Five thoughts to ponder as Euro 2012 takes a breather before the quarterfinals kickoff Thursday.
After two rounds of matches, 14 of the 16 sides were still in play to qualify for the quarterfinals. All four teams in Groups A and B could have progressed, and in each of the final round of matches, played simultaneously (with the exception of Group D's second half) one goal either way could have changed everything.
This just highlights UEFA's folly in extending the format to 24 teams for France 2016. Fewer teams means better quality, tighter matches and more drama. So enjoy it while you can. All we need now is that one iconic knockout game that will live for ages, and Euro 2012's mythology will be complete.
Part of the reason may be strategic. Italy (Cassano-Balotelli), Croatia (Jelavic-Mandzukic) and England, once (Welbeck-Carroll) are the only three teams to have started with two up front, while Spain, famously, are close to eschewing the concept of strikers entirely. It may be too early to spot a trend here, but I'm reminded of a story by tactics guru Michael Cox explains why traditional center
On the other hand, Croatia and Denmark exited with dignity, perhaps wondering what might have been. But the bigger the team, the more dramatic the fallout: and this is where the Dutch, who lost all three matches (and has now lost four competitive games in a row), have excelled.
Stories are still emerging about the rifts behind the scenes, with players allegedly divided into camps supporting either Wesley Sneijder or Robin van Persie. For all the drama and excitement of the buildup to these tournaments, I end up enjoying the aftermath just as much.
I know Grant Wahl has offered his picks for the