Euro 2012 has been one for the ages.
Stars are stepping up in big ways. Surprising teams are making their marks and the favorites are pushing further and further ahead.
Portugal defeated the Czech Republic Thursday, and that means seven teams remain in contention to hold this year’s crown. Some are favored more than others, but it will be tight all the way through.
Here’s how I rank the remaining teams in Euro 2012.
Enjoy the show!
After winning Euro 2004, Greece plummeted to irrelevancy in the context of soccer elites.
However, Greece is back in the picture in 2012, making a Cinderella run that could end in historic fashion.
Greece won in a surprising upset over Russia, 1-0, to advance. The play of Giorgos Karagounis helped ignite Greece over Russia, but he was sent off with a yellow card after a late dive and will be forced to sit out against Germany in the quarterfinals on Friday.
It’s extremely unlikely that Greece can hold up against Germany without its leader in Karagounis. Still, no matter the outcome, Greece have beaten the odds up to this point.
Expect Greece to leave as losers this weekend against Germany, but for its momentum, going forward, to be at a high point.
Greece is back.
Heading into Euro 2012, there wasn’t much at all in the way of discounting France as a legitimate contender for the crown.
France entered the tournament riding an unbeaten streak of over 20-plus victories, including friendlies and qualifiers.
However, France’s wishy-washy, roller-coaster ride has surprised many. A 1-1 draw against England to open the tournament didn’t excite many who thought France was the better team of the two. France came back to defeat Ukraine, 2-0, in its second match during the group stage, looking like the team critics thought that would roll through to the quarterfinals.
However, just when you thought France was back on track, the team dropped a shocking 2-0 upset to Sweden to close out the group stage. Ukraine lost to England, giving France a second-place finish in Group D and a chance to advance further.
The question with France is which team is going to show up. Will it be the team that dominated heading into Euro 2012, or the team we are seeing right now?
Only time will tell.
Currently riding a five-match unbeaten streak, it’s hard not to like England going forward in Euro 2012.
England has overachieved during the tournament, led by a new coach, Roy Hodgson, while also missing two of its best players due to injury.
However, after Wayne Rooney returned from a two-game suspension, the offense started to click and it’s been full-steam ahead ever since.
It’s not to say, though, that England has pummeled its opponents in the process. The club had to squeak out all three group-stage victories to advance to the quarterfinals.
Still, if it can create more offensive production and contain its opponent defensively, England could be a surprising contender before everything’s said and done.
Italy entered Euro 2012 on such a negative slope, anchored by three consecutive losses in international friendlies and a match-fixing scandal, that many didn’t expect the team to make it out of the group stage.
However, Italy finished in second place in Group C and is now on the brink of making serious things happen.
Led by Andrea Pirlo and Antonio Cassano, Italy can score. However, if Italy is going to advance, it will be on the back of its consistency to keep the ball away from the opposition and the fluidity of its defensive unit as a whole.
Look for Italy to challenge England’s offensive attack when the two square off this weekend in the quarterfinals.
After sealing a 2-1 victory over the Netherlands to occupy one of the last remaining spots in the quarterfinals, Portugal continued to ride the hot streak of one of the best players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo scored his third goal in two games when he capitalized on a header in the 79th minute against the Czech Republic, Thursday, to help Portugal advance to the semifinals with a 1-0 victory.
Posing a formidable offense and adequate defensive attack, Portugal looks ready to make some noise as one of the few remaining contenders in the tournament.
Look for Portugal to muster up everything it has next Wednesday when the team takes on either Spain or France.
Spain looks to repeat as European champions after winning in 2008 in a 1-0 finals thriller over Germany.
After hitting a snag early on against Italy, Spain recovered by slamming Ireland, 4-0, before squeezing out a 1-0 victory over Croatia to close out the group stage.
Led by David Silva, who has shown that he’s capable of scoring at any moment, Spain looks like it’s clicking on all cylinders. Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta lead a talented midfield that is expected to take control of games when the team needs them to.
Spain have been on fire during these Euro 2012 games, so if you’re a fan of any other team remaining…look out.
Germany entered Euro 2012 hyped as the team to beat.
At this stage of the tournament, they’ve more than just held their own and are now on the cusp of capturing the title.
Germany won all three group matches in a gauntlet that featured Portugal, Denmark and Holland.
Lukas Podolski and Mario Gomez lead a spectacular forward line that has racked up goals throughout the tournament. Even though Mesut Ozil has struggled during Euro 2012, he is a guy who can turn it on at any time and instantly become an offensive threat.
The key for Germany will be its ability to stay aggressive and attack the ball.
Look for Germany to continue its hot play against Greece Friday during a quarter-final match and to be in the hunt before the tournament wraps up.