Yes, the Euros are drawing to a close and yes, my beloved Germany has been kicked out of the tournament. Regardless, I have opinions of the teams that participated in this year’s showpiece. They follow, in alphabetic order:
Croatia – Euro 2008’s rising stars largely disappointed this time. Mandzûkić provided some bright sparks for the squad but the results never showed for the team as a whole.
Czech Republic – After delighting audiences in the group stages and finishing top of Group A, they went out without a whimper against Portugal. barring that match, a good display of attacking football from a team of which not much was expected.
Denmark – After coming out on top against World Cup finalists Netherlands, the Danes set the tone for some unexpected results to come further in the tournament. Little known Brøndby IF striker Krohn- Dehli proved to be a revelation for the side after scoring against both Netherlands and Germany. Overall, a good squad waiting to create a lot of upsets.
England – The butt of all jokes after a sheepish attacking display though the course of the tournament, England was the team of which a lot was expected and it did not bring fruit to those expectations. Star striker Wayne Rooney failed to deliver against Italy in the quarter finals and penalty misses by both the Ashleys ensured that England were going home earlier than predicted.
France – After playing some good attacking football early on, despite failing to score against England, France were said to be a good prospect later on in the tournament but a dapper Spanish side proved to be too good for them. A mediocre performance from a world class team.
Germany – The stars of the qualifying rounds and the group stage. The only team with a perfect record in the group stage, they were ousted from the tournament by the dark horses of Italy. The semi final exit is quite characteristic of Germany, who always fail at the end of any major tournament, having reached the final of Euro 2008 and the semi final stage of the 2010 World Cup, and losing both to Spain.
Greece – The team that scored some goals and provided a few hurdles to Germany in the quarter final stage. A good team with some fresh faces, but has a long way to go in order to emulate the Euro winning Greek side of 2004.
Italy – The dark horses of the tournament. After crashing out of the World Cup in 2010, Italy lost 3-0 to Russia just before the group stages. Not many people expected the Azzurri to reach the final, but they did. With temperamental striker Balotelli delivering at the right moment and talismanic midfielder Pirlo at the
top of his game, this side certainly has what it takes to beat Spain in the final.
Netherlands – The Oranje were the top scoters in qualifying and much was expected of this star studded team. With the likes of Sneijder and Van Persie at the peak of their forms, a lot I questions were asked when the World Cup finalists crashed out of the group stage without winning a single match. They certainly need to go back to the drawing board with their new coach after Bert van Marwijk announced his stepping down from the job.
Poland – The Euro 2012 co-hosts weren’t really expected to make many inroads in the tournament and they didn’t. Finishing at the bottom of their group, they drew two matches and lost one.
Portugal – After losing to Germany in the first game of the group stage, pundits around the world had already written this side off. However, captain Cristiano Ronaldo had other plans. After some stellar performances by him, Portugal found themselves in a semi final penalty shoot out against Spain. In front of 23 million viewers, Bruno Alves hit the bar with his penalty effort and Cesc Fabregas slotted home the next to send Spain through to the final. Controversially, captain Cristiano Ronaldo did not take a spot kick.
Republic of Ireland – Undoubtedly the weakest side in this year’s tournament, the Irish lost all thee of their games, conceding nine goals and scoring just one.
Russia – The Russians entered the tournament with high hopes after beating Italy in a warm up game the week before. However, they played rather ordinary football and did not qualify beyond the group stage.
Spain – The team of the moment, Spain cruised through the group stage with a solid defense and great passing displays. After winning the Euro 2008 and the World Cup 2010, they look to retain the title of Euro champions and are on course after qualifying for the final on penalties at the expense of Portugal.
Sweden – The team comprising the likes of Ibrahimović and Elmander, largely disappointed in the group stage. They did win their last group match against France, but by then it was too little too late.
Ukraine – After beating Sweden convincingly in their first group game, talk was of the Euro 2012 co-hosts progressing through the tournament. A narrow loss to England in their final group game meant that this was not to be and the Ukrainians were knocked out of the tournament.
Prediction: The Final
Spain and Italy both go into the final with very strong sides, but I would tout Italy for the win solely due to their diverse attacking strategies and adaptive formational play compared to Spain’s rigid and almost formulaic way of moving the ball about the ground.
Best Player of the tournament – Andrea Pirlo. The work horse in Italy’s arsenal has provided one stellar performance after another and is already being tipped for the European Player of the Year Award.
Best Striker – Mario Gomez. The Spanish – German striker has performed consistently in this year’s tournament and righteously deserves to be called the best.
Best Midfielder – Andrea Pirlo. No surprises here; my candidate for Player of the Tournament has certainly proved his mettle in the midfield region and has coupled his attacking forays with some solid defensive displays.
Best Defender – Phillip Lahm. The German captain has proved time and again in this tournament why he is such a coveted player around the world and these performances make him an omnipresent influence in the German defense.
Best Manager – Paulo Bento. The youngest manager in this year’s tournament brought out some great performances from his team and proved that he is a force to be reckoned with in the footballing world.
This year’s tournament has been unlike any other and has provided us with some very vivid displays of fine attacking football. Poland and Ukraine have done a truly commendable job in hosting the major event that the Euro Cup is.
Finally, kudos to us fans for supporting the teams we like, throughout the tournament. We did a great job in egging the teams along even when prospects looked bleak.
To a successful Euro… (Pun intended!)