The excitement for Euro Cup 2012 can be comparable to Christmas Eve as a youngster. Christmas, however, comes once every year, and for us football fans, we have to wait four years for this beautiful tournament. The stage was set, the groups were picked, rosters selected, club teams had finished their season and it was finally time to watch the best European country’s match up. And in a blink of an eye, it was over. As we wait another four year’s, let’s not forget some of the best memories that led to Spain to being the first country to ever win back-to-back Euro Cup Championships.
#10 Opening Match Drama (Poland 1 Greece 1)
What a way to open the tournament! A match that many thought would be a yawn had more drama than a soap opera. The opening goal came in the 17th minute when highly anticipated Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandoski headed home a perfectly timed Piszczek cross to give host nation Poland the 1-0 lead. Then, a bizarre referring decision saw Sokratis Papastathopoulos sent off with a second yellow, giving Poland a man advantage before half-time. Many thought this decision would kill the game (including myself) but we were proven wrong when Arsenal goal-keeper Wojciech Szczesny dropped a routine cross and Greece substitute Dimitrios Salpingidis pounced on it, leveling the game at 1-1. The Arsenal keeper would go on to have a shocker of a match as Salpingidis rounded him, Szczensy swiped his leg taking him down, not only giving up a penalty, but also getting him sent off. Poland’s dreams of getting out of the group were saved by backup keeper Przemyslaw Tyton, as he stoned the Karagounis’ penalty. The game would end in a 1-1 draw. The Czech’s would go on to win the group (despite losing 4-1 in the opener against Russia) and Greece would pull off a miraculous win over Russia to secure a spot in the Quarterfinals.
#9 Supportive Fans despite Poor Results (Republic of Ireland)
The Republic of Ireland had qualified for the Euro Cup tournament for the first time in 24 years, and man oh man were their fans stoked. With fresh memories of just missing out on the World Cup in 2010 (thanks to the hand of Thierry Henry) they wanted revenge. At the end of the day, passion and desire can only take you so far on the pitch, as they were grouped up against some of the top powerhouses in the tournament including two teams that would eventually meet in the final. Losing the opening match 3-1 against a strong Croatia side, they went into the next match against tournament favorites Spain with little to lose. Outmatched they lost 4-0, but despite the beating, the fans sang on until the final whistle showing their Irish pride. Many neutral fans gave their utmost respect to Irish supporters, as you still might hear the echoes of their voices…
#8 Fernando Torres Golden Boot
Spain opened up the tournament with a difficult match against a relentless Italy squad who were coming out attacking, leaving only three players in the back. They reacted by playing 6 midfielders and no out-and-out striker. This, left Fernando Torres on the bench. Fernando came on as a late sub, immediately making an impact, getting sent in one-on-one with Buffon, he hesitated, and got stuffed. Torres was coming off a very bi-polar season with Chelsea, starting off out of form but ending on a high. He seemed to be making all the right movements, but couldn’t put in the finishing touch. His runs were breathtaking, but at times, his finishing was questionable. He went on to bag a brace against Ireland in one of his few starts and netted his third goal with a cheeky finish in the side netting in the final against Italy. Due to several players being tied with three goals for the Golden Boot award, the tie-breaker was assists, giving Torres the award, scoring 3 goals in just 189 minutes. This is a massive achievement and confidence booster that will hopefully bring the old Fernando Torres back to a goal-scoring form.
#7 Ibrahimovic Goal vs France
Sweden didn’t have much of chance coming out of their group being matched with both England and France. However, if they did have one thing going for them it was the massive presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The not so gentle giant has proven to be one of the most challenging forwards to defend. He is a force in the box and can hit a snap-shot outside the box at any moment. His delicate touch combined with his lethal power has left teams scratching their head. This time, it was France on the end of a thunderbolt Ibrahimovic volley. Going down as one of the top goals of the tournament.
