We’re through the first two games of the elimination round at Euro 2012. It hasn’t been a great tournament, but there have certainly been highlights. Here’s a look at five of the biggest surprises or disappointments of the tournament so far:
I don’t want to sound like I knew exactly how things were going to turn out because I didn’t. I did have some real concerns about this team heading into this tournament, though.
On paper they are talented enough — clearly the third-best in the tournament behind the twin powerhouses from Germany and Spain.
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There was a couple of things they lacked, though.
For one, their leadership was a real question, and that has proven to be an unknown. More significantly, though, this team has had a hard time proving that they are tough enough to consistently compete at their potential, and there was no good reason I could see to believe that this year would be different.
As uneasy as I was about the team, though, I didn’t expect them to be as troubled as they have been.
They outplayed Denmark in their opener, but when they fell behind it’s as if they quit believing that they could win. They basically quit. Their 2-1 loss to Germany was as flattering as a score can possibly be because that game was the furthest thing from close.
A team that should have been able to cruise into the elimination round and then do some damage when they got there is now almost certain to be on the outside looking in, and they have no one to blame but themselves.
This is a surprise even for a team that always seems to find a way to disappoint.
The flat play
This hasn’t been a bad tournament by any means, but it has yet to be the classic that it had the potential to be. Big teams came out flat in their opening games.
There have been some blowout games that have been anything but interesting. The upsets that have happened have been as much about lousy play and poor decisions by the favorites as by plucky underdog efforts.
All in all I just hope that the second half of the tournament is more interesting and exciting than the first half largely has been.
It’s hard to believe that there was ever a debate around Gomez. The German striker is among the hottest goal scorers on the planet these days, but he doesn’t have the experience or leadership potential of Miroslav Klose, so German coach Joachim Loew faced a very controversial decision over who to start. In the end he went with Gomez, and it has paid off handsomely.
He has scored all three German goals, and has been a commanding, intimidating presence. It’s quite possible that Klose would be shining as well if he had been given the starting opportunity, but there is no way you can now be critical of Loew and his choice.
We knew Gomez was good, but he is showing just how good he can be at this level.
The Croatians qualify as the biggest surprise so far as they are tied with Spain atop the Group C standings. They easily dispatched the outclassed squad from Ireland, and then they showed incredible heart and opportunism to come back against Italy to earn a 1-1 draw.
They were given no respect in this group, but they have played very well.
Unfortunately, they need to be careful or it could all mean nothing.
Italy is likely to beat Ireland, so Croatia needs to find a way to earn a draw against Spain — or a win, of course — or they could wind up with nothing but memories after the first round.
Shevchenko is a legend in Ukraine — the captain and their most successful offensive player ever by a wide margin. He’s 35, though, and certainly in the waning days of his career.
It was hard to believe that he or his team could be particularly competitive in this tournament despite playing at home.
In their opener against Sweden, though, Shevchenko looked like he was a decade younger. He scored two goals and drove the crowd into a frenzy en route to a win. It was the greatest moment of the tournament so far.
Unfortunately the magic couldn’t spill over into the second game as he was silenced against France in a 2-0 loss.
Now he faces an absolutely crucial test against England. If he can score again en route to another win there then he could find his face on the flag of his country.
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