Posted: Wednesday June 20, 2012 1:07PM ; Updated: Wednesday June 20, 2012 5:31PM
Grant Wahl

Germany, Spain still favorites as Euro 2012 quarterfinals begin

Story Highlights

Mario Gomez's scoring, team defense has made Germany a Euro 2012 favorites

Spain will need Fernando Torres to flash explosive skills to capture tournament

England-Italy quarterfinals is shaping up as a tense struggle of tactics, talent

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WARSAW -- A new tournament starts in Euro 2012 on Thursday with the first of four quarterfinals, a showdown between Portugal and the Czech Republic here at the National Stadium. After a breathless run of 24 games in 12 days, Wednesday was the tournament's first off-day, which gives us a chance to do a new set of power rankings and preview each quarterfinal.

Let's dive in with the rankings:

Euro 2012: Quarterfinal Power Rankings
1 Germany
The Germans weren't perfect by their own admission, but they are the only team in the tournament to win all three games, and they did it in the Group of Death. Mario Gómez's three goals are his first at a major tournament, Mesut Özil has been terrific in the midfield and the spine of Bastian Schweinsteiger and central defenders Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber has given the Germans reason to believe they can win the tournament.
2 Spain
The reigning world and Euro champs are still the team to beat, and while they may not have been sparkling compared to their high standards, the Spanish performance has been good in relation to other teams. Goalkeeper Iker Casillas is acting like Saint Iker again, while Andrés Iniesta and David Silva are in dangerous form. Can Fernando Torres be a match-winning forward in the knockout rounds? That's the big question moving forward.
3 Portugal
So much about Portugal depends on Cristiano Ronaldo, the most feared player in the tournament. If his two goals against Holland are any indication, Ronaldo will have a lot to say on what happens next. Yet Portugal isn't a total one-man gang, as its 3-2 win over Denmark showed. The defense has been better than expected, and Nani is playing well too on the wing.
4 Italy
Aside from a bad second half against Croatia, the Italians have played a smart tournament, tying Spain and swatting away Ireland to advance in a tough group. Andrea Pirlo has been impactful in every game, and coach Cesare Prandelli has several useful forwards to choose from. The big question is going to be the health of defender Giorgio Chiellini, who went off injured in the final group game.
5 England
Give the Three Lions full credit for winning their group and understanding what they can and cannot do. Roy Hodgson's practical approach has worked so far, and the return of Wayne Rooney adds a special talent to the cast. Yet Steven Gerrard has been the big story so far, sending in several dangerous crosses and providing a consistent threat in every game.
6 France
I would have ranked Les Bleus higher before their absolute stinker against the Swedes, which has me wondering about the mettle of Laurent Blanc's team. At their best, the French have been one of Euro 2012's top teams, slicing open opposing defenses. At their worst, the defense has been porous and the attack uninspiring. That up-and-down profile makes them unlikely to win the tournament, but does mean they could spring a surprise.
7 Czech Republic
I'm still not sure how the Czechs won Group A, but poor opponents and the ability to make up for the loss of Tomas Rosicky has taken them a long way. Right back Theodor Gebre Selassie might be the revelation of the tournament, and midfielder Petr Jirácek has provided much of the offensive punch. One variable to watch is the performance of goalkeeper Petr Cech, who has struggled in the Euros after playing at such a high level during Chelsea's Champions League run.
8 Greece
The plucky upstarts advanced in much the same way they did during their 2004 glory run, relying on defense and well-timed moves forward to knock out the Russians in Group A. Giorgos Karagounis has been the leading inspiration, scoring the game-winner against Russia, but his unjust second yellow card and quarterfinal suspension (the referee thought he dived when he deserved a penalty) will really hurt the Greeks.

Match Previews


The Ronaldo-led Portuguese are the clear favorites, and Czech coach Michal Bilek said his team will play more defensively than usual to cope with Portugal's attacking threats on the wings. Tomas Rosicky won't be at 100 percent even if he plays, and if the Portuguese defense continues to prove itself I can't see the Czechs pulling off another surprise.

The pick: Portugal 2, Czech Republic 0.

GERMANY-GREECE (Friday in Gdansk, Poland)

Badstuber told us Tuesday that there are no easy games at the Euros, and the Greeks certainly won't make it that way here. But without Karagounis, Greece will likely have issues even creating minimal chances or the set-pieces they often rely on for goals. Look for Özil to have a breakthrough game here and continue making a case for himself as the tournament's top player.

The pick: Germany 3, Greece 0.

SPAIN-FRANCE (Saturday in Donetsk, Ukraine)

At its best, France can give Spain plenty of trouble, not least with such attacking talents as Franck Ribéry, Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri. But the defense is shaky, and though the loss of suspended Philippe Mexes may be addition by subtraction, France's options in his place aren't solid either. Don't look for a Spanish blowout, but I do think Fernando Torres is going to bag a goal as the Spanish possession domination eventually wears down Les Bleus.

The pick: Spain 1, France 0.

ENGLAND-ITALY (Sunday in Kiev, Ukraine)

This is the hardest pick of the quarterfinals. England is more effective as a team with fewer attacking ambitions, and Italy figures to have a bit more of the possession. Rooney got a goal in his return on Tuesday, but he also showed some rust in front of the goal. Chiellini's injury is a concern for the Azzurri, but if Pirlo continues his superb tournament pulling the strings, I like Italy's chances in a tense, memorable battle.

The pick: Italy 2, England 1.
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