• 10:48 AM ET  06.12
Time to saddle back up for two more Euro 2008 games featuring Germany-Croatia (noon ET, ESPN2) and Austria-Poland (2:45 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

I’ll take a quick look at those games below, but let’s start off today with the first edition of the Euro 2008 power rankings, in which we rank the 16 teams on the highly subjective basis of which ones have impressed me the most—and the least—based solely on their performance so far in this tournament. Keep in mind a few things:

This isn’t based on the points each team has earned. I have Italy (0 points) ranked above Croatia (3 points) because I thought the Italians actually had some good moments against a Dutch side that was in amazing form, while Croatia was thoroughly underwhelming after getting an early penalty against Austria.

I am taking into account the level of the opponents so far. That’s why I have the Netherlands (which smoked Italy) above Spain (which destroyed Russia).

Teams that don’t try to attack will get penalized to the full extent of the Rankings. Say hello to Romania and Greece, two teams that any neutral should be hoping go out in the opening round.

We probably should have done this before yesterday’s games. That way each team would have been judged on one game. But that’s O.K.—the Rankings aren’t set in stone, and they’ll be back again after each team has played twice.

Let’s dig in (and have at it with your take in the comments section below):

1. Netherlands. Just a mesmerizing total team attack in the 3-0 win over the World Cup champions. Can I tell you how glad I am that World Cup ’06 thug Mark van Bommel isn’t on this team? Addition by subtraction.

2. Spain. David Villa hat trick—what more needs to be said? Really enjoyed another team effort against Russia, especially by Fernando Torres. Spain has the most dangerous pair of forwards in the tournament (by far).

3. Portugal. Cristiano Ronaldo really came to life against the Czechs, but the best sign was his combination work all game long with Deco. Highly entertaining stuff.

4. Germany. That was an easy win against Poland, but the Mannschaft has to be encouraged by the goal-scoring revival of Lukas Podolski. There’s not a lot of separation right now between the top four teams in the Rankings.

5. Sweden. It’s hard to get too much of a read on the Swedes, who were forced to play against the soccer version of Dean Smith’s Four Corners in a 2-0 opening win over Greece. But we did get to see one moment of 100% pure quality from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in one of the best goals of the tournament so far.

6. Turkey. That was some sterling attacking soccer in the second-half comeback against Switzerland with an injury-depleted team. Big credit on the gut-check win to Nihat, Tuncay Sanli, Arda Turan, Mehmet Aurélio and goalie Volkan Demirel.

7. Czech Republic. It’s going to be a hell of a game when the Czechs meet Turkey to see which team survives Group A. Libor Sionko has been the best Czech player sparking attacks down the right side. Much improved against Portugal than in the opener against Switzerland, but that was some horrific second-half defense against the Portuguese.

8. Italy. I know the Azzurri lost 3-0, but they had several decent scoring chances and looked better to me than either of the group’s other two teams (France and Romania). Andrea Pirlo needs more quality alongside him in midfield than Massimo Ambrosini and the suddenly vulnerable Gennaro Gattuso provided in Game 1.

9. Switzerland. I know the co-hosts are already out, but they outplayed the Czechs in a 1-0 loss and probably deserved a tie against Turkey. That’s a nice future there in forward Eren Derdiyok (20 years old) and midfielders Gelson Fernandes (21), Johan Vonlanthen (22) and Tranquillo Barnetta (23).

10. Croatia. Perhaps the ugliest three points you’ll ever see in a major tournament. The Croats somehow held on against Austria despite being played off the field in the second half. It’s time to see more out of midfielders Luka Modric, Niko Kranjcar, Darijo Srna and Niko Kovac.

11. Austria. The co-hosts were unlucky not to get a point against Croatia, but giving up a penalty in the fourth minute was an absolute killer. Martin Harnik was impressive on the right side of midfield.

12. Russia. I might have the Russians higher if their defense hadn’t been so god-awful against Spain (I’m looking at you, Denis Kolodin). Because from an offensive perspective Russia is fun to watch, in particular the left-sided attackers Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and (especially) outside back Yuri Zhirkov.

13. France. The single-most disappointing team in the tournament so far. Franck Ribéry had almost no impact against Romania and must show more in the games ahead.

14. Poland. At least Poland tried to go toe-to-toe with Germany in its 2-0 loss, as opposed to employing the pack-it-in tactics we saw from Romania and Greece. But that was still some amateur-hour defending that rivaled Russia’s.

15. Romania. Negative soccer will never win you many allies from the neutral camp. Don’t expect things to change against Italy or Holland, which is unfortunate for a team that includes gifted attackers like Adrian Mutu.

16. Greece. The funny thing is that for all the horrible soccer that the Greeks showed against Sweden, they actually looked better in the last 20 minutes when they were trying to score. My guess is that if the Greek players were being honest, they’d say they hate playing this way too.

Today’s games:

Germany-Croatia. Holland, Spain and Portugal have set a high standard that we can only hope the Germans try to match. Michael Ballack is in good form these days, and he could take things over if the Croatian midfield doesn’t raise its performance considerably. Look for German forward Mario Gómez to have a bigger impact against Croatia’s too-old centerbacks than he did against Poland. Germany 2, Croatia 0.

Austria-Poland. Last chance for one of the co-hosts to get a result? Maybe. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Polish coach Leo Beenhakker inserts creative midfielder Roger Guerreiro into the starting lineup—he was excellent against Germany. The Austrians did perform better than expected against Croatia, but they need to get some finishing from players like Roland Linz. I don’t think either one of these teams is reaching the group stages, not least because they’ll play to a tie here. Austria 1, Poland 1.

Through-balls: Isn’t it a little odd that so many Euro 2008 coaches had already announced before the tournament that they’re leaving their positions instead of hanging on for World Cup 2010? I know that a lot of contracts only go through the end of the Euro, but if you’re building a national team wouldn’t it be better to have the same coach for a four-year stretch culminating in the World Cup? ... I know some countries’ names don’t sound all that similar in English and in their own tongue (Germany/Deutschland; Sweden/Sverige), but what the heck is going on with Croatia/Hrvatska? How did that happen? ... In the same way that Red Sox fans don’t just say Bucky Dent but Bucky F---ing Dent, it’s hard for an American not to see Germany’s Torsten Frings and call him Torsten F---ing Frings.

Post your comments below and check back in for Euro 2008 Blog updates after both games today ...


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