UEFA 2012 European Championship: Postscript

Tuesday 03 July 2012 – Postscript

As the last wisps of winners ticker-tape are swept away from the seats and stands of the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, it’s time to reflect on the events of the Euro 2012 Championships.

In terms of the standard of the competition on the pitch, I can’t think of a World Cup or Euro tournament that I’ve seen that has bettered what has taken place in Poland and Ukraine over the last month. It has been competitive throughout, so for me it makes no sense that when Euro 2016 takes place in France, that 24 teams will take part. UEFA has 53 ranking teams, and virtually half of them will qualify for the tournament, to me this is a diluting of the quality that is entirely unnecessary.

Off the pitch and in the stands, there were a number of issues. Agreed it wasn’t the armageddon of hooliganism and racism that some were predicting, but the running battle between Polish and Russian fans was disturbing as were the scenes of Russian fans attacking stewards after the game against the Czech Republic. Indeed Russia and Croatia suffered a number of financial penalties for racist chanting and the displaying of inappropriate banners at a number of games. Spain, Germany and England also fell foul of UEFA regulations, whilst the Italian press gave mixed messages about how they view Mario Balotelli. UEFA are to be applauded for taking swift action against racism, but I question what message they are sending out when the fine to Nicklas Bendtner for sporting a betting logo on his pants is greater than that handed out to an association for a racist incident? It was also noticeable, that despite record attendances, there were empty seats in the knock-out phase, including the Final. Was this a pricing issue, not only in respect to the tickets, but the accommodation and travel arrangements in Poland and Ukraine?

From a personal perspective there were a number of irritations during the competition. Firstly, the “10…9…8…7…” countdown to kick-off was just awful. Who thought this was a good idea? Why was it introduced? Secondly, the number of occasions that there were two balls on the pitch. Instead of the desired effect of keeping the game going, there were countless times when the game had to be stopped to get rid of the second ball. Thirdly, the number of times players that went down clutching their head, when there had been no or little contact with that part of the body. Would it be unfair to suggest that players have caught onto the fact that referees’ will stop the game and have the ball kicked out when their opponents are on the attack, because it is a possible head injury?

My ‘likes’ from the competition included Roy Hodgson getting ALL the England players to sing the National Anthem prior to each game. It is a small thing, but for me it helps creates a unity within the team. I also was pleased to see that when there when replays of incidents took place on television, the Euro 2012 logo was used, unlike at the 2010 World Cup, when ‘FIFA’ was Big Brother style flashed up. Credit also to the television providers for the montages played during the game in slow-mo, of players, managers and fans reactions – they were a nice little touch during breaks in play.

Still on the television coverage; much appreciation to ITV for their wonderful opening credits featuring various figures in puppet-form and the wonderfully atmospheric “Peter and the Wolf” musical accompaniment. Although worryingly, the Roy Hodgson figure did cut a striking resemble to Parker from Thunderbirds! My favourite commentator/pundit was Mick McCarthy for his blunt Barnsley analysis and his less than impartial input during the Italy v Republic of Ireland game. Mention also for Mark Lawrenson who was at his ‘Victor Meldrew’ best during the Spain v Italy Final.

Memorable images from the tournament include the range of images as a result of the incredible storm that caused the France v Ukraine game to be suspended for nearly an hour and Theo Walcott’s look of bewilderment at his goal against Sweden. Indeed the France v Ukraine game also produced the strangest commentary moment, when on ITV Craig Burley informed the audience that the stoppage for the storm had been a blessing since it allowed him time to munch his way through a packet of “…chocolate hob-nobs, well at least the Ukrainian equivalent…”

Other things that made me chuckle included the bizarre range of mohicans that appeared during the competition, with particular mentions for, Ashley Cole, Raul Meireles and Mario Balotteli. It was also apparent during Euro 2012 that no self-respecting player takes to the pitch without the obligatory forearm covered in tattoo’s.

So that’s it. Spain European Champions 2012. Once September comes around the focus switches to Qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Let’s hope it can match Euro 2012. Adios!

UEFA 2012 European Championship: Final Review

Monday 02 July 2012

UEFA Euro 2012 Final – Olympic Stadium, Kiev.

Spain (2) 4 – 0 (0) Italy

[Silva (14), Jordi Alba (41), Torres (84), Mata (88)]

Spain: Casillas, Arbeloa, Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Alonso, Silva (Pedro 57), Fabregas (Torres 75), Iniesta (Mata 87).

