The best and worst of Euro 2012
Goals, goals and more goals - in fact it was a total of 76 scored in 31 matches of the Uefa Euro 2012™ tournament. Some were great and others not so great but a few were classic, top drawer stuff and these will linger on in the minds of many a football fanatic.
Tournament co-hosts Ukraine and Poland had promised to make history together -- as their slogan suggested. And boy history they made. They were both knocked out in the group stages but that did not affect the crowd attendance.
In fact according to Uefa, attendance was incredible. Over 1.4 million people attended the matches in the stadiums, ensuring a tournament average of 46 471. The largest single attendance was 64 640 at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv for the match between Sweden and England.
A few other moments for the history books were in reckoning.
Damien Duff of the Republic of Ireland, Lukas Podolski (Germany) and Xabi Alonso (Spain) all reached the 100-cap mark at this tournament – with Alonso celebrating the occasion with two goals against France. Iker Casillas, already a 100-cap club member, posted an incredible record 100th win with Spain in the final.
Spain became the first country to retain the Euro title after winning their first in 2008. It was also a record score in the finals -- a 4-0 slaughter of the Azzurri.
Match of the tournament:
Portugal vs Netherlands
Cristiano Ronaldo scored both goals as Portugal deservedly beat the Netherlands 2-1 on June 17 to reach the quarterfinals of Uefa Euro 2012™ and eliminate the Dutch, beaten World Cup finalists two years ago.
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The Portugal vs Spain semifinal no doubt also a contender for the match of the tournament, as La Roja were for the first time in this tournament prevented from scoring a goal in regulation time.
Flop of the tournament
The Dutch came into this Euro tournament with high expectation and so much promise. Even Dutch legend Ruud Gullit had confidently predicted via Twitter that the team would go far in the tournament.
But this star-laden Dutch squad failed beyond comprehension as they left the tournament with tails between their legs -- no points and no victories and embarrassingly plonked at the bottom of Group B – the first time the Dutch had left a major tournament without a single point.
The Russians too were a tad disappointing as they sheepishly surrendered their leadership of Group A and failed to make it past the group stages.
Well, you had to give it to the Greeks. Amid all the taunts and with very few people giving them any chance to make it beyond group stages, the Greeks displayed remarkable fighting spirit. Not only that, they had the oldest player in 38-year-old goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias and second oldest scorer in Giorgos Karagounis.
Following a 1-1 draw against Poland in the opening match and a 2-1 defeat against the Czechs the writing was almost on the wall with the Russians in waiting. But they did it against all odds to bundle Russia out and book a place in the quarterfinals with Germany. Even against the Germans, they were good value for money and pushed the Germans the whole way until the final minute as they narrowly lost 4-2.
Disappointments of the tournament
Persistent racial taunts directed at players of a darker hue and Uefa’s indecisiveness in dealing with the matter.
Best saves and goals
Back to the field of play - there were some outstanding saves throughout the tournament, notably Manuel Neur of Germany against Portugal, England’s Joe Hart against France, Petr Cech made numerous saves against Portugal and Gigi Buffon did the same against England.
But it is goals that add to the excitement of any major tournament and below is a select list of what, in our opinion, should rank among the best goals of the Euro 2012. The goals are in no particular order but you are welcome to list your top 10 or top five.
Di Natali (Italy vs Spain – June 10) 59th minute
Antonio Di Natale came off the bench to fire the Italians ahead on the hour but they were in front for only four minutes before Fabregas latched on to a clever David Silva pass and fired past Gianluigi Buffon.
Lescott (England vs France – June 11) 29th minute
Manchester City defender Joleon Lescott headed England into a 30th-minute lead to leave Roy Hodgson's men dreaming of the perfect start to their campaign on a sweltering night at the Donbass Arena.
Nasri (France vs England – June 11) 38th minute
Lescott's City teammate Samir Nasri struck back with a 39th-minute equaliser, lashing a low shot from outside the area to give France a share of the points and extend Les Bleus unbeaten run to 22 games.
Shevchenko (Ukraine vs Sweden – June 11) 61st minute
Ukraine's former European Player of the Year Andrei Shevchenko rolled back the years as his second-half double inspired the Uefa Euro 2012™ co-hosts to a come from behind to record a 2-1 win over Sweden in their Group D encounter. His second goal in particular was pure class.
Blaszczykowski (Poland vs Russia – June 12) 56th minute
Blaszczykowski's brilliant goal just before the hour cancelled out a first-half header by Russia playmaker Alan Dzagoyev, leaving the Uefa Euro 2012™ co-hosts needing to beat the Czech Republic in their final group game to progress.
Jiracek (Czech Republic vs Greece – June 12) 2nd minute, fastest goal for Euro 2012
In an enterprising but niggling clash that stirred memories of the teams' dramatic 2004 semifinal, decided in Greece's favour by a 'silver' extra time goal, Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar struck in the opening six minutes for the Czechs.
Varela (Portugal vs Denmark – June 13) 86th minute
Portugal substitute Silvestre Varela scored a dramatic 87th-minute winner to give his side a 3-2 win over Denmark in a pulsating Euro 2012 Group B match.
Balotelli (Italy vs Ireland – June 18) 89th minute
Balotelli brilliantly hooked the ball home in the final minute to leave Italy second with five points behind Spain.
Zlatan (Sweden vs France – June 19) 53rd minute
A brilliant bicycle kick by Sweden's inspirational captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 54th minute gave them the lead with the outstanding Sebastian Larsson adding a second in the final minute of normal time.
Balotelli (Italy vs Germany – June 28) 35th minute
Italy forward Mario Balotelli scored two superb first-half goals to steer his team to a 2-1 victory over favourites Germany and into the Euro 2012 final.
Silva (Spain vs Italy – July 1) 13th minute
Majestic Spain took their place among the game's greats by thrashing Italy 4-0 to retain their European title, the biggest victory margin in a World Cup or Euro final - and all without a recognised striker.
Their success rewrote the tactical handbook and the record books after goals from David Silva, Jordi Alba and late substitutes Fernando Torres and Juan Mata gave the world champions an ultimately easy victory.
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