As with the last World Cup, I’d like to offer a final review of Euro 2012, rankings the teams via my own system, before giving out my own awards and final thoughts.
My ranking system see’s places 16-9 sorted by points total in the group stage, then goal difference (GD). Didn’t need anything else, thankfully. 8-5 is by losing margin in the quarter finals, then total tournament GD. 4 and 3 are the same for the semis, with 2 and 1 being the finalists and winners respectively. Let’s start.
16. Ireland (0 points, -8 GD)
Wasn’t expecting this. The Irish team arrived in Poland with a singular game plan, which fell apart very fast against Croatia and Spain. An unfit keeper, a porous defence, a weak midfield and a toothless attack characterized Ireland, with a formation and substitution system that was baffling when it wasn’t just frustrating. Outplayed three times and never particularly looking like they belonged there, Ireland are well deserving of the wooden spoon.
Best moment: The brief time they were level with Croatia, when it seemed the plan was back on track.
Worst moment: Silva’s goal for Spain, the last nail in an inevitable coffin.
15. Netherlands (0 points, -3 GD)
Wasn’t expecting this either. The Dutch team that drove itself into the World Cup Final of 2010 collapsed amid a heap of squad problems and a lack of direction on the field. Stunned by the highly organised Danes and outdone by the effective Germans, the Netherlands just could not keep it together to get the needed win against Portugal. Van Piersie occasionally showed some of the brilliance he brought to Arsenal this season, but players like Sneijder and Robben just failed at the big stage.
Best moment: Taking the lead against Portugal, indicating the team could at least play well sometimes.
Worst moment: Gomez’ second for Germany, when elimination changed from possible to likely.
14. Poland (2 points)
The co-hosts gave a display of football that can be best be described as “reckless abandon” throwing themselves after the ball and into tackles, showing off blistering pace in counter attacks. They couldn’t rein it in when it was required, and the team just seemed to burn out in the second half against Greece and the first against Russia, before collapsing so spectacularly against the Czech’s. Lewandowski is a talent, but the team overall looks very much like a squad that hadn’t played enough games together recently.
Best moment: The equaliser against Russia.
Worst moment: The collapse against the Czech’s in the second half.
13. Ukraine (3 points, -2 GD)
The other co-hosts were a little better, but ultimately far too reliant on the star man upfront. Ukraine pulled off a heroic comeback against Sweden in a great game of football, but were outdone by the methodical displays of France and England. Being beaten by a very pedestrian and straightforward England was poor. Shevchenko’s final bow at this stage, the Kiev man was immense at times, with his absence against England sorely felt. The rest of the squad didn’t really pass muster, especially when it came to getting goals. The second European tournament in a row where the co-hosts have not done much.
Best moment: Shevchenko’s winner against Sweden.
Worst moment: The goal that never was, which was as much a herald of failure as anything else.
12. Denmark (3 points, -1 GD)
A big disappointment for the Danes, who played so well against the Dutch just to let it slip away. Then defensive organisation and goal poaching skills were great to see in that opening game, but they allowed Portugal to get away from them in the second game, and didn’t do nearly enough to contain Germany in the last contest. The Danes are a very good team, indicated by their high world ranking, but they choked a little in this group. They do have a bit of an over-reliance on Bendtner up front, and they didn’t really seem to have chances to get goals all tournament.
Best moment: The defensive masterclass in the second half against the Netherlands.
Worst moment: Falling away against Portugal.
11. Sweden (3 points, 0 GD)
Like Ukraine, the whole story around Sweden seemed to be about their target man, but Zlatan just didn’t cut it, not really. A tap in against Ukraine in a game he otherwise failed to really effect, and a spectacular volley against France after Sweden had already been eliminated was his contribution, with teammate Mellsberg doing more for Sweden’s fortunes, especially against England. Let it slip badly against the co-hosts and England, only playing to the level expected when it was far too late. Defensively poor, it’s hard to see Sweden really doing much in the next few tournaments without massive squad reorganisation.
Best moment: Racing into a 2-1 lead over the English.
Worst moment: Welbeck’s goal and the subsequent wasting of possession.
10. Croatia (4 points, +1 GD)
Having largely strolled through a pedestrian encounter against Ireland, Croatia struggled to keep touch with Italy and in truth can consider themselves lucky to still be in contention by the time Spain put them away in the last game. A decent squad with an attacking mindset, Croatia looked out of their depth in the first half against Italy and throughout the Spain game, a side that lacked big tournament experience. They might do better next time. Some good players, not least Modric, populate this team and they aren’t as high in the world rankings as they are for no reason. There is a good tournament run in this team.
