Such is the parity at Euro 2012 that no team was assured of advancing to the quarterfinals and only two -- Sweden and hapless Ireland -- were eliminated after two games.
But Germany and Spain made cases that they are the teams to beat, while France showed it is back after an emphatic 2-0 win over co-host Ukraine.
1. GERMANY (previous: 2).The Germans are the only team to win both their games (1-0 over Portugal and 2-1 over the Netherlands). Mario Gomez has all three goals, but Coach Joachim Loewwas equally effusive about the play of midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, who created both Germany goals against the Dutch. "The goals were great by Gomez," said the German coach. "He's got good self-confidence from the whole season and it's good for him." As for Schweinsteiger, Loew said, "He is getting better and better, he's developing more of a presence and when it gets tough he can keep the ball. He's physically strong and wins a one-on-one." Next up:Germany will qualify as group winner if it beats or ties Denmark in their final match in Lviv on Sunday. A group title will mean the Germans will stay in Ukraine instead of having to pull up stakes and move to Poland for the quarterfinals in Gdansk.
2. SPAIN (3).Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque played without a striker in the opening game, and Spain settled for a 1-1 tie with Italy. He gave Fernando Torres the start against Ireland, and the beleaguered Chelsea striker repaid Del Bosque's faith in him with two goals in the 4-0 win. That doesn't mean Torres is under any allusions he'll start in the next game against Croatia. "I was lucky to be selected," Torres said. "Two goals ... was nice. But in the next game if the coach decides not to play without a striker, then everything is fine and the important thing is that we can win the competition.” Next up:Spain will advance with a win or tie against Croatia or if Italy doesn't beat Ireland.
3. FRANCE (8).The 2-0 win over Ukraine ended the Bleus' tournament drought that extended back to the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup, a string of eight games without a win at the finals of a major championship. "Generation 87," the group of young French stars who won the 2004 European U-17 Championship, has finally come of age. Jeremy Menez, in particular, had an excellent game in his first start of Euro 2012 against Ukraine. Generation 87 teammates Samir Nasriand Karim Benzema teamed with Menez and Franck Ribery to form a formidable front four. Next up: France needs only a tie against Sweden on Tuesday to advance to the final eight.
4. RUSSIA (1). The Russians look great against the Czech Republic (4-1 win) and then were cruising along against Poland when they inexplicably took their feet off the pedal and had to settle for a 1-1 tie. CoachDick Advocaat says Russia will go out and try to beat Greece even if a tie Saturday will suffice to send it through to the quarterfinals. "I'm really sure that we'll go through," he said. "We are very focused. We must go on the pitch and win this game. We don't feel relaxed." Next up: CSKA Moscow's Alan Dzagoev, one of three players with three goals in two games, asks for Russia's fans to behave Saturday. UEFA has threatened to deduct Russia six points in Euro 2016 qualifying if its fans continue to cause problems. "Maybe they should be more calm," he said. "We don't need to lose six points in the next qualification, so we don't want anything bad for our national team."
5. ENGLAND (12). England coach Roy Hodgson is being hailed a genius, but after England's 3-2 win over Sweden, he admitted he is still learning about his players. "You've seen them play for England on so many occasions," he told reporters after the come-from-behind win. "I've worked with them for one month and I'm still learning about what they're good at and finding areas for improvement." Hodgson's insertion of Theo Walcottin the second half was a master stroke as Walcott responded with the tying goal and assist on Danny Welbeck's winner. "I was very pleased with the performance of the two front players," he said in reference to Welbeck and Andy Carroll, who also scored. "And, of course, Theo's contribution was enormous. To come on as a sub and score such a good goal and set up a winner, he's got to be very pleased with his contribution." Next up: England still has its work cut out for itself as it needs to beat or tie co-host Ukraine to advance. (It will have Wayne Rooney back from suspension.)
6. ITALY (4).The Azzurri played to a 1-1 tie for the second straight game, this time against Croatia, and once again, Coach Cesare Prandelli had to pull young star Mario Balotelli early in the second half. Prandelli admitted on Friday Balotelli was subbed after failing to follow instructions. "I shouted myself hoarse for 15 minutes but I didn't manage to correct his positioning," complained Prandelli. "He was coming towards the ball but then he didn't hold onto it. Either you come for the ball and hold onto it or you go long. If we have affection for this young man, we have to tell him these things -- the truth -- and that's what I do." Next up: Italy must beat Ireland on Monday to have any chance of advancing.
