After 24 thrilling matches, the group stages of the European Championships are finally complete, and half of the participants are heading home. Russia, Poland, Denmark, Holland, Croatia, Republic of Ireland, Ukraine and Sweden failed to finish in the top two spots in their respective groups, and subsequently were eliminated. However, eight teams remain in the competition, and are all only 3 games away from being crowned European champions.
Czech Republic (Group A, 1st) v Portugal (Group B, 2nd)
The Czechs suffered an early setback as Russia totally outclassed them in the first match and defeated them 4-1. However, they came back stronger, and put in a high-calibre performance against a seemingly weak Greek side. They then sealed their spot in the knockout stages by beating Poland. It wasn’t the likes of Rosicky and Baros, known to followers of the Premier League, who caused problems for their opponents, instead it was the rugged powerhouse Petr Jiracek and the pocket-sized playmaker Vaclav Pilar who netted twice each, earning rave reviews in the process. Theodor Gebre Selassie also gained many admirers for his athleticism and positional sense at right-back. Portugal on the other hand were placed in the ‘Group of Death’, and faced a tough route to the knockout stages. Cristiano Ronaldo confounded his doubters with impressive performances against Denmark and Holland, who they beat 3-2 and 2-1 respectively, having fallen 1-0 to eventual group toppers Germany in their first match. Ronaldo is a player undoubtedly capable of making the difference against Czech Republic, and you wouldn’t bet against him doing so, but the Portuguese must be wary of the attacking threats provided by Jiracek and Pilar.
Germany (Group B, 1st) v Greece (Group A, 2nd)
The Germans took Group B by storm, and finished the group stage as the only nation to have won all three of their matches. Mario Gomez’s predatory instinct secured crucial goals for them, while Schweinsteiger and Ozil contributed heavily from midfield, pulling the strings. They showed defensive rigidity, conceding a mere two goals, with Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber looking solid in the centre, and Philip Lahm looking impressive as ever at right-back. They take on Greece, who were perhaps fortunate to progress from the group stages. They managed to claw back a draw against co-hosts Poland in their first match, but looked unimpressive in doing so. Their second match saw them outclassed by the Czechs, and they entered the final match bottom of the group, with a single point. They had luck on their side against group leaders Russia, and scraped a 1-0 victory. Their defensive style of play perhaps undermined their ability, as they were considered one of the weakest teams in the tournament both before it commenced, and after the first two games had been played. However, Germany’s huge amount of firepower will surely be able to overcome a Greek back line which has been rotated heavily due to injuries and suspensions.