Best moment: The equaliser against Italy.
Worst moment: Seeing the grand hopes slip away against Spain.
9. Russia (4 points, +2 GD)
A blistering start in the first game and the first half of the second saw Russia leap into “dark horse” contention, but the second Arshavin misplaced that pass against the Poles the wheels came unstuck. Dzagoev and company were immense up front against the Czech’s and looked to be strolling against the co-hosts, but once pegged back they looked a shade of the side they once were, defensively unsound and toothless in attack. Having gone behind against Greece, they seemed unable to do anything to get themselves out of the situation they were in. A missed opportunity, from a team that will be desperate to do more next time as their hosting of the World Cup draws closer.
Best moment: The rampage against the Czech’s.
Worst moment: The second half failure against Greece.
8. Greece (Lost quarter final by two goals)
In that first 45 minutes of the tournament, you would have been forgiven for thinking the Greeks an empty shell of a team, devoid of their usual defensive strength and any sort of visual team spirit. The look on their managers face as he walked away at half time indicated a team that had no plan. But back they came to grab a draw. Defeat to the Czech’s demonstrated attacking weakness, but then came one of the great tactical performances of the tournament, as the Hellenic Republic defied the odds, stood strong, and sent the Russians home. Salpingidis was the talisman, and the Greeks were on a roll.
The unlikely grudge match against the Germans was probably the most entertaining of the quarter finals, and the Greeks gave it everything they had. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: the kind of drive and spirit the Greeks exhibited in their squad is the kind of thing that was sorely lacking from teams like Ireland and the Netherlands. Germany’s brutally efficient attack carved them open in the second half, but Greece can hold their heads high.
Best moment: The final ten minutes against Russia, when the Greeks just shut them down.
Worst moment: The defensive lapses that cost a decent side points against the Czech’s.
7. Czech Republic (Lost quarter final by one goal, -2 total GD)
Here was one hell of a turnaround. Written off and discarded by everyone after a pathetically awful display against Russia, the Czech’s resolved themselves well and fought on. Two well earned wins against the Greeks and the Poles followed, though one could argue that the opposition were lacking. The Czech’s did improve big time though, more defensively stable, more attackingly potent. Grabbing a quarter final spot was their reward for the improvement, with players like Pilar and Jiracek proving their worth. Baros wasn’t doing so good though.
Portugal proved a step too far, as the Czech’s found themselves pegged back and unable to make any kind of forward momentum. Seemingly playing for penalties, Ronaldo’s goal was a killer blow to the hopes of the Czech’s, though they did amazingly well to get as far as they did.
Best moment: Sending the co-hosts packing in an utterly comprehensive manner.
Worst moment: Allowing Russia to run away with it in the opening game.
6. France (Lost quarter final by one goal, -1 total GD)
One step forward, two steps back. After the humiliation that was South Africa, France went into this tournament a new team, seemingly having shaken off the previous doubts and problems. An uninspired performance against the English was dismissed after a dominating display against Ukraine, with a team that seemed well capable of passing, attacking, probing, scoring goals.
But then it all came apart amid a sea of squad problems and dispirited play. France got the run-around at the hands of the eliminated Swedes, handing them a nightmare tie against the defending champions. France went into the game without any sense of resolve, spirit, or intention to actually win. Benzema disappointed all tournament, Ribery was so-so, and Nasri will be better remembered for his comments to the press after the tournament then his form during it. Huge work to be done still, with Blanc having had enough.
Best moment: Running the game out in a clinical fashion against Ukraine.
Worst moment: Everything else that followed.
5. England (Lost quarter final by a penalty shoot-out)
Playing in a way that we are unaccustomed to seeing, this was harsh tournament for the English, so used to being trumpeted by their own media, now played down by all and sundry. Hodgson had them playing an ugly, defensive system, with the forwards ineffective and the midfield just a further line of defence. It held France pretty well, and the English came out of their shell a bit to come back against the Swedes and to secure the three points against the co-hosts. The defence was holding on, Terry having a decent tournament, and Hart in goal was the most solid keeper England has had for a long time. But upfront the likes of Young, Welbeck, Carroll and Rooney were suffering from a lack of service and support.
The lack of initiative was plain to see, and the entrenched formation and tactics were on show in the quarter-finals. England rode their luck to make it to a shoot-out, with one of the most negative displays from them in a long, long time. Joe Hart and company lost that battle to the class of Pirlo and his team. Yet another shoot out loss, yet another tournament failure. England are in such bad straits that this is considered a decent return, which speaks volumes.
Best moment: Fighting back against the Swedes.
Worst moment: The dour extra time display against Italy, totally lacking in any kind of forward movement.
