KHARKOV, UKRAINE - JUNE 13: Mario Gomez (R) of Germany shakes hands with Joachim Loew the Head Coach of Germany after being substituted during the UEFA EURO 2012 group B match between Netherlands and Germany at Metalist Stadium on June 13, 2012 in Kharkov, Ukraine. (Photo by Joern Pollex/Getty Images)
Eight days into the European Championships, and each national team has played twice. There are still a lot of things left to be decided, but we've seen enough to draw some conclusions. To wit:
(1) Die Nationalelf is in contention.
Germany won the first match vs. Portugal, but didn't look especially sharp, as we struggled to create much against a defensive-minded Portuguese side. But sometimes it's best not to peak too early, and it may take a match or two to reach top speed. Against the Netherlands, Germany was creating dangerous chances left and right, and hung on for a 2-1 win. Barring an utter collapse, Deutschland is probably through to the second round. If we get first place in the group (not a sure thing, but a pretty good chance), we'd face the runner-up from Group A, which looks like it will probably not be ...
(2) Russia is a threat.
Nobody was talking much about the Russians before the tournament (especially me, who picked them to fail to get out of the group in the Blogger Bracket Challenge). But they've answered the bell so far, crushing Czech Republic and fighting to a draw vs. hosts Poland. After taking a 1-0 lead in the Poland match, Russia might be a little disappointed at having let the Polish come away with a point; if they'd held on for a win, Russia would already have stamped their ticket to the next round.
Still, a win or a draw vs. Greece - who have fought hard, but are surely underdogs - will mean Russia is in to the quarter-finals. They've shown that they have several forwards who can test even the good 'keepers, their own GK Vyacheslav Malafeev has made several nice saves, and their fans are behind them in numbers and intensity. Winning the tournament would probably be a bit much, but a spot in the semis is surely a real possibility.
(3) England is making noise.
I guess it's a sign of how low England has fallen that people say "England is back" after a draw and a one-goal win from two matches. Still, the Three Lions are a good bet to advance, and they've overcome the numerous injuries and suspensions to play well. Hodgson's moves have been well-received, as both Andy Carroll and The Walcott looked great yesterday. The team's confidence is definitely back up. It would have been easy to fold after going behind through two quick goals in the second half, but the English fought back to get the win.
If things stand as they are, though, England would probably get the 2nd-place spot in Group D and a quarter-final date with Spain. Maybe too big a hill to climb. But we're keeping an eye on them.
(4) The Blogger Bracket Challenge is still wide open.
No points are awarded until the end of the Group Stage, but a few people are in especially good shape: Gianfranco and Pugsley both avoided the "Netherlands in the Final" trap. Those two have a lot of upside, with almost nothing they've picked being impossible at this point. I avoided that trap, too, but I also liked Sweden, Poland, and Czech Republic to all advance, so my ceiling is a little lower. Gianfranco also got bit by the Sweden selection, but he chose Portugal to get through over Netherlands, so he has a lot more working for him at this point.
A Ukraine win over England would put Oatbag in enviable shape (Ukraine would go through, which he was the only one to predict). Ted and Matilda are still very much alive, and could still win if things break their way. The Villarreal guys and myself are very much hoping for a Croatia win, as we both have them advancing to at least the semis.
Right now, though, Bitter and Blue's Danny Pugsley has to be seen as the favorite, especially because his Golden Boot selection of Mario Gomez puts him in good shape in case of a tie. But the whole thing is still up in the air, so stay tuned. I don't feel like creating a new post, so consider this your Match Day 9 Viewing Thread as well. Thanks for reading.