With Euro 2012 over we’ve decided to undertake our customary major tournament/competition review as part of our post-mortem. The usual SFG writers are joined by John, a football aficionado who has offered erudite insight on twitter during the tournament, and Steve, the one man-army behind Spirit of Mirko, who was actually in Ukraine to savour the tournament before his very eyes. To the business at hand:
Best 3 performers/players at the tournament and why?
Andres Iniesta (Spain): No comment necessary.
Andrea Pirlo (Italy): No comment necessary.
Jordi Alba/ Cesc Fabregas:
One question in and I’ve already broken down. I simply could not choose between the two Barça repatriates.
Alba enjoyed an excellent season with Valencia and carried that form into Euro 2012, providing much needed width to Spain’s attacking play. He also demonstrated his defensive ability in the semi-final against Portugal by keeping Nani (and occasionally Ronaldo) in check.
Despite only starting three games, Fabregas has played a vital role in Spain’s historic triumph. He has had to play in a role that was not only unfamiliar to him but one that doesn’t come with clear tactical instructions.
In the front three, Iniesta and Silva were wide players expected to cut in from the sidelines. Fabregas has no such reference point in his central role as a false nine (vs Portugal), regular nine (vs Italy in the final) or attacking midfielder (vs Italy in the group game). Despite ambiguities in both his starting place and role within the team, he never complained or sulked (a lesson to certain Dutch and French players). Instead, he concentrated on providing crucial goals and assists throughout the tournament.
Cristiano Ronaldo dragged Portugal to the semi-finals alongside his wingman Coentrão. Whilst we’re all used to seeing Ronaldo dominate games for Real Madrid it’s much harder for him to do so with a side like Portugal. I think he certainly lived up to all pre-tournament hype. Making up the three are the two midfielders (or do we call them passmasters these days?) who faced off in the final, Andrea Pirlo and Andres Iniesta. Both were sublime throughout the tournament and neither really deserved to be on the losing side. Pirlo has enhanced his reputation further whilst Iniesta is on his way to becoming an all time great. He’s only 28 years old. Scary.
Jordi Alba: He’s been brilliant as a full-back/wing-back/left-winger, particularly in the knock out stages. Crossed for Xabi Alonso’s goal v France, really turned on the style with Pedro v Portugal in extra-time and he was excellent in the final, a fantastic goal in the final was an apt end for the miles he has covered down the left wing and the manner he has seamlessly integrated into the Spanish team. He has shown no signs of nerves whatsoever.
Iker Casillas: A bit of a left-field choice. He has made some vital saves and looked supremely assured when the ball has been lofted into the Spain penalty area either from corners, free-kicks or crosses – a supposed weakness of Spain hasn’t been exploited at all partly due to Saint Iker’s command of the area.
Andrea Pirlo/Iniesta (cheating): Enough articles have been written about them.
Andrea Pirlo (Italy): Without a doubt the best player of the tournament; can pick a pass and very relaxed on the ball. Should certainly push Ronaldo and Messi for the Ballon d’Or award.
Andres Iniesta (Spain): Spain have been criticised for their play in this tournament, for right or wrong reasons. But that is no fault of Iniesta who is still as dynamic as ever with runs on the ball and the ability to play the killer pass, which has served his country so well over the years.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal): Led Portugal into the semi-finals with a string of outstanding games, especially against the Netherlands in the group stage. Showed convincing signs that he can perform at international level.
Pirlo- Simply genius performances throughout the tournament. What a joy to watch. Absolutely gutted for him in particular that Italy lost in that way.
Cassano- Tireless performances for Italy, always a menace going forward, and to top it all off, he made a remarkable medical recovery to even feature. Brilliant.
Ronaldo- Love him or hate him, the boy sparked into life as the tournament progressed, and were it not for some bad luck against Spain, he could have been the man of the tournament.
Pirlo – when given space, he was an absolute beast. Spain seemed to be the only team to recognise and nullify his style of play
Mario Gomez – lots of criticism he received before the tournament. Silenced his critics in the best way possible: by scoring goals
“NANDO” Torres – golden boot. Need I say more?