4. Germany (Lost semi-final by two goals)
They have huge expectations back home, and they were not met. Germany, as a team, play some great football sometimes, very in tune with each other, very comfortable in possession, very much like Spain but with a much more forward focus in terms of playing the ball. But, for the second tournament in a row, the Germans fluffed their lines at the second last hurdle. A hard fought, but deserving win over Portugal was followed up with a comprehensive and dominating performance against the Dutch, who were the mirror image of a unified, co-ordinated German side. Seeing it out against the Danes, Germany moved through the “group of death” with relative ease.
Greece were a bit of challenge, out of sheer pluck, but Germany scorched them very quickly in the second half, methodical, precise, in a way so many other teams in the tournament weren’t. What looked like a handy semi-final draw was next, but a strange formation and some strange team choices from Low meant that Germany underperformed to the extreme, ran roughshod by an Italian outfit that just looked like they were more interested. Germany tried harder as the game went on, but it wasn’t enough. Podolski, Schweinsteiger and others cruised through much of the tournament on auto-pilot, and the sterling efforts of Gomez, Lahm, Ozil and others wasn’t enough to cover the remainder. Back to the drawing board for a team that is hungrier than it has ever been, which will be 18 years without success the next time they have a go.
Best moment: Gomez’ second against the Dutch.
Worst moment: That whole first half against Italy.
3. Portugal (Lost semi final by a penalty shoot-out)
A good throw at it from the Portuguese, who weren’t even favoured by most to get out of the group they were in. Built heavily around Ronaldo, they far too often looked like they were a one-trick pony, but it got them to the last four. The class of Ronaldo cannot be doubted, and players like Nani and Pepe worked hard at the supply. They struggled in the opener against the Germans, and took a while to put away the Danes, but coming from behind against the Dutch was a feat in itself, proof that the side has some backbone. Underachievers typically don’t like that title.
The quarter final win was made more difficult by the inaccuracy of the Portuguese forwards, in a game they otherwise dominated. The Czech’s played too defensively against a very attack minded team, and Ronaldo was bound to take one of the opportunities that came their way.
Portugal gave Spain their hardest test since the 2010 World Cup Final, pushing the defending champions hard, but like so many others they were incapable of breaking down a solid Spanish defence. A little bit toothless, certainly. Portugal rapidly ran out of steam as the game entered extra time, and taking Spain to penalties was a significant achievement. Spain won that battle, frustration for their Iberian neighbours. Some new players, like Oliveria, are beginning to permeate this otherwise old squad, so Portugal have more reasons to be optimistic than they did in 2010. A return to a home away from home in the form of Brazil might see them put up as good a challenge as they did here.
Best moment: Coming from behind in the last group game.
Worst moment: Falling away from Spain in extra time after having plenty of chances to win the game in 90.
2. Italy (Lost final)
A big effort from the unlikely underdogs, operating from such a fractious situation back home. Italy came to Euro 2012 with some set game plans based around Pirlo assisting the defence and playing up the midfield from his role, with Balotelli,Cassano and Di Natale getting the goals needed upfront. They expertly contained Spain in the opening game, very nearly causing a shock. They looked to be getting one up on Croatia, only to let the game get beyond them late on. They mostly controlled proceedings against Ireland, getting a well deserved win.
While antics of Balotelli might have been a negative, the rest of the team was pulling together. Italy should have put England to the sword in their quarter final, and the wastefulness in front of goal is something that would recur in latter games. Pirlo inspired Italy to a penalty shoot-out, before they completely outdid Germany, running rampant in the first half of the semi-final, and pulling off an excellent containment job in the second.
To the final then, where the Spanish were not to be outdone. Italy tried, but the reduction to ten men sealed their fate on a night where tiredness, familiarity with the opposition, game-plan, and the wasting of several great chances saw Italy fail to replicate their performance in the first group game. Italy can be quite proud of what they accomplished in this tournament, with some stand out players and games, but they lack that extra something which could have taken them that one bit further.
Best moment: Pirlo’s penalty against England. They were never going to lose the shoot-out after that.
Worst moment: Motta’s withdrawal from the final, the final nail in the coffin.
1. Spain (Won final)
All hail the Kings (again)
They are simply the best international side ever. There are no weaknesses in this Spanish side. Only age, at this point, looks capable of felling them. Italy were able to hold them at bay, even look good against them, but Spain were only made to fight a 50-50 battle, and never looked like a team that could be beaten easily. They kept fighting after going behind – the only goal they conceded all tournament – and got their equaliser. A routine thumping of the awful Irish followed, with Croatia being seen off in clinical fashion after that. Spain didn’t even look like they were playing in first gear, but were still passing the ball with ease, scoring goals for fun at times.
