Spain seem to be Euro 2016 favourites as contenders struggle for form
Now that we're roughly halfway through Euro 2016, a fuller picture has emerged regarding the quality of the top teams in the competition. Months of discussion around their main issues have finally given away to some hard evidence -- and results.
While the history of the European Championship, and the fact it's an open knockout, means there could yet be a surprise, there still looks to be a group of sides above the rest.
So, from what we've seen so far, who will be celebrating on July 10? Based on the games so far, the defending champions look to have the best chance of winning it all again.
They are the team to put in by far the most convincing performance so far, and have the best performing player in Andres Iniesta, who has been so glorious as the orchestrator. The cohesion he brings is lifting Spain to another level; they look like a different team compared to the state they were in during the World Cup in Brazil two years ago. This is a reborn Spain, one that might also have a new cutting edge.
In scoring twice against Turkey, Alvaro Morata has really stood out in this tournament as a striker who actually strikes. That, combined with their cohesion and Iniesta's brilliance, could well mean they retain this trophy again. No one has yet put in a performance to match theirs against Turkey.
They have so many brilliant players capable of creating an instant difference. They can lean upon home advantage and the emotional energy of so many late goals too, but the wonder remains whether that can all add up to a title-winning team.
France haven't yet touched the level of Spain -- or perhaps even Italy against Belgium -- and Didier Deschamps still has tactical issues to solve, though France do have clear potential to grow. Could they eventually peak at the right time?
They're the world champions and probably the best team in the competition when actually at their best, but the oddity is how rarely that seems to happen. There often seems to be a confusing complacency surrounding Germany and they tend to give teams a chance. Their opening 2-0 win over Ukraine summed it up. There were portions of the game when they were playing supremely and looked unbeatable, but also extended spells when they were under real pressure and so unconvincing.
That has been the case since winning the World Cup and hasn't been helped by the lack of a striker, as Mario Gotze in the false nine role hasn't really worked out so far. Germany becoming double champions depends on them finding what should be their true level or they could be caught out.
They might have one of the weakest Italian squads for some time but still retain the best defence in the tournament and, most important, the best manager in Antonio Conte.
That also means Italy are one of the few teams with anything like a modern cutting-edge system, which gives them a significant advantage over many more talented sides, as Belgium found out. Can Conte maintain their intensity of application long enough for weaknesses not to tell? The slightly patchier 1-0 win over Sweden suggested that is the balance he has to strike.
Against Ireland, manager Marc Wilmots overcame a week of controversy following the defeat to Italy and finally, after three years of trying, found a formation that worked and actually maximised his players' quality. Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard burst into life, while Romelu Lukaku showed a killer instinct in an impressive 3-0 win.
If Belgium can keep that up, they can beat anybody, but it remains to be seen whether they can maintain this balance. Wilmots was in bullish form after the Irish game as if this had been a grand plan all along. That is stretching things. It might be a stretch to expect him to maintain this fragile balance in the side.
They looked like they might be potential champions in the first 170 minutes of their tournament until controversy erupted at the end of their match with Czech Republic, followed by a collapse that saw them draw 2-2.
All the problems around that, however, are not the only issues around this team. They already seemed like they were lacking a striker and the brilliant Luke Modric is now out of the final group game with Spain. If Croatia do not win that match, their potential route to the final will be Italy, Germany, France.
They boast one of the most balanced teams in the tournament, with a lot of promising but still-ready young talent like Grzegorz Krychowiak boosted by a peak world-class star in Robert Lewandowski.
They showed their ability to compete with the elite by drawing 0-0 with Germany, having also beaten the world champions 2-0 in qualifying, and look like they could be strong candidates to reach a semifinal. From there, they have enough about them for anything to happen.
Before they even think about winning it, they have to think about how to finally get beyond the quarterfinals. Roy Hodgson now believes he has found a system that works, although the only testing ground has been a moderate Wales team.
England's problem has never been failing to beat weaker teams than them. The issue has repeatedly been losing to the first good side they face.
Cristiano Ronaldo isn't firing, so neither are Portugal. It is not a coincidence that they haven't won a game and he hasn't scored. If that doesn't change, they have no chance in this tournament.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.