There are no Euro 2012 matches today, so it's the ideal time to look back at the Group stage and pick out some memorable players and moments. It's been arguably the most entertaining Group stage of any European Championship and has given us a number of talking points. But before I get to my review of the Group stages, there are a couple of matches I haven't yet covered off.....
Spain v Croatia
Man for man Spain are the best team in this competition, so why do we have to endure performances like this. Spain have an annoying ability to parody themselves. Critics say they pass too much and don't shoot enough, so what to Spain do? They pass even more and turn down numerous shooting opportunities. This game was particularly frustrating in that regard. The highlights largely consisted of intricate passing moves ending with an attempt at a pass in the penalty area being intercepted by one of the 10 Croatian defenders.
The policy almost completely backfired as Croatia had 2 good penalty shouts and Rapatic missed a simple header after great play form Luka Modric.
So Spain go through and if they play to their potential it's hard to see anyone stopping them, but if they get any more indulgent they could come unstuck.
As for the Croatians, they have provided a lot of entertainment in Group C. They are the best team not to qualify for the quarter finals. Their football has been pleasing on the eye and had they been placed in Group A or D they would have comfortably progressed.
France v Sweden
This was the France we all know and loathe from the last World Cup. A woeful performance in which Sweden could and should have won by more. On numerous occasions the heart of the French defence was exposed for pace and committed some basic areas. Up front, Karim Benzema has played well dropping deep, but hasn't scored yet. Frank Ribery and Samir Nasri have played well in patches, but I can't imagine Spain will be losing much sleep.
The Swedes produced their best display of the competition and outplayed France for large spells. Ibrahimovic scored on of the goals of the competition and has now score 6 goals in 9 Group games at the Euros. The problem Sweden have is that, Zlatan aside they are a pretty average bunch. The likes of Kallstrom, Larsson and Isaakson are decent players but not likely to threaten the big teams on a regular basis. One win in three is probably about right for this side.
That was the Group stage, so what have been the highlights? Here are my 10 favourite moments from Euro 2012 so far:
1. Opening Night - Group A was supposed to be the Group of Meh. 4 teams that didn't set the pulse racing, so not much was expected from Day 1 of Euro 2012. How wrong we all were. First of all, Poland came flying out of the blocks, then there was controversy, then a Greek fightback and finally a reserve keeper saving a penalty. As if that wasn't enough, the Russians then produced a dazzling display of flowing football to trounce the Czechs. It was rounded off by a brilliant strike form Roman Pavlychenko and Russia suddenly became peoples dark horses for glory. The Czechs meanwhile looked on the way out. It's been a long 2 weeks!
2. Heavyweights go toe to toe - Spain v Italy wasn't a slugging match as such, but it was a high quality encounter containing beautiful passing, lovely goals and a comedy cameo from Torres. Perfect Sunday afternoon viewing. Pirlo's pass for Di Natale's goal was the most the best bit of skill of the entire Group stage.
3. Andriy's Swansong - Not much was expected of Ukraine, a view that has reinforced but the first hour of their opening game. When Ibrahimovic gave Sweden the lead it looked like the home side were heading for defeat...step forward national hero Andriy Shevchenko. 2 expertly taken header later and the hosts had 3 points and the legend of Shevchenko had grown even more.
4. Blaszcykowski's Blast - The other hosts were also up against it the following night. a goal down and heading to the bottom of the Group, they needed some inspiration. It was provided by the Captain Jakub Blaszczkowski, he drifted in form the right and delivered a bullet of a shop into the top corner. The stadium erupted, the captain looked elated and Poland believed again.
5. Bendtner's Pants - Even when he plays well, Nicklas Bendtner is still a figure of fun. Here he scored 2 headers to bring the Danes back from 2 nil down. Ultimately it was in vain as Varela gave the Portuguese a late victory. It was one of the best games of the competition, but what will it be remembered for? Bendtner lowering his shorts to reveal a sponsor's name!
6. Gomez shows his class - Mario Gomez has been scoring bucket loads of goals for years, but doubts still remained about whether he could do it on the biggest stage. To some people, he was still the man that missed an open goal at Euro2008 and fluffed a host of chances in the Champions League Final. That perception changed in one half of world class finishing. Both of his goals were finishes of the highest order, and whilst Gomez only had the ball for 22 seconds during the whole game, it was enough to show what a great striker he is.
7. The Second Half of Sweden-England - OK, the quality wasn't great, but for sheer excitement this takes some beating. It was more akin to a Premier League game than an international fixture as both teams took the direct approach. Both of the Swedish goals were due to some woeful defending, but England regrouped and sub Theo Walcott was the catalyst for an heroic comeback. It was capped off by a sublime finish from Danny Welbeck, and Sweden crashed out.
8. Greece do it again - All 4 teams had a chance to progress from Group A, but Russia were in pole position, whilst Greece were the rank outsiders after 2 largely uninspired performances. Suddenly it became 2004 again as the Greeks somehow found a performance when it mattered and Russia ran out of steam. Talisman Giorgos Karagounis scored the only goal and played like a man possessed, unfortunately he will miss the 1/4 Final after a harsh booking for diving. Greece will be massive underdogs against the Germans, but then again they were in the same position against France 8 years ago.
9. Holland Implode - Van Persie, Robben, Sneider, Van der Vaart, Huntelaar, Afellay. Dutch coach Bert Van Marwijk had an array of attacking talent to choose from. Sadly the same could not be said for the Holland defence. Both Germany and Portugal could have scored plenty as the Dutch fell apart. This was especially evident against the Portuguese as Christiano Ronaldo had a field day. The Dutch response was to argue amongst themselves and play like a collection of individuals. The new coach (assuming BVM loses his job) has a tough task ahead.
10. Stats! - Some very unusual stats emerged from the Group stages. There were no goalless draws, every team scored, nobody scored a penalty and there were only 3 red cards. There were also a couple of odd quirks. The Czechs won their Group, despite losing 4-1 in their opening game and ending with a negative goal difference. The Irish equalled the record (with Denmark circa 2000) for worst Group performance after finishing with 0 points and a GD of minus 8. Perhaps must surprisingly of all, a team containing Georgias Samaras qualified for the Quarter Finals, and if that doesn't make Euro2012 completely unpredictable I don't know what does.