France were the best opposition Spain, looking very lethargic, could have faced in the quarter finals, with Alonso running the show in the two nil victory. Portugal gave them their hardest test of the tournament total in the semi’s, but Spain’s defence was strong enough to severely limit the Portuguese opportunities, and with extra time came an onslaught that should really have seen Spain through. The shoot-out was a nervy moment, but Spain had the calmness to get beyond it.
The final was a walkover in the end, Italy only keeping pace with a rampant Spain for so long. Casillas was regularly faultless in goal, the defence, headed by men like Ramos and Pique was nigh unbreakable, the midfield of Xavi, Ineista, Silva, Alba just passed, and passed, and passed, then passed some more, and the forward line of Fabregas, Torres and Pedro was on hand to get the goals when the rest of the midfield didn’t. I’ve said it before, but Spain resembled a predator with infinite patience, able to get the ball and keep it for huge portions of game time, assessing the lay in front of them until the right opportunity presented itself. The lifetime of coaching work that has gone into shaping this side has come to fruition, and the bounty of trophies is the result. Italy in 1938, Hungary in 1953, Brazil in 1970, Holland in 1974, France in 2000, Spain in 2012.
Best game –England/Sweden
For sheer excitement, back and forth action, and an awful lot on the line, the Group D contest between the English and the Swedes gets my vote for best game of the tournament. Considering how both teams ended up, Sweden going out early and England’s tactical game against Italy, it’s a shame we didn’t see more of this kind of football.
Worst game – France/Spain
An easy decision to make. A game played with all the drive and tempo of a friendly.
Douchebags – Portugal
I could have picked a number of teams, but in terms of repeated diving and simulation, Portugal were the most noticeable.
Worst Decision – Ukraine “goal” against England
A total shambles of a decision, which instantly invalidated the integrity and respect given to the fifth official.
Best Player – Andrea Pirlo
Simply immense for Italy, dominating midfield for most of the tournament.
Worst Goal – David Silva vs Ireland
Simply because of the three defenders in front of him, in a straight line, which made Silva’s effort look so comical.
Best goal – Andrea Pirlo vs Croatia
A sublime free kick, destined to hit the net from the moment he hit it.
Best team goal – Mario Gomez vs Netherlands (first)
Some wonderful passing and off the ball movement, starting from inside the German half and ending with Gomez’ turn and nutmeg, brought Germany’s first against the Dutch.
Worst Team – Ireland
Another easy choice to make. Played like they didn’t deserve to be there.
Best Team – Spain
The passing, the movement, the rock-solid defence, it’s all just so good.
Best Fans – Ireland
Worst Fans – Russia
This WAS Russia.
Underachiever – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Yes he scored a couple of goals, but one was a tap-in, the other was after Sweden were eliminated. Disappointing overall, especially when it counted.
Luckiest – Netherlands
In that they lost their first two games yet still had a shot to get into the quarter finals. Blew it though.
Most Improved – Czech Republic
A toss-up between them and Greece, but the Czech’s bounced back from that Russian mauling to win their last two games and restrict Portugal to a single goal in their quarter final.
Worst Booking – Giorgos Karagounis vs Russia
Booked for simulation after being fouled in the Russian penalty area in the last game of Group A. Ruled out of the quarter final subsequently, replays show how awful a call it was.
Worst Miss – Philip Lahm vs Italy
Two goals down and with only one half of football to play, the German captain was given a glorious chance to immediately reduce the deficit early in the second half against Italy, only to blast his edge of the area shot over the bar. What might have been…
My final impressions of Euro 2012 are positive. It was a disaster on a personal level of course, but the shameful display of my native Ireland was made up for by a tournament marked with attacking football and a generally good level of entertainment. The goals were plentiful (only two games played 90 minutes without one), the refereeing was of a decent standard overall and the games were played mostly with an air of sportsmanship – only three red cards total and not a huge amount of bookings. There was a notable element of simulation at times, but on other scores, like the oft-frustrating sight of players feigning injury in order to break up play, officials seem to be working under new directives.
Poland and Ukraine did a fine job with this tournament too, with whatever problems that came largely being outside of their control – especially the frequently awful weather. The destructive tendencies shown by some Russian fans aside, the doom laden predictions, as they tend to, did not come to fruition. The co-host might be disappointed with the failure of their nations to reach the knock-out stages, but they can be proud of their co-hosting effort.
I enjoyed Euro 2012 anyway and eagerly look forward to the beginning of the UEFA qualifying for Brazil 2014.