Euro 2012 came to a spectacular close as Spain swept records away when they crushed Italy 4-0 in a phenomenal conclusion to one of the finest tournaments in recent memory. Aside from the two consecutive goalless games there were goals galore and intense competitive matches that eclipsed the sterile football on show in South Africa two years ago. Each team played its part one way or another in a fantastic tournament which put to rest all the issues surrounding the hosts before the kick-off. Upsets, good refereeing, great football: Impact’s Matt Williams reviews the tournament. 

Winners:

Spain
“Sterile perfection!” cried some. “Boring football!” shouted others. And admittedly there were points, particularly against France and Portugal, when Spain overdid it and had sunk to sterile perfection. But all the doubters were proved wrong as Spain put on a mesmerising display in the final to remind us simply why they are the best. The 4-6-0 formation worked wonders throughout the tournament. Playing badly at times is the sign of champions and they had wobbles against Croatia and for five minutes against Italy. Three major tournaments won, no goals conceded in knockout football in over one thousand minutes, twelve goals, one goal conceded. What next for this astonishing team? They will talk about that first half against Italy for decades.

Rating: 9/10

Best Player: Andres Iniesta

Best Goal: Difficult to choose, all four against Italy were phenomenal but the winner goes to David Silva’s opening goal in the final. Vintage Spanish football.

Runners Up:

Italy
Personally my favourite team of the tournament. Entertaining throughout, they restored pride after a horrific World Cup and gave a nation with political and economic difficulties plenty to cheer about. They ran out of steam and came up against simply the greatest international football team in history. Attractive football led by the genius of Andrea Pirlo, who gave footballing lessons to England and Germany, gave Spain a few moments of worry that was perhaps forgotten by some of the BBC pundits, but they came short eventually. They were also unlucky with injuries in the final. Italy are back thanks to the management of Prandelli. Balotelli, love him or hate him, made a fantastic tournament debut and showed maturity that we should see more of.

Rating: 9/10

Best Player: Andrea Pirlo, the player of the tournament, mesmerising throughout and a fantastic free kick against Croatia. England fans won’t forget him soon or that chipped penalty.

Best Goal: Mario Balotelli’s rocket against Germany; the timing, the power, the celebration just beats Pirlo’s free kick.

Semi Finalists:

Germany
Germany are still a work in progress. The youngest squad at the tournament combined typical efficiency with flashes of brilliance against their opponents. They will illuminate the World Cup in 2014 if they stick to this strategy. Their defeat to the Italians was one of the best games of the tournament, but they came up short defensively and showed little character when it truly mattered. Nevertheless they were a pleasure to watch against the Dutch and Greeks. Perhaps slight arrogance cost them the expected place in the final but they will be back without a doubt. Three semi-finals and a final since 2006: trophies will arrive soon for this hungry side.

Rating: 8/10

Best Player: Although he had a nightmare against the Italians, Mats Hummels performances were sensational at times. Young and talented and surely the future of the German defence.

Best Goal: Mario Gomez’s goals were all class but his second against the Dutch eclipsed the other two. Phillip Lahm’s against Greece was a close contender as well.

Portugal
Started poorly against Germany whose defence eventually got shown up by Italy and suffered a scare from the Danish. The worries were quashed by a fantastic display of counter attacking football and a classic individual display from Cristiano Ronaldo against the Dutch. Defensively astute for the majority of the tournament, Pepe and Bruno Alves rarely put a foot wrong and the Portuguese reminded everyone that in spite of being in the ‘Group of Death’ they are still a force to be reckoned with. All they had to do was sort out the order in which they took their penalties! They were also overly dependent on Ronaldo in the knockout stages, but who wouldn’t be? They enjoyed having a generally healthy supporting cast and a good tournament.

Rating: 7/10

Best Player: Cristiano Ronaldo is proving that he can do it at major tournaments. Joint top scorer with numerous others but he was captain fantastic for Portugal after a slow start.

Best Goal: Ronaldo’s second against the Dutch was a classy goal and capped off perhaps the best individual display of the tournament as he dissected the Dutch.

Quarter Finalists:

Greece
Difficult to beat until Germany swept them aside, but the Greeks showed immense character and spirit to progress to the quarter finals at the expense of a talented Russian side. Their first half against the Polish in the opening game of the Euros was shambolic but they came back and would’ve stolen the show had it not been for the substitute goal keeper’s intervention. Their best performance came against the Russians in which their tenacity and a goal by veteran Katsouranis saw them through. The equaliser against Germany left people wondering if Greece could do it again against all the odds. However, in ten ruthless minutes that was obliterated by Germany. Given the lack of depth in the squad, the Greeks did well and still proved that they are a defensive force. Greece is in an economic hole so deep that many cannot see it emerging for at least a generation. The domestic game has been far from immune, with many clubs experiencing their share of financial difficulty and a dramatic drop in league attendances. Euro 2012 provided the fans with a much needed distraction from their everyday struggles.