#6 Andriy Shevchenko’s Brace (Ukraine 2 Sweden 1)
Shevchenko retired from International football with a bang, as he led host nation Ukraine past Sweden 2-1 in the opening match of group D. Even though Shevchenko is 36 and doesn’t quite have the pace he used to, he still knows how to get into the right areas and he can still finish. He proved this against Sweden as he twice got in front of his defender and headed it home. Given that Shevchenko was a former Chelsea boy all I could do was smile, and apparently I wasn’t the only one…
#5 Class from the Spot (Pirlo and Ramos Penalty Dink)
One of the best parts about the Euro Cup is once the group stages are over, there are no draws, every game must have a winner. Almost every year we have a couple of big matches that come down to penalty kicks and this year didn’t disappoint. Here is a video of Sergio Ramos’s penalty against Portugual. You can watch Pirlo’s at the 3:55 mark in the next video.
#4 Italy vs England Quarter Final Shootout (Italy 4 England 2)
This was a match full of nerves and it showed by the amount of missed chances by both teams. We saw shots coming off the post, players missing sitters, it was just a very nervy match that neither team wanted to be on the losing end. Either team could have won this one in regular time or even extra-time but no one stepped up to be a hero. Therefore the match would end in the worst way possible, a 0-0 draw and headed to penalties. My favorite part of the shoot-out had to be when Balotelli stepped up to take his spot-kick, as he and Joe Hart (Manchester City teammates) just smiled at each other and laughed. You can see Pirlo’s penalty from #5 at the 3:55 mark.
#3 Ballotelli’s Brace vs Germany (Italy 2 Germany 1)
Coming into the tournament I don’t think there was a player that was going to have more attention than Mario Balotelli. He has been known to be in the spotlight for his erratic behavior off the pitch at his Manchester City club and it’s not uncommon for him to be sent off when he is on the pitch. He is young and still maturing and if there was a time for him to shrug off his critiques, this would be the time at a world stage. There were already concerns about the potential racism issues and Balotelli was quoted saying that if he was the recipient of any racist taunts, he would walk off the pitch. Needless to say, the stage was Balotelli’s the night that underdogs Italy beat Germany in the Semi Finals, thanks to two great Balotelli goals. The greatest moment of all was after the match when Balotelli went to his adoptive mother and gave her a big hug, as tears went down both their faces. This just shows that underneath that thick skin, Balotelli does have a heart. I think his critiques can keep quiet…for the time being at least. Here is a clip from PTI that shows both of his goals.
#2 Spain vs Portugal
When I think of Spain and Portugal, I think rivalry. It had the same anticipated intensity of an El Clasico match with Spain being mostly composed of Barcelona players and Portugal living in the spotlight of Real Madrid’s Ronaldo. However, the match never really got me excited. Spain, as expected, controlled most of the tempo but neither team was willing to take any extra risks to break the deadlock. The game ended 0-0 and we went to penalties. Spain ended up going on to win 4-2, but what made it so interesting is Ronaldo didn’t even get to take a spot kick, which baffled many. Why would you not have your best player take the at least the third penalty, guaranteeing he will get a chance to shoot? Instead, they had Ronaldo 5th in the lineup where he never even got a oppotunity to help his country when they needed him the most. Fabregas ended up scoring the game winner, hitting it off both posts to seal a spot in the finals.
#1 Spain vs Italy Final (Spain 4 Italy 0)
The entire tournament Spain was getting criticized for their boring tiki-taka passing style (which I didn’t understand). Their style is what defines the beautiful game. It’s what makes the game so aesthetically appealing. I would watch that style all day and be satisfied with a 0-0 draw. But the fans, they want goals. The good news was the final provided them as Spain won 4-0 against Italy in the final. The first goal was beautifully provided by Fabregas as he got to the touch-line and fired a cross through the box finding the head of an unlikely recipient, Silva. He simply let the pace of the cross do all the work. The second goal was a nice one-two through the middle that allowed Jordi Alba (just signed by Barcelona this Summer) in one-on-one with Buffon and he made no mistake. Second half sub Torres provided the third goal with a nicely slotted shot past Buffon. And Juan Mata scored off a perfect cutback pass from Torres to seal the 4-0 victory and give spain the Euro Cup trophy. Spain became the first country to ever win back-to-back European Championships as they proved to the world why they are ranked #1.