The group stage has concluded and we now move to the knockout stages. Draws are no longer an option. Any match that is tied after 90 minutes will play an additional 30 minutes and if still tied after that will go to a penalty shootout. There have been a few surprises thus far; Russia didn't make it through, Greece did, and Holland not only didn't make it through but lost all three matches.
So, the quarterfinals. On paper, Germany should take Greece to the cleaners. Portugal will also be favored against the Czech Republic. The other two quarterfinal match ups are the ones I am more looking forward to with Spain playing France and Italy taking on England. Spain v France probably has the greatest potential for quality unless you think France's form from the match they just lost to Sweden is going to carry over because they were heinous. England also did not look good at all in their last match. The Ukraine was all over them like a duck on a junebug. England's goal, and their victory, were both extremely fortunate.
Boateng (Germany), and Karagounis (Greece) are the two most prominent players to miss the next match due to accumulating two yellow cards. Also, important players that may be out injured include Rosicky (Czech Republic), Chiellini (Italy) and Cabaye (France).
The semis are set up for some possibly massive clashes. Spain v Portugal and Germany v England being the most gargantuan of possibilities. Mercy. Spain and Germany, the pre-tournament favorites, are still on course to meet in the final.
I think it's been a great tournament so far, aside from Ireland, though the better of the group stage games came in the first two rounds of matches. Top goals of the tournament for me so far: Welbeck against Sweden, Ibrahimovic against France, Balotelli against Ireland, Varela against Denmark, Blaszczyokwski against Russia and Pavlyuchenko against Czech Republic. Honorable mention to Carroll's header against Sweden and Pirlo's free kick against Croatia.
A few thoughts:
- There has not been a 0-0 draw yet
- Pirlo scored the first Euro goal from a free kick since 2004
- There has only been one penalty kick so far and it was saved (or missed depending on how you look at it)
- Mario Balotelli is always entertaining and looks as likely as ever to do something crazy
- Contrary to what a novice soccer watcher may think I have been heartened by the relative lack of diving thus far. Of course, that could change and the diving could get crazy as the pressure of the games gets ratcheted up. (Yes, Portugal. I'm talking about you.)
What's that? You want to know how my fantasy team is doing? Well, thanks for asking. I am now sitting in a tie for 43rd place, which is about 20,000 places higher than I have ever been in one of these kinds of fantasy leagues. (this one is ESPN)(I still can't figure out how many people have entered the stupid thing but wouldn't mind knowing. Anyone?) There are still two more chances to pick teams, once for the quarterfinals and then another time for the semifinals and finals combined. I suppose that last time picking is going to be extra crucial because you're going to have to try to pick players that will be on the teams that make it to the finals and if you get it wrong you will be screwed.
In the bracket prediction challenge I have Germany beating Spain in the final even though I'd rather see Spain win it. Who you got?
The schedule is (all matches start at 1:45pm central time):
Thursday, June 21st, ESPN, Czech Republic v Portugal
Friday, June 22nd, ESPN, Germany v Greece
Saturday, June 23rd, ESPN 2, Spain v France
Sunday, June 24th, ESPN, England v Italy
Wednesday, June 27th, ESPN, winner of Portugal/Czech v winner of Spain/France
Thursday, June 28th, ESPN, winner of Germany/Greece v winner of England/Italy
Sunday, July 1st, ESPN, FINAL