EURO 2012: Thoughts at the halfway point
We’re halfway through the 2012 European Championships and given there’s a couple of days rest before we get into the quarter finals, now’s as good a time as any to reflect on what we’ve seen so far.
Given I’ve had about 20 hours sleep over the last two weeks thanks to juggling work, playing football and watching almost every game (I missed Croatia v Ireland and Greece v Czech Republic, that’s it) I’ll do my best.
However, articulating my opinions of the tournament and not falling asleep on the keyboard are competing goals, so let’s not waste time.
Team to Beat:
Pre-tournament I was all-in on Germany and I’ve seen nothing to change my opinion. They remain my favourite to win it all and were the only team to claim a perfect nine points in the group stage.
That’s not to say they are flawless; they won each game by just a single goal and have been very wasteful at times. Mario Gomez is probably going to win the golden boot, and despite his three goals in truth, he could have a whole lot more.
But when the biggest criticism you can find in a team is that the guy that’s scoring as many goals as anyone could be scoring more goals, there’s not much going wrong. Mats Hummels has shown why his Dortmund teams have been so efficient over the last couple of seasons, with some Beckenbauer-esque runs from the back in addition to being excellent defensively.
And of course, they have arguably the world’s best keeper in Manuel Neuer and their captain is unarguably the best fullback in the world. There’s not a lot to hate.
I can’t go much further without mentioning the reigning World and European champions. Spain are yet to suffer defeat in the tournament. Despite drawing a few raised eyebrows for their questionable 0-10-0 formation in the opening game, they managed a point in that difficult fixture and then easily disposed of the Irish, and did enough to beat Croatia.
An amazing stat I read after their third match was that “Spain’s midfield has completed exactly 1,300 passes in this tournament, which is higher than 12 other teams completed passes thus far”.
In the match against Ireland, Xavi and Iniesta completed more passes than the entire Irish team.
And I know how insightful I must be to have spent a paragraph making the point that “Spain are good at passing”, but there are other factors to address – one is the form of Fernando Torres, who looked like a world beater in the game against Ireland, but inept in the two fixtures either side.
Who knows if he will start in the game against France and if he does, will he perform?
Portugal made me and a lot of other people look very silly. The consensus quinella from that group was Germany/Netherlands, with the trendy outsider pick going to Denmark.
Very few people gave the Portuguese any chance and after a first up loss and a Ronaldo tantrum, that number would only have been smaller than an AFL GWS game at home.
Yet, despite a supporting cast of players that for the most part would struggle to make the squads of their biggest rivals, and Ronaldo having to suffer with the selfishness of Nani and the complete lack of quality that Helder Postiga provides, they’re through to the quarters.
With a juicy looking fixture against the Czechs (who are through despite being paddled 4-1 in their opening game, in by far the softest group) it’s all starting to open up nicely for them.
And the fourth team that I actually think could win is … England.
I really don’t see why not. Having not had their best player for the first two matches and having to endure the lack of attacking drive that Frank Lampard would have provided, they topped their group and were it not for a James Milner open goal miss (who by the way was their worst player throughout the group stage) against the French would have claimed the maximum nine points.
Joe Hart is a keeper in absolutely top form, Steven Gerrard is having the tournament of his life and the much maligned John Terry is playing brilliantly. He even stopped a goal last night – supposedly.
Rooney scored but yes, it was a goal that you or I would’ve put away and he did miss a simple header in the first half. In saying that, he improved as the game went on and will only get better in the quarter final. Of course, now that I’ve said all of this I expect a dubious red card and an exit on penalties against Italy. It’s the only way the Three Lions know.
The Team That Made Us All Look Foolish:
I have to say that I, along with several of our friends thought that “Greece: 0-1 total points” was a great bet. And, not content with destroying their own economy, the Greeks conspired to decimate the wallets of myself and many others.
It’s been a typical Greece tournament – scrapping a goal here and there, clinging on defensively and doing enough to win.
I don’t know if they’ll be able to get anything out of their quarter-final with Germany, especially given that their captain and midfield maestro Giorgos Karagounis, as well as defender José Holebas will be suspended for the game. But still, nobody believed in them in 2004 and look what happened.
The Perennial Underacheivers
Oh, Netherlands. Why do you let us down time and time again? This was supposed to be the tournament for Arjen Robben to avenge his abject showing in the Champions league final. It was supposed to rain goals for Robin van Persie, the most lethal striker of the last 12 months.
We were supposed to see the re-birth of total football, we were at least supposed to see them win a game or two.
Instead, they got the same number of points as Ireland. Zero. Robben was absolutely horrendous in the three games he played, refusing to pass and in typical Robben style, spurning chance after chance through his selfishness. Inexplicably failing to start Van der Vaart until the third game when it was probably too late.
This was a tournament to forget for the Dutch, and Bert van Marwijk will almost certainly be sacked.
Missing roughly 400 shots in that first game against Denmark certainly didn’t help, either.
Fearless Predictions for the rest of the tournament:
Runners Up: Portugal
Golden Boot: Mario Gomez
Golden Ball: Cristiano Ronaldo
So that’s about where we’re at so far. Feel free to let me know if you disagree.