Italy: Buffon, Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini (Balzaretti 21), Pirlo, Marchisio, Montolivo (Motta 56), De Rossi, Balotelli, Cassano (Di Natale 46).

Referee: Pedro Proenca (Portugal)

Talk about save the best till last. Spain proved to be worthy Champions as they brushed aside Italy to become the first team to defend the European Championship crown. From the off the Spaniards were on the front foot and it was no surprise when they took the lead on fourteen minutes. After a period of possession Iniesta’s pass found Fabregas who outwitted Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini before crossing for Silva to head past Buffon. It wasn’t much of a night for Chiellini who limped out of the Final on twenty one minutes. Italy though did respond to the early Spanish goal and Cassano had a couple of efforts which Casillas dealt with. However, Spain provided a telling blow just before half-time when from a Casillas clearance, Xavi found Jordi Alba on the overlap where the full-back finished coolly to put Spain 2-0 up. Di Natale replaced Cassano at the start of the second-half and almost got Italy back into the game with two excellent opportunities. First he headed narrowly over, before Casillas made a fine save. However, that was as good as it got for Italy. Motta replaced Montolivo on fifty six minutes, but the substitute lasted just four minutes, after he pulled a hamstring and Italy having used all their replacements were forced to play the final thirty minutes with ten men. At this point it was game-over for the Azzuri as they embarked on a damage limitation exercise and Spain were happy to simply keep possession. It wasn’t until Torres was introduced on seventy five minutes that the game enlivened, as the Chelsea striker latched onto a Xavi through ball on eighty four minutes to put Spain 3-0 ahead. Four minutes later, Torres played-in fellow substitute Mata, for a fourth Spanish goal and seal the Golden Boot. Italy were grateful for the final whistle as they had been thoroughly outplayed. Pirlo had not been allowed the freedom of previous games and Italy had no luck with injuries on the night. Nevertheless, Spain were simply different class in the Final. However, what would people have been saying if the game had stayed at 2-0? Would the Final and Spain received the same critical acclaim? Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see in the coming season, if teams will try and attempt to replicate what Spain have done in terms of playing without a recognised striker. It could make for some interesting watching. For now though, Felicidades España, Campeones de Europa 2012

UEFA 2012 European Championship: Day 24

Sunday 01 July 2012

Later today the thirty first and last game of Euro 2012 takes place at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, when Spain play Italy. At the beginning of the tournament many would have tipped Spain to make it through to the Final, although the same could not be said of the Italians who arrived on the back of another match fixing scandal back home.

How have the Finalists made it through? These two teams began the competition together in Group C and in the opening round of matches drew 1-1. Italy then also drew their second game 1-1 against Croatia before securing runners-up spot in the Group with a 2-0 win over the Republic of Ireland. Spain easily defeated the Irish in their second fixture, before claiming top spot with a 1-0 win over Croatia. In the Quarter-Finals, Italy out-played England, but had to rely on penalties (4-2) to progress to the Semi-Finals. Spain comfortably beat France 2-0 to set up a meeting with Iberian neighbours Portugal in the last four. Italy secured their place in the Final after an upset in beating Germany 2-1, whilst Spain went through 4-2 on penalties against Portugal.

These two have met on three other occasions in the European Championship Finals. At Euro 1980 Spain met Italy in the opening Group B game at the San Siro in Milan, which ended 0-0. Eight years later at Euro 1988 in a Group A game at the Waldstadion in Frankfurt, a second-half goal from Gianluca Vialli was enough to give Italy a 1-0 win over the Spanish. In the 2008 tournament, they met at the Quarter-Final stage at the Ernst-Happel Stadion in Vienna. There were no goals at the end of extra-time, and Spain progressed courtesy of penalties 4-2. Their meetings at these Championships tell us that the games are tight and it would seem that we are set for another close encounter tonight. I’ll go for an upset tonight with Italy nicking it 1-0, so denying Spain a second consecutive European crown.

