Knockout stage main course after tasty appetizer

England's Steven Gerrard celebrates victory over Ukraine after their Group D Euro 2012 soccer match...

England's Steven Gerrard celebrates victory over Ukraine after their Group D Euro 2012 soccer match at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, June 19, 2012. (REUTERS)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:41 PM ET

WARSAW - There is no need to waste words for some teams after the group stage of Euro 2012.

Their efforts can be summed up quite succinctly.

Netherlands . . . horrible.

Poland ... disappointing.

Russia ... chokers.

Spain ... average.

Portugal ... surprising.

England ... survivors.

Ireland ... friendly.

It wouldn't be a European championship tournament if there weren't surprises. And this one has already had its share.

For now, let's forget about the nasty stuff that's gone on off the pitch and focus on the soccer.

That can be described succinctly as well ... brilliant!

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Euro 2012 continues to produce outstanding soccer. The unpredictability spins itself into exciting games, which drip of desperation, emotion, joy and heartbreak.

Of the 16 teams, eight go on and six go home. The other two, hosts Ukraine and Poland, are already home. But they won't be playing anymore.

What does the rest of Euro 2012 have gurgling away in the Ukraine and Poland?

If in any way, shape or form you enjoyed the group stage, the quarterfinals are going to be mouthwatering.

The Ukraine side of the quarterfinal draw is like Hollywood's A-list, the teams everyone wants to see perform. Spain plays France in the first quarterfinal, with Italy and England squaring off in the second.

This is where the Spanish get to show if they still have what it takes or if they are what they've shown so far -- very good but just a few degrees off the boil. This isn't the dominating Spanish team of the last two years.

France need to play better than it did against Sweden it its last game. But what needs to be taken into account is that when England went up 1-0 against Ukraine, France was in a pretty comfortable position to move on. No need to overcook the baguette when warming it will do.

The Italy-England quarterfinal will attract the most attention.

England has played better than many people expected but it still gives up a lot of chances and doesn't create as many as it should. If England gives Italy the same number of chances it gave to Sweden and Ukraine, it will lose by two goals.

Italy will look to shut down Steven Gerrard, who has been the best of the English crew. Italy will attack the English, something it wouldn't have done years ago. The English are vulnerable at the back.

Sitting back and allowing England to come forward is courting disaster.

England can be scored on and this time the officials will see the goal and count it.

Ah, yes, it will be mouthwatering, especially since the English and Italians are not fond of each other. The crumpets and panettonis will be flying.

The other quarterfinal matchups -- the Czech Republic plays Portugal while Germany plays Greece -- make the B or C list. The games will be good but not the marquee quality of the other two.

Book it now. Portugal is headed to the semifinal.

The Czechs are still stunned they advanced and they won't get lucky twice. Portugal is getting better as the tournament progresses and Cristiano Ronaldo is alive and kicking ... and kicking well.

It's tempting to say th eother quarterfinal is over, it's history, the Germans will easily dispose of Greece.

Nope, not falling into that one. Greece is capable of anything.

The Germans will be big favourites but the Greeks always find a way to make things interesting. They play hard and, with nothing to lose, they will make the Germans sweat for every ball, every inch of ground and scare the bratwurst out of them before succumbing.

This ought to be good.

Really good.


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