Andres Iniesta – One of the best footballers on the planet, the definitive big game player turned up time and time again on Spain’s road to victory. His mesmerizing mazy runs and inch perfect passes have been a staple of the Spanish attack when other players have interspersed their genius with occasional bouts of anonymity. A constant joy to watch, Andres has to be my player of the tournament.
Andrea Pirlo – Whether it be the orchestral conductor, the master of the puppets or any of the other countless metaphors that have been assigned to Pirlo throughout the tournament, none can describe what he adds to the game with any degree of satisfaction. He must be watched. His combination of control, composure, orgasm-inducing vision and passing perfection has seen him dictate game after game from the base of midfield. Had he taken hold of the final he’d surely have won the official best player award.
Daniele De Rossi – There are several players whose eyes just scream desire at you, but few players can offer outstanding ability to match that desire. De Rossi can. Italy’s unsung hero has showed his versatility slotting into the defence but also played a vital role in the midfield when called upon; his defensive work combined with intelligent passing, runs and positioning were not only impressive in their own right, but also allowed Pirlo to work his wonders. De Rossi may not receive the praise he deserves but he’s one of my players of the tournament.
John: Cesare Prandelli (Italy): Demetrio Albertini, in an interview with El Pais before the tournament, spoke about the legacy of catenaccio to the Azzurri: a level of professionalism and concentration that no one can surpass. These qualities have produced Italian teams that step onto the pitch determined to not suffer defeat regardless of the strength of the opposition. Prandelli has fused (through excellent man management) these attributes with his own philosophy of attacking and pro-active football. While he could have done things differently in the final, there is a lot to be admired about the work he has done with this Italian side.
A special mention also to Vicente Del Bosque. Ernest Hemmingway defined guts as grace under pressure and the Spain manager is a very, very gutsy man.
Steve: I wasn’t too impressed with his side but I loved snappy dresser Erik Hamren on the Swedish bench. He looked fantastic in his three piece suit. I got the impression that should he need to have checked the number of minutes remaining he’d have pulled out a pocket watch on a gold chain. I’d like to see more of this in future.
Salim: Cesare Prandelli. He showed terrific tactical nous, deploying different players and systems to suit the opposition. He wasn’t afraid to change things, even very early compared to most coaches; played Spain brilliantly in the opening game; taking De Rossi and Cassano v England was a very bold move; and when they were under pressure against Germany at the start of the second half, he brought Motta on and they regained control. Of course, it didn’t go all to plan in the final but he has done brilliantly to galvanise an Italy side that is pretty unspectacular, on paper, compared to those of yesteryear, and has added a very likeable brand of football. They outplayed Germany at times in the semi-final.
Sagar: Cesare Prandelli: Personally, there has been nobody better. Shown he can make tough decisions by dropping players like De Rossi, Cassano and Balotelli due to a hard-line approach last year – the same stars who have shined in the tournament. Despite moving to a flat back four, he has also proved his tactical nous by playing 3-5-2 against Spain to earn a point in the group stage.
Amro: Vicente Del Bosque- His team won. I don’t think he’s that great a tactician but he makes things work and he wins things with his (very gifted) sides.
James: Prandelli. Altered his tactics with every game, including formations and combinations of players. It’s a shame the final didn’t work in his favour though.
Joe: Tough one, can’t pick between Bento and Prandelli, both have done excellent jobs.
John: Jordi Alba vs Italy. Xavi’s precision pass into the path of Alba’s surging run was a brilliant display of technique, speed and co-ordination.
Steve: I’m a big fan of Zlatan so his goal against France obviously ranks highly – though it was ultimately meaningless in the context of the tournament. Balotelli’s second against Germany was pretty special. Hit with supreme power, Neuer didn’t even move.