UEFA 2012 European Championship: Day 23

Saturday 30 June 2012

With the Final tomorrow, its another day of rest for the two combatants and for me too. All I’m going do today is simply list the previous Finalists as a reminder of the history Spain and Italy will follow in the footsteps of:

1960 – Soviet Union 2-1 Yugoslavia

1964 – Spain 2-1 Soviet Union

1968 – Italy 1-1 Yugoslavia (Italy won Replay 2-0)

1972 – West Germany 3-0 Soviet Union

1976 – Czechoslovakia 2-2 West Germany (Czechoslovakia won 5-3 on pens)

1980 – West Germany 2-1 Belgium

1984 – France 2-0 Spain

1988 – Netherlands 2-0 Soviet Union

1992 – Denmark 2-0 Germany

1996 – Germany 2-1 Czech Republic (Golden Goal in Extra Time)

2000 – France 2-1 Italy (Golden Goal in Extra Time)

2004 – Greece 1-0 Portugal

2008 – Spain 1-0 Germany

UEFA 2012 European Championship: Day 22

Friday 29 June 2012

Germany (0) 1 – 2 (2) Italy

This wasn’t in the script was it? Germany playing the best football in the tournament, and having had 48 hours more to prepare than Italy. The Italians considered just an ‘average’ side that couldn’t play if Pirlo was stopped. But then of course we forgot about ‘Super’ Mario and so did the German defence at times on the evidence of last night.

Germany never hit the heights of their previous games and tactically it didn’t work either. Kroos was brought into the team to shut down and stop the creativity of Pirlo, without success. It was defensively that the Germans looked weak and lapses caused them to find themselves 2-0 after thirty six minutes. The first came after Cassano easily beat his marker and his cross was headed home by an unmarked Mario Balotelli. The second came from a long ball by Montolivo which exposed the German backline, allowing Balotelli to run on and unleash an unstoppable shot past Neuer. A shell-shocked Germany found themselves 2-0 down at the break and unsurprisingly there were second-half substitutions as Podolski and Gomez were replaced by Reus and Klose. Buffon stood firm in the Italian goal saving well from a Reus free-kick, but in reality Italy never looked in trouble and a penalty converted by Ozil was nothing more than scant consolation for the Germans. Against the odds and despite all the scandal back home about match-fixing, Italy are through to the Final. Can the Italians spoil the Spanish dream of a third consecutive major title?

UEFA 2012 European Championship: Day 21

Thursday 28 June 2012


Spain (0) 0 – 0 (0) Portugal AET Spain won 4-2 on penalties

Suddenly the tournament has gone goal-shy as for the second consecutive game, it ends 0-0 and has to be decided on penalties. Talk prior to the Semi-Final was what a classic encounter this could possibly be. However, the drama did not occur until the fateful spot-kicks.

Of the game itself, Spain brought in Negredo as an orthodox centre forward in preference to Torres, with Fabregas also on the bench. From the kick-off Portugal looked to close down Spain and for the opening five minutes the Spanish looked rattled. However, Spain began to settle and Alvaro Arbeloa had an excellent chance to put the European Champions ahead. Nonetheless the last thirty minutes of the first-half belonged to Portugal as they harried and hassled Spain and Ronaldo and Nani looked dangerous going forward. Half-time came with the game level at 0-0. Surprisingly there were no substitutions at the start of the second-half and it was not until fifty minutes that Fabregas came on for the ineffectual Negredo and on the hour Navas replaced Silva. Spain looked better balanced after the changes, but the second-half was a stalemate punctuated by a series of niggly and at times physical challenges. Chances were few and far between, but in the last minute of normal time, Portugal broke quickly to present Ronaldo with a good opportunity, but he shot wastefully wide.

In extra-time, Spain came alive and totally dominated both periods. They started to pass it around with more urgency and an energy that Portugal simply couldn’t match. There was only one team looking to win it and that was Spain, with Portugal keeper Rui Patricio saving his team on a couple of occasions. However, no winner was forthcoming and so to penalties it went. And the drama began…

Xabi Alonso took the opening penalty for Spain, but it was brilliantly saved by Rui Patricio…Up stepped Moutinho for Portugal but his penalty was saved by Casillas…Iniesta scored to put Spain ahead 1-0…Pepe levelled for Portugal (1-1)…Pique slotted home to put Spain 2-1 in front…Bruno Alves walked up to take the next for Portugal, but was then sent back as Nani came forward to score and made it 2-2…Ramos then does a ‘Pirlo’ to once more put Spain in the driving seat (3-2)…Bruno Alves made his second ‘long walk’ to take a penalty but smashed it against the bar…if Spain scored next then they were through to the Final…Fabregas stepped up and his penalty hits the post and for a moment time stood still, but the ball rebounded in not out as it nestled in the net…4-2 Spain and they were through…Cue scenes of joy for Spain…the camera switched to Ronaldo, muttering to himself…he didn’t get to even take his penalty…who made that decision? If it was Ronaldo, it was not the action of a captain with the best interests of the team, this was an egotist demanding the spotlight, the glory kick…não há nenhum I na equipe…

