Now there will be formulas and equations to see which two second place teams go through to the final eight, or the insanity of having a group stage to eliminate a mere eight out of the 24. Which isn't fair, as teams will be competing for spots against teams they didn't play. There will be more blowouts, more meaningless fixtures, more teams that don't deserve to be there, and more top teams not having to be in anything more than third gear to get out of the group.
I didn't realize this until I read it on 365 this morning, or I had at least forgotten about it getting swept up in this tournament, but this will be the last 16-team European Championship. And that's sad, but the way of the world when any sports organization can't resist gorging itself on whatever spigot is churning out cash and can be turned to a higher level. More games, more days, more ad space, more revenue. You know the drill. It's unfortunate because this was the perfect size for this tournament. No one could duck each other, there were no easy draws that sometimes happen in the World Cup (see: Germany, 2002). Top two from each group go on. It was clean and efficient.
But we've still got three more to enjoy, so let's do that.
Portugal v. Spain: Some have tried to portray their World Cup second round match two years ago as a tight match. I suppose if you only look at the scoreline, 1-0, that's what you'd conclude. But it was the normal Spain 1-0, where they never looked in danger and that one might as well have been 10. Ronaldo never bothered, the Portugese weren't nearly as determined and organized as they are now. It could come down to a match up we've seen a few times as Red supporters, Alvaro Arbeloa dealing with Ronaldo. In general, he did pretty well against the beautiful one, but with the way Ronaldo moves all over the pitch it's not just up to the Spanish right-back. And Pique and Ramos don't exactly help Spanish fans sleep totally well at night. There are some fissures there. Considering how much better Moutinho and Meireles have been, and disciplined, you wonder if that at times ponderous Spanish attack will find a way through. But they always do, don't they? Still, this one will be decided late, one moment. Both will have chances, both will score. Can't call it.
Germany-Italy: For the neutral, it is much better that Italy went through. They actually have things to threaten the Germans. While Mats Hummels is making everyone go weak in the knees, thanks to Robin Van Persie's no show he hasn't had to face a quality striker (though you could argue Ronaldo, who wasn't short on chances against him). He'll get two now, at least on their day. The Germans do play with three in central midfield, so you can expect Pirlo to not get near the space this time. But that will count on Mesut Ozil doing some tracking back, which isn't always his strong suit. That will get even dicier if Schweinsteiger can't make the bell, which is the rumbling out of their camp. The Germans have looked so good in attack, but the Italians haven't conceded more than one all tournament. Won't be as good as the semi in 2006. But it won't be bad either.