Wow. Even up to the very end, you make things interesting don't you Group A? I think I'm more confused than I am surprised or upset after watching the final matches today, like what happened doesn't really make that much sense. Going into the final round, the standings were like so:
Russia - 4 Points
Czech Republic - 3 Points
Poland - 2 Points
Greece - 1 Point
The tiebreaker that Euro 2012 is using is a little different than pretty much any other major tournament. Normally if two teams are tied on points, to see who moves on to the elimination rounds the first tiebreaker used is goal differential. However, this year's Euro decided to use head-to-head matchups between the two tied teams as the first tiebreaker instead, which changes the dynamic of things. For example, Russia had a goal differential of +3 heading into their match with Greece, a team that had a differential of -1. In any other tournament, that meant that Russia would have to lose by two goals to Greece to be in a compromising position for moving on to the next round (both teams would then have a differential of +1). In this tournament, however, if Russia lost in any way, shape, or form to Greece then both teams would have 4 points and Greece would hold the tiebreaker since they won the head-to-head matchup. This is the simple version of the tiebreakers though. I don't even fully understand what happens if three teams are all tied and how the tiebreakers work then, so I hope we don't have that situation at all (although we could easily with Group B). If it does happen, I suppose I'll have to learn it. All for you fine people.
Personally, I prefer goal differential as a system by far. This isn't college football where all the powerhouse teams are spending the first couple of weeks beating up on random lower tier teams as warm-ups for their "real" games, so no one is truly sure how good all these teams are. This is a situation where every team in the group plays everyone else. You all have the same opponents so when you are compared on goal differential, it's like to like. Worried that because Brazil beat North Korea 5-0 they'll have a leg up on you in differential? Then you go out at beat North Korea 5-0 as well to negate their advantage. If you only win 1-0 then that's your fault. Brazil was more impressive and therefore deserves to have said leg up. Goal differential helps to explain teams that are in form, that are firing on all cylinders and being dominant in their wins. Head-to-head overemphasizes one match out of three (or one out of six if this was used in Champions League play) which doesn't make sense to me considering that every team plays the same three games. You have your chances and if you don't take care of business, you shouldn't be lucky enough to go through just because the one team you beat happens to be tied with you.
In case it's not painfully obvious from what was said so far, I think Russia got the short end of the stick here. I wouldn't say that they got jobbed or cheated because they knew the tiebreaker rules going into the tournament and they knew that if they lost to Greece in the last match, they would likely not be going through to the quarterfinals. So, that's still on them and I'm not crying foul. But this is what I mean about the use of "disappointing" in the title of this post. Russia was by far the most impressive team in this group. They came out the first game and dominated the Czech Republic, scoring four goals and looking like a team that was completely in control of their destiny. Their draw against Poland was one of the most entertaining matches in this entire tournament. For them to then lose 1-0 against a fairly boring and unimpressive Greece team and have that loss be what keeps them out of the quarterfinals due to tiebreakers... that really is unfortunate. Credit to Greece, don't get me wrong. They knew what they needed to do and they did it. But the basic "eye test" that everyone talks about in sports is one that Russia passed while Greece did not. In the end though, this isn't about who looks pretty but who gets the job done, and that's why Greece is in the quarterfinals.
Joining Greece in the elimination rounds is the Czech Republic thanks to their 1-0 over a Poland team that started strong but faded into nothing incredibly fast. This is another case of disappointing but deserved for me. I really liked this Poland team and thought that when they were on their game, they played inventively and creatively. But. BUT. They completely disappeared after the first 25 minutes or so against the Czechs and have no one to blame but themselves. You can't progress through the Euros being a half an hour per game form team. That's just not how it goes. Credit instead goes to the Czech Republic for being blown out of the stadium against Russia, but then finding a way to break down the Greeks early to put them in an uncomfortable position, and finally weathering the early Polish storm before taking complete control of that game and closing it down. Kudos.
So, Czech Republic are the group winners with Greece coming in second place. The Czechs await the second place finisher from Group B (which could be anyone but probably not the Germans) while Greece awaits the winner of Group B (probably the Germans, just not the Dutch). Both Group A teams will be underdogs regardless of who they face, but both have proven that they can get it done even when they aren't expected to. Check back here tomorrow to find out how those Group B matchups shake out.