As the dust settles and people in Spain begin to recover from their days of partying, I can emerge from the woodwork to share what I got from the European Championships held in the Ukraine and Poland this year.
1. Spain are worthy winners of the competition.
I am among those who thought Spain were rather boring in the group stages and the quarter final. Since the win in the final many have been putting their thumbs on their noses and making that ‘nah, nah, nah-nah, nah’ noise to say they knew all along that Spain weren’t boring. Yet regardless of the argument that they had opposition who were playing more defensive, it remains the case that Spain didn’t really show an attacking force that subdued those opponents, rather they tended to pass their way through matches. Literally. It’s one thing to control a match through passing making incisive forays into the opponents half and being direct in making goal-scoring opportunities. It’s another thing to have a plan A, and failing that revert to plan A and wait for the opposition to tire. That was boring.
In the final, however, they finally showed up and bombed the Italians with a combination of their passing play with incisive forward movements that from which the Italians couldn’t respond. Masterful performance from the history-makers. I am part of the generation that heard the stories of the Brazil 1970 team, but since then no other international side has dominated the game in the way the Spanish have since 2008. They are truly worthy winners of the trophy.
2. Form Counts For Nothing – Real Quality Shines Through
There were some good matches in the group stages, with surprising displays from the likes of Greece to upset the apple-cart. Likewise Holland were dismal in the opposite to what people were expecting. Yet for all the fun and games when it came to the line ups in the semi-finals few people could argue that these were not the best four teams not only in the competition, but in Europe. Indeed Germany, Portugal, Italy and Spain on the performances should look to be strong contenders in Brazil in two years time.
Looking at the Portuguese there is more to come from them and they didn’t exceed expectations by getting to these stages. The Italians did exceed expectations thanks to the peerless Pirlo, but even beyond him they have a good team, a very good manager and a flexibility of tactical structure that up to the final served them well. The Germans were my favourites to win the thing and were arguably the better team up until the semi-finals when Italy out-thought them, but for some reason they failed to rouse themselves to take the fight.
These teams all showed quality across the pitch to a higher degree than the rest and for them to get to the semis seemed to show that it really is about the cream rising to the surface.
3. Ronaldo Is A World Class Player
You don’t come second in World Player of the Year awards without being decent. You don’t do that in consecutive years without being special. The fact that the debate still rages as to who you prefer between him and Messi shows that he is in a class of his own. Yet what marks Pele, Cruyff, Beckenbauer and Maradona someone of more recent times like Zinedine Zidane as truly exceptional world class players is there performance in an international tournament.
Up until this one Cristiano Ronaldo hadn’t really turned it on big style on the world stage. This time the brother’s performances overall were outstanding. It took him a little while to kick in, but once he did, he was almost relentless. No wonder people were suckered into thinking Portugal were a one man team, such were his displays.
He may never win a major international trophy – Portugal are good, but I don’t think they’ll be that good. Yet the point remains that he has shown he has the ability to take the game by the scruff of the neck at any level and to truly stamp his mark.
4. TV Commentary Standards Have Dropped Remarkably
There was a time when I looked forward to watching the match as much for the punditry as for the on field play. There was also a time when the BBC far outstripped ITV in providing quality football presentation. That time wasn’t so long ago, too. Indeed there was a time when Gary Lineker was just an eager new broadcaster making his way in the world and giving the space for the other experts to give their expertise.
This is the first international tournament when I was more than happy to record the programme and then fast forward through the boring bits, most of which were the punditry. The BBC was overall dire. Alan Hansen just came across as curmudgeonly. Alan Shearer’s presence on television as a so-called expert is even worse than his impression of football management at Newcastle United. Worse of all, though, was Mark Lawrenson. I watch football and want to listen to insightful analysis from the co-commentator. He has done it for so long that he is literally phoning in performances that are just that, rather than giving the viewer something to enhance their enjoyment of the game.
ITV were not awful … alright Andy Townsend is awful .. so is Jim Beglin, but Roberto Martinez did well. Jamie Carragher wasn’t too bad either. I’ve got time for Roy Keane’s ‘forthright’ comments, however grumpy they can make him appear. I don’t have much time at all for Adrian Chiles. Lineker maybe hackneyed, but Chiles is worse, especially with his ongoing England deal where he errs more on the side of pessimism than anything. One person who is growing on me as an ever improving analyst is Gareth Southgate. He’s not superb yet, but he’s far more accomplished as a television performer than he was last year.
The case, remains, however, that this is a tournament that made me wish Sky had rights to these things. I never thought I’d be saying that, but there it is. I would genuinely believe the entertainment and information value would rise exponentially if Messrs Chamberlain, Neville, Souness, Hoddle and Tyler were looking after proceedings.
5. Ukraine/Poland Have Every Right To Be Proud Of Their Achievements
For all the questions and doubts about the tournament from the fears over racism to the concerns over having a tournament in two countries like that they answered it by putting on a decent tournament.
This has been one of the more enjoyable international football tournaments. Good team performances, excellent individual displays, little reason to quibble with the refereeing (of course the dudes who are behind the goals remain pointless), very good games and a good feel to the whole thing. I enjoyed it a lot and that doesn’t happen with every international tournament.