Some stars aren't shining at Euro 2016, says Neil Humphreys
De Gea's nightmare sums up horror show from leading names
David de Gea was a bag of nerves all night long.
The rock of Manchester United turned into a Spanish omelette - light, fluffy and soft.
His coach, Vicente del Bosque, was at a loss to explain why one of his most reliable performers had turned into a jittery triallist and handed Croatia an unlikely 2-1 victory yesterday morning (Singapore time.)
But if de Gea's nightmare was a shock, it wasn't a surprise, falling in line with an erratic tournament where the real stars are yet to align.
Apart from the odd, illuminating moment, Euro 2016 hasn't been the constellation of glittering quality one expected. The cream of the continent is yet to rise to the top.
De Gea was only the latest disappointment, but his spread-eagled, butter-fingered approach to keeping out the Croatians was a crushing blow after Spain had lifted a flagging tournament in their second game.
Against Turkey, they captivated, with Andres Iniesta a mesmeric force.
But the Spaniards' final group game was more indicative of a tournament that flatters to deceive, offering fleeting glimpses of invention before delivering another stodgy performance.
Having finally usurped Iker Casillas between the sticks, de Gea was considered a key component in his team's resurrection after their Brazilian debacle. But he flopped and flapped like a jellyfish caught in the tide.
A rush of blood allowed Ivan Rakitic to hit the crossbar and de Gea looked less comfortable in the air than a free-falling paratrooper with a defective parachute.
But Croatia's winner will haunt the goalkeeper. Ivan Perisic was a revelation, but even he had to be surprised when his low drive slipped past de Gea at the near post.
The Spaniard was a jumble of flailing limbs, all sliding legs and wobbling arms, allowing the ball to sneak past an outstretched boot.
He barely resembled the sprightly, smiling Spaniard between the sticks at Old Trafford, but then his tough night was in keeping with a tournament that hints at an invasion of the body snatchers.
The faces are familiar and match the names on the jerseys, but the performances belong elsewhere.
Sergio Ramos played musical statues with himself during Croatia's equaliser and later hit the kind of scuffed penalty that is usually dispatched by in school playgrounds.
Iniesta was consigned to the periphery in every sense, lacking either the support, energy or inclination to cut inside and pick up the conductor's baton.
But the ordinariness among made men is proving contagious.
Thomas Mueller has struggled to replicate his World Cup form for Germany, snatching at opportunities instead of finishing them.
The top scorer at the last two World Cups has yet to score in France.
Mesut Oezil and Mario Goetze haven't helped their marksmen's cause, rarely supplying the ammunition typical of the Teutonic arsenal.
Poland's Robert Lewandowski too, has been an unmitigated disaster.
The Bayern Munich predator helped himself to 32 Bundesliga and nine Champions League goals last season.
In France, he has missed the mark, literally. In three matches - against Germany, Northern Ireland and Ukraine - the 27-year-old hasn't managed a shot on target.
In a tournament that trumpeted the return of the conventional No. 9, few have lived up to the billing.
Harry Kane, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all headed into the final group games without a goal to their names.
Kane, in particular, has looked a spent force from England's opening game, the bulldozing ballerina replaced with a clumsy carbon copy.
Kane's lethargy was attributed to the after-effects of an intense, debilitating season at Tottenham. It's a popular line of defence trotted out to explain away fellow underachievers.
Europe's long season weaken limbs. Chasing trophies on several fronts depletes resources. The continent's finest are running on empty.
But the Copa America tests the validity of that argument.
Lionel Messi delivered a masterclass in attacking precision against the Americans yesterday morning to guide Argentina into the final. No footballer has a busier diary than Messi.
Europe's superstars might be tired, but so are the excuses. Incidents of genuine shock and awe are too few to remember. Mediocrity reigns.
De Gea's mistakes were characteristically unusual, but typical of a tournament where its elite performers are floundering.
The stars must shine in the knockout stages to remove the shadow that hangs over France.
(Nikola Kalinic 45, Ivan Perisic 87)
(Alvaro Morata 7)