Well, it’s over. Three weeks of excitement, thrills, spills and gratuitous shots of female football fans has ended in Kiev as Spain tightened their grip on world football’s trophies, thrashing Italy 4-0 in the final. Here are the conclusions I took from a packed 23 days.
1. It was a great tournament. Maybe it didn’t have a classic game, or one of the greatest goals ever, or a great story of redemption, but it was undoubtedly enjoyable, consistently providing thoroughly watchable games. The group stages never disappointed, and whilst there was a drop-off in excitement during the quarter-finals, it soon picked up again. Both co-hosts played their part but came up short, but their exclusion from the knockout stages did not ruin the spectacle.
Savour it whilst you can though. Next time the quality will be diluted with an extra 8 teams and by 2020 there might not even be a host nation, and we will reside in a world where the finals will soon involve 50 nations spread over 27 host cities in a tournament lasting 7 months, meaning huge swathes of Europe will be under UEFA’s tough regime, where only official Euro products can be consumed or drunk. Bad news for Vimto lovers.
2. Well fancy that, Sol Campbell’s fears were unfounded, people didn’t come home in coffins, and the tournament wasn’t marred by racism. There was some from fans of course, and fines aplenty for teams for the conduct of their supporters in isolated incidents, but it seemed to pass off as a fairly peaceful tournament. Of a bigger concern of course were Nikolas Bendtner’s pants. UEFA had got their priorities right as always.
3. Pundits and commentary. Euro 2012 saw a nadir in the history of football commentary. There were bright spots. As jonny foreigner taught us how to play football on the pitch, so the likes of Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Martinez showed us how to analyse the game off it. Sadly their powers did not extend to making Adrian Chiles funny, or cover up the appalling, morose, clichéd Mark Lawrenson, who made Alan Green sound like Timmy Mallett on acid. As for Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer, analysis was pretty much non-existent, Hansen’s time spent viciously criticising a 21-year old footballer (not English, obviously) who had done nothing wrong, whilst Alan Shearer’s training amounted to smiling more and buffing his forehead. In the end, some viewers were forced to listen to a CBBC commentary to avoid Lawrenson’s droning, but with them capturing 6 times as many viewers as ITV for the final, don’t expect any changes of the old guard any time soon.
4. And talking of Hansen brings us round to Mario Balotelli. The enfant terrible of world football was the focus once more, the obsession with him reaching ridiculous new levels. Before the Italy v England match, English journalists tweeted about his every move more than the entire England team combined. Alan Hansen’s disgusting year-long campaign against the player continued, bemoaning his petulance after a final in which he showed no petulance whatsoever, a pattern mirrored throughout the tournament. That’s the problem with football to some- it is all black and white. Balotelli must either be the world’s greatest player and entertainer, or a disgrace to his profession and a clown. As always, the truth lies somewhere in between, but closer to the former. In the end, Balotelli was joint-top scorer, had a fairly good tournament, and that is that. He may never smile, but then neither does Alan Hansen.
5. England were as predicted, average. Everyone knew what was coming, and at last a tournament could be enjoyed without the ridiculous levels of hype and expectancy. At full time against Italy, everyone in my local pub shrugged their shoulders and went home. For Hodgson, the real work starts now. Even Harry Redknapp’s greatest apologists and champions the Sun newspaper couldn’t be bothered replacing Hodgson’s head with a root vegetable after their exit, but he won’t be allowed such leeway in the future.
6. As always, England’s failure also centred around those who were missing and those who just made it. As with every tournament, there is always an England player sweating on fitness, on whom England’s entire hopes rest. This time it was a ban excluding Wayne Rooney, but as ever the return of said player made no difference whatsoever. James Milner was predictably the main fall guy, but there were worse players out on the pitch. And as ever, the nation now rests all hopes on one young player, namely Jack Wilshere. For his sake, I hope he’s as good as everyone says he is.
7. So in the end Spain weren’t that boring after all. Their dominance finally brought an appropriate score line, helped by a tiring 10-man Italy. The purist in me wants them to just occasionally whip in a cross, but it’s hard to criticise a team that haven’t conceded a goal in their last 11 knock-out games. Phenomenal. Quite simply, they have the best set of players in the world, and their control of a football should be lauded, not bemoaned. The players’ football was beautiful, even their children were beautiful. England have a long journey ahead of them.
8. It’s nice to see a good guy win. Del Bosque hadn’t done much in the years before he took the Spain job, having much earlier guided Real Madrid to repeated glory, before being ruthlessly and predictably culled. John Toshack argued that Del Bosque always takes over great teams, but his achievements should not be underestimated, as great players guarantee you nothing.
9. And where did it all go wrong for Fernando Torres? Shorn of confidence, his season ends with only a Champions League medal, FA cup winners medal, European Championship medal and the Golden Boot (in a team without strikers apparently). It’s been a tough year.
10. Elsewhere, the other managers had mixed fortunes. Credit to Prandelli for taking Italy that far and overseeing a masterful semi-final victory over Germany. The Italians ignored trouble at home as they have done before, and prospered for a while. It’s just a shame that it all ended with their biggest defeat in 65 years. Of those who managed “lesser” teams, Slaven Bilic continued to impress, despite their early elimination.
11. For some, the glory will have to come another time. For a while it seemed like this would finally be a tournament where Ronaldo shined. In the end, his light dimmed, as his side failed on penalties as he stood in the centre circle bemoaning the fact he opted for the glory of penalty number five. Surely he should have taken the first or fourth, but let’s not forget that he has missed three high-profile penalties in the past.
For Germany, their young side must regroup and try again. It may be hard for a European side to win in Brazil, but this is a side with a bright future that this time around came up short, their performance against Italy one of the disappointments of the tournament. It was a feature of the tournament that teams sparkled before fading. For a short while Russia looked like dark horses for the title, before not even qualifying from their group. Portugal too looked dangerous before fading against Spain, before Germany took on the baton and fell near the end.
12. So, with 3 of the goals in the final being scored by Premiership players, does that make it the best league in the world? A tedious argument, but John Cross of the Mirror tweeted so. Sadly, John overlooked a couple of minor problems with that argument. Only 3 of the 44 players who started the semi-finals were Premiership players. In the final, Spain consisted of 10 La Liga players and a Manchester City player. Italy consisted of 10 Serie A players. And a Manchester City player.
Need more football? Don’t worry- by the time you read this, the Champions League qualifiers will have started. Dexter Season 6 will have to wait for now.