Wow. So the entire group stage has gone by without a single post!!! Sorry about that.
It’s no doubt due to the fact that I’ve been glued to the nearest television set since 8th June and today is the first day without a single match although I suspect that I’ve also been avoiding posting anything too trivial to immediately follow my post on Panorama’s Stadiums of Hate.
Euro 2012 has however been a bit good. The format of 15 of the best teams in the world (and Ireland) makes for a brilliant and unique tournament on paper that it has certainly not disappointed (good job UEFA has decided to change it to 24 teams for France 2016 eh?).
Unable to replicate the heroics of their last major tournament in 2002, the Irish equalled the worst Euro record of all time with 3 losses and a goal difference of -8 (equal with Bulgaria in 2004 and Denmark in 2000 as well as Yugoslavia in 1984 in the 8 team format, so not bad company actually!). As they were in a group with Spain, the top-ranked team in the world, fellow top-10 team Croatia and the 2006 World Cup winners Italy this is not of course surprising (they played Saudi Arabia in 2002) although conceding within the first five minutes of the first four halves of football you play doesn’t help either! Hopefully the fans won’t turn on Trap though, he has after all worked wonders to get them there after the disappointment of losing the World Cup 2010 qualification play-off to Thierry Henry’s ‘hand of god’ moment.
The second ‘worst’ team at this year’s Euros? World Cup runners-up the Netherlands, a team ranked fourth in the world that boasts the talents of Van Persie, Sniejder, Robben et al. Unbelievably they also crashed out like a British Eurovision entry by registering ‘nul points’.
The Oranje were of course victims of the Group of Death that featured four of the top ten ranked teams in the world. Russia meanwhile, everybody’s ‘dark horses‘ after one half of good football, also failed to make it out of the group, only their group was more like the Group of Life! It was a situation that as it unfolded had commentators and tweeters alike getting themselves all worked up that a team captained by Andrei Arshavin seemed to ‘lack a sense urgency’ without even a hint of irony.
“It’s not our problem we didn’t meet your expectations. It’s your problem.“
– Arshavin to fans (and commentators… and pundits… and half of twitter…)
The final matches of each group provided a head-to-heads before goal-difference/3 team mini league-tastic mathematical scramble with everything to play for (unless you’re Ireland… or Sweden). Personally I feel most sorry for Croatia and to a lesser extent Denmark, whilst Sweden could equally have made it through too had they not succumbed to a sensational Shevchenko swan-song in their opening fixture.
England won their group comfortably in the end despite not thrilling and the fact that anything could have happened in the Sweden game. What about the Ukraine’s goal that wasn’t given I hear you cry? Well, whilst we clearly still need goal line technology, IT WAS OFFSIDE! Glad we cleared that up.
Game of the Group Stage
My favourite game of the Group Stage was Spain 1-1 Italy, pitting del Bosque’s strikerless stars against Prandelli’s 3-5-2. It was a fascinating clash of tactical styles with Italy negating the Spanish system for long periods whilst also finding the gaps in it despite having far less possession. It was only when Torres came on in the 74th minute that the Italian back three, which contained a midfielder in De Rossi as the ball-player, came unstuck but luckily for the Italians Fernando wouldn’t find his shooting boots until the next game (against the lucky Irish). As a ‘false’ centre-back De Rossi did an excellent job against the false 9s and despite having to hang on desperately later in the game it was the Italian system that worked better over the match as a whole. If Prandelli adopted the 3-5-2 because knew that del Bosque would start without a recognised striker then it was genius, if it was primarily due to the absence of key centre-back Barzagli whilst he recovered from injury then it was perhaps less so, but it worked.
Right, now that the evening without any football has been filled with some football, bring on the Knockout Stage!!!
Let’s hope we all have at least one more opportunity to sing Three Lions at the top of our voices before the end!