Before the Euro 2008 kicked into pulsating action, there were quite a few incidents making headlines, most prominently, the absence of the so-called powerhouse England (people tend to forget that it has been 42 years since England won a tournament, their only Trophy so far) and veteran legends being left out of the squad(yes,Raul Gonzalez is the person in question). But once the actual event kicked off, all critics were silenced. Euro 2008 has indeed been the best international tournament I have witnessed so far(have been following intl football since 2000).
While the stadia where the matches took place were by no means up to the standard of an Anfield or an Old Trafford, this tournament broke all barriers,literally, with the rival fans sitting next to each other. Friendship between opposing teams and fans alike,has been taken to a whole new level. Except for that (very apt) chant the Germans had for Ronaldo, crowd behavior was excellent throughout. The onfield discipline was also pretty good. Referees had been given strict instructions to keep players focussed on the game rather than speaking their mind to the referee and his assistance, and they have indeed lived up to that. Not many errors were made.
Now coming to the football... Euro 2004 saw a very resilient Greek team,high on team spirit, walk away with the trophy, but it was a very dull tournament indeed. But this year was a diagonal opposite. With the Dutch,Portugese and eventual champions Spain lighting up the group stages with some of the best attacking football one has seen in a while, the quarterfinals came alight when Germany and Portugal fought a tactical battle,with Germany coming out on top. Italy and Spain played the dullest game of the tournament which ended in a penalty shootout which,surprise surprise, Spain won :D . But let us not forget the heroic displays of Turkey and the flair of the Russians. While turkey seemed to get a kick from behind everytime the opposition nets a goal, and then manage to somehow stage a remarkable 12th hour comeback, the Russians were beating the high flying dutch at their own game(you can find a detailed description of their showing here).
At the end of it all, Germany, Turkey, Russia and Spain managed to stand tall.
The semifinals were entertaining too. While Turkey tried with all their might, Germany managed to do just about enough to go through to their 2nd final in the last 4 tournaments(they do get around,dont they). In the other semi, the Russians, were outclassed by the Spaniards,who seemed hell bent on breaking off from the choker tag,which has hogged them for some 4 decades. It was heartbreak for the high flying Russians under Guus Hiddink, but greener pastures lie ahead. In the end, probably the best 2 teams managed to enter the finals.
The finals of Euro 2008 has been one of the most exciting end-to-end matches of football one has seen. Spain created chance after chance after chance, seeming content only to walk the ball into goal,much like Arsenal of the BPL. Germany too,were threatening,but never really came close to threatening St.Iker in the Spanish goal. At the 33rd minute, Torres showed everyone why he is currently the best striker in the world, as he managed to out wrestle Mertesaker and out-run Lahm to chip it above the advancing Lehman into the German goal. I tell you, only Torres could have done something like this. While his teammate Villa has been featuring in most of the headlines so far,it was Torres,who was causing the most trouble for defenders and creating chances for his strike partner(who unfortunately missed out) with his blistering pace and amazing strength.He is one guy who never goes down in a tackle too easily(unlike the Ronaldos of the world). And Cesc Fabregas has been one of the players of the tournament. With his fantastic footballing brain and immaculate passing, the talismanic arsenal playmaker can create gilt edged chances out of absolutely nothing, and it was fitting that he got a start in the finals. Marcos Senna has been the rock in the spanish midfield, plugging the holes left by his more attacking team mates. While Bastian Schweinsteiger,Germany's player of the tournament,Klose,Podolski and Ballack were trying hard to find a way past Casillas, time was running out. Gomez,who has been a huge disappointment, and Kuranyi came on, but it was only Joachim Low throwing everything short of a Kitchen sink at the Spanish goal. When the final whistle broke the electric atmosphere at the Ernst Happel stadium,it was Euphoria for Spain,heartbreak for the Germans. Finally, finally after years and years of underperforming and underachieving, la Furia Roja came out on top. A well deserved victory indeed.
Well,Here is my team of the tournament.
The substitutes would include Marcos Senna, Podolski, Lahm, Semi Senturk, Igor Akinfeev, Carlos Puyol,Sergio Ramos, Ballack, Zyryanov and Pavlyuchenko.Some of the inclusions may raise eyebrows,but kindly remember that this is just my opinion.
I would like to share with you guys,what I feel,are my top 6 Euro 08 moments:
6. David Villa's hat trick: It really set the ball rolling for the Spaniards
5. Nihat's near-death winner curling past Petr Cech: Goes to show, it ain't over till the fat lady sings(this is a favorite expression of one of my friends. Mass, you reading this? :P)
4. The Dutch trample all over the world champions Italy, putting up a fantastic display of Total football
3.Cesc Fabregas getting the winning penalty: To me,Cesc has been the star of the Spanish midfield,along with David Silva
2.Russia giving the Dutch a taste of their own medicine: The night belonged to Arshavin and the rest of the spirited Russian team led by the Golden Guus. My favourite game. :D
1. Iker Casillas holding aloft the (New)Henry Delauney Trophy: The elation on his face conveyed more meaning,more joy than a thousand words......