Gripping Euros near climaxBy: SHEEFENI NIKODEMUS
LIKE with any football tournament, Euro 2012 has so far yielded an assortment of spills and thrills.
From Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s sumptuous farewell strike and the embarrassing but not entirely unexpected Dutch self-destruction, to Antonio Cassano’s controversial gay comments and John Terry’s last ditch off-the-line save that got Fifa [president Sepp Blatter Tweeting about the “necessity of goal-line technology”.
Lighting struck, feminists used the tournament to get publicity, Ukranian legend Andriy Shevchenko called it a day after his team were knocked out by Roy Hodgson’s English drones and the official match-ball Tango 12 has been flying truer than the physics-defying Jabulani that maimed the quality of play at the 2010 World Cup.
This event has witnessed plenty to make viewers squirm: monkey chants directed toward black players; Polish police announcing plans to use “dogs trained to bite directly into hooligans’ testicles”; and the deputy mayor of Gdansk thanking fans who visited his city for behaving like “civilised white people.”
Euro 2012 has also been a showcase for bold, unpredictable soccer, dominated by unexpected stars, with a biblical deluge thrown in to boot. Enjoy it while you can.
As always in these competitions, there are underdogs that are expected to go home with their tails between their legs following a mauling in the group stages.
Greece proved in 2004 that you should never write a team off, and now they are at it again in 2012.
Another logic defying victory over joint-favourites Germany tonight, will have the Greeks believing a second European crown in three tournaments is possible.
Before the start of the tournament, few would have predicted a quarter final matchup between Italy and England.
The Italians were the bookies favourites to make an early exit.
Besieged by a pre-tournament match fixing scandal in their homeland compounded by the destabilising presence of maverick striker Mario Balotelli, Italy’s charge to the last eight is largely down to an unwavering team ethic led by the midfield mastery of one Andrea Pirlo.
Hodgson and his makeshift English lads have purists ripping at their hair as sheer grit plus whole lotta luck and not artistry, granted them progression from the group phase.
This figures to be the tightest match of the quarterfinal round. Both teams are fully capable of winning, and penalties almost seem inescapable.
After being swept aside 4-1 by Russia in their group opener, the Czechs rallied to reach the quarter-finals where they met a Cristiano Ronaldo led Portugal last night.
A rejuvenated Ronaldo knocked the Netherlands out of the tournament, and was poised do the same against the Czech Republic as his side emerged as a potential dark-horse in the race for the top prize.
All the groups were tightly contested, there have been many enthralling matches and only been one real thrashing and as fans of Spain and Germany would testify, the fingernails have taken a battering.
Being the only side with a 100 per cent record in the competition, the Germans are a solid team oozing quality and confidence.
And star midfielder Sami Khedira believes Germany, who lost the Euro 2008 final to Spain, are a much better than they were at the 2010 World Cup, where they impressed with their unGerman-like brand of attacking football.
Barring a catastrophic collapse in form, Greece should prove little match for German efficiency.
Impressionists Spain, who have not been at their ball hogging best, are gunning for an improbable third straight international title. In their way is a disharmonious French side that was torn apart by Sweden, who literally went out on a high with their 2-0 victory.
Like the egotistical Dutch who were dumped out of the tournament without a point, reports of unrest in the French camp have inevitably surfaced after the defeat to Sweden.
Florent Malouda said the situation was reminiscent of the 2010 World Cup fiasco where Nicolas Anelka was sent home in disgrace for a foul-mouthed rant at coach Raymond Domenech, prompting a players’ strike at a training session.
This time Hatem Ben Arfa is reportedly the instigator, telling coach Laurent Blanc to send him home after being substituted against the Swedes.
Ben Arfa – feeling he was being made the scapegoat of a collective French failure – told Blanc he should not have been taken off as there were several other players “who were worse” than him, an opinion that did not go down well with the rest of the squad.
Meanwhile the Spanish are not without problems of their own.
Despite being unbeaten and finishing atop their group, coach Vicente Del Bosque has been heavily criticised for his a line of diminutive midfielders in a striker-less formation and the team’s lacklustre displays so far.
However unlike Blanc, the Spanish coach can count on the support of his players as both Victor Valdes and Jesus Navas, who saved Spanish blushes against Croatia, have defended the former Real Madrid tactician.
Whether or not Spain go on to retain the trophy, fans at the tournament and the hundreds of millions watching on TV screens around the world, can be satisfied that it is the creme de la creme of the continent’s talent they are watching.
May the best team win, or not!
– Additional sources: bleacherreport.com/espnfc.com/Nampa-Reuters