Euro 2012 has come and gone, and with it, has left behind some memories along the way. Overall it was a wonderful tournament, filled with heart-stopping fixtures, and exquisite football. Yes, there was controversy and a little ugliness at Euro, and that is to be expected at any international tournament. So with that in mind, here is what was right, what went wrong, and what can be improved. (Cue Clint Eastwood in his western garb.)
The quality of Spain shone through yet again. Despite being called dull and tiresome by some critics, La Roja were in top form when it mattered most. They were never better, than in the final against Italy, thrashing the Azzure 4-0, to claim their third European title. The midfield duo of Xavi and Andres Iniesta were class as always, showing impeccable nerve and style yet again. They are the main reasons why Spain and their club team Barcelona, are threats to win trophies in all competitions. It also doesn’t hurt when Iker Casillas is between the sticks. He is quite simply, the best keeper on the planet today, which attributes Spain’s strong defensive play. Spain will go into the 2014 World Cup as favourites and organizers are hoping for a Spain vs. Brazil final. Perhaps the Samba Boys can put an end to Spain’s dominance at the mighty Maracana, but never discount the Spanish. A poised and polished group.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s star shone even brighter at Euro 2012. The Real Madrid winger was the sole reason why Portugal made it to the semifinals of Euro 2012. His pace and flair for the dramatic, led Portugal to stirring victories over Holland and the Czech Republic, finding the back of the net three times in those two matches. It’s a shame Ronaldo had to play with Helder Postiga as his centre forward. Postiga was very agricultural around the net, and provided little support for the Portuguese superstar. Here’s hoping Ronaldo can show more of his excellence, two years from now in Brazil.
Andrea Pirlo was a wonderful comeback story in this tournament. The Juventus midfielder had a terrific season after coming over on a transfer from AC Milan, and continued his superb play at Euro. Pirlo was thought to be finished, after struggling with Milan, but regained his form at Turin, and showed the world how sterling he was at Euro, leading Italy to the final. With Juventus back in the Champions League this upcoming season, Pirlo will have more opportunities to showcase his talents. There is a chance he could be in Brazil for the World Cup in two years, but if this was his international swan song, what a way to go out.
Holland continue to be a disappointment on the big stage. Two years ago in South Africa, the Dutch played a negative, boorish style of football, that got them to the final, before losing in heartbreaking fashion to Spain. This time around, Clockwork Orange lost all three matches in the Group Stage, and went home with their tails between their legs. It got so bad that coach Bert van Marwijk quit not long after the plane landed in Amsterdam. Arjen Robben probably has played his last international match, as he showed poor form and zero inspiration on the pitch. Gregory van der Wiel was laborious in the back, and perhaps costing him millions of dollars on a possible transfer. Clubs were interested in the right back, however thanks to his dire performance, he will be staying at Ajax for another season. The Dutch are an old, tired group that needs to make sweeping changes to their lineup. And they must act now, before World Cup qualifying begins in September.
It is always grand to see the Republic of Ireland make it to a major tournament. The spirit of the Irish is always welcomed at these events. However, their lack of quality, swiftly dampened those spirits. The Irish lost all three matches at Euro by a combined score of 9-1. Their only goal was scored by defender Shane St. Ledger, who was perhaps their only bright spot in the tournament. The old guard of Robbie Keane and Shea Given look withered and worn, showing no flashes of previous form. Given in particular was aghast in the net, looking wayward between the sticks for Ireland. Surely this must be the end of his international career. Keane, meantime, is more focused in breaking into Hollywood, than playing football at this point of his career. The Los Angeles Galaxy striker, looked disinterested throughout the tournament, while realizing that defenders in European football are much more demanding, than defenders in the MLS. This was Keane’s last international tournament, as he will finish out his career in The City of Angels. The Irish need to start over, and with Germany in their group for World Cup qualifying, they will be hard pressed to be in Brazil in 2014.
It looked like Russia were poised for a breakthrough after an emphatic 4-1 victory over the Czech Republic in the opening fixture of Euro. However, after a listless draw with Poland, Russia were sent home, after a 1-0 defeat to Greece. The Russians can play attractive, attacking football, but lack the composure and courage to match their potential. Despite three goals from budding star Alan Dzagoev, Russia couldn’t make it out of Group A, which was considered the weakest group in the competition. Russia won’t have it easy in World Cup qualification, as they have Portugal in their group. Russia remains a mystery, and they have two years to solve that mystery.
Racism reared its ugly head at Euro. White supremacist groups were present at matches in Poland, chanting racist slurs towards black players. They also infiltrated a practice by the Dutch team in which they hurled insults and slurs towards the black players. Holland complained and their practices were moved to a private field. The football associations of Germany, Spain, Croatia and Russia were fined by UEFA for racist activities by their supporters. However those fines paled in comparison to the fine UEFA levelled at Danish forward Nicklas Bendtner for lifting up his shirt to showcase a sponsor not associated with UEFA. Until UEFA and FIFA get serious about their approach with this delicate issue about race, and less vigilant about a player showing off an uncredited sponsor, these problems will continue to tarnish the beautiful game.
Goal line technology was debated yet again at Euro. Never more so than after the match between England and Ukraine. With England leading 1-0, Ukraine striker Marko Devic struck a shot that was cleared away at the line by English defender John Terry. Upon further inspection, television cameras showed that the ball clearly crossed the line before Terry cleared it away. Referee Gabor Ebos signalled no goal and play went on. Ukraine manager Oleh Blokhin was furious on the touchline, screaming at the fourth official to look at the giant screen at the end of the stadium. However, the call stood, and the score remained 1-0 England when the full time whistle blew. There comes a point in time where UEFA and FIFA have to use the technology that has been given to them to aid the officials. This isn’t 1966 anymore where England benefitted from a “ghost goal” that propelled them to their only World Cup title. That goal remains inconclusive to this day. Today with cameras all over the place, it shouldn’t be that difficult to use replay to determine whether the ball crossed the goal line or not. Sadly, both UEFA president Michel Platini and FIFA boss Sepp Blatter have their heads in the sand in this issue. (and many others, but that’s another rant for another day) One day these two dinosaurs will realize the error of their ways but until then, soccer is stuck in the stone age.
That concludes Euro. Looking forward to World Cup 2014 in Brazil.
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