The first 12 days and 24 games of UEFA EURO 2012 have brought glorious goals, memorable matches and fantastic fightbacks as the field was halved from 16 to eight. Only the weather has failed to play ball but the contrast between blazing sun and thunderstorms has merely added to the drama. As well as it can, UEFA.com picks through the best of a group stage that, for the first time since the competition was expanded to 16 teams, had a goal in every game.
Germany v Spain II
Since the advent of the group stage in 1980, the eight UEFA European Championships have had eight different final fixtures. But what odds on Spain and Germany meeting in Kyiv on 1 July four years after Fernando Torres' strike earned La Roja UEFA EURO 2008 glory? Neither side has made serene progress (more on that below), even if Germany were the only team to win three out of three in the group stage. Yet at their best there have been few better. Spain are as hypnotising with their passing as ever and Germany's more direct style, which can be just as entrancing, continues to evolve.
Who needs luck?
Benjamin Franklin said diligence is the mother of good luck but fortune at UEFA EURO 2012 can perhaps trace a different lineage. How different would Germany's campaign have been if Pepe's header had not come back off the bar, if Robin van Persie had taken either of his early chances for the Netherlands, if Denmark's Jakob Poulsen had shaved the other side of the post? And what of Spain? Had Ivan Rakitić's header evaded Iker Casillas on Monday it could have been impressive Croatia who topped Group C. Luck conquers all, but some sooner than others.
Greece lightning striking twice?
Eight years ago Otto Rehhagel's 100-1 outsiders were dismissed time and again – it almost took the sight of Theodoris Zagorakis lifting the trophy before some grudgingly admitted they had a chance. Fernando Santos's team have been similarly overlooked but the emphasis on team spirit, compensating for the shortage of star names, is as strong now as it was in 2004. Not many sides would have battled from a goal and a man down to get a point against Poland on the opening day, while the clinical manner in which they dispatched Russia to seal progress was eerily familiar.
France and Italy have been a pale imitation of their former selves since meeting in the 2006 FIFA World Cup final. Yet amid conditions more akin to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein than a football match, France lurched back to life with an impressive 2-0 victory over Ukraine in Donetsk, before a setback against Sweden. Italy, meanwhile, proved it is never too late to change as after a sound opening-day draw against Spain they switched from a 3-5-2 formation to 4-1-3-2 and duly picked up four points from meetings with Croatia and the Republic of Ireland.
The writing was on the wall for the Czech Republic when Russia swept them aside 4-1 on the opening day. They dusted themselves off, and eight days and six points later sealed progress with a negative goal difference, as they did in 1996 when they reached the final. Interestingly, one team from every group was eliminated despite winning their first game. In the last eight the Czechs will face a Portugal side who also displayed impressive powers of recovery after defeat by Germany – the only other time they lost their tournament opener they, too, reached the final, in 2004. Something has to give.
Cristiano Ronaldo sealed Portugal's progress with an irresistible performance against the Netherlands, Danny Welbeck's audacious flick to spoil Sweden's comeback lit the fuse on England's campaign while Zlatan Ibrahimović said goodbye in stunning style. Poland and Ukraine brought the loudest cheers, however. Jakub Błaszczykowski's spectacular equaliser versus Russia is among the goals of the tournament. And how impressive was Andriy Shevchenko against Sweden, rolling back the years with a pair of fantastic headers in a rousing comeback?
That those heroic efforts were not enough for either team to survive is testament to a tournament that has been high on quality and drama – and it is not over yet.
0 – This is the first 16-team group stage in UEFA European Championship tournament history that has had no goalless draws.
1 – The Netherlands had never lost more than one group-stage match at a EURO before they lost all three here.
2 – Matches Wayne Rooney missed through suspension before returning to action with the goal that confirmed England's place in the quarters.
3 – Hélder Postiga, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimović joined a list of only seven players to score at three UEFA European Championships, after Jürgen Klinsmann, Vladimír Šmicer, Nuno Gomes, Thierry Henry.
6 – Minutes it took the Czech Republic to score two goals against Greece – no side had previously struck two before the 14th minute at a UEFA European Championship.
15 – Seconds Ukraine's Andriy Shevchenko had the ball against Sweden – more than enough time to score twice. Germany's Mario Gomez dallied for three seconds longer for his double against the Netherlands.
17 – Number of headed goals at UEFA EURO 2012, already a UEFA European Championship record.
18 – Jetro Willems became the youngest player to grace a EURO final tournament against Denmark, aged 18 years and 72 days.
26 – First-half goals at UEFA EURO 2012, already one more than four years ago.
73 – Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni became the oldest coach to grace a UEFA European Championship aged 73 years and 93 days.
810 – Passes completed by Spain against Ireland, a new mark for a EURO game, with Xavi Hernandez alone contributing a record 127. Their opponents managed 198.
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