The SFG team continues its post-mortem of Euro 2012 with a look at Group C, perhaps an understated group pre-tournament, which eventually involved the two finalists.
Spain are champions of Europe once again. By winning Euro 2012, they became the first European side to win three major international championships in a row and will now surely go down as one of the all-time great international sides. Their performance in the final against Italy was the best performance by any team in the whole tournament. They were much more energetic than in previous matches, playing at a tempo that the Italians couldn’t deal with. It was a performance that will be remembered years from now and will likely be the defining result of this Golden Era of Spanish football.
One major positive was the emergence of Jordi Alba on the international stage. Spain, due to their personnel and tactics, naturally lack width in their side so Alba’s role in the side was a huge factor in their success as he was able to stretch their play out wide and provide another attacking outlet. It was only fitting that he picked up a goal (and a superb one at that) in the final. Other standout players included Andres Iniesta, whose dazzling dribbles and uncanny ability to find space was brilliant throughout the tournament.
Before the tournament, there were big worries about what Puyol’s injury meant for Spain’s defence. Pique had a relatively shaky season for Barcelona when Puyol didn’t play. However, he formed a very efficient partnership with Sergio Ramos. With a world class goalkeeper behind them, Spain were able to continue a breath-taking run of 10 games without conceding in the knockout stages of a major tournament.
Boring Spain? Up until the final, Spain had received a lot of negative press about being boring to watch. This is not a stance that everyone has taken as some argue that it is the opposition that causes Spain’s football to appear dull but Spain’s two games against France and Portugal in the knockout stages were probably the worst matches of the tournament. However, most of these critics were silenced by the end of the final.
Spain did struggle in a couple of their matches in the tournament. Italy proved a stern test in the first group game, although Spain probably should have won in the end. They were largely unimpressive against a motivated Croatia side and were second best for long periods in the semi-final against Portugal. Their tournament win wasn’t entirely convincing up until the final.
There really is no ugly for Spain. All their criticisms are minor and Del Bosque’s team selection and style of football have been completely justified having won the tournament and now they will look to make even more history in 2014.
Italy were truly one of the success stories of the entire Euros. With a football federation in scandal and a terrible World Cup in 2010, a quarter-final finish would have been a decent result, a semi-final finish would have been excellent but to make it all the way to the final was an incredible achievement for Cesare Prandelli’s side. The highlight of their amazing run was the semi-final win against Germany, a side widely regarded as one of the top two sides in the competition, and a side who had won a record setting 15 competitive matches in a row. However, Italy were very comfortable in dispatching the Germans and moving onto the final.
The Italian midfield was the source for most of their success. Pirlo, rightfully, has received many plaudits for his exceptional performances in the tournament and he will go down as one of the best players of the competition. However, there were other shining lights for Italy: Daniele De Rossi also deserves a lot of praise for his performances, especially in games where the opposition tried to mark Pirlo out of the game.
Cesare Prandelli would be my pick for manager of the tournament. Following a disastrous World Cup in 2010, he managed to implement a new, positive philosophy into the side. He used two formations that no other team in the tournament tried: the 4-4-2 diamond and the 3-5-2. Using unique tactics is often a risky choice but the risk paid off hugely for Prandelli throughout the tournament.
Before the final, there really wasn’t a lot of bad to talk about for Italy. One issue was the inconsistency of their strikers, in particular Balotelli, who was their main goal threat throughout the tournament. He squandered a great chance against Spain to give Italy the lead, and against England his poor finishing meant that Italy had to rely on a penalty shootout to move onto the semi-finals. It was a typical tournament for a player who has flashes of brilliance but is too inconsistent to be considered one of the best strikers in the world.
Everything that could have possibly gone wrong for Italy in the final did. Prandelli was left in the unenviable position of having to choose between the 3-5-2 that performed so well against Spain in the first game or the diamond that had been used for the other 4. Ultimately, he made the wrong choice because Spain’s unique formation meant that Italy were overrun in midfield. The players that had driven Italy to the final (Pirlo, Balotelli, Cassano and De Rossi) were all largely anonymous throughout and had been nullified by an excellent Spanish midfield. Prandelli tried desperately to change things in the second half and made his three changes early on, only for one of those substitutes to get injured, leaving Italy with 10 men for most of the second half. In the end, a very good tournament for Italy ended with the most emphatic defeat of the tournament.
If there was anything good to say about Ireland during the tournament, then it had to be their fans. I’ve mentioned before that passion is not enough to win a game, but it does help your team keep going. Even when Ireland were 4-0 down against the Spanish in their 2nd group match, almost all of the fans stayed and sang their hearts out, knowing that they were eliminated from the competition late on. If Ireland qualify for the World Cup or the next Euros, then we hope their fans show their support in similar fashion to what they have displayed throughout the tournament.
Very poor performance from the players. Captain Robbie Keane failed to inspire and impress during the tournament; the Irish defence were poor at containing teams; and Shay Given had an absolutely terrible tournament (one reason why he has been included in our Flops of the Tournament Team). Given did pull off one or two great saves, but these saves were executed when Ireland were pretty much down and out.
Zero points and bottom of Group C. They were one of two teams who did not pick up a point (the other team being the Netherlands in Group B). Ireland were also the first team to be knocked out from the tournament after their 4-0 defeat against Spain. Another “ugly” point is that they conceded goals within the first 5 minutes of each half of their first two games against Croatia and Spain, meaning they were on the backfoot from the start of each half. If they do qualify for another tournament, then they cannot possibly do any worse. In fairness to the Irish, I think the majority of people did not expect them to pick up a point, but they should have played better nonetheless.
It seems bizarre that there’s so much ‘good’ for a team that exited at the first stage, but that is indeed the case as Croatia performed so admirably during their short stay at the tournament. Some beautiful passing and movement combined with incisive finishing took the Croats past Ireland with ease as they began their campaign so promisingly. Then, having gone a goal down, Bilic’s insightful tactical changes pulled Croatia back to a draw against the Italians. Even the loss that saw them knocked out was one from which they could take great pride – doing a fantastic job to stifle Spain and only conceding as they pushed for the win that circumstances had left them needing. Mandzukic’s performances and goals left him joint top scorer and earned him a move to Bayern, Srna shone as always down the right and Modric was, at times, masterful in his command of the midfield. Croatia may be left disappointed with the overall result, but they played very well.
As it’s hard to fault Croatia’s approach to their games or their performance within them, perhaps the real ‘bad’ side of their tournament came through the luck they were dealt. Not only were they unfortunate enough to be drawn in a group alongside both of the eventual finalists, but the order of their fixtures wasn’t beneficial either; they’d have been better off knowing they needed to beat Italy or put a certain amount of goals past Ireland than needing to possibly beat Spain in the last group game. In the interest of balance it’s worth acknowledging that they did benefit from a very questionable decision not to give an Irish penalty in their opener, but the importance of that does seem to pale in comparison to those other circumstances over which they had no control.
Being one of the coolest characters in the football world, Slaven Bilic can get away with most things. He cannot however, get away with a suit and beanie hat combo. This rather odd choice of outfit garnered much attention during Croatia’s opening game with Ireland and its ‘ugly’ was in stark contrast with the beauty of their play.
On a rather more serious note, there was also an ugly side to the Croatian support at the tournament. The issue of racism was put in the spotlight in the build-up and sadly reared its head as some fans subjected Mario Balotelli to abuse during Croatia’s match with the Italians.