UEFA Euro 2012 Group Stage: Biggest Surprise And Biggest Disappointment
Not surprisingly, viewership is up 82 percent in U.S. from four years ago as we enter the knockout stage of the tournament this afternoon. But in the off chance you didn’t watch any of the group stage here’s the tournament's biggest surprise and biggest disappointment (so far).
Biggest surprise: England.
The Three Lions went into the tournament with tons of questions about their players and their manager Roy Hodgson. After besting Sweden and the Ukraine and coming up even with France, those questions have dissipated.
In doing so, England won its group -- thereby avoiding a matchup against Spain until the finals -- and for the first time since 1996, went unbeaten in the group stage.
Injuries to regulars Frank Lampard, Gary Cahill and a two-match suspension to Wayne Rooney (and the semi-shocking omission of Rio Ferdinand) figured to weigh down England in this tournament.
Instead, they’ve found success with their young players and team captain Steven Gerrard who has proved consistently dangerous in his crosses. Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott and Joe Hart have played exceptionally well thus far and Rooney scored a goal in his first game back indicating the best may yet lie ahead for the Three Lions.
Biggest disappointment: The Netherlands.
After losing the 2010 World Cup finals, the Netherlands managed to bounce back -- after all, they (briefly) gained the no. 1 ranking in the FIFA World Rankings and trounced their opponents in Euro 2012 qualifiers.
Now, one wonders how they will bounce back after being eliminated from this tournament without a single point.
Losing all three matches was bad enough. But to do so with such little display of heart from players had to be particularly painful for Oranje supporters.
Yes, they were in the “Group of Death” with Germany and Portugal. But even then, this was mostly the same team from the World Cup run (with the noticeable exception of Giovanni van Bronckhorst) that knocked off Brazil, Uruguay and had chances to defeat Spain.
Barring the possibility of a mole on the team, the Dutch can mostly fault a very porous and inexperienced defense (Jetro Williams and Gregory van der Wiel were consistently outplayed) for its disastrous showing. But, with few exceptions, the Dutch attack lacked the creativity that has been the trademark for the country that introduced the world to Total Football.
Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder all had chances to put their team ahead in matches time after time. But the trio combined for just one goal.
Where Holland goes from here is anyone’s guess. Manager Bert van Marwijk just signed an extension through 2016, but after this showing, it’s very up in the air if he’ll ever coach another match at the national level.
This team is simply too talented to have fallen so flat, and it will be a very long summer for the Oranje to dwell on this failure.
Ronaldo had all of three goals in his last 15 major international tournament matches at the start of the Euro 2012. When Danish fans tried to get under his skin by chanting the name of his La Liga rival Lionel Messi, it was nothing new but this time he seemed to use it for motivation. One match later, he nearly pulled off a hat trick in rallying Portugal past the Dutch and sealed a spot for his team in the quarterfinals.
There’s little doubt Ronaldo and his Barça rival are the best two football players in the world right now. But Ronaldo will almost always have more to prove because of how polarizing he comes across to fans and the perception that he never shows up at big moments. To that effect, the parallels between Messi and Ronaldo and Kevin Durant and LeBron James are almost eerie.
Ultimately, neither Messi nor Ronaldo possess a major international championship. But that could certainly change if Ronaldo has his way in this tournament.
[Editor's note: Ronaldo scored Portugal's winner against the Czech Republic, advancing the Portugese to the semifinals.]
Predictions for the Quarterfinals: Portugal [See above note], Germany, Spain and England will advance to the final four.