Euro 2012: #7 Reflections

‘Making History in Poland and Ukraine’ 

“Once every four years the continent’s greatest football teams all gather to decide who the best European nation of all is” was how I opened my Euro 2012 blogs a month ago. I made a few predictions and musings ahead of the tournament. In that first blog I discussed seven things to look out for in the tournament; England, Republic of Ireland, Germany, the hosts, racism, TV coverage and the contenders. We’ll find out now how much I got right; safe to say though that Nostradamus can rest in his grave unchallenged in terms of predictions.  It actually turned out to be the most enjoyable and interesting European Championships I’ve ever witnessed. 2012 in Poland and Ukraine will be remembered for a long time. It was the tournament where history was made. 

In terms of England’s tournament I am quite proud of the effort. Roy ‘The Redeemer’ Hodgson pulled out a few tactical masterstrokes. With Rooney out until the Ukraine game the attack was led by Andy Carroll against Sweden, bolstering our height and physical presence up front against a very tall and tough Swedish team. He proved the manager right and headed in BBC pundit Gianluca Vialli’s joint goal of the tournament. He also brought on the right subs at the right time and turned that game from a potentially crushing defeat to a great victory. He was defensive minded against France, probably the toughest game of the group, and we played to our strengths. Roy and his assistant coach Gary Neville had a great tournament and really impressed me. The camp seemed united and happy for the first tournament for a long time. Comparisons were drawn between this year and 1996. Unfortunately both tournaments saw us crash out before the final and the search for that elusive first European Championships win goes on. 

I said it would be tough to get out of the group but we’d have the quality to prevail. I was right – we even won the group which was a real bonus. Our tournament ended in the next round with the dreaded penalties defeat to Italy. This match highlighted our weaknesses; we have a real lack of world class stars. Only Steven Gerrard stood out as a top player for us and we need to start producing more stars if we’re going to win something soon. Overall it’s a more positive report than it could have been given the situation a couple of months ago. We look ahead to Brazil in two years. That was always Hodgson’s plan; this tournament was a trial for it. Things are looking up again. 

Ireland’s campaign on the other hand was a bit of a disaster. The group was a real tough one; Spain, Italy and Croatia. Two of those teams contested the final. The Boys in Green lost all three matches and only scored one goal, having the worst Euro record of all time. The fans enjoyed themselves and were notorious for their loud singing throughout, even when things weren’t going well. ITV’s Roy Keane was critical of this and said Ireland shouldn’t just be going out there for the ‘sing-song’, things need to be taken a bit more seriously. He is one of the most serious people I’ve ever seen but he’s right. It always has a party feel with Ireland, rather than being serious contenders. This was the last tournament for some of the stalwarts; Given, Dunne, Robbie Keane, Duff? The story was similar for each game; goals were conceded at the worst possible times, sluggish starts and a lack of quality ultimately let them down. Badly. 

The Germans didn’t disappoint. They were the most watchable team on show and produced some fine moments. To lose to Italy in the semi-finals will be seen as a bit of a failure for this much-fancied squad. The fascinating coach Joachim Low and his team of talented, exciting young stars scored goals, played some excellent football and worked incredibly well as a unit. German football is riding high again at the moment and surely their time will come and will win another tournament very soon. They dispatched Holland, Portugal, Poland and Greece in style. The Bundesliga had the highest average attendances in Europe last season. I will be tuning in next season if it’s anything like the national team. 

It’s always horrible when the guests dominate and take over if you’re the host. That was definitely the case on the pitch for Poland and Ukraine, who both exited at the group stage. Poland opened the show in style with an entertaining one-all draw with Greece but never really found their form after that. Ukraine came closer, beating Sweden in game one and were narrowly beaten to second place in the group by France. The fans made up for the players by creating a great atmosphere. Stadiums were close to full for every game. It surprised me really. I wasn’t really looking forward to matches being played over there but they proved me wrong and showed me up as a bit of a snob. Castle Square in Warsaw, where ITV were based, looked absolutely beautiful and is now high up on my wish-list of cities to visit. England go there later this year for a qualifier, I would love to join them. 

The biggest fear ahead of the tournament for the host cities was racism. Panorama highlighted incidents from league games before the tournament but that sort of level of racism was nowhere to be seen during the Euros. There were a couple of reports about it, a few monkey chants were heard during a Holland training session, there were some racist banners and songs from various nations fans but nothing close to what was being feared. Fines were issued but these very much seemed like isolated incidents that, unfortunately, do still crop up everywhere. The hosts did a very good job and the fan experience seemed as enjoyable as ever. Huge congratulations go to UEFA and the host cities for putting on such a great show. 

Similar plaudits should also go to ITV for delivering world-class broadcasting once more. They captured the atmosphere and fun of the tournament from the beginning and even won some detractors round. Situated in idyllic surroundings, the team was led by excellent hosts Adrian Chiles and Matt Smith. The pundit line-up was very strong; Keane, Strachan, Southgate, Roberto Martinez and newcomer Jamie Carragher all had great tournaments. Keane, Martinez and Strachan in particular made for compelling viewing and I hope we can see a lot more of them together in the coming years. As ever, ITV’s commentary was strong, with three very good pairings. It was a tournament ITV can be very pleased with. 

The BBC had a mixed show. Being based in Manchester for the groups was a big downside. The studio felt very dull and flat, particularly after hearing such a great cauldron of noise during the game itself just seconds before. It felt like any other regular-season show. Gary Lineker did come out of it well though, he anchored things impressively and is a very safe pair of hands. The pundits were generally disappointing opposite him. Regulars Hansen and Shearer were so bland, clichéd and under-researched it was just embarrassing and were rightly shown up in the latter stages when Klinsmann and Vialli turned up. Lee Dixon was well-prepared and he did prove an exception to the MotD rule. Even the commentary didn’t stand out as anything other than acceptable. There were decent report features in the build-up, especially before England games with Roy Hogson interviews, but there was something missing this time round from the Beeb. Must try harder. 

As for the rest of the tournament, Spain won it and in doing so became the first team to win three successive international tournaments. They can be frighteningly good at times and showed up the gulf between them and ourselves. Nonetheless I did actually get bored with them. They played some game without a recognised striker, so from an attacking point they lacked excitement and ground out games. They were the opposite of my beloved Germans! Holland were the biggest chokers, burning out in the group stage and had a nightmare. Big questions will be asked of them having finished runners-up two years ago. Italy came from nowhere to storm to the final, bizarrely again following on from another footballing scandal back home. The last time that happened they won the World Cup six years ago. Portugal did well and broke into the semis. My final four prediction of Holland, Spain and Germany wasn’t too far out; two out of three ain’t bad. The football wasn’t easy to predict, the tournament was alive from the very start and I enjoyed every minute of it. The togetherness and unity felt during England matches watching in the pubs and viewing at home takes some beating. It’s why I love football and why I loved these Championships. Only a few more weeks now and the domestic season kicks off again. Hopefully more history can be made there too. 

About Mark O'MEARA
I am Mark O'MEARA.

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