European Championship

In praise of Spain – the collective and the individuals

Spain did it. The first side to win three consecutive major tournaments – Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and on Sunday night, Euro 2012. Having been accused of being ‘boring’ in the build up to the final – certainly a legitimate criticism looking back at Portugal game. Even Arsene Wenger weighed in on the matter saying Spain were “betraying their philosophy and turned into something more negative” – La Roja rubbed it in their critics faces as they recorded the biggest margin of victory in a European Championship final – a 4-0 victory.

“Those people who think we are boring…in my opinion, they don’t understand the game” were Cesc Fabregas’ parting words. Boring is the ultimate insult that could be bestowed upon this Spanish side. For all the talk of false-9’s and a starting line-up that didn’t contain a recognised striker, La Roja saved their best for last. 12 goals scored, just one conceded, which was against the aforementioned Italians when the sides opened Group C. But once some of the many questions had been answered by the Spaniards, even more have since arisen. What more can they achieve?

Many are currently trying to contemplate if this Spanish side is the best international side ever. It is certainly a side that continues to break record after record coupled with opponent after opponent. It has been 990 minutes since they last conceded a goal in a knock-out game that was back at the 2006 World Cup against France – an aggregate of 14-0 on their way of a hat-trick of major tournaments. Those are the collective records, there have also been a couple of individual records set in the process by this team – Fernando Torres became the first person to score in two European Championship finals. Iker Casillas notched up his 100th international victory in 137 appearances, keeping his 9th clean sheet at a European Championship putting him level with Edwin Van der Sar. “It’s unique. It’s magical. Something that cannot be repeated. People can’t ignore how great this is.” beamed Andres Iniesta last night.

Even the brains the behind the operation, the quiet, unassuming coach, Vicente Del Bosque has managed his own unique treble of being a World Cup, Champions League and European Championship winning manager – the first coach to ever achieve such a feat. In the Galacticos era at Real Madrid he won six trophies: two La Liga titles, two Champions Leagues, the European Supercup and the Spanish Supercup. He is such unassuming character, that not one person mentioned him when @MarrsioFootball conducted a straw poll of: “Who are the best five managers in the world?” for his blog on the man. Del Bosque – who took charge from Luis Argones after Euro 2008 has cemented his place in history and has developed and evolved this side his in four years as coach.

In a year’s time, this Spain side will travel to Brazil to take part in the prelude to the 2014 World Cup, the Confederations Cup – where they will again take on Italy, along with South American’s finest – Brazil, Mexico and Uruguay – Japan, Tahiti and the winners of the 2013 African Cup of Nations. It is this World Cup in two years time in Brazil, should Spain successfully retain it, they would set yet another precedent, as no European side have ever won a World Cup staged in South America and would set La Roja apart from any other international side that has gone before them.

Another question raised – another one for Spain to answer.

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Can Ronaldo steal the show against Spain?

After a season that saw him score 60 goals in 55 games as Real Madrid romped their way to the La Liga title, Cristiano Ronaldo, even at the European Championship has been blighted with questions and tedious comparisons between himself and Lionel Messi. During Portugal’s group-stage game against Denmark he was taunted with chants of “Messi, Messi, Messi” from Danish supporters.

Portugal have always had an impressive record when it comes to the European Championship and since last failing to qualify in 1992, their record stands at: 1996 – quarter-finals, 2000 – semi-finals, 2004 – runners-up and 2008 – quarter-finals. Could 2012 be their year? Well, standing in their way is the tiki-taka machine that Spain who will be aiming for their second consecutive European Championship final as they bid to complete a historic treble of major tournaments.

Perhaps the best way to sum up tonight’s game comes for Richard Williams: “A simple way of looking at the match between Portugal and Spain on Wednesday night might be as a contest between the individual brilliance of one man and the collective genius of an entire squad.” And at Euro 2012, we have seen Ronaldo’s individual brilliance when it really matters (in games against Holland and Czech Republic).

In the face of criticism, particularly after his nation’s opening game defeat to Germany and again after their win against Denmark. Ronaldo has silenced those dissenting voices in his last two games; where he has scored three goals, to make him joined top-scorer, along with Germany’s Mario Gomez whose nations are still in the tournament. In four games, he has had 30 shots –more than the entire England squad (29) managed. Three goals at Euro 2012 has seen Ronaldo equal the amount of goals that he has scored in his last three international tournaments.

Gone are the criticisms of that past where, on a couple of occasions he was accused of not doing it on the big stage, on being anonymous when it really matters for both club (against Barcelona – has since scored in his last three El Clasico’s) and country, but the Portuguese has put all those to bed. Inevitably, Ronaldo is always going to be beaten with the individual stick rather than the team one. For the most part, certainly in this tournament, it has been him that has dragged Portugal to the semi-finals and if they are to reach the final, it is likely that he will be involved.

Never one to shy away from the spotlight and glare of the camera bulbs, Ronaldo could well be the show stealer tonight if Portugal beat Spain. If not, we could see a repeat of those tears from when Portugal were defeated by Greece in 2004, all over again.

Will it be tears or cheers for Portugal and Ronaldo?

Euro 2012: Group stages mini-review

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The quarter-finals kick-off tomorrow, with Czech Republic vs Portugal as we head towards the final on July 1st. But first, we will take a look at some of the themes from the group stage.

24 group stage games and no 0-0’s

60 goals in 24 games, means that Euro 2012 has averaged 2.5 goals per game. This has been far from a defensively solid tournament, with just ten clean sheets in those 24 games – six coming in the final eight games. Of the recent major tournaments, Euro 2012 has certainly delivered excitement and entertainment rather than turgid dead rubbers (some which we could see a lot of in 2016).

Common group-stage scorelines

1-0: 6
1-1: 5
2-1: 5
2-0: 3
3-2: 2
3-1: 1
4-0: 1
4-1: 1

Why change the format from 16 to 24 teams?

As has already been explored on this blog, in 2016 the European Championship will expand from 16 to 24 teams, meaning almost half of UEFA’s member nations (who voted for this change) will be taking part. The format for 2016 is still sketchy, but this summer’s tournament is a reminder as to why less (teams) is more and the quality on show has been great to watch.

Just four teams remain unbeaten going into the knock-out stages and only one (Germany) have a perfect record.

Germany – W3
Spain – W2 D1
England – W2 D1
Italy – W1 D2

Spain – highest scores (6), albeit four of those came against Ireland. Lowest goals conceded (1).

Group stages finish, largely, as expected.

Group B, Group C and Group D went almost according to plan with the favourites (with the exception of Holland) finishing first and second in their groups. Group A ended with an unpredictable, yet entertaining finale with Czech Republic topping the group and Greece finishing second, ahead of Russia and Poland.

No hosts/co-hosts in the knock-out stages

Poland and Ukraine, like their predecessors, Austria and Switzerland from 2008 failed to qualify for the quarter-finals. Neither were whipping boys in their groups, perhaps disappointingly, Poland failed to win a game (D2 L1) but gained more points than they did in 2008. The Ukrainian’s faired a little better with (W1 L2), accumulating three points. Only Poland had qualified for a European Championship previously (2008), while the 2006 World Cup was Ukraine’s first major tournament and this their first ever European Championship.