x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Euro 2012: The best and worst of the tournament

Paul Radley travelled across both countries to witness many of the matches first-hand and others from less than salubrious settings, plus his team of the tournament.

France's Samir Nasri.
France's Samir Nasri.

Best attacking weapon

All this talk about "false 9s", tiki-taka passing and inverting the pyramid is a load of mumbo-jumbo. If Euro 2012 proved anything, it was that the best tactic is just to sling it into the mixer.

The headed goals - of which there were more than at any other European Championship - were just as glorious as anything Xavi, Mesut Ozil or Andrea Pirlo created.

Andy Carroll's big-boy's effort against Sweden, Mario Gomez's bullet against Portugal, Nicklas Bendtner's double, also against Portugal, and Pepe's in the same game will remain the salient memories of this tournament.

Even Xabi Alonso was at it, so you know it must be good. "I don't know when the last time was I scored with a header. You'll have to check Wikipedia," the Spain schemer said after his effort against France.

Worst expansion

Most everyone enjoyed this tournament. Which is good, because it is unlikely to be the same again any time soon.

Not long ago this tournament pitted together the best eight teams in Europe. That elite club usually provided elite football to go with.

In four year's time, though, there will be 24. What will that bring? A surfeit of averageness, most likely.

Major football tournaments already suffer from the fact they are played after long, usually highly intense domestic seasons.

A number of Spain's players had played over 5,000 minutes of football this season. Xavi and Andres Iniesta appeared to be running on fumes, when they should have been the stars of the tournament. The European Championships, in its current format, is miles better than Fifa's four-yearly World Cup. Why do sports administrators not recognise less can be more?

Best match

When Rafael van der Vaart, who played most of last season as a forward for Tottenham Hotspur, is named as a holding midfield player, it is safe to expect an open, exciting game.

Needing a win by two-clear goals to stand a chance of advancing, Holland's coach Bert van Marwijk lobbed up caution and volleyed it into a gale.

His side were wild and loose and never realistically near winning, but at least they made their contribution to a beautiful game.

The stars were obviously aligned, as Cristiano Ronaldo also picked this fixture for his belated arrival at the tournament after two listless opening displays. He was as close to unplayable that night in Kharkiv as any individual managed at this competition.

Worst attitude

Of all international teams, only France could go undefeated for 23 matches then lose one - essentially inconsequential - game and have a meltdown about it.

It is no wonder Hatem Ben Arfa and Samir Nasri are treated with such suspicion in their homeland. The former was reportedly sending texts during the post match debrief after the fateful defeat to Sweden, which had been explosive enough as players were angered by the latter's perceived selfishness.

In the next game against Spain, Nasri sullenly entered the fray as a second-half substitute. Yann M'Vila sulkily exited when Laurent Blanc, his manager and a French playing great, deigned to replace him.

And as France flounced out with barely a whimper, Nasri railed against the unfairness of it all with a stream of invective. Classy.

Worst marketing

Ukraine had one chance to sell itself to the world. It blew it. Not because of the places or the people: each were very pleasant, especially in Kiev and Lviv.

However, a variety of tourists complained at being taken advantage of by opportunist accommodation owners.

Michel Platini, Uefa's president, blamed the hoteliers for profiteering. The companies themselves pointed to the high prices at the London Olympics for justification, or complained they were being taxed to the hilt by the government.

Either way, it was a significant draw back for a country which patently has a lot to offer its guests.

Best stadium

If ever a football club has outgrown its working-class roots, it is the "Coalminers" of Donetsk.

Shakhtar Donetsk's past still survives at the southern end of the city's centre, where their ramshackle old 30,000 capacity ground resides happily next to a refinery and slag heap.

At the northern end of town, though, the club have a shiny monument befitting a club that has won the Ukrainian league six times in eight years - or, more pertinently, is funded by the country's richest man.

The 50,000 seater Donbass Arena was built independently of Uefa, three years before this tournament. It outshone all those that were purpose-built for Euro 2012, not to mention the rest of an otherwise featureless city.

Worst sight

An old one this, but why has simulation never been seriously enough addressed that it has been eradicated?

Take Mario Mandzukic as just one example. The Croatia forward was in awesome form at this tournament, even though his side failed to advance beyond the pool stage.

And yet the lasting memory of him will not be the goals he scored, but they way he rolled around theatrically on the ground whenever a defender came near him. He was by no means the only one.

