The 16 best squads that Europe has to offer came to Poland and Ukraine with high hopes. Now, after three games, half of them are headed right back from whence they came.
Like any major tournament, we haven't been short on drama and surprises on the pitch, outside of the stadiums, and in the locker rooms.
1. Spain Are Still the Team to Beat, But it Can be Done
After struggling to break through during a draw against Italy, pundits everywhere were dethroning the defending champs, rather prematurely. All of a sudden Germany was the tournament favorite. But Spain did what Spain does -- dominated possession and found a way to score. They breezed past Ireland and took care of a tough Croatia team in their next matches and secured a spot in the quarterfinals. Here they'll meet a French team much improved from their World Cup infamy. I've called France the only team that can hang with Spain when it comes to technical skills, but that doesn't mean they're on the same level. Expect Spain's opponents to sit back in defense and wait for an opportune time to counterstrike. Croatia were affective in the transition attack and nearly pulled the upset, and you can be sure the world took note.
2. The "Group of Death" Was Aptly Named... Just Ask Holland
Comprising of 4 of the top 10 teams in FIFA's world rankings, Group B was given the foreboding alias we've seen so often in major tournaments. Germany, Portugal, Holland, and Denmark clashed together in the group stage and it lived up to the hype. The Netherlands, runners-up in the last World Cup, hit a Nordic sized speed bump when the tough-as-nails Danish team shocked them 1-0 in their opening match. When the dust had settled and all the games were over, Holland -- once so proud and formidable -- had lost every game. Germany took the group title and Portugal advanced as well, but any of these four teams would have made fine competition in the quarterfinals.
3. The Best Player in the Tournament Has Been Knocked Out
To be sure, there are a lot of great, talented players in the Euro 2012 pool. You can make the case for Christiano Ronaldo. Spain's dynamic midfield duo of Xavi and Iniesta are in the discussion. But one player stands out for me. When this guy has the ball at his feet, it is a formidable and dangerous thing to behold. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedish skipper, is a world class player through and through. No other participant meant more to his team individually. Ibra is enormous, standing at 6'5". Ibra is lightening quick, and he can move the ball with such deft and precision that opponents are forced to keep backing off, and playing safe. Sweden didn't have much to celebrate in the last few weeks, but with the team mathematically eliminated going into their final game against France, their star captain refused to go out quietly. In what would be the goal of the tournament, Ibrahimovic hovered around the edge of the area as a cross was played slightly behind him. He twisted his body to meet it and impossibly swung his hips around just enough to scissor kick the ball perfectly into the corner.
4. Germany Are Just Getting Started
Yes, I did say that Spain are still the team to beat. That certainly doesn't mean they've won anything yet. If any team has a shot to take the crown from them, it's the Germans. A hard fought game against Portugal in their opener may have caused some talking heads to question their mettle. But after seeing their form in the next two wins against Denmark and Holland, there's little left for me to question. Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger look completely in command of the midfield, keeping possession skillfully and creating chances out of nothing. Mario Gomez has been scalding hot up front. When he gets a sniff at goal, he's proven to be one of the best finishers in the world. Phillip Lahm anchors a stingy defense. Throw in a "supporting" cast of Muller, Klose, Kroos, Khedira, Podolski... and you have arguably the most complete team in the final field of 8.