x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Euro 2012: The headline act of the tournament

The aerial attacks have been paying off, with 20, of the 69 goals scored so far, coming off the head.

Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, left, scored the first of 20, so far, headed goals in Euro 2012.
Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, left, scored the first of 20, so far, headed goals in Euro 2012.

From the moment the Poland centre forward Robert Lewandowksi stooped to redirect a pass into the net against Greece for the opening goal of Euro 2012, strikers have been using their heads.

Halfway through the quarter-finals, from total 69 goals, 20 have been headed, already more than in any other European Championship.

The Irish writer Oscar Wilde once said "Football is all very well a good game for rough girls, but not for delicate boys," and while the 19th century poet was talking about the game in general, fortune has often favoured those who leap highest or put their bonce, tete, kopf, nut or noggin in where it hurts.

From when footballs were nothing more than inflated pigskin bladders, to mud-spattered and water-clogged leather balls that gave the feeling of heading a lump of lead and now the modern-day aerodynamic spheres that zip through the air, the art of heading a ball properly brings reward.

Euro 2012 has featured fine headed goals, from Cristiano Ronaldo's well-timed and accurate placement that secured Portugal semi-final's berth, to the Croatian Mario Mandzukic's off-balance effort that caught out Ireland and Andriy Shevchenko's quick-fire double for Ukraine against Sweden.

The best so far, though, was the bursting effort from the England striker Andy Carroll against the vulnerable Swedes, a throwback to when a centre-forward was cut from granite and commanded the airspace around him.

The burly striker met Steven Gerrard's cross with a majestic header that had a perfect blend of power, timing and precision.

Hurtling off Carroll's forehead from 11 metres away, like a laser-guided missile, the Sweden keeper Andreas Isaksson was left flapping in the ball's vapour trail.

Michael Platini, the Uefa president, believes the introduction of additional officials behind each goal has led to more headed goals because defenders are more wary and less likely to impede opponents when they have additional eyes on them.

"With the additional referee you score more headers, because there is the fear of being caught," the Frenchman told reporters during the group stage.

"So there are more goals because the players know that the referee is there and they cannot commit fouls all the time.

"I think that the refereeing system allows more goals because there is less shirt pulling, less simulation."

Platini said it had not always been so.

"We have spent all our youth to try and fool the referee. You actually pulled the shirt when the referee wasn't looking.

"You can score more goals because you have the space to score. Before, if you held the shirt, it was impossible."

Headed goals have lit up past European Championships, ever since the first in 1960 when Victor Ponedelnik's extra-time winner for the Soviet Union sank Yugoslavia in the final.

Four years later Jesus Maria Pereda's early goal in the final for Spain against the Soviets set them on their way to glory on home turf.

The muscular Horst Hrubesch, nicknamed Das Kopfball-Ungeheuer (The Header Beast), headed home a corner two minutes from time to secure the Euro 1980 title for Germany after a 2-1 win over Belgium in the Rome final.

The Dutch captain Ruud Gullit, his dreadlocks flowing behind him, leapt to bullet a header past Rinat Dassaev and help Holland defeat the Soviet Union for their only European Championship title, in 1988.

This century, memories remain vivid of the Sweden striker Henrik Larsson diving full length from around the penalty spot to score against Bulgaria in Euro 2004, and Angelos Charisteas's winner in that year's final for Greece, the replays of which will be shown from Athens to Thessaloniki and beyond for many years to come.

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