(Editor’s Note: Neil “nkilla” Gariepy once again guest blogged the following post about soccer. Seems like he’s learning the blogging ropes by writing about the NFL as much as possible to distract people from the fact that this is a soccer post.)
We are officially out of the group stage of Euro 2012 and into the knockout stage. I know many of you started following the Euro after my first riveting article and already know what’s to come in the knockout stage. For the few of you that were not converted based on the first post, now is the time to get in. The knockout stage is a traditional playoff format. Eight teams made it this far, and we go single elimination the rest of the way. If you are saying to yourself, “Self, it would be great to follow the ‘playoff’ stage of this tournament because any time countries play against each other in a single elimination tournament it is fun regardless of the sport, but I missed the group stage so how will I know what is going on?” fear not, I am going to provide a playoff doppelganger for each game from last year’s NFL playoff schedule to help you understand what is going on.
June 21st – Czech Republic (Group A winner) v Portugal (Group B runner-up)
Both of these teams had very similar paths to this point in the tournament. Both lost their opening group game, and then rebounded to win their next two games to make the knockout stage. The big difference was that Portugal barely lost their first game to powerhouse Germany (0-1), and then went on to win their next two games in the toughest group in the tournament. The Czechs were destroyed in their first game by Russia, appeared to be the worst team in the tournament, but somehow managed to rally and win what turned out to be the weakest group in the tournament.
NFL Playoff Doppelganger: San Francisco v New Orleans. Portugal is playing the role of New Orleans. They are coming in as a lower seed than the Czech Republic because they played in a tougher group, but everyone expects them to win. The Czechs are an unknown commodity like the Niners were coming out of the NFC West. Portugal seems to be getting better with each game, so they should be able to move on to the next round, but that is what everyone said about New Orleans in January.
June 22nd – Germany (Group B winner) v Greece (Group A runner-up)
Germany entered the tournament as the number two favorite only behind Spain. In the group stage they showed they probably should have been the favorite. They were the only team to win all three of their group games, and they did it while playing in the toughest group in the tournament. Greece on the other hand needed several extremely lucky breaks to make it this far. Red-carded opposing keepers, their own backup keeper coming on in the middle of a game, extra time goals, and so on. Several miracles were involved to get the Greeks this far. Hey, speaking of miracles…
NFL Playoff Doppelganger: New England v Denver. Tebow and his miracle-working took Denver to the playoffs, and in Group A Zeus provided some miracles for the Greeks to get them out of the group stage. Just remember what happened to Tebow and Denver in New England before you start thinking Greece might be a team of destiny.
June 23rd – Spain (Group C winner) v France (Group D runner-up)
Defending champ and tournament favorite Spain got off to a bit of a slow start in their first match against Italy, then woke up and easily won their second and third match to win their group. France could have won their group and avoided Spain in this round but did not play all that well in their final match against Sweden (who had already been eliminated and had nothing to play for), and had to settle for second in the group.
NFL Playoff Doppelganger: Green Bay v New York. Spain, like Green Bay, is probably feeling pretty confident coming into the playoffs as defending champs and playing very good soccer. France on the other hand, came into the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the world over the past two years but did not play well at all in the final group match. Were they just playing possum knowing that they were getting through and resting for their match with Spain? The consensus seems to be that France is either going to give Spain all they can handle and get the upset win, or get severely outclassed. Seems a lot like the divided opinions on the Giants heading into their game with Green Bay last year, and unfortunately we all remember how that ended (where “we all” = “Patriot fans”).
June 24th – England (Group D winner) v Italy (Group C runner-up)
Coming into the tournament none of the experts knew what to make of the English squad. Some said they might not score a goal, others said they could win the entire tournament. The majority seemed to think they would narrowly squeak out of Group D as the runner-up. What actually happened was England seemed to get better with each game, got their best player back from a two game suspension for their final group game, and seem like a team that can give any other team in this tournament a stiff challenge head-to-head. Italy really only played 45 bad minutes of soccer in the group round (their second half against Croatia), but needed some help from the Spanish (via a win over Croatia) in the last group game to make sure they made it to the playoff.
NFL Playoff Doppelganger: Baltimore v Houston. Really, either NFL team can be linked to either of these two soccer teams. Both played fairly well in the group stage, deserve their spot in the knockout stage, it should be a very tight match, and either could win. Unfortunately for the winner, they are going to be stuck playing Germany in the semi-final. Not unfortunate because they have no chance, unfortunate because if you play the doppelganger analogy out one more round, either Italy or England are going to have a player miss a penalty kick wide left that would have upset the Germans.