For two years, teams play match after match. Some of them are watched by millions, others are playing on something akin to a high school field in Andorra. Some feature the world's best teams like Germany and Spain, others feature players that stretch the definition of the word "professional".
By the time it is all done, there are 16 teams left. Those 16 showed up to Ukraine and Poland for 31 matches with one goal -- to crown the champion of Europe.
That is a simple goal and one that defines Euro 2012, but there is so much more to it than winners and losers. Euro is three weeks of soccer, some of it beautiful, some of it less so, but it is all three weeks of moments and memories. Like Spain finally breaking through in 2008, Greece shocking the world in 2004 or even Paul Gascoigne's stunning goal against Scotland in 1996 or Michel Platini's nine goals in 1984, Euro creates moments that will never be forgotten.
With just three matches to go in Euro 2012, the tournament has thrilled with fantastic matches and consistent drama that is unmatched by any major tournament in the last decade. It has also had its fair share of moments that have made their way into world soccer lore. Here are the top 10 moments of Euro 2012 so far:
10. Bye Bye, England
Euro 2012 has been one of the oddest tournaments in recent memory. Every time it seemed like we knew something more than Spain and Germany are really good, Ireland is really bad, it got blown to smithereens.
The Czech Republic has no chance, except it did. Italy was too overwhelmed by its match-fixing scandal, but it wasn't. The authorities would never let Russians march through the streets of Warsaw in Russia because duh, but they did. Bastian Schweinsteiger didn't have it, but he did, and then he didn't again. Headed goals are super cool. Georgios Samaras was allowed to score a goal.
Nothing at all made sense and it could have all been a dream. Then in the last of four quarterfinals, England took on Italy and was dominated. It should have gone out in regular time, then again in extra time. Instead, it went all the way to penalties and lost there, restoring order to the soccer world as the Three Lions' Euros ended at the spot. In a tournament we weren't sure is real, we got confirmation that it is.
9. Zlatan Ibrahimovic Makes Sweden's Trip To Euro Worth It
Sweden is talented. It has Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kim Kallstrom, Sebastian Larsson, Johan Elmander and Ola Toivonen, among others. That's not a group of players that will win the tournament, but it's a good team that could make a run with some fortune. Naturally, it went out and gave up leads in each of its first two matches en route to two losses and being eliminated before it even kicked off its final group stage match.
Basically, Sweden didn't bother showing up to the tournament. Its being in Ukraine was a waste, at least until Ibrahimovic made all of it worth it with one goal.
Sweden is a beautiful people and doesn't need sporting success to succeed at life like the rest of the world. Even still, all hail Zlatan.
8. Silvestre Varela Saves Cristiano Ronaldo And Portugal
After losing its first match, Portugal was desperate for a result in its second match against Denmark. All eyes were on the Portuguese, a fan and media favorite to heap criticism in part because of its superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo.
The world's second-best player never got a lot of slack and surely wasn't going to as he put in a dreadful 90 minutes against Denmark. He missed several golden opportunities and didn't both putting in any work defensively. As Denmark erased Portugal's 2-0 lead, people began sharpening their daggers for Ronaldo.
But off the bench came Silvestre Varela and within a minute he netted a tremendous match-winner. Portugal was saved with a dramatic winner. Ronaldo was saved. And all of it thanks to Varela, of all people.
7. From The Bench To Hero, Przemyslaw Tyton's Penalty Save
Leading 1-0 in the opening match of the tournament in front of a raucous home crowd, everything was looking good for Poland. Oh, and it was playing notoriously defensive Greece. Chalk up three points, right? Wrong.
Greece scored to level with Poland and was on the front foot, threatening to spoil the co-hosts' party. Then things went from bad to worse for Poland when Wojciech Szczesny didn't just give up a penalty, but was also shown a red card for his rash tackle.
The Poles were done. Greece was going to convert the penalty and Poland would have no chance to equalize down a man. Off the bench came a cold Przemyslaw Tyton to replace Szczesny, the man chosen to stand between the sticks and watch Greece score the winning goal. Someone forgot to inform Tyton of the script, though. The substitute made a great save on the penalty fresh off the bench and reignited the home crowd. He also kicked off an improbable and outright crazy tournament.
6. Danny Welbeck Rescues England
Expectations for England at Euro 2012 were low. The Fabio Capello saga left them without a manager with two months to go before the tournament got underway, they had underwhelming talents, they were missing several players due to injury and Wayne Rooney would miss the first two matches through suspension. All of that made them a popular pick to go out in the group stage, and with Roy Hodgson as manager, they would probably do so without the least bit of excitement.
Down 2-1 to Sweden in its second group stage match, England had succeeded in both being boring and likely going out in the group stage, but then Theo Walcott leveled. The Three Lions' chances were getting better, but a draw would still put them in a precarious position.
