Well, I had Russia and the Czech Rep advancing, in that order, and until the last day I was completely on track. All the Russians had to do was beat or draw the offensively-challenged Greeks, but an unlikely goal sent the clear group favorites home. I was surprised to learn of the differing tiebreaker rules in this tourney, but I like that head-to-head results are the first criteria. Of course, consistency in major tournaments would be nice. The Czechs took a beating from Russia but rebounded through adversity to post 2 wins, including home team Poland.
Deutschland was the only team to win all 3 group games, so it is remarkable that with 20 min left in their last match (at the time tied vs Denmark), they were one allowed goal away from elimination. Again, this head-to-head tiebreaker really spices things up, doesn't it? As good as the Germans were, the Netherlands were bad. They were just 1 of 2 teams (Ireland) to not secure a single point and their high-powered offense only managed 2 goals. Though I had the Dutch in my final (oops), I think this ego-filled squad got what was coming to them. Also, who could forget De Jong's karate kick to Alonso's chest (or his unnecessary leg break on Holden pre-WC'10)? Ronaldo came through in the clutch and now looks to have a great chance at reaching the semis.
Besides Spain's 4 goals that they hung on easily the worst team (Irish) in the tourney, they have been rather underwhelming in finishing chances, even though they continue to have the lion's share of possession. Like Germany, they were also in a tenuous position of being sent packing had Croatia scored the last goal, instead of Espana's Navas. I predicted Croatia as 2nd place finishers, but their inability to pull one back vs Spain, while Italy did, ultimately doomed them. As for Italy, I must say that Pirlo is my favorite non-Spanish (non-American) midfielder to watch. He's a maestro out there.
This was the only group in which both my predicted teams advanced. I even guessed correctly that England would finish first. It was good to see Shevchenko score his brace on home soil, a game which put Sweden in an early hole that even Ibrahimovic's game-winning wonder strike vs France couldn't rectify. Welbeck's back-heel winner vs Sweden then became the 2nd best goal of the tourney. Based on England's defensive posture vs France, Ribery & company may have the most quality of the two but nevertheless are matched up against Spain next. Hopefully Ukraine's disallowed goal will lead to the implementation of long-overdue goal-line technology.
This has been a great tourney so far. There haven't been any drab 0-0 games and we haven't had the embarrassing controversies, referee mistakes (Ukraine goal aside) or lame penalty calls, etc. All major contenders besides Holland are still in, including countries with the top leagues - England, Spain and Italy, then Germany and France. Heck, if we could replace Greece and Czech Rep with Brazil and Argentina, it would be greatest tourney ever.
Knockout Stage Predictions
Germany over Greece - Greeks will need Thor and Achilles to have a chance.
Portugal over Czech Rep - Rosicky's injury hurts chances to overcome complete Portugal.
Spain over France - I actually considered taking the French. Hey, it could happen...
England over Italy - Minor upset. Sticking with my pre-tourney pick of England in the semis.
Germany over England - England's run comes to an end with German beatdown.
Spain over Portugal - Portugal doesn't have Madrid's discipline to overcome Barcelona/Spain.
Germany over Spain - If Spain wins 3 major championships in a row, they are the greatest team of all time.