So just the final left to go and after tomorrow we can all get back to a normal life that doesn’t involve staying up too late to watch extra time and penalties. Hurrah!
One month of sacrifice is about right!
Whatever happens tomorrow the highlight of the tournament for me will be that Poland has more roads than it otherwise would have (although still woefully short of what should be), that we have a few nice stadiums including one in which I can attend a Coldplay gig in September and that this whole thing has been a good advert for the country. Lowlight must be the death of an Irish fan, by the looks of it accidental, possibly falling into the river after a tour of the bars in Torun. Some might vote for the fights between Russians, Poles and Police but frankly that was inevitable and something similar would have happened wherever they held the games.
The remaining group games and the quarter finals showed the truth that we had two strong groups, B & C, and two weak ones. The semi finals being made up of two from each group and, surprisingly for some, the final being between the two teams qualifying from group C – Spain and Italy.
Group A saw the teams reliving the Miracle on the Wisła, Poland and Russia, completely run out of energy and /or ideas for their remaining group game resulting in progress for Greece and Czech.
Group B saw German domination of the group continue and the Dutch go home embarrassed having lost every game. Portugal, thanks largely to Ronaldo finding his touch, beat the plucky Danes to second place.
Group C saw Spain win the group but not as well as most thought they would and the Irish following the Dutch. Italy looked to me a stronger team than they were getting credit for and ultimately proved better than Croatia who tried hard but could not get past the Spanish in their final group match.
Group D was won miraculously by England thanks only to excellent defending and the inability of the other teams to break it down. England beat Ukraine in their last game because the ridiculously simple and obviously essential goal-line technology is not used, so a perfectly good Ukrainian goal was not allowed. France got beaten by Sweden but still came second. To be fair, it really didn’t matter who got through this group as they would have been beaten in the next game anyway.
Groups C and D both had exactly 15 goals for and 15 against. Group B had 16 and 16 and group A managed 14 for and 11 against.
Worst goal difference was Ireland with -8, and best was Spain with +5, four of which they got against Ireland.
And so on to the quarter finals we marched. Czech versus Portugal was first up and it was Portugal who dominated. Ronaldo got tired of hitting the post with his foot and so decided to disturb his Brylcream in the 79th minute to head the winning goal. Bye bye Czech.
Next up was Germany versus Greece, which Germany won 4-2. The Germans were massive favorites but on 55 minutes it was one each and the question was what were the Germans going to do about it. What they did is get themselves back into shape, roll out the Panzers and score three goals in 13 minutes. The Greeks didn’t give up though and their pressure paid off with a penalty goal in the 89th minute. It proved too little too late and the German coach’s decision to rest a few stars, like Gomez, did not bite him in zee arsch.
Spain versus France. The ridiculous location of Donetsk saw a feeble France dispatched by Spain 2-0. Les Blues had spent most of the time since being shown up by the Swedes arguing amongst themselves, as they often do when they are not winning. After this match they had plenty of time for more arguing on the bus home.
England versus Italy. Now that Italy have finally proved how good they are, some people are trying to claim England were not that bad as we managed 0-0 after extra time and only lost on penalties. Let me tell you the truth, I was begging the Italians to score from the second half kick-off onwards because for us to win would have been a huge injustice. England were a team with a very good defence, no midfield and no attack. Rooney schmoony, he was a waste of a seat on the plane. Why did the English forward players always look like they were 10% as fit as every other player at the tournament? Worth noting that losing on penalties in major football tournaments is one of the few clauses of the Magna Carta (1297) still on statute today “We, the feudal barons, insist that any English football team such as may be establifed, when partaking of a great tournament, will lose on penalties.”
The English reality
The English dream
Semi finals. Almost the exciting bit. Spain versus Portugal. Nil nil after extra time, Spain won 4-2 on penalties. Spain got away with it really. They played an average game, Portugal were hungrier for the win but couldn’t find the net. The Spanish goalie is altogether more scary than the Portuguese guy, which helps with penalties. Fabregas talked to the ball again. End of.
Germany versus Italy. What a glorious match! Germany have never defeated Italy in a World or European championship and Italy kept that record intact with a 2-1 victory in Warsaw. Both Italian goals were excellent and scored by Mario Balotelli who, as the BBC put it “fell into the warm embrace of his mother as he made his way down the tunnel”. Ahhhhh. He put his chance to play in the final on a knife edge by picking up a yellow for taking his shirt off to strike a hero pose but thankfully cramp ended his match prematurely so he ran out of time to get another one for something equally silly. He’s only 21.
I did say earlier that the Germans looked vulnerable and that while a long run was possible they would not win. Clever me. The Germans have a system and an effective one but they can’t do much else than run that system so when the wheels come off they start looking short of ideas and skill. Main weakness is defence. If you could merge the English defence with the German midfield and attack, scatter a few Scandinavians in there for good measure, then you might have a Northern European team capable of beating a Southern one. Just.
The Germans got