For many reasons, it’s been a while since I’ve had either the time or motivation to blog, so as I aim to get La Rambler moving again, perhaps a look at the recently concluded European Championships would be a good place to start.
I didn’t have the opportunity to watch too many games in full, especially in the earlier rounds of group games, but Euro 2012 certainly gave us our fair share of surprises – albeit without any massive shocks – in a tournament which was enjoyable without ever looking likely to be remembered as a classic.
For the third time, the European Championships were hosted jointly. And for the second successive competition, both of the host nations were dumped out at the group stage. Also knocked out were Holland who, along with Ireland, were one of two sides to go home without picking up a single point.
Holland may have been the biggest first round casualty had it not been for Russia’s defeat to Greece in their last group match, which highlighted one of UEFA’s more ridiculous ways of trying to encourage attacking football.
Greece went into the game three points behind Russia and with an inferior goal difference, but knew that they needed simply to beat Russia in order to move above them on the head-to-head ruling, used as the deciding factor between teams on the same number of points, regardless of goal difference. With a 1-0 lead there was no need for Greece to score again, even though Russia still had a better goal difference.
In group C, which included Italy, Spain and Croatia, a situation unfolded during the last group game in which Italy led the group despite having the same number of points as Spain and Croatia, and a lesser goal difference than both. When taking into account that, at that stage of the evening, the games between the three teams had resulted in a draw – or were on course to do so – it seemed ridiculous to think that goals scored in draws between three teams on the same points should be used instead of overall goal difference.
Fortunately, Spain secured a late winner against Croatia and the group was settled on points alone, with Spain taking top spot.
England were amongst the other group winners, and despite a squad lacking a number of experienced international players, went on to record their best performance on foreign soil since 1968 – when the tournament included just four teams.
Not until Portugal in 2004 did England progress beyond the group phase in a competition hosted overseas and when bearing in mind some of the failings of the England national team over the previous ten European Championships – four of which England failed even to qualify – it was little surprise that topping a group consisting of France, Sweden and Ukraine earned Roy Hodgson and his team so many plaudits.
Optimism was high amongst England fans ahead of a quarter-final showdown with Italy, and although hindsight can be used to suggest that a certain degree of that optimism was misplaced following Italy’s dominant display in a match they should have won long before penalty kicks, it is worth noting that Italy’s own performances in the group stage – none of which were overly convincing – were a big factor behind English expectation.
Their ultimate loss to Italy simply resulted in hype being directed elsewhere by the British media.
And from not even being considered as serious trophy contenders before the quarter-final stage, Italy became the new media favourites and found themselves going into the final against Spain just a week later with a number of analysts in the British media almost regarding them as competition favourites. Such a view was based largely on an impressive, albeit overrated, victory over Germany in the semi finals – a match in which a catalogue of Italian defensive blunders in the opening quarter-hour of the match could have seen the Germans with a convincing early lead.
In addition, Mario Balotelli, the talented but temperamental character leading the Italian strikeforce, was hyped to the point that a career of ups, downs and controversies was seemingly overshadowed by a fine performance in the semi final in which he scored twice on an all too rare occasion in which Balotelli’s contribution to his team in a decisive match was entirely positive.
Spain won’t have cared much for the hype and perhaps were more concerned with criticism they were receiving for their style of play. Either way, despite the over-excited hype towards the Italians, normal service was resumed in the final and Spain proved once and for all that they remain the best national team in the world.
It may not go down as the best European Championship event of all time, but Spain’s achievement in securing a third straight major tournament win will at least ensure that Euro 2012 has a little place in football history.