Rating: 7.5/10

Best Player: Salpingidis arrived in the second half scoring an equaliser against Poland and winning the penalty that could have shocked the hosts had it not been saved. He scored a consolation goal against Germany and showed consistent displays.

Best Goal: Georgios Samaras’ equaliser against Germany made us believe for 5 minutes.

Czech Republic
The quarter finals were a step too far for the Czechs as they exceeded expectations by finishing top of Group A. They were open and entertaining against the Russians, but were subsequently routed as a result. Pragmatism took priority and after their quick fire double against the Greeks, ninety four minutes of entertaining football was replaced by dull football that got them the results. This was simply not enough as they barely threatened Portugal in the quarter finals. The unknown Pilar had a good tournament and looks a bargain at 1.5 million for Wolfsburg.

Rating: 7/10

Best Player: Jiracek worked tirelessly, never stopped running and got a deserved goal against the hosts Poland in a crunch encounter in the group stages.

Best Goal: Pilar’s goal against the Russian was finely worked.

England
This tournament should make England fans a bit more hopeful. The harmony in the England camp was a refreshing and promising start for Roy in terms of squad unity. The ambition was there, but despite the tournament being our best since 2004, England simply lack the technical ability of their European counterparts, and the belief that they are good players. Wayne Rooney lacked match fitness and gave poor performances despite his crucial goal against Ukraine. Years of underachievement is affecting the psychology of the team and they simply lack an identity, a swagger, a belief that they can beat the big teams. But they are miles behind the best, lightyears away. Roy remains unbeaten in open play so some confidence can be taken from this. It seems change is needed. But despite low expectations they finished top of their group which was a fantastic achievement given the circumstances. A hard fought draw against France, a great fight-back against the Swedish and a narrow victory against the hosts in a must win game. Not bad. But Italy emphatically swept England aside in a 0-0 draw with the familiar sight of England leaving the tournament on penalties. In this case however it was a blessing in disguise. Germany would have humiliated them.

Rating: 6.5/10

Best Player: Steven Gerrard led by example and settled well into an overdue role as captain with three assists to his name on top. He just overshadowed John Terry.

Best Goal: Danny Welbeck’s cheeky winner in the thriller against Sweden was one of the great England moments. He has a promising future.

France
A bright start to the tournament ended in back to back defeats for the French whose unbeaten run of 23 games came to an end critically against Sweden. They looked sharp against England and Ukraine but lacklustre against Sweden and even more disappointing against Spain. France were a mixed bag and ultimately came short of expectations having come into the tournament on good form. Nasri’s public bust up with a journalist and Laurent Blanc’s decision to leave at the end of his contract undermined some clear positives for the French. Simply, they were not the disgrace of the team which blackened the World Cup in 2010 and they finally escaped the group stages of a major tournament for the first time since 2006. Laurent Blanc has done a good job to revive some sense of expectation in France, but ultimately they were miles away from Spain in the quarter finals, lacking the drive needed to win the tournament. Never a dull moment; the thunderstorm was my highlight.

Rating: 6/10

Best Player: Mathieu Debucy put in fine performances against England and Ukraine, a vibrant attacking winger/ fullback.

Best Goal: Samir Nasri’s strike against England. Perfect finish.

Group Stages:

Croatia
The Croatians will feel aggrieved that they did not progress to the quarter finals. They outclassed the Irish in their opening encounter, held an impressive Italy and gave Spain several scares in a crunch encounter, succumbing to a late Jesus Navas winner. Slavan Bilic bowed out as manager of Croatia after several successful years in charge. They simply lacked the killer instinct when it mattered but left with credit performing well in a difficult group.

Rating: 6/10

Best Player: Mandzukic

Best Goal: Mandzukic’s second goal against the Irish was an impressively taken header.

Poland
The Polish could not perform over the entirety of a single game. One half they were fantastic, the next hapless. Attacking football from the outset and an ambition to lift the Polish fans gave the neutrals a much needed lift. But their inability to win a game and keep the attacking intent consistent led to their early exit. Fantastic hosts though and passionate support livened up the tournament. The trio of Borussia Dortmund simply couldn’t lift the rest of their squad.

Rating: 6/10

Best Player: Blaszczykowski led by example throughout the tournament and left himself exhausted trying to keep his nation in the finals. He had an assist and a fabulous goal to boot.

Best Goal: Blaszczykowski equaliser against the Russians. Cut inside and rifled a screamer past Malafeev. They meant the world to the Polish people.

