By Panos Bletsos
It’s all over then. After almost two years of action, as the qualifying phase began back in August 2010, the European Championship came to a close in Kiev on Sunday with almighty Spain picking up where they left off: on top. But does that really mean that nothing has changed in the Old Continent’s football status since 2008?
Quite the contrary. The 14th edition of UEFA’s showpiece competition has provided us with substantial food for thought, issues to keep ourselves busy with, at least until the 2012-’13 season kicks off later this summer. And while some of those matters we have had to deal with in the past, some others, such as Michel Platini’s thoughts on further revamping the European Championship, are all but groundbreaking.
Highs And Lows
First things first, though. With the majority of Europe’s household names having made it to the finals, it wasn’t likely that we would witness any new powers emerging among the elite, a possibility which narrowed down to zero as both co-hosts Poland and Ukraine were eliminated in the first round. With 2010 FIFA World Cup runners-up the Netherlands surprisingly left empty-handed and the exception of Russia going home early, there were no major surprises in the knock-out line-up. After all, Greece were the 2004 champions and the Czechs have qualified for all five editions of the tournament’s final phase held since their independence, making at least the quarters on three occasions.
As the Dutch reached their all-time low, the Spanish went were no other nation has ever gone before – and deservedly so. Vicente del Bosque’s Armada completed an unprecedented hat-trick of international titles within just four years, having only failed to conquer the summit of the somewhat less prestigious FIFA Confederations Cup in 2009. Italy surprised even their most devoted fans by reaching the final – but after all they are Italy. Germany and Portugal may be feeling disappointed right now, but they both qualified for the last four of a major tournament yet again and that certainly means something, while England and especially France are bound to come back stronger in the near future. But they certainly have to face their demons first.
Held every four years, unlike annual competitions such as the UEFA Champions League, the Euros are often treated as an exhibition of the new trends in the Beautiful Game. However, this particular tourney only highlighted the ever growing influence of midfielders in the modern era. Forget 4-4-2, not even England play it anymore. Roy Hodgson fielded the likes of Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck, Andy Carroll and Wayne Rooney in pairs up front, but with one of them playing behind the other at all times. Strangely enough, it was the two Italian coaches of Euro 2012 who opted for this traditional British-style formation: Ireland’s Giovanni Trapattoni and Cesare Prandelli, with Antonio Cassano playing (mostly) alongside Mario Balotelli.
Oleh Blokhin, a sensational forward in his playing days, fielded an attack-minded team in all three of Ukraine’s matches, with Serhiy Nazarenko, Andriy Voronin, Artem Milevskiy and the Serbia-born Marko Dević all in turn providing assistance to the emblematic Andriy Shevchenko, but his side failed to make it out of their group. A fate they shared with Croatia, who deployed two different variations of 4-4-2 in their first two games.
The Battle for Middle-Earth
Those were merely the exceptions to the rule, as most of the teams competing in the final phase took to the field with no less than five midfielders. Some might claim their formation to have been a Dutch-looking 4-3-3, but that was hardly the case with the Oranje themselves. Dutch sides mostly play with three midfielders side by side, while Bert van Marwijk lined up Wes Sneijder as the creative man in front of two holding midfielders in their first two outings, while Ibrahim Afellay, who featured down the left wing, is hardly the same type of player as Arjen Robben who was playing on the right. Be it 4-3-2-1 or 4-2-3-1, this is how football is played these days in Europe. Spain’s controversial but highly successful 4-6-0 could be the subject of another article on its own.
The Bottom Line
Off the green carpet, I have the feeling Michel Platini is rather relieved than satisfied with the impact Euro 2012 has had across the continent. Long travelling distances between host cities, doubts over infrastructure adequacy, hotel prices rising just ahead of kick-off and a general suspiciousness across western Europe about the two co-host countries financial and political situation have arguably not helped UEFA’s cause. Although actual figures are hard to estimate, with the exception of two or three nations (Ireland, Germany and Spain) the number of fans who visited Poland & Ukraine to watch the games and support their national sides must have been lower than expected – subsequent income too.
The global financial crisis is inevitably striking football as well and Sepp Blatter may already be thinking that FIFA awarding the next two World Cup finals to Russia and Qatar respectively might not have been such a good idea after all – at least not in terms of attracting fans and money. Euro 2016, controversially expanded to 24 national teams, will be held in France, a country larger than Ukraine and despite the obvious higher standards of transportation getting around quickly and cheap will not be easy either – it’s nearly a 780 km drive from Marseille to Paris.
The intentions of both FIFA and UEFA to broaden their horizons to new markets has been clear for everyone to see. However, Michel Platini openly hinted that European football’s governing body may have to revamp its flagship competition further, perhaps even scrap the final phase altogether from as early as 2020! Improbable? Who knows? The former midfield maestro has proved innovative in his new capacity as well. But perhaps sticking to tried solutions is the way to go right now.
The new PUMA evoSPEED 1.2 FG. A great new soccer cleat with classic look and first time for PUMA to be on the cleat.
Borussia Dortmund hears Wembley Calling and are headed to London for the Champions League final.
Chelsea won the Europa League on Wednesday. The Blues defeated Benfica 2-1 on injury time goal from Ivanovic.
The Liverpool 2013/14 soccer jersey is available for pre-order. The Reds are eager to compete for silver next season.
adidas has added some color to the Predator line with this new colorway. Released on May 17. Be the first to own a pair.
One of the top soccer cleats for control the Nike CTR360 will not let you down on the field in tight spaces.
The Juventus jersey for the 2013/14 was released earlier this week. Be the first to wear the colors of the Old Lady.
Bayern Munich are kings of Germany and hope to be crowned kings of Europe at Wembley later this month!
The push for more color on their cleats, adidas has added the infrared colorway to the adiZero f50 Line.
The adidas Nitrocharge is the most talked about new cleat in years. It was released on May 15 and will take your pitch by storm.