you have a team who has severely underachieved, and appears to be lacking the cohesion they showed in South Africa.