PARIS – This years’s European Championship has turned up the usual crop of the sublime, the extraordinary, the disappointing and the plain curious.
And as always, there has been no shortage of contenders for the categories of tournament tops and flops.
Here are our main contenders – while two entrants straddle both categories.
Three goals after a slow-burning start saw the Real Madrid man get hold of the Portuguese campaign after a loss to Germany and take them to within a hairsbreadth of knocking out the metronomic Spanish in the semi-finals.
When the chips were down in the group, he took the Dutch to the cleaners and then used his head against the Czechs.
Somebody maybe didn’t use their head when it came to making him last penalty kicker against Spain. But he returns with his reputation at least preserved if not enhanced. Better, or as good as, Messi? Well, Messi has not won a major international tournament either. See you both in Brazil.
Mad as a hatter – or instead perhaps the player of the tournament?
Both epithets could perhaps apply to the 21-year-old who came here on the back of a Premier League title-winning campaign at Manchester City.
Often appears one step away from spontaneous combustion – but the fireworks against Germany were truly spectacular. A towering header, a superlative rising drive – one can ask for little more from a number nine.
Perhaps the Spanish should play theirs a little more often?
Spain have economised on the attacking front with Fernando Torres regularly benched, but defence is no less important. And Casillas has once again excelled.
Portugal and England – who lost to Italy on penalties in the last eight – and even Casillas’ own Real Madrid know the thin line between shootout success and failure.
But his crucial save from Joao Moutinho kept the Spanish dream alive.
The Euros brought the final bow of one of the game’s greatest predators in Andrei Shevchenko, who bade an emotional farewell as a substitute in the 1-0 loss to England.
A knee injury restricted his showing at the end yet Ukrainian fans will treasure the brace which the 2004 Ballon d’Or winner scored against Sweden to fuel their dreams briefly.
In a world where Spain can be criticised for too much intricacy there is no such problem for Greece, who rely on rather grittier qualities. But that brought glory in 2004 and this time they still did better than the briefly lauded Russians.
Germany were a bridge too far in the quarters but coach Fernando Santos was proud. “What we take out of this tournament is the mental strength, soul and passion we displayed in all our games.”
The Russians came to the event looking to show who was top regional dog in the first event held behind the former Iron Curtain.
After they crushed the Czech Republic with a barnstorming opening display Dick Advocaat’s side looked set for a good run.
They held the Poles – acceptable in itself on Polish soil, but then had no idea how to break down the dogged Greeks. That reverse brought elimination – which after the opening game would have seemed barely credible or possible.
Bert van Marwijk
Stepped down as Netherlands coach after his team’s first round elimination after four years in charge had included the run to the World Cup final.
This time, bickering among the squad and three defeats saw the 60-year-old former Feyenoord and Borussia Dortmund coach step down four years ahead of time.
Van Marwijk said that he felt “responsible” for the poor showing. “I have severe doubts, but have decided to take this step anyway,” he said.
Top and Flop
Ireland may have turned in a dire showing on the pitch with three defeats which ensured their stay would be a brief one.
And yet their visit generated some positives – not least after UEFA elected to honour their fans for exemplary sporting behaviour.
Despite a 4-0 thumping by Spain, the Irish contingent stood and sang with gusto.
“Irish fans stood and sang for five minutes, as if victory were theirs. How can you not love Ireland?” asked Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza daily.
Spain’s high tempo, pass and move tiki-taka style has won plaudits and no mean amount of silverware over the last few years.
Yet it created some irritation among neutrals, who started to feel bored by too much approach work and too little finish – until the 4-0 romp over Italy.
“Some people have grown tired of a style based on long possession of the ball as they didn’t find it all that wonderful – often, it’s boring,” wrote Russian daily Sport Express.
Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque shrugs off the critics.
“Our style suits us and we must not doubt it.”
And he was proved right. – Agence France-Presse
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