7. CROATIA (7). Mario Mandzukic of German club Wolfsburg joined Dzagoev and Gomez atop the leader board with three goals after two games. His late goal earned Croatia a 1-1 tie with Italy. "First, I dreamed of Croatia beating Ireland and me scoring my first goal in the Euros," said Mandzukic, "and then I dreamed of going against [Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi] Buffon -- and scoring. My next dream is to see Croatia go to the quarterfinals." Next up: To do that, one of the scenarios is a 2-2 tie with Spain that will eliminate Italy no matter how badly the Azzurri beat Ireland.
8. PORTUGAL (9).After blowing a 2-0 lead against Denmark, the Portuguese came back to win, 3-2, on sub Silvestre Varela's late goal. The big story surrounding the Portuguese, though, has been the continuing slump of star Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored 60 goals for Real Madrid this past season but has no goals in his last four games for Portugal. Next up:Portugal renews its bitter rivalry with the Netherlands on Sunday. When they met in the 2006 World Cup, Portugal won, 1-0, in a match that produced four red cards.
9. DENMARK (5).The Danes' comeback featured two goals from Nicklas Bendtner, but it went all for naught as Varela's goal sent the Danes down to defeat against Portugal. "It's a horrible feeling to lose so close to the end," Denmark coach Morten Olsen said. "I was proud against Holland [1-0 win] and proud of the way we fought back [against Portugal]." Next up:Niki Zimling and Dennis Rommedahl were both injured against Portugal and will likely miss Sunday's game against Germany.
10. POLAND (13).Against Greece in the tournament opener, the Poles played well in the first half, then faded after the break. Their second 1-1 tie was the reserve. They struggled against Russia in the first half, then rallied in the second half. Next up:Coach Franciszek Smuda hopes the momentum of the second half against Russia carries over to Saturday's game against the Czech Republic, which Poland needs to win to advance. "The pressure was strongest before the Greek game," he said. "We do not feel it as much after playing a very good game against Russia."
11. UKRAINE (6).Fans in Donetsk quickly turned on the Ukrainians, whistling them during their 2-0 loss to France. "I think it's unfair,'' Coach Oleg Blokhin complained. "If we are winning, everything is fine. If we are not winning, we are shot.'' Not that Blokhin was happy with how his players played. "Some players thought we were in the quarterfinals," he said. "We will have a serious conversation with them. It's not allowed to win the first game and play the second like this.'' Next up:Ukraine needs to beat England Tuesday to advance.
12. CZECH REPUBLIC (15).After getting hammered by Russia, 4-1, the Czechs came out and scored twice in the first six minutes against Greece, then held on for a 2-1 win. The Czechs' troubles began when star playmaker Tomas Rosicky was injured. Next up:The result means the Czech Republic advances to the quarterfinals with a win or tie against Poland. Rosicky is confident he'll be fit for the game.
13. NETHERLANDS (10).After the 2-1 loss to Germany, Coach Bert van Marwijk said his defense lacked courage, though his attack hasn't exactly stood out with one goal in two games. "We are disappointed we lost," he said. "We started well in the first 20 minutes we had a few good chances, then the first goal for Germany came from nothing. We gave them too much space and we didn’t show enough courage today, especially in defense." The second defeat in the Group of Death did not eliminate the Dutch, though. Next up:The Oranje will need to beat Portugal by two or more goals (or win by 4-3) and have Germany beat Denmark to advance. They have beaten Portugal only once in their past 10 meetings.
14. GREECE (11).For the second straight game, the Greeks fell behind in the first half only to play better after intermission. Next up:The 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic means the Greeks face a must-win situation against Russia on Saturday. Starting goalkeeper Costas Chalkiasand central defender Avraam Papadopoulos will be out with injuries.
15. SWEDEN (14). The Swedes blew second-half leads in both games and are now out of Euro 2012. They led Ukraine briefly before losing, 2-1. On Thursday, they came back to lead England, 2-1, only to give up goals to Walcott and Welbeck. Afterwards, Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovicinsisted Sweden was the better team and bad luck was responsible for the 3-2 loss to England. Next up:France on Tuesday.
16. IRELAND (16).The Irish lost 3-1 to Croatia and 4-0 to Spain -- their worst loss in more than 40 years -- to become the first team to exit Euro 2012. Coach Giovanni Trapattoni bemoaned his team's lack of tournament experience for its tentative play. "We didn't have the same attitude as when we played in the past," he said. "Maybe it's this impact of playing in the Euros — it's not a friendly, it's not a qualifier, it's very different." Next up:Trapattoni's Italy on Monday.