Euro 2012: 20 things we have learned so far


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England can thrill

Roy Hodgson's 4-4-2 can be entertaining. Of course, that is dependent on the defence not doing its job correctly, leading to a character-filled comeback. But, in truth, the Sweden match was by far England's most fascinating tournament game in eight years.

Pool rules are for fools

Uefa's tie-breaking rules diminish potential excitement rather than enhance it. Today, if they are so inclined, Spain and Croatia can draw 2-2 and eliminate Italy, a potential repeat of West Germany v Austria in 1982. Is it not time Uefa brought in goal difference, rather than results against each other, to ensure the last pool games are much more open?

Usual suspects shine

Only two sides have been truly convincing – the same sides lauded in the build-up. It is very difficult to look beyond a Spain v Germany final which the draw will foster provided both finish top of their groups. And that will be their third meeting in three tournaments. Spain have won two. There is one reason for German hope this time, though...

Spain are a passing fancy

Against Italy, David Silva only had to turn inside and shoot. He turned outside and passed. Spain worked the ball into the box, only to work it back out again. It was as if they wanted to score the most perfect, artistic goal – passing over penetration, reflected in the six starting midfielders. Is Spanish football threatening to eat itself?

Attack is way ahead

Defensive football is under duress: England apart, pretty much every team that has tried to negatively close out games has been caught out: Greece, Ireland and – against Germany at least – the Portuguese. As it stands, Euro 2012 has favoured the brave.

Ireland are not Chelsea

Giovanni Trapattoni watched the Chelsea-Bayern Champions League final more than once. We know this because he's mentioned it more than once. Indeed, the fact Chelsea had one corner to Bayern's 17 came up every day in the Ireland coach's briefings. Unlike Chelsea, Ireland don't have multi-million-pound defenders.

Poles spell trouble

Neutrals may want Poland to get through, but commentators and journalists are petrified. Note how many times you hear a Polish player referred to as "the Borussia Dortmund right-winger" or the "earnest full-back". It's because many of the media are petrified of pronouncing and spelling their actual names.

Blue is a conservative colour

At a previous tournament, when Italy's conservatism was eventually caught out by a late goal, Barry Davies uttered the famous line: "The Italians have only themselves to blame, because they will not learn." The same has now happened twice in Euro 2012. The Azzurri have led in both their games. They have then conceded in both their games. They could fall at the first hurdle.

It's a close-run thing

This is the most drama-filled European Championships ever – with only two teams eliminated after the second round of group matches and something on the line in every one of the last eight group matches, there has never been so much to play for.

One host has the most

Uefa made a huge mistake picking Ukraine – compare the packed stadiums and carnival atmosphere in Poland to the empty seats and complaints in Ukraine. The differences are symbolised by the fact that train journeys between the two countries are extended by seven hours – because of the need to change gears to run on different tracks.

Oranje are crushed

The Dutch aren't just a "tactically broken" team. Given that there is no fluid midfield link between Bert van Maarwijk's moderate defence and his magnificent attackers, that description has taken hold. But you only have to see some of the body language and withering looks of those stars to see that the malaise goes deeper.

Countries matter

Club form is no guide to Euro 2012. So far, the top seven players in the 2011-12 Golden Boot have scored four goals between them and the most maligned of those players – Mario Gomez – has scored 75 per cent of them. The German's opportunism has been in sharp contrast to his display in the Champions League final.

Ronaldo's mind is Messi

Cristiano Ronaldo needs to get over Leo Messi. Despite the fact his team won what may well be their most important game, against Denmark, Ronaldo looked selfish in the match and responded testily to a question about Lionel Messi after it. He is so obsessed with being the best in the world that it can affect his otherwise exceptional play – as we saw here.

Ireland are not at the races

The Republic of Ireland now know what it is truly like to be an also-ran. Before this summer, the Irish had never lost two tournament games in a row. They had also never been knocked out before the last game of the pool stages. This time, well beaten by Croatia and hammered by Spain, they have merely made up the numbers.

Don't rush to back Russian

Alexander Kerzhakov is not, after all, a clever tip for top scorer. In an open group, the Russian was tipped as a "shrewd bet" to lead the scoring stakes at 66-1. It turns out that there was a reason for those odds.

Dane is short odds to score

The Sunderland and Denmark striker is, at this stage of the tournament, arguably most famous for getting caught with his pants down – both literally and in terms of some highly questionable and highly egotistical statements. On Wednesday, though, he didn't just do what Cristiano Ronaldo could not. He did it twice. He scored.

Senior service rules waves

Age is no guide at Euro 2012 – some of the players who have had the biggest effect on the tournament were considered past it, when it came to their club careers, just last summer. This applies to Andrea Pirlo of Italy, Andrei Arshavin of Russia, Ukraine's Andrei Shevchenko and, of course, Fernando Torres of Spain.

Don't check the form guide

Consider the following merry-go-round. In the qualifiers, Greece made Croatia look ordinary. In the finals, Croatia made Ireland look ordinary.Ireland's optimism had been boosted by the friendly draw against the Czech Republic which perpetuated an unbeaten run... only for the Czechs to go and beat the Greeks.

It pays to use your head

There has been a lack of proper marking around the six-yard box. More than 30 per cent of goals have come from crosses and headers, a huge increase on the average despite the lowest number of crosses and corners per game in Euro finals history.

Iker's girl is the real star

At about 3.30pm on the afternoon of Ireland v Spain, Iker Casillas' girlfriend, Sara Carbonero, walked into the Gdansk media centre. She was immediately deluged with requests for photos, from supposedly professional journalists. The less brave even took iPhone shots of her on the sly. This simply does not happen with the actual football stars the media are sent to cover.