Salim: Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s scintillating scissor-kick versus France
Sagar: Mario Balotelli’s second goal vs Germany: A sucker for goals with emotion (or lack of) and symbolism, this may have been the moment Balotelli went from boy to man. An excellent pass from Riccardo Montolivo saw Super Mario control the ball and position himself to smash a rocket of a goal.
Amro: Mario Balotelli’s goal against Germany. Such an emphatic strike, hit with pure venom. I was on my feet applauding that goal, marvellous.
James: Ibra vs France, of course.
Joe: Zlatan vs. France.
John: Prior to the final, there was no doubt in my mind that the game of the tournament was Italy versus Spain in the Group C opener. Despite an exhilarating opening 45 minutes of football on Sunday, I’ve stuck with that initial choice.
A tactically intriguing game where either side could have emerged victorious, the 1-1 draw between the eventual finalists in Gdańsk set the standard for the rest of the competitors.
Steve: I suspect my view of the match is clouded as I attended the game in person but I thought Sweden 2 England 3 was great fun. It was an utter shambles of a game with some moments of skill from Ibra alongside great moments such as Andy Carroll’s header and Welbeck’s back-heel.
Salim: Spain v Italy in the group stages – a fascinating tactical battle.
Sagar: Denmark 2-3 Portugal: Attacking football full of goals, momentum shifting back and forth and a late-winner. Red card and mid-game pitch invasion aside, this game had it all.
Amro: The opener was something to behold, really open football and as exciting as an opening match ever gets. Shame Poland could not make it to the second round.
James: Germany vs Netherlands
Joe: Shame they didn’t produce such a close contest in the final but Spain vs. Italy in the group stage was probably the best match for me, fascinating game.
John: Roberto Martinez. He may not have got a pay rise and a shot at the big time with Liverpool but his stints for both ESPN and ITV mean he has still made enough money to enjoy a lifetime of coffees in Miami. His analysis was insightful, incisive and original. Two days before the final, he opined that Italy would have absolutely no chance against Spain if they played a 4-3-1-2 instead of a 3-5-2.
Steve: I must admit I don’t actually listen to the punditry. At half-time I have a cup of tea or talk to my wife, during games I tend to try and ignore Lawro or Andy Townsend. I’m not actually sure if there was much good punditry during the tournament, but I must say I do think Adrian Chiles gets a bad press at times, I don’t mind him when I do watch.
Salim: Roberto Martinez on ITV has been the best pundit by a continental mile. He’s offered erudite insight, rather than the ubiquitous workaday punditry we have seen on the ITV and BBC. I also loved Gianluca Vialli for the BBC but his entrance into the tournament came too late to eclipse Martinez.
Sagar: Roy Keane: For doing what a pundit is supposed to do; that is, analysing the football at an intelligent level. Perhaps too honest for some, but miles better than the painfully bland analysts on the BBC.
Amro: Jose Mourinho for Al Jazeera- The special one offering his opinions as a pundit, ‘nuff said.
James: Adrian Chiles. Nah, I’m kidding. Most probably Klinsmann or Seedorf. Leaning more towards Seedorf.
Joe: Having avoided most of pre/mid/post match analysis after the first round of group games I’m probably not best placed to comment but from what I saw, I loved watching Roy Keane struggle to stop his utter contempt for Adrian Chiles and, well, pretty much anyone else around from boiling over. Best for their actual punditry was probably Martinez, came across as a decent, smart guy and talked a lot of sense.
Biggest disappointment (either to do with a tournament or a particular team/individual)?
John: The only answer here should be Holland but as a long time admirer of the Dutch, I wasn’t the least bit disappointed with their performance. It had been coming and hopefully the debacle at Euro 2012 will result in much needed changes for the Orange.
It is the French, for me, who were the biggest disappointment. The activity of watching France at international competitions recently would be best described as rubbernecking. Since Zidane retired in 2006, they have won just one game in tournament finals. An astonishing record considering they’ve faced Romania, South Africa and Sweden in that time. At least, they keep finding new ways to coq (sorry, couldn’t resist) things up each time.
