Group A, made up of Russia, Poland, Greece and the Czech Republic, were considered the weak sister before start of play, in spite of Greece winning in 2004, beating teams who have never been considered real powers in international soccer. Russia has had good teams in the past and it was assumed they would advance to the quarter finals with the other three fighting it out for the final spot.
After the first two games, everything looked like it was going according to prediction, and co-host Poland only had to beat the Czech Republic to advance. Well the beauty of this tournament is that strange and wondrous things can happen. Thanks to Russia's inability to take advantage of their numerous scoring chances, Greece stunned them 1-0 in their final match to advance, giving them the dubious honour of facing the winner of Group B, most likely Germany. The Czech Republic followed closer to form by beating the Poles 1-0 and winning the group, and they will face the second place finisher in Group B, which will be either Portugal or Denmark. (Holland are still alive mathematically but it would take a miracle for them to advance.)
Unlike the group phase where games can end in ties, from the quarter finals on, there has to be a winner. While that's great and usually makes for some exciting soccer, it also raises the ugly spectre of penalty kicks. If, after regulation time and two overtime periods the match remains tied, the game is decided by each team selecting five players and the side which scores the most by kicking the ball from the penalty spot, 18 yards out from goal, wins. I've always found this to be a far too arbitrary way to end a game. However, even worse, is the fact there have been teams who have deliberately played the entire game with the goal of pushing it to penalty kicks. If you thought defensive hockey was bad, there is nothing quite as ugly as a soccer team who only plays defence. Let's hope nobody resorts to this tactic in the days to come.
While I'd question anybody who says the best players and teams in the world come from Europe, with fewer weak teams qualifying than one sees in the World Cup, nothing can be taken for granted. (Ever heard of Lionel Messi or countries called Argentina, Brazil, Cameroon, Japan, all who have made their presence known internationally and play an exciting brand of soccer that can stand up to anything the Europeans can produce?) I'm sure the Greeks defeating Russia isn't the last upset will see this tournament. However, that being said, judging by play during the Group Stages, it still looks like the tournament is going to come down to one of the traditional four European powers: France, Italy, Germany and Spain.