Enter Danny Welbeck. The 21-year-old scored a jaw-dropping spinning back heel volley to deliver England a 3-2 win. It was well on its way to the quarterfinals. In a tournament in which England tried its best to put everyone to sleep, Welbeck had given the Three Lions at least one highlight from Ukraine. England may have been a bore, but Welbeck won the fun game.
5. So That's Why They Keep Mario Around
Why would any team put up with a player who drives to a women's prison to "have a look around", throws darts at youth team players, sets his house on fire with fireworks and struggles to put a bib on? For one, he's hilarious and you wish you were friends with him. Two, because he can do things like this.
Needing a win over Ireland to book its spot in the quarterfinals, Italy had a precarious 1-0 lead. Then Mario Balotelli blew your mind with this bit of ridiculousness (the good kind instead of his other kind) and boom, Italy is a quarterfinalist.
4. Cristiano Ronaldo Takes The Spotlight And Portugal To The Semifinals
After his dreadful match against Denmark, Cristiano Ronaldo had turned in two less-than-impressive matches in as many outings at Euro 2012. The team was still alive thanks to some fine play by Pepe, Nani, Joao Moutinho and Silvestre Varela, but people were still waiting on Ronaldo to come through.
Fair or unfair, Ronaldo takes the credit or blame for Portugal's results. Needing a result in its finale against the Netherlands, all eyes were on Ronaldo, who needed to play like the second-best player in the world. He did just that, propelling Portugal to the quarterfinals, which proved to be his showcase.
Against the Czech Republic, Ronaldo was nothing short of brilliant. He was all over the field, playing as a winger, a center forward and as a central creator at different points in the match. But he hit the bar twice and couldn't break through no matter how good he was. All of that changed in the 79th minute, when Ronaldo came flying in to get on the end of Moutinho's cross, powering home a header that proved to be the winning goal.
The rest of the Portugal team was good and nobody will pretend that Ronaldo won the match single-handedly, but Ronaldo's performance against the Czech's was the most dominant performance of the tournament. When he scored, the spotlight was his and the praise rained down upon him, all of it completely deserved.
3. Ireland Fans Singing
Down 4-0 and about to go out of the first Euros they qualified for in 24 years, Ireland fans would have been forgiven if they wallowed away until the referee mercifully blew the final whistle. Instead, they spent the last 10 minutes of the match singing "Fields of Athenry" at a deafening volume. To be far too cheesy, and 100 percent correct, it was everything a fan base should be and everything we love about sports.
2. Pirlo's Pen
It's too bad that Andrea Pirlo is too old, slow and every other reason AC Milan came up with to cast him aside. But on one evening in Kiev against England in the Euro 2012 quarterfinals, Pirlo was 25 years old again. It didn't seem like he ever ran because he didn't have to. In his recognizable jog for 90 minutes of regular time and 30 minutes of extra time, Pirlo was simply exquisite. His passing was sublime and he kept the ball with a slew of mind-boggling little touches that only a handful of other players in the world could pull off. He did it all as robot Pirlo, too, seemingly never breaking a sweat.
Despite his incredible play, Italy couldn't find a goal and was forced to penalty kicks by England. With Riccardo Montolivo having missed his penalty, Italy was behind when Pirlo stepped to the spot.
It unnerved the England kickers, as he admitted he was hoping it would, as Italy came from behind in kicks to advance to the semifinals and it was the perfect cap to a sublime night for Pirlo.
There is no word on whether Pirlo will be charged for the abuse of Joe Hart on that penalty, but a lawsuit for emotional damage is likely.
1. Andriy Shevchenko's Revival And His Biggest Fan
Many soccer fans thought that Andriy Shevchenko had retired, but there he was in Ukraine's first match of Euro 2012. The 35-year-old had spent the last three years relatively anonymous, playing for Dynamo Kiev and waiting for his last hurrah at the Euros in his home country.
Shevchenko has spent years looking forward to this first match at the Euros in Kiev. It was going to be the pinnacle of a long career, but Sweden threatened to ruin it when it scored to go in front, 1-0. The underdog Ukrainians' moment was going to be ruined. Fairy tales are one thing, but reality is another, and Sweden was simply better.
It's a good thing that nobody told Shevchenko that reality wins out. The Ukrainian hero turned back the clock one last time, scoring to level, then scoring a second time to put Ukraine in front. It seemed too good to be true. Shevchenko was a hero one more time and in his home country of all places. They would build a statue in his honor. Had he run for president that day, he would have probably won in a landslide.
Nobody in the entire world has been as beloved as Shevchenko was in that moment. Nobody was happier, either, except for one impossibly excited child -- the child who could even put a smile on the face of the most hardened criminals. One part Shevchenko, one part adorable child and bam, you have the best thing of all of the things.