As EURO 2012 takes a day off, it gives a chance to look back on what we've seen in the Group Stage and look ahead to the matchups in the quarterfinals.
The Group Stage of UEFA EURO 2012 was one of the most enjoyable at a major tournament in recent memory. The standard of play was good, there were many close encounters and every match mattered. In the final round of group matches, there wasn't a single game that didn't have some meaning with regards to quarterfinal qualification.
Of course, the fact that there wasn't a scoreless draw also helped, but overall it was a great 12 days of action.
Best Game: The match I enjoyed watching the most during the group stage was Spain against Italy. There were matches that had more goals, but this one stood out because of the quality of the two teams. Both sides played well and were full of top players who were on form. For me, the 1-1 tie was the highest quality of soccer that we have seen so far.
Best Goal: There were some goals of very high quality during the group stage, but the best was saved for the final match in group play. My vote for best goal so far goes to Zlatan Ibrahimovic with his fantastic finish to give Sweden the lead against France. Jakub Blaszczykowski's strike for co-host Poland against Russia was a close second.
Biggest Surprise: Expectations for England were so low heading into the tournament that I didn't even expect them to get out of the Group Stage. The fact they went through as group winners was a major surprise. They found a way to get the job done and the biggest positive is the way in which they seem to be together as a team. The spirit in the camp is strong and Roy Hodgson deserves big credit for what he has achieved in his early days as England manager.
Golden Moment: Andriy Shevchenko's double against Sweden to seal victory in the co-hosts opening match is a moment that will never be forgotten in Ukraine. Seeing him celebrating with the Ukraine fans at Olympic Stadium in Kiev following the match was incredible, especially as it was his final major tournament.
Biggest Disappointment: The Netherlands. They played as individuals not as a team and they got what they deserved. Nothing.
The Ugly: Hopefully this is the last major tournament without goal-line technology. It's just not acceptable to have the ball cross the line and it not be given a goal. FIFA meets early next month and is expected to rubber stamp the use of technology, and it can't come soon enough.
Predicting the Quarters
Czech Republic v Portugal – Hopefully this will be quite an open match between two teams that like to get forward. If Cristiano Ronaldo performs as he did in Portugal's last match of the group stage against the Netherlands, they should have too much for the Czechs. My prediction: Portugal win
Germany v Greece – Greece deserve immense credit for managing to get to the knockout stage, but their chances of beating Germany are very slim. The Germans are the only team to win all three of their matches in the group stage. They seem to be gaining momentum as the tournament progresses, and should have enough to break down a resolute Greek team. My prediction: Germany win
Spain v France – If France play as they did against Sweden in the final group match, they will get beaten. However, we have seen enough from France in the first two matches of the tournament to suggest that the Swedish match was a one off and that they can match up well with Spain. It took Spain a long time to break down Croatia in their final group match, and I think this one will be pretty close. It could even go down to a penalty shootout. My prediction: Spain win
England v Italy – England will be defensive. They don't have as much quality within their lineup as the Italians, but they do have the ability to make it difficult for their opposition and grind out results. Whether England will have enough to break down a formidable Italy defence remains to be seen, but I think this one could go the distance with the score-line tied after 90 minutes. In the end, Italy will have too much in attack for England. Mario Balotelli to score the winner in extra time? My prediction: Italy win