The UEFA European Football Championships 2012, also known as the “Euro,” have come to a close, with Spain emerging victorious. But what happened to all the teams along the way in their quest to reach the championships? In order to understand we have to look back at the first three weeks of competition in Poland and Ukraine.
It all started with one of the hosts. Poland was unable to take more than a draw from Greece during its first game. The competition continued with Russia’s domination of the Czech Republic and ended with arguably the best international team ever raising the cup high in the Kiev sky.
Everything in between was pure magic — a plethora of spectacular games, collective team efforts, moments of sheer individual brilliance, incredible fans and sportsmanship, guile, desire to win, frustration, advancement, and drawbacks. However, let us leave the artistry behind this Euro for a while and analyze what went on sportively.
Group A was a real roller coaster. Having trounced the Czech Republic in its opening game, Russia became the clear favorite to win the group. Russia’s victims were many pundits, obvious rock-bottomers. To the spectators’ great awe, the Czech Republic followed up with two great displays against Greece and Poland and topped the group while Euro 2004’s surprise package, Greece, finished second.
Group B, labeled before the tournament as the group of death, certainly lived up to the reputation. For the first time since the 1996 Euro, four of the top 10 teams in FIFA’s world rankings were sorted in the same group. Germany dominated the group and topped it with nine points, followed by Portugal and Denmark, with World Cup 2010 runner-up the Netherlands ending in fourth position, without a single point.
Group C started with Italy and Spain playing one another to an entertaining draw and went on with Italy fighting to another draw in the second game against Croatia. However, Italy saved the blushes and finished second in the group behind a marauding Furia Roja.
Group D didn’t have many surprises, as the teams that were labeled most likely to qualify did the trick despite the thunderous ride. One of the group games was literally interrupted for 58 minutes due to severe thunderstorms. However, there was no shock for England and France, who finished respectively in first and second.
In the quarterfinal matchups, Portugal had to work its socks off to win against the Czech Republic by one goal, a Cristiano Ronaldo header. In the second game of the quarterfinals, Germany ran rampant and wiped the Greeks’ smiles off their faces with a convincing 4-2 win. Spain didn’t have to try too hard to top France 2-0, as Xabi Alonso scored twice in his 100th cap for his country. The fourth game was the first one to need penalty kicks. Despite dominating the game and creating a few clear-cut chances, Italy could not score during regular play and added time. In the penalty shootout, the English, as they always do in big tournaments, lost. The two Ashleys, Young and Cole, both missed their penalties, while Andrea Pirlo scored a magnificent Panenka.
The first semifinal needed penalties, as both Portugal and Spain were unable to convert during regular time. Spain was the winner after misses from Joao Moutinho and Bruno Alves. The second semifinal was another case of history repeating itself. Italy overcame Germany 2-1, and Germany remains winless against Italy in an international competition. Mario Balotelli was simply unstoppable during the game.
And there it was, the final of Euro 2012 in scintillating Kiev. The Spaniards looked hungry from the beginning to add their names to the record books as they played 90 minutes of crystalline soccer. Goals courtesy of David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata secured them a stunning, record-breaking, groundbreaking, history-making 4-0 win against a hapless Azzurri team.
It was indeed a spectacular tournament, with 76 goals scored, 22 of them headers, more than any other tournament. It was full of magical moments such as Shevchenko’s double against Sweden. It also had some moments of genius from flamboyant players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Balotelli and Ronaldo to mention a few. There were big disappointments, with the Dutch clearly being the biggest, as they exited the tournament with zero points for the first time in their history.
To some countries, this tournament was much more than just a game; it was a reason to smile in difficult times, and maybe that’s what Greece needed.
It proved that some people are born to party and put on a show, as the extremely lovable Irish fans proved.
“You’ll never beat the Irish,” they were singing while four goals down against Spain.
It was a tournament that proved that Italy should never be underestimated, Germany still has a long way to go with its young but promising team, and most of all, Euro 2012 proved that Spain is the king of soccer. The players became the first team in history to win three major tournaments in a row, and my goodness, were they scary. They had 10 players on the tournament team and had both the Golden Boot and Golden Ball of the tournament in Torres and Andres Iniesta.
To sum up, as many experts put it, Euro 2012 was the best international tournament in living memory. To give credit where it’s due, the main reason behind that bold statement is the 23 Spanish gold medalists.