For 23 days, I have been stuck in a blissful state of football related comatose. I woke up this morning feeling as if I’ve aged three years in three weeks.
The skies are grey again, as if the football Gods themselves are preparing for their impending exit from the spotlight. Euro 2012 is over, which means that for the more dedicated of us, a seemingly endless trawl through football’s transfer gossip is depressingly likely.
Fortunately, I like tennis and, as I’m not yet a taxpayer, I like the Olympics. I essentially get the next month of sport-induced procrastination for free, which probably means continued unemployment, but a sort of permanent weary smile. So I think we know who wins there.
Anyway, this is a Euro 2012 article, so I thought it would be pertinent to do a review of a truly, wonderfully, excitingly adequate tournament. Enjoy.
After 30 games, a few exciting debates, a few moronic ones, 72 goals (I think), the brilliance of Andrea Pirlo, the ineptitude of England and much, much more, we had a final.
Most people predicted a Germany v Spain showpiece, while the more ambitious (stupid) of us thought the Netherlands would go all the way.
After a few big teams and names fell by the wayside, it was Italy who stood up to Spain to mark the end of the tournament.
The build up to the game centred on three main themes:
Are Spain boring?
I was thinking the same thing after painfully precise victories over France and Portugal. Efficiency? Clinical football? Winning on penalties? It suddenly seemed like Spain were turning into Germany.
Unfortunately for Ms Merkel and co, this sudden likeness is with regard to their football, not with their economy, but that’s a debate for people who have more of an idea of how economics works.
For all their possession, Spain were really struggling to break teams down, which led many casual (geeky) observers to question whether opposition teams had already figured out a way to cope with Spain’s control of possession. This ball retention was becoming so monopolised that one expected Xavi to pull out a big cane and fake moustache, before turning the pitch into a grid which he endlessly circled in a tiny silver car. Just me?
Last night, the Spanish finally played at their best. It turns out that if your players play 60 odd games a season, they get tired. It turns out that if you are shorn of your record goal scorer, you’ll struggle to…score goals. It turns out that if you have Alvaro Arbeloa at right back, you can’t afford to be too gung ho. Last night, Spain were anything but boring; they beat Italy into submission until they stopped twitching.
Is Andrea Pirlo the best player in the universe?
It turns out that controlling England’s midfield is easier than reciting the words to the Spanish national anthem (there are none). Pirlo was outstanding against England, but last night he was almost peripheral as a lack of possession and space ensured that Italy never seriously threatened Iker Casillas’ goal.
Let’s talk about Mario Balotelli some more.
“Are we going to get super Mario, or stupid Mario?” “You never know what you’re going to get with Balotelli.” “He could score or he could get sent off.” I think the robotic BBC pundits have got stuck, as they keep saying the same things over.
As a football writer, I should love Balotelli for his headlines and tendency to do something stupid, but I don’t buy into the hype.
He worked hard last night, but was a frustrated figure and, his performance against Germany aside, remains a player who lacks the consistency to keep worrying defences. Stupidly, I’ve talked about him for 100 words.
So, Spain were excellent. Surprise. Apparently they only had 50% of ball possession but, as those aforementioned pundits love to tell us, “it’s what you do with it that matters.”
A goal of real quality from Jordi Alba answered the critics regarding Spain’s lack of penetration, an attribute I will not make a tenuous metaphor for.
The other three goals came from David Silva, Fernando Torres and even Juan Mata, which is likely to prompt further claims that the Premier League is to thank for Spain’s dominance.
Before I wrap up, here are a few of my highlights of Euro 2012.
Goal of the tournament – Cesc Fabregas vs Italy
Didn’t expect that did you?! It wasn’t going to be this goal, but I didn’t want to spell the name of the Polish captain again. This goal encapsulated what Spain can do when they are at their best and forced to attack. Minutes after falling behind, Spain struck when first Andres Iniesta found a path through Italy’s midfield, before a wonderful reverse pass from David Silva gave Fabregas the chance to score. An admirable mention for Theo Walcott’s deflected-but-not-deflected shot against Sweden.
Player of the tournament – Jordi Alba
This is so easy. Not Pirlo, not Gomez, not Milner. No, those titans of international football have been slain by the hitherto relatively unknown left back. A goal in the final was just reward for a fine tournament in which he constantly provided width to a sometimes pedestrian attack, contributed to five consecutive clean sheets and much more. Besides, he was top scorer in fantasy football.
Game of the tournament – England 3-2 Sweden
It may surprise you, but I did not pick this game for the thrilling technical brilliance on display. Olof Mellberg’s first goal was a finish of real quality, but although the standard of both teams was outstanding, it was the drama and entertainment which makes it stand head and shoulders above the rest.
So there you have it, the tournament is finished and so am I. I better find something to do now. I may even eat an apple. Football fans, stay strong, there’s only six or so weeks left to go till we can do nothing again!
Now get back to work.
By Doug Elder