Spain will discover their opponents tonight when Germany take on Italy in Warsaw. These two have played each other in the European Finals previously. The first encounter took place during Euro 1996 at Old Trafford in the final round of matches of Group C. Italy needed to win to progress, but could only manage a 0-0 draw as Germany went on to win the group and take the title that year. At Euro 1988 hosts West Germany took on Italy at the Rheinstadion in Düsseldorf to open Group A. Current Manchester City boss, Roberto Mancini opened the scoring on fifty two minutes, but it was cancelled out just three minutes later by Andreas Brehme. So the previous two tournament meetings have been drawn, is this third meeting going to finish all square? Are we in for a third consecutive 0-0 and penalties?

UEFA 2012 European Championship: Day 20

Wednesday 27 June 2012


Action resumes later tonight as the first of the Semi-Finals takes place at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, with the Iberian ‘clash’ between Spain and Portugal. These two have met previously in the European Championship Finals, although both games were at the Group stages of the competition.

The first meeting was at Euro 1984 in a Group B game played at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille. Both teams had drawn their opening fixture and this game also ended in a draw, although both teams did progress from the group into the knock-out stage. On fifty two minutes António Sousa put Portugal ahead, only for Santillana on seventy three minutes to level the score at 1-1. They met again at Euro 2004 in a Group A fixture played at the Estádio José Alvalade in Lisbon. Portugal had to win to stay in the competition, whilst Spain knew a point would be enough to see them through. Portugal emerged victorious with a second-half goal from Nuno Gomez on fifty seven minutes and sent their neighbours out.

At Euro 2012, there has been debate about Spain playing without a ‘recognised’ striker and going with attacking midfielders, but that hasn’t stopped them progressing so far. Ronaldo has stepped up to the plate for Portugal in their last two games, and much will depend on whether he can continue that form, or whether Spain just choke the life out of the Portuguese in the way they did with the French. Difficult to call, but will go for Spain and then of course the ‘crocodile’ tears that Ronaldo will shed.


UEFA 2012 European Championship: Day 19

Tuesday 26 June 2012

The second day of the break between the Quarter-Finals and the Semi-Finals so a chance to explore some peripherals of the European Championship, namely the trophy and the official Euro 2012 match-ball.

The trophy awarded to the winners of the European Championships is called The Henri Delaunay Trophy and is named in honour of Henri Delaunay, the first General Secretary of UEFA. Frenchman, Delaunay came up with the idea of a European Championship featuring international teams, but died five years prior to the first tournament in his homeland in 1960, when the Soviet Union were the winners. The trophy was designed by Arthus-Bertrand and overseen by Delaunay’s son Pierre. Since that initial tournament in 1960 it has been awarded to the winning team until the Euro 2004 tournament in Portugal, where Greece were the winners. For the 2008 competition co-hosted by Austria and Switzerland, a new trophy was made and won by Spain. This latest incarnation of the cup has been remodelled making it larger, with the sterling silver trophy weighing 8kg and is 60cm tall. Other differences from the original include, the removing of a small figure juggling a ball on the back and the marble plinth. The names of the winning countries which previously appeared on the plinth have now been engraved on the back of the trophy and the silver base has been enlarged to provide stability.

The official match-ball used at Euro 2012 is called The Adidas Tango 12. Football fans of a certain age will remember the original Tango ball which was used in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. This ball has been vigorously designed and tested, especially after the complaints about the 2010 World Cup ball the Jabulani. Adidas claim that the Euro 2012 ball is designed to be easier to dribble and control. Indeed at the tournament to date, there does not appear to have been any bad press for the ball at all. In order to reflect the identities of the current co-hosts, Poland and Ukraine, the ball features a coloured outline inspired by their respective flags. A feature less obvious to the eye, are three bespoke graphics which “…celebrate the decorative art of paper cutting, a tradition in the rural areas of both host countries which the designers say creates a link to the key characteristics of football – unity, rivalry and passion…” (from www.soccerballworld.com). Who will have the ‘balls’ come Sunday to lift the trophy?