Steve: I think the biggest disappointment is that despite it being a very good tournament there were no real surprises. Russia going out in the first stage is probably the closest we got, but it would have been nice to have seen a side like Croatia, Ukraine or Poland have a run to the semi-finals.
Salim: Both co-hosts exiting at the group stage, dampened the atmosphere a little, I love a good host story.
Sagar: Netherlands: Nothing to say here.
Amro: Disappointed that neither Russia nor Poland made it through to the knockout stage. Really felt that group ended up upside down and neither the Czechs nor the Greeks delivered in the quarters as a result.
James: Too easy to say Netherlands, but they were absolutely awful.
Joe: Was saddened to see the Russians depart when they did but they can only blame themselves. Biggest disappointment was probably the Dutch, wouldn’t have begrudged them going out in the group stage but to do so after such poor performances was a real shame.
Discoveries of the tournament (3 players you didn’t know about previously who have impressed you)?
Ivan Strinić (Croatia): The Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk1 full-back made his debut for Croatia in 2009 but since the country didn’t qualify for World Cup 2010 and participated in the least attractive Euro 2012 qualification group, he passed largely undetected under the radar of this football hipster. An energetic left-back who is capable of making meaningful contributions in the attacking third, Strinić put in an excellent performance against Italy. He may not have had the best of games against Spain but I was sufficiently impressed by his previous work.
Theodor Gebre Selassie (Czech Republic): It was an unfortunate end to the tournament for Gebre Selassie; Cristiano Ronaldo ghosted past him and headed in the winning goal for Portugal. Still, there aren’t too many defenders in the world who could have prevented that and in the preceding 349 minutes of Euro 2012 the 25 year old proved himself to be a very good right-back. Good enough certainly to secure a move to the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen. Possessing pace, stamina, good attacking instincts and an ability to brush off four-goal shellackings, he would appear to have found the right club to develop his career.
Michael Krohn-Dehli (Denmark): I’m cheating (again) as I had seen the Brondby winger in action a few times during Denmark’s qualification campaign. I hadn’t, though, paid much attention to him. That certainly wasn’t the case after he scored the excellent winner against Holland. Linking up with left-back Simon Poulsen, Krohn-Dehli was one of the Danes best players at Euro 2012. He finished the tournament with two goals and an assist.
1 Mastering the pronunciation of this will enhance your viewing of any cold war spy film
Steve: With European football being covered so comprehensively there were very few players that I hadn’t heard about. Rampaging full-back Theodor Gebre-Selassie of the Czech Republic was a joy to watch at times. I also really enjoyed watching Russia play. Few players hit the ball as cleanly as Alan Dzagoev and despite the almost comical amount of chances he missed I thought Kerzakhov showed he had a lot to his game.
Salim: Petr Jiracek, Vaclav Pilar, Yevhen Konoplyanka.
Alan Dzagoev (Russia): Had been tipped to shine prior to the tournament and lived up to the hype with 3 goals to his name. A constant spark of creativity.
Eugen Polanski (Poland): Was more than efficient in the defensive midfield position for Poland and linked well with the players ahead of him.
Vaclav Pilar (Czech Republic): Scored 2 goals and looks very comfortable down the wing. Arguably slipped under the radar for some but looked very impressive before being eliminated by Portugal.
Hadn’t seen much of Cassano and Dzagoev, and they didn’t disappoint. I thought Simon Poulsen of Denmark had a good tournament too.
Who I didn’t know about? Erm…
Mats Hummels – was resilient in the German defence.
Simon Kjaer – name rang a bell, but never seen him play. He did have impressive performances in the group stages.
Alan Dzagoev – similar reasoning as above.
Valcav Pilar – looking forward to seeing more of the pacy Czech winger at Wolfsburg next season.
Michael Krohn-Dehli – another winger, perhaps doesn’t have age on his side but he’ll look back fondly on the tournament. Great couple of performances in the group stage.
Theodor Gebre Selassie – had heard good things about the right back coming into the tournament and was impressed with him, decent at the back and a real threat going forward.