WARSAW (Reuters) - With both co-hosts eliminated, thunderstorms and heavy rain soaking Poland and the sight of half-empty fan zones, Portugal and the Czech Republic were poised to reignite the Euro 2012 party in the tournament's first quarter-final on Thursday.
Poland and Ukraine's failure to get past the group phase created a sense of anti-climax but four juicy last-eight games, starting later in Warsaw and continuing on Friday when Germany take on Greece in Gdansk, should liven things up.
More heavy rain was predicted in Warsaw later, raising the possibility that the roof of the National Stadium could be closed, as it was in the opening match of the tournament.
"In the morning we held a team meeting with both teams and there was a question about closing the roof. Both teams agreed if such a need arises," said UEFA spokeswoman Ewa Prokopiak.
Tournament officials say 30,000 visited Warsaw's fan zone before and during the final game of the group stages in co-host Ukraine on Tuesday, down from 170,000 for Poland's loss to the Czech Republic on Saturday.
In Gdansk on Wednesday organizers were forced to hand out free tickets for a concert by British rock giant Noel Gallagher after it became clear the fan zone was going to be half empty.
Even the latest psychic animal, now a must-have for any self-respecting football tournament, was having an off day as Funtik the Ukrainian pig was disturbed during his prediction session for Thursday's match by a topless protest from Ukraine women's rights group Femen.
Supposedly Funtik eats from one of two bowls of food each marked by the national flag of the teams involved in the next match, thus predicting the winners, but on Thursday he promptly demolished both in short order.
However, the quarter-final line-up even without the hosts has thrown up intriguing sub-plots.
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo will take centre stage against the Czechs before Greece and Germany clash on Friday in a match seen as a symbol of the ongoing economic crisis in the Eurozone with Greece very much the underdogs.
"It will be a tight game because the Greeks are not easy to break apart. They have their own style of play. It is in their blood, a tight defense and strong counter-attacks," Germany coach Joachim Loew told reporters before taking training at a sodden Gdansk Stadium.
"We keep writing them off but they are always there. They are... survival artists."
France attempted to play down quarrels ahead of their quarter-final against holders Spain in Donetsk on Saturday.
Assistant coach Alain Boghossian, a 1998 world champion who was on the staff at the 2010 World Cup when off-pitch dramas led to an embarrassing first-round exit, revealed that strong words were exchanged after Tuesday's 2-0 Group D defeat by Sweden.
But he said it was nothing compared to the fiasco at the 2010 World Cup, when the players went on strike in support of forward Nicolas Anelka, who had been kicked out of the squad for insulting coach Raymond Domenech.
"There were quarrels, well, let's say exchanges, but it's normal in a dressing room," Boghossian said.
The fourth quarter-final is between Italy and England on Sunday in Kiev, with optimism gradually rising for both teams after low pre-tournament expectations.
Italy centre back Leonardo Bonucci said they were "better" than England and England goalkeeper Joe Hart described Roy Hodgson's squad as "winners".
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012. Check for restrictions at: http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp