POZNAN, POLAND - JUNE 14: Mario Mandzukic of Croatia celebrates scoring their first goal with Darijo Srna of Croatia during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C match between Italy and Croatia at The Municipal Stadium on June 14, 2012 in Poznan, Poland. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
We're staring at the final group stage matches, and with as much as we know about Euro 2012, there is so much we don't know. So how do the 16 teams stack up?
When you watch the matches at Euro 2012, it's clear that there are gaps between the good at the bad teams. Then you look at the tables and realize, "Whoa, everyone (except Ireland and Sweden, poor dears) is still in and nobody is getting separation." Conclusion: The whole tournament is fake, or something like that.
We thought we had learned all that we needed to know about this tournament four days ago, but now we see that the tournament has a lot more than adorable cheering Ukrainian children. For example, everything we learned in the past year of watching the Premier League is a lie (Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll), Lionel Messi is somehow involved in the egg that Cristiano Ronaldo laid against Denmark, and that without adorable Ukrainian children cheering on Ukraine they lack their superpower.
But what does all of that tell us? Now that we have seen 16 matches in the last eight days, let's rank the teams of Euro 2012 from 1-16 and find out.
1. Germany -- The Germans continue to befuddle because they are undoubtedly good and they are getting the results they want with six points from two matches, but it's impossible to not feel as if they can do better. They gave a flash of just how good they can be against the Netherlands in going up 2-0, but then they fell asleep.
The big question for Germany is what to do about Lukas Podolski. He's the weak link in their attack and every time he stubs his toe Andres Schurrle is sitting on the bench unsure whether to laugh or cry. Meanwhile, Bastian Schweinsteiger grabbed his hamstring last match and Jerome Boateng still isn't a fullback.
Questions and concerns, but Germany are perfect so far with two wins against two good teams. They have set the bar absurdly high.
2. Spain -- Putting the Spaniards atop the rankings would be fine. The only real question is whether Ireland are awful or the awfulest, and how that affects what you think of Spain's dominating win last time out. Outside of that, all is looking good for Spain, who had better movement in the final third than they have had in years.
Questions to ponder: What did Fernando Llorente do to Vicente del Bosque that he can't get on the field? Is del Bosque still upset that Scar was thrown off of the cliff and left for the hyenas to kill him?
3. Croatia -- Problems for Croatia: They have to play Spain in their next match and need a result to advance; their fans really like flares.
Good things for Croatia: Luka Modric; their checkerboard jerseys; Mario Mandzukic; their fans really like flares; everything else.
4. France -- Laurent Blanc better thank the person who put out the APB for Karim Benzema, because after going missing in France's opener he turned in a gem against Ukraine. He picked up two assists, held the ball up magnificently and gave the French a presence up top that they sorely lacked against England. With Yohan Cabaye also playing much better France had the central play to compliment their always excellent flank play.
There are still questions about France's defense, but they have enough going forward to ease some of those concerns. Yann M'Vila came on for 20 minutes against Ukraine, and if he can get healthy in time for the knockout stages then there is an extra guard for the France defense, giving them a legitimate chance at a deep run in a tournament. Maybe as importantly, the France are not embarrassing themselves for the first time since Marco Materazzi said things about Zinedine Zidane's sister that were the opposite of nice.
5. Russia -- It is very clear that Ireland have no luck, and it might be because Russia stole it all (or Roman Abramovich bought it from them). Russia had no business drawing against Poland after turning in a terrible 90 minutes, but they got a point and are top of Group A. Maybe they deserve credit for getting a result when they played terribly, or maybe it was indicative of how terrible they are. More likely, Poland were terrified of what would happen if they beat the Russians in Russia.
6. Italy -- Having just two points doesn't look impressive, but they got results against the teams ranked second and third in our rankings. No team has played two teams as good as the Italians and they got something out of both -- without fixing either match (we think).
In a development that smacks all of Italian soccer history in the face, it is the defense that has given the Azzurri the biggest of problems. How Giorgio Chiellini is considered an elite Italian defender is something nobody can explain, but they are looking very good elsewhere. Additionally, they are still causing straight men everywhere to reconsider their sexuality.
7. Portugal -- Nobody was happier to see Silvestre Varela score in the 87th minute and deliver Portugal a win than Cristiano Ronaldo. He was as bad as he has ever been against Denmark, and it wasn't just his several missed opportunities in front of goal. He gave the ball away in the midfield and didn't even pretend he was going to track back, which is what gave the Danes their second goal. Had Portugal not won then he would have been roasted. (Side note: How does Lionel Messi get more flack for his play for Argentina than Ronaldo gets for his play for Portugal?)
What is encouraging for Portugal is the performances they are getting from the rest of their team. Pepe has turned in consecutive strong games and Fabio Coentrao was tremendous against Denmark. If Ronaldo remembers that he's one of the best players to ever play the game then this Portugal team gets very dangerous.
8. England -- For all of the criticism of the Three Lions and Roy Hodgson for playing boring and defensive soccer, they have made things interesting in both matches. Both times they have given up leads, but against Sweden they did a great job of coming back to get a win out of it anyways. Full credit there goes to Theo Walcott, who keyed the comeback, even if Danny Welbeck's finish is what dropped your jaw.
Now this fella by the name of Wayne Rooney comes back from suspension. Things are about to get really fun.
9. Poland -- There is no doubt that Poland deserved three points against Russia, but they are still a win away from the knockout stages and Robert Lewandowski hasn't really gotten going yet. Fans everywhere are also obligated to root for them under the Constitution of the Fan, Article II, Subsection 4.2 which reads: "All fans shall root for the hosts unless they are a fan of the team opposing the hosts, under punishment of flat beer."
10. Denmark -- This tournament has been a big "what if" for Denmark so far, specifically, "What if Christian Eriksen played well?" The Danes' best player hasn't been very good, and it has shown in their lack of creativity going forward. Nicklas Bendtner saved them against Portugal with a brace, but the defense didn't hold up and they gave up a late winner.
The result is a match against Germany in which they need at least a draw and maybe a win. Ouch.
11. Netherlands -- The Dutch at Euro 2012 are just like the French at the 2010 World Cup, only they are more talented and can keep things from getting too embarrassing. But a loss against Portugal, which would send them out of the tournament without a point, would push them across that "incredibly embarrassing" line.
On the plus side, nobody has punched another player yet. The bookies don't think that one will hold up through the end of the tournament, though.
12. Ukraine -- Their effort, their fans and the revival of Andriy Shevchenko has been inspiring, but they just don't have the quality. Thankfully, we didn't have to see Ukrainian children crying after France was done stomping them.
13. Czech Republic -- The best cure for a bad team is playing a fellow bad team who is short-handed. The Czechs got the Greeks, but unfortunately for them, they can't play Greece again.
14. Sweden -- The Netherlands are getting all of the attention for being disappointing, but Sweden should be in the discussion. They have talent: They dominated in qualifying and were in good form coming in. There is no excuse for being as bad as they have been. But if the gods decided that they were already too pretty a people and didn't need to be good at soccer, too, then all is right with the world.
15. Greece -- It's OK, guys, you won Euro in 2004! [Repeat for the next 40 years]
16. Ireland -- Poor Ireland. They are the kid in Little League who doesn't even like sports, but his parents make him play and he pitches because his dad is the coach. Meanwhile, we all cringe.