The Euro 2012 group stages are a wrap, meaning that only seven matches remain in the tournament. Are you done crying yet? Good, because you have to get it together for the knockout stages. The group stages were all kinds of crazy and with elimination on the line in every match from this point forward the craziness will only increase tenfold.
Odds are that the rest of the way we will see more headed goals because that's what all the cool kids are doing, the world will explode if either Germany or Spain lose before the final and Kasey Keller will still fail to pronounce 40% of names he attempts. On the flip side, we won't see Luka Modric (boo!), Ireland (yay!), Ireland's fans (boo!), Nicklas Bentdner's half-naked body (your choice) or fun hosts (boo!).
1. Germany- There's little reason to drop a team that has the best defender in the tournament (Mats Hummels), maybe the best striker (Mario Gomez) and a central midfielder who might be the best two-way player in the tournament (Bastian Schweinsteiger). Not a bad spine.
2. Spain- They have been very good at passing for a very long time, but it looks like they might actually be good at scoring again. That's a whole new development and maybe makes up for Sergio Ramos as a central defender.
If Spain really want to score at a decent clip and make them bearable to watch then they will need to sort out their striker situation. Fernando Torres was good for one match, but that's not enough. Meanwhile, Fernando Llorente sits on the bench as the team's best striker because of some prejudice Vicente del Bosque has against the Lion King. He must be an Aladdin guy.
3. Croatia- They played three good matches, two of them against very good teams. If they were in another group they would most certainly be through to the quarterfinals. They might even be through their group if they even had a different schedule of matches. Having to play Spain last needing a result as opposed to in the opener makes a huge difference and might have been their ticket out of the tournament.
Now the Croats are out and we will remember them fondly. There were the flares, Modric, the checkerboard jerseys, Mario Mandzukic and the flares. A melancholy ciao, Croatia.
4. Portugal- No other team except for maybe Croatia can claim to have played as many good minutes in this tournament against high quality competition. Amazingly, they have done it with Cristiano Ronaldo playing inconsistent at best. With the quality of play they are getting from Pepe, Nani and Fabio Coentrao, they are some vintage Ronaldo play from having a chance to maybe win the whole thing. That or Helder Postiga playing like a top notch striker, but you can't ask for the impossible.
5. Italy- Full credit for overcoming the match-fixing scandal and the adversity that came with it, but Giorgio Chiellini is a vital piece to the defense? He is the most average defender there is and he is vital to their defense? Is this the same azzurri that dots the history books? Next think you know they will have have decent spaghetti and their trains will only be 10 minutes late.
6. England- Is Roy Hodgson the best England manager since Terry Venables? Consider that the last time the Three Lions made a semifinal was back in 1996, under Venables, and since every England manage has made it just as far as Roy has this England team, only they all did it with more talent.
If England somehow manage to get through Italy, Hodgson will be a hero. But does he get extra credit for making it this far with James F**KING Milner starting or less credit for starting James F**KING Milner?
7. Denmark- The Danes exit the tournament wondering what could have been had Christian Eriksen played well? Still, they beat the Netherlands, they were minutes away from a draw with Portugal and gave Germany a very tough time. Consider their level of play in those three matches and the quality of team they played. It was a very impressive tournament for Denmark. And if Eriksen had played well...
8. France- At their best, France looked capable of winning the tournament. They also have enough quality midfielders to go toe-to-toe with Spain, which gives them a chance in the quarterfinals to pull a stunner.
But then there is also their worst, which was on display against England and Sweden (especially Sweden). That team would struggle to beat the Big Green (the bad Big Green at the beginning of the movie, not the team at the end that would have won the World Cup if not for their winning goal being disallowed by some poor refereeing and the absence of goal line technology).
9. Ukraine- The co-hosts are out and Andriy Shevchenko has brought down the curtain on his international career. They gave us some fantastic moments, like Shevchenko coming back as a mummy and looking incredibly human, still the most adorable impossibly excited child ever and a jersey only a countryman could love.
Quietly, they also played well. That opening win versus Sweden will not be forgotten, but their fine play versus England will be. It shouldn't because they played over their talent level and gave us some thrills, but it will. They also looked nothing like a team that weren't good enough to compete, as some suggested before the tournament. Chalk it up to underestimation or the help of the home crowd, whatever. It was fun.
10. Czech Republic- Yeah, they're through to the quarterfinals, but they were good for maybe 100 minutes in the group stage. Point totals lie, especially in a short tournament. The Czechs lie. LIARS!
11. Greece- Nobody roots for them, but some people get oddly excited to say, "they won it in 2004 on 1-0 score lines and they are doing it again. Look how smart I am saying things like this and people only kind of want to punch me in the face." No, people really want to punch you in the face. Nobody likes Greece.
12. Russia- What is the trophy for the most disappointing team of the tournament? Is it an iPad with a running stream of the European debt and value of the Euro? Russia gets that. They get like 50 of that. And they don't get to watch it drunk so it never becomes funny.
13. Sweden- The second most disappointing team of the tournament. Their thrashing of France showed just how good they can be and why anyone who doesn't like Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a fun hater who hates puppies and rainbows (ALL HAIL ZLATAN). Then there was the rest of the tournament. Their being Swedish, a land full of beautiful people and beautiful teams makes it impossible to feel bad for them, though.
14. Netherlands- I would suggest a cage fight to the death as punishment for their awful showing, but with all the infighting in the Dutch camp they might actually enjoy that. Eh, screw it. Battle royale!
15. Poland- The other hosts. Sad like Ukraine, but with less quality, which makes no sense since they are the more talented team. Maybe if they had an adorable, impossibly happy child they would have had similar success. Take notes, Poland. Next time you host, find that kid, and the Robert Lewandowski that was a great striker on June 7.
16. Ireland- The kid who is only playing Little League because his parents made him just struck out. And he went down swinging at the last pitch, which hit him. He's in the corner of the dugout crying. Poor Ireland.