UEFA 2012 European Championship: Day 18

Monday 25 June 2012


England (0) 0 – 0 (0) Italy AET Italy won 4-2 on penalties

I know how I felt after the drubbing by Germany at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, a mixture of embarrassment, annoyance, frustration…well so many things. This morning? I know we went out on penalties again and for all but about twenty minutes, were thoroughly outplayed by the Italians, but I don’t feel bad about it at all. The realism that seems to have dawned on media and fans alike is refreshing. Reaching the Quarter-Finals was about right for England – that isn’t being defeatist, it’s realistic. We are still a way off of teams like Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal, but it is something to aspire to, not to beat ourselves up about. Given a not too ideal build-up to the tournament, the England players looked like they enjoyed playing, had a pride in wearing the shirt and Roy Hodgson has got them all singing the national anthem, a small thing but important in the overall scheme of things. England now move on and Roy has time to develop a side for 2014 World Cup Qualification. Blimey, I feel vaguely cheery and optimistic…

UEFA 2012 European Championship: Day 17

Sunday 24 June 2012


Spain (1) 2 – 0 (0) France

Is it just me or did anyone else find last nights game a bit dull? Is it a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes or am I a football philistine? Yes Spain won the game comfortably, yes they controlled it, yes they were the better team on the night, yes they deserved to win it. But…but it didn’t excite me. Holding possession football is all very well, but it needs an end product. Once Spain went ahead in the nineteenth minute from Xabi Alonso, to me they didn’t go in search of a second to kill off the French. Instead they simply held the ball and simply denied France possession, which as a tactic worked. The second goal didn’t come until the final minutes when Alonso scored from the penalty spot. I accept this requires a skill, confidence and comfort on the ball from the entire team, but as a spectator last night it did nothing for me – I couldn’t even say I admired the way they played. Bottom line is that football is about results and Spain got the win they deserved and face their Iberian neighbours Portugal in the Semi-Final.

So to the last of the Quarter-Final games tonight…England v Italy. Only one previous encounter between these two teams and that was back in Euro 1980. In those days the competition was just eight teams, split into two groups. The winners of each group went through to the Final. In the first round of games, England had Italy had drawn their respective fixtures. Therefore the meeting between them at the Stadio Comunale in Turin was make or break for them both. The team were as follows:

England – Shilton, Neal, Sansom, Thompson, Watson, Wilkins, Keegan, Coppell, Birtles, Kennedy, Woodcock.

Italy – Zoff, Gentile, Oriali, Benetti, Collovati, Scirea, Causio, Tardelli, Graziani, Antognoni, Bettega.

The UEFA website provides the following report of the match. “…Marco Tardelli struck the only goal as Italy beat England 1-0 to set up a winner-takes-all encounter against Belgium.

Weak in attack during their opening goalless draw against Spain, Italy again took time to find their stride against England. Ron Greenwood’s team looked the more likely scorers for much of the first half but, without Trevor Francis, lacked the firepower required to puncture one of the world’s most astute back lines. Garry Birtles, earning only his second cap, was swallowed up without trace.

English heads were at least kept above water by Kevin Keegan, dredging up some of his famous energy. Exchanging passes with Ray Kennedy at high speed, he shot low just past the far post, then allowed a pass by Ray Wilkins to reach Kennedy, who hit the woodwork. In the last minute Keegan’s overhead kick was saved by Dino Zoff, Kenny Sansom so nearly scoring from the rebound.

By then, though, Italy had finally found their own killer instinct in front of goal. Giancarlo Antognoni gave the ball to Claudio Gentile out on the left, Phil Neal mistimed his tackle, Francesco Graziani brushed him aside and put in a low cross which Tardelli drilled in from close range.

Italy protected their lead in typically no-nonsense fashion but knew that just a one-goal victory meant they now needed to defeat Belgium in order to reach the final. For England, there was only third place to aspire to…”

Tonight? Well I’ll grab a couple of cold beers, sit back on the sofa, put my feet up and repeat the mantra that used to adorn the stands of Craven Cottage, “…In Roy we trust…”