Euro 2012: Ranking the Quarterfinalists
With the group stage completed, Euro 2012 is down to its final eight teams and into the knockout stages.
From here, it's win or go home. Tied games will go to extra time and then, if necessary, penalty shootouts. One way or another, triumph or disaster looms large.
Here are the four quarterfinals we have to look forward to:
- Czech Republic vs. Portugal (Thursday, June 21, 2:45 p.m. ET)
- Germany vs. Greece (Friday, June 22, 2:45 p.m. ET)
- Spain vs. France (Saturday, June 23, 2:45 p.m. ET)
- England vs. Italy (Sunday, June 24, 2:45 p.m. ET)
Based on their pedigree, strength of squad and form so far at the tournament, here's how I would rank the eight teams.
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Greece surprised many by finishing runners-up in Group A. They drew with Poland and then lost to the Czech Republic but shocked Russia 1-0 in the final round of matches to book a spot in the quarters.
Just like the Greek team that won Euro 2004, they come with no shortage of fight. But eight years on, they're a diluted version of that triumphant team, and a repeat of that success in Poland and Ukraine is almost unthinkable.
What's more, Greece will be without talisman Giorgos Karagounis for their clash against Germany after he picked up a second yellow card against Russia.
Germany come into the game with a 100 percent record at Euro 2012 and should see Greece off with relative comfort.
7. Czech Republic
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Czech Republic were the other team to advance from Group A, finishing top of the pile after recovering from a 4-1 battering at the hands of Russia to beat Greece and co-hosts Poland.
They'll play Portugal in the quarters, and the smart money is on Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. sending them home.
The Czechs have done well to reach the last eight, but their squad is lacking in genuine world-class players, and they've looked vulnerable in defense.
To have any chance of beating Portugal, they'll likely need Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech to have the game of his life.
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Whatever happens to France at Euro 2012, they've at least improved on their miserable showing at World Cup 2010.
Laurent Blanc's team opened by having the best of a 1-1 draw against England and then followed it with a pretty impressive victory against co-hosts Ukraine.
Everything was going well and a quarterfinal against Italy beckoned before they fell 2-0 to an already eliminated Sweden team and thus set up a last-eight meeting with defending champions Spain.
That result showed us that France are still an unpredictable animal. They clearly have the squad to go deep at Euro 2012, but there remain questions about their mental application.
Don't rule out Les Bleus upsetting the Spaniards on Saturday—but don't be surprised if they fail to turn up either.
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England haven't been pretty, but they've worked like dogs and got the job done.
Roy Hodgson's team won Group D after drawing with France and beating both Sweden and Ukraine.
Their reward is a quarterfinal meeting with Italy on Sunday, and it's a game England are eminently capable of winning.
To do so, they'll need to cut out the lax defending we saw in the 3-2 win against Sweden and again in patches against Ukraine.
They may also need greater creativity from midfield, which is why many will be calling for the inclusion of Theo Walcott in place of James Milner on England's right flank.
The biggest thing England have going for them is a palpable sense of togetherness and a fighting spirit as strong as any team in the tournament.
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Portugal were up against it in the "Group of Death," but after going down 1-0 to Germany in their opener, Paulo Bento's men produced a late winner against Denmark and saw off the dismal Dutch in their final game to make the last eight.
While they've shown weaknesses in defense, Portugal have grown stronger with each game at the tournament and will enter their quarterfinal against the Czechs high on confidence.
They have plenty of quality players in the likes of Pepe, Bruno Alves, Raul Meireles, Nani and of course Cristiano Ronaldo, and will believe they have every chance of finally winning a major trophy.
Ronaldo was quiet in his first two games at Euro 2012, but he produced a match-winning performance against the Netherlands and is capable of driving this team all the way to the final.
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Italy arrived at Euro 2012 under a cloud, as the latest match-fixing scandal to hit Serie A threatened to prove a distraction to their preparations.
But Cesare Prandelli's team have been as focused as any at the tournament. Draws with Spain and Croatia were followed by a victory against Ireland and made sure Italy progressed as Group C runners-up to face England.
The Italians will be very hard to beat. Defensively they're supremely organized and come with a back line shielded by two deep-lying central midfielders.
In Andrea Pirlo, they have arguably the best midfield passer we've seen at Euro 2012, and any combination of Mario Balotelli, Antonio Di Natale and Antonio Cassano threatens goals up front.
Italy will be slight favorites against England and will fancy their chances of reaching at least the semifinals.
They could quite easily win the whole thing.
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Germany got off to an unconvincing start against Portugal, but they still came out of their opening game in Group B with a 1-0 victory.
Since then they've beaten the Netherlands 2-1 in a game that was far more comfortable than the scoreline suggests and defeated Denmark by the same margin to top their group.
Their reward is what appears a relatively straightforward quarterfinal tie against Greece. From there it would be Italy or England in the semis, and they would go up against either as favorites.
Joachim Low's team have played their way into Euro 2012. They appear to be getting stronger by the game and clearly have the squad to go all the way.
A confident display against the Greeks would further the Germans' case as genuine contenders to win a first major trophy since 1996.
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The defending champions were matched by Italy in the opening game but saw off the Republic of Ireland with a flourish and passed Croatia to death to complete the job and finish top of Group C.
They haven't been at their very best, but they haven't really needed to be.
Spain are still the team in possession, and it's their dominance of possession with the football that will make it so very hard for anybody to beat them at Euro 2012.
To have any chance, France must set a high line and close down the Spanish midfield with an almost frantic urgency.
It's easier said than done, and with the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso well versed in the demands of winning a major tournament, Spain are still very much the team to beat.