Euro 2012 has sadly come to an end, and while we’re forced to wait another month for competitive football to recommence (no, the Olympics does not count), I’m taking a look back at the tournament that I have dubbed as “The Rise of the False Nine”, the unorthodox tactic which the Spanish national team put to effective use en route to their historic victory on July 1st in Kiev, Ukraine.
From the players, the goals and the fans to the goal celebrations, Euro 2012 wasn’t short of memorable highlights, and here are some of mine:
WINNER: ANDREA PIRLO (ITA)
The footballing world has always been familiar with the prowess of this 33-year-old veteran, but never has it been more apparent than at Poland and Ukraine. With the absence of fellow midfield stalwarts Gennaro Gattuso and Mauro Camoranesi, the usually understated and often underrated Pirlo became the outfield leader and driving force of the Italian team. He took the midfield for his own, highlighting his sublime performances with an outstanding free-kick against Croatia and that penalty against England. I am yet to meet a football fan that doesn’t think highly of Andrea Pirlo. I probably never will. You just can’t hate on class.
Image: Getty Images
2nd Place: Jordi Alba (ESP)
The former Valencia left-back was undoubtedly the breakout star of the tournament. His frequent bursts down the left flank made him yet another attacking threat to contend with in an already vast array of attack-minded players, and was rewarded with a goal of his own in the Final. At 23, he is certainly one for the future. What’s even scarier is that he has just recently signed a long-term contract with Barcelona, so expect to see a lot of Alba-assisted Messi goals in the upcoming La Liga season. Be afraid, Europe. Be very afraid.
Image: Martin Rose/Getty Images Europe
3rd Place: Cristiano Ronaldo (POR)
The second-best player in the world had a relatively slow start to the tournament but he recovered just in time to single-handedly dispatch Holland in the groups and Czech Republic in the quarters. However there was nothing he could do about the semi-final penalty shoot-out loss to Spain, as the matter was settled before he even got to the 12-yard box. He also made a few waves in the style stakes (of course), debuting his Clark Kent-esque hairstyle in the group match vs. Holland.
Images: Getty Images
WINNER: MARIO BALOTELLI (ITA)
Well, he did steal the show on the pitch with his performance against Germany, but the 21-year-old daddy-to-be made quite a number of headlines off it, varying from being transformed to a cabbage-picking immigrant worker and having to have his mouth covered during a goal celebration to catching the Can’t-Be-Bovvered syndrome during training sessions with the team. The Balotelli Show had resumed its regular programming.
But his excellent goal against Ireland, followed by a fantastic brace against a much-fancied German team catapulted him into contention for the Player of the Tournament award and even the Golden Boot. He may have been on the losing end in the Final but Super Mario is one of the players that emerged from Euro 2012 with an elevated profile.
2nd Place: Samir Nasri (FRA)
Tipped as the Dark Horses of the tournament, the French national team seemed to be on course to fulfill their true potential and put the horrors of South Africa 2010 behind them, but that ghost reared its ugly head again when reports of in-fighting among players and the coach surfaced, and fingers were pointed firmly at the Manchester City player. An expletive-laden row with a journalist following Les Bleus’ defeat to Spain in the quarterfinals and subsequent fines by the French Football Federation overshadowed an impressive individual performance by Nasri.
Image: The Mirror UK
3rd Place: UEFA
Like Nasri, negative headlines embodied the bronze medal for show-stealer. Europe’s governing body of football displayed what was widely perceived as misplaced priorities with the Nicklas Bendtner fine, which was rather steep compared to what UEFA was handing out to countries and football clubs for acts of racism and violence. There was also concern about Ukraine and Poland being given the tournament to host in the first place considering both countries’ notoriety for racist behaviour.
Best Photo: Andres Iniesta (ESP) (v Italy, Matchday 1)
Is this pic cool as heck or what? This was probably the reason he got Player of the Tournament.
OMG Moment: Pirlo’s “Panenka” (v England, Quarterfinal 4)
Image: The Sun (UK)
Most Iconic Moment: Balotelli’s goal celebration for 2nd goal (v Germany, Semifinal 2).
I knew from the moment he struck this pose that the Photoshoppers would be all over the photos in the blink of an eye. I wasn’t wrong.
Goal of the Tournament:
WINNER: ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC (SWE) (v France, Matchday 3)
Image: Getty Images
2nd Place: Mario Balotelli (ITA) (2nd goal v Germany, Semifinal 2)
3rd Place: Danny Welbeck (ENG) (v Sweden, Matchday 2)
The “What Else Is New?” moment: The Three Lions getting knocked out on penalties (v Italy, Quarterfinal 4)
I know a good babalawo, Mr. Hodgson…
Image: The Mirror (UK)
WINNER: Arjen Robben (NED) jumps over advertisement boards during substitution
With his country railing 2-1 against Germany and their tournament seemingly over with a game to spare, Arjen Robben did nothing to ease the fans’ despair by jumping over the advertisement boards at the other end of the pitch when substituted. We understand that maybe the road was far, but you could have least walked if you were so tired. Ripping off the shirt petulantly capped off his mini-tantrum with a flourish.
2nd Place: The Thunderstorm in Ukraine (Matchday 4)
A spectacular thunderstorm stopped the Ukraine v. France match just over four minutes after kick-off. Lightning and intense rain stalled the match for 58 more minutes. It was scarier than I’m making it sound, trust me.
3rd Place: The Horrible Pre-match Countdowns
Was I the only one who thought those countdowns before every kick-off was just a tad tacky? Blech!
Surprise of the Tournament: Fernando Torres (ESP)
Dude played a match-and-a-half all tournament and still won the Golden Boot! Say what?!?! Didier Drogba’s “jazz” has truly been lifted.
Image: Getty Images
Most Controversial Moment:
WINNER: Nicklas Bendtner (DEN)‘s Unlucky Underwear
Denmark and Arsenal forward Nicklas Bendtner was fined 100,000 Euros (£80,000) and banned by UEFA for one competitive game for celebrating his goal against Portugal by revealing Paddy Power underwear. Players advertising on the field is against UEFA ruling. The real controversy is the paltry fines handed out for acts of violence and racism by fans in comparison. Shame on you, UEFA.
Image: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images
2nd Place: Ukraine v England: The Goal That Never Was (Matchday 3)
Ukraine had an equalizing goal ruled out by the referee in their final group game match against England, sparking yet another round of talk about introducing goal-line technology. One question from me, though: was the goal-line referee blind???
3rd Place: Rio Ferdinand’s omission from the Three Lions squad: Before every tournament there’s always some sort of drama surrounding the perennial media circus that is the England national team. This time it was all about Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand being left out. Gary Cahill and Frank Lampard get injured right before the tournament and who does Roy Hodgson recruit? Jordan Henderson and Martin Kelly. According to Hodgson Rio was not chosen for “footballing reasons”. Well, Rio would probably like to know that because of those “footballing reasons”, Jordan Henderson has played more minutes than he has at a Euro tournament. Salt, meet wound.
Mizz4Four2′s Euro 2012 Team of the Tournament (4-4-1-1) (Tough decision, and sorry, no false nine from me)
Goalkeeper: Casillas (ESP)
Defenders: Debuchy (FRA), Pepe (POR), Ramos (ESP), Alba (ESP)
Midfielders: Alonso (ESP), Pirlo (ITA), Khedira (GER), Gerrard (ENG)
Strikers: Ronaldo (POR), Balotelli (ITA)
Bring on the League season now! I’m bored already!