A fantastic Euro champs so far
The Uefa Euro 2012™ tournament has been fantastic so far -- in fact it’s one of the best I have seen in a long time. Every game had goals and there were no 0-0 draws as has happened in some of the past tournaments. That’s fantastic for the viewers and spectators.
The head-to-head system for deciding who goes through when teams end equal on points, has gotten a lot of people arguing – is it good or is it bad? But the one thing it does is ensure that teams treat all the games with greater importance. If you look back at the World Cup some teams went into the final round of matches knowing they had already qualified and they could afford to field a second-string team.
With this tournament, I don’t think there was any team guaranteed to go through. Germany could have gone out in the last game and even when they were 1-1 with Denmark, they knew anything could still happen and they had to play for victory.
The tournament also had some drama, with Russia going out after almost everyone would have bet on them to progress to the next round. Then you had the Netherlands, who for me were a big disappointment, going out without a single point.
In terms of stand-out performances for me, I would have to say Ronaldo was absolutely brilliant for Portugal in the game against the Netherlands. Another match for me was England coming back from a 2-1 deficit against Sweden to win 3-2.
Interestingly, nobody expected much from England with a new manager in charge, and yet they have played really well. I have enjoyed watching England in this tournament. Germany as always were also incredible with their passing game and knocking the ball around, but more importantly getting the result, which makes them the only team to have won all three of their matches from the group stages.
Looking at Spain, they have not been as impressive just yet. They have the ability to play far better than they have in this tournament and I am beginning to wonder whether we're about to see a new champion, because Spain are there for the taking.
Germany have looked far stronger than they were at the 2010 World Cup. Portugal have also improved with every game and with Ronaldo finding his scoring form, they have a good possibility to make it to the semifinals.
Sure there have been some disappointments as well. With the Netherlands, more than the fact that they have lost all three games, what I'm most disappointed with is the arguing and bickering in the Dutch camp.
To me, Man United and Barcelona have the best team effort – if you are not in the line-up you support the other players and you keep your mouth shut. That makes for a happy team spirit. But to hear Rafael van der Vaart and Klaas-Jan Hunterlaar saying they should be playing is not on. The days of such an attitude are gone, who are you to tell the coach that you should be playing? Just get on with the job and wait for your chance to play. The Dutch disappointed me off the pitch more than anything else.
When it comes to outstanding individual performances from the first round, it has to go to Ronaldo. He never let his head down when things were not going for him and in the match between Portugal and the Netherlands; he was simply the best player in the world on that day.
The youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been a revelation in this tournament. You always have these instances, where a new manager comes in and he bloods some youngsters. This is great because it freshens up the team. I thought England had been getting old and stale with the same faces, and needed some young blood.
And now comes Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott with his pace, as well as Danny Welbeck, and it brings some vibrancy into the team. If you look at England now, you can see a good mix between youth and some experience in the team.
If you look at Spain, on the other hand, I think they are getting old together and the danger with that is that you do not have that young vibrancy and energy coming through.
My call for the quarterfinals? I can’t see Greece performing any more miracles (but of course I said the same in 2004 and they surprised me and went on to win the Euro), and I honestly can’t see them beating Germany at this stage. Portugal should have the beating of the Czech Republic.
The French are poor in the middle and their defence is not solid, so Spain should beat them. For Italy v England, it’s a 50/50 but I think England have got a spring in their step and will sneak through.
Of course both co-hosts have been knocked out in the first round and you can only wonder what this will do to the tournament in general. I guess we will only find out in the next round of matches.
For the Fifa World Cup here in South Africa, we had not expected much from Bafana Bafana and were prepared in case the team got knocked out in the first round. Generally, you want the locals to keep supporting the event regardless of what happens and if this does not happen, the officials will be more careful in future when it comes to awarding the right to host such major tournaments.
Finally, as a side issue, but a serious one nevertheless, is the racism challenges. It will leave a bad mark on Uefa Euro 2012™. The upside is that the issue is now being brought to people’s attention and the good thing is that the whole world is saying it’s not acceptable and cannot be tolerated. I hope Poland and Ukraine, and Eastern Europe in general, will take this as an opportunity to tackle this issue.