Sweden
Largely superior throughout against Ukraine, they pushed England all the way in a thrilling encounter and exited on a high, ending France’s twenty three match unbeaten run. Sweden will rue sacrificing two leads against Ukraine and England. Tenacious and difficult to beat, it was disappointing to see the Swedish exit so early. They gave themselves a good account at Euro 2012 despite results not going their way. Mellberg got the beard of the tournament despite the notorious amount amongst the Italians!

Rating: 6/10

Best Player: Ibrahimovic showed once again that he can perform for his country on the big stage. His scissor kick against France exemplified the fantastic ability he possesses along with his charismatic personality.

Best Goal: Goal of the Tournament. Scissor Kick. We have all seen it. Enough said.

Denmark
The Danish will be proud of their performances in a group that included Germany, Portugal and Holland. A famous opening victory against the Dutch was followed by a narrow but damaging defeat to the Portuguese. They were defensively astute throughout and showed spirit to come back from two goals down against Portugal, and they pushed Germany all the way. The Danish left with their heads held high.

Rating: 5.5/10

Best Player: Daniel Agger produced solid defensive displays against the Netherlands and Portugal.

Best Goal: Krohn-Delhi’s thumping header against the Germans.

Ukraine
Like their neighbours, great hosts and it was a shame that they exited through the main controversy of the tournament. A clear goal that was deemed a goal line clearance by John Terry denied Ukraine a potential route back into the game and perhaps a chance to even win it. A fantastic comeback in their opening game made for one of the best atmospheres of the tournament with veteran Shevchenko saying his goodbye to football in great style despite the disappointment. However, they were simply not strong enough against the English and French.

Rating: 5.5/10

Best Player: Shevchenko has been a fantastic ambassador for his country in hosting the tournament and a phenomenal footballer and it is sad to see him nearing the end of the road. Classic goals against Sweden were not enough in the big picture.

Best Goal: Shevchenko’s winner against the Swedish in Kiev lifted a nation.

Ireland
The fans of Ireland were a great sight to see, but it was a shame that they had to leave early following their team who simply lacked the quality to prove themselves in the Euros. Defensively astute in the qualifiers, Ireland were found wanting in a group high in quality. They were simply outclassed by Croatia and Spain and ground down by Italy. Nine goals conceded and only one goal to celebrate, the Irish played with passion but this was a step too far. Nevertheless, it was good to see them at a major tournament again and they can use the experience for the World Cup qualifiers.

Rating: 4/10

Best Player: Shay Given performed heroics but the veteran goalkeeper could not keep the opposition at bay. At fault for Croatia’s opening goal but made enough saves to make the cut.

Best Goal: St.Ledger. Irelands only goal and equaliser against Croatia was Ireland’s best moment of the tournament.

Russia
Started with a bang, crushing the Czech Republic in familiar style to their antics in 2008 leaving us expecting more or even perhaps better from the Russians in 2012. But they faltered and crashed, disappointingly floundering against Poland and being knocked out in humiliating fashion to the Greeks. Such a talented squad should not have left early, but they squandered countless chances in the last two games of the group. Thirty nine shots against Greece says it all. Arshavin’s twin brother was peerless in his opening game, but Arshavin of Arsenal returned and with him Russia departed with a whimper. The shame was that we did not see more of a talented squad, particularly joint top scorer Dzagoev with three goals.

Rating: 4/10

Best Player: Arshavin rolled back the years in a vintage display of precision passing and creativity against the Czech Republic that left Arsenal fans rubbing their eyes.

Best Goal: Roman Pavluchenko’s goal was the icing on the cake in a false dawn for Russia against the Czechs.

Holland
Euro 2012 will be remembered by the Dutch for all the wrong reasons. Amongst the favourites going into this tournament, a star studded team, goals galore in the qualifiers and two strikers in Huntelaar and Van Persie who boasted over 70 goals between them for their clubs last season, it was the stuff of nightmares for the Dutch supporters. The critical defeat came against the Danes. The opening game was a must win and the Dutch regretted the missed opportunities presented in that game as the Danes punished them for not taking goldenchances. Egos that had disappeared at the World Cup 2010, emerged once again. Infighting was rife and it undermined the match performances. Pragmatism and efficiency that had boded well for the World Cup finalists in South Africa drew much criticism back home. Total football was reinstated, but the Dutch defence was simply too slow and sluggish to deal with the power of Germany and the pace of the Portuguese counterattacks. Bottom of the group, infighting, Arjen Robben’s selfishness – Holland were the biggest let down of the tournament.

Rating: 3/10

Best Player: Stekelenburg produced many saves to keep his side in the tournament and from further humiliation.

Best Goal: Rafael Van De Vaart’s goal against Portugal. Perfectly placed.

Matt Williams

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