So, we’re down to just four teams, from the sixteen that rose to compete amongst Europe’s elite. And what a tournament it has been so far, giving everything, that made us flock towards this sport above any other – like students to the prospect of free food – from such early ages. But, with three games still remaining – and without wanting to place any form of Jinx upon it – is it too early to call this one of the greatest international tournaments of all time?
Many of you may scoff this, and begin shouting angrily the names of tournaments at the computer screen that will prove me wrong. But it is not my intention to list and compare this to say; Euro ’96 or Italia ‘90, or even the last Euro – a tournament that allowed us to just sit back and enjoy without the stress of competing, instead I wish to revel in the joys of the football that has been on display.
First I begin with the co-hosts. Poland-Ukraine could have been a disastrous combination, for those who look for the smaller host nation(s) to spring a surprise and add some fire to a tournament, in their own back yards. However, they didn’t disappoint. Both conjured up some mesmerising displays of football, against some good nations, and that’s not to mention the controversy surrounding their games. Red cards, penalties and goals that never were, it’s the stuff that the organisers of these football tournaments, dream of happening, not to mention the fans. Though both failed to qualify out of their groups they didn’t fail to capture the imagination. Besides, even the most passionate and crazed home fan knew, deep down beneath the face paint and flags, progression was unlikely. Still, the basis to every tournament falls on the shoulders of the hosts, to set a standard and a tempo in which the month will go – and from word “go” it happened.
Though we find a semi-final with, perhaps, four of the most obvious choices in European football, Euro 2012 hasn’t been short on the underdog heroes and shock games that we all secretly crave. Unlike Euro ’92, 2004, or 2008 where we found Denmark, Greece and Russia, respectively, as the teams to capture the underdogs imagination, we didn’t have such a run in this tournament. Instead we had an exciting opposite. With Holland looking as one of the, if not ‘the’, most disappointing sides, and the Russians failing from what was billed the ‘easiest group’ – It allowed for dreams of other such middle-ground teams to conjure up. England, new France, Portugal and the Czechs all saw an opening for glory that had, pre tournament, looked to be filled by the Orange of the Netherlands. Also the lack of success of Ireland, who many, myself included, believed could have been the team to watch, allowed for a revitalised Italy side, and an obtusely cocky Spain to progress from their group – setting up excitingly for the finals. It is this progress and success of the teams expected to do so – minus Holland – that has provided us with such an entertaining tournament. This then meaning the tournament has allowed to a showcase of some of the greatest names and talents in European, and World football, a true contest of the greats, and not that of a virtually unknown that has excelled above himself for this month.
Almost every game that has graced our screens has, in its own way, been a classic of some kind. Apart from perhaps the England-France game, and those played by the Greeks, each game has been unmissable. And even those games have had their moments, with incidents, and stunning goals. It has been this excitement and eye-catching football that has excelled this tournament above any else. The progress of teams, and the football they play, has been desired by all. Shock formations of 3-5-2 for Italy, seeing talisman and midfield maestro De Rossi at centre back, and 4-6-0 for Spain, with Del Bosque unable to select only two or three of their gargantuan midfield talent, have proven to be invigorating football in the tournament. At times this allowed for weaker opposition the chance to attack, without being over-run (as they usually are by such teams) but still proving successful at ninety minuets. Portugal, too, seemed to have found their perfect formation, that allows for Ronaldo to be effective, but no their only attacking option. The use of tactics in the tournament have been hot talking points, as they always are, but those that have gambled, seemed to be those that have paid off so far.
Euro 2012 may not be, in your eyes, the greatest, most entertaining or even the most memorable tournament, but there can be no argument about its quality. Every time the teams have walked out onto the green our imagination has been challenged, by offering us something we couldn’t have dreamed of. The truth of the matter is, with only three games to go – and what games they could prove to be – the only disappointment in this tournament, is that it has to end.