Super slow-motion replays in high-definition do the players no favours. It shows up that minimal contact is, in many cases, no contact at all.

They end up looking like mugs. And cheats.

Best goal

The Divine Ponytail Mark II. Zlatan Ibrahomivich, the enigmatic Sweden captain, was at his best in this tournament when the stakes were at their lowest.

The Swedes were already out when he unleashed his twisting volley from the edge of the box against France in Kiev.

It did have some ramifications, though. England, simultaneously benefiting from a goalline official's error, went on to win the group, while the French had the sort of implosion in which they specialise.

Worst OCD

Steven Gerrard, like one of his predecessors as England captain, David Beckham, suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

In Gerrard's case, his mild OCD relates to personal hygiene, and he likes to wash his hands over and over again.

There was the odd clue to it in England's quarter-final loss to Italy. The fact the game went to extra time and penalties meant Gerrard had to do the ceremonial hand shakes with Gianluigi Buffon, the Italy captain, and all five match officials around four times.

After each occasion, he surreptitiously wiped his hand on his shorts to get it clean.

Best ball

Anything played by Pirlo or Alonso - or "That Pass" by Wesley Sneijder to Robin van Persie - could fit into this category.

However, chances are each of them might have erred by a yard or two had they been using the same match ball as at the World Cup two years ago.

Adidas consigned the Jabulani to the drawer marked "Short-lived nightmare", and went back to what they know best: the Tango.

Like referees, match balls are best when they are out of the news and unnoticed. The fact they were barely mentioned was a good thing.

Worst temper

Oleg Blokhin, Ukraine's manager, is like a souped-up version of Diego Maradona. "Bronca", the bitter discontentment and anger which is said to drive the Al Wasl manager during his bouts of drama, is strong within this one.

When John Terry, the England defender, hooked Marco Devic's shot clear when the ball was over the line, the combustible Blokhin was windmilling at the fourth official.

Earlier in the game, the manager had given the same player a volcanic dressing down for failing to make the right run. The striker looked genuinely scared.

In the aftermath, Blokhin twice invited a journalist outside to have a real "man's conversation". You would have backed him.

Team of the tournament

 

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)

The Iker Casillas fan club have a case, but it is difficult to see past Italy’s No 1 as the best in the world. Imperious leader, too, who made his national team debut back in 1997.

Right back Joao Pereira (Portugal)

Portugal’s rampaging full-backs were eye-catching in this tournament from the beginning, with Pereira patrolling one flank and Fabio Coentrao controlling matters the other.

Centre back Mats Hummels (Germany)

Had the night off against Mario Balotelli in the semi-final. Other than that he was near enough perfect. The Borussia Dortmund defender is now being tracked by Barcelona.

Centre back Sergio Ramos (Spain)

“The trouble is,” the now-departed France manager Laurent Blanc said, “[Spain] are very strong in defence, too.” None more so than the brilliant Ramos. He also scored his semi-final penalty Panenka-style.

Left back Jordi Alba (Spain)

One of Spain’s lesser-known players coming in to Euro 2012 was arguably their stand-out during it. He just does not seem to know he is a defender. He rejoined his former club Barcelona last week.

Defensive midfielder Xabi Alonso (Spain)

Teammates Andres Iniesta and Xavi lacked their usual pizzazz in this tournament, but Alonso was at his zenith. He even scored a header, in his 100th match for his country, no less.

Defensive midfielder Sami Khedira (Germany)

Khedira without Bastian Schweinsteiger is like Venus Williams without Serena or Rene without Renata, but he just manages to edge out his teammate.

Left wing Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Conspicuous by his poorness in the first two games but stunning thereafter, including a stand-out against Holland. Well worth the extra saunas and bodyguards.

Central midfielder Andrea Pirlo (Italy)

Unsurprisingly, given it was (another) match-fixing year, Italy raised their game for this tournament. Their veteran playmaker, Pirlo, was peerless.

Right wing Claudio Marchisio (Italy)

They say you should never meet your heroes, but when the Juventus midfielder met Steven Gerrard, it was the England captain who would have wished they should have never met.

Centre forward Mario Balotelli (Italy)

He is trouble. He will not amount to anything. Just the three Scudettos, one Champions League, a Premier League, and an FA Cup. Never been a player...

Coach Cesare Prandelli (Italy)

Once it was determined that Italy, in the wake of match-fixing scandals, would play, Prandelli set about bringing positive headlines about Italian football. They have done that.

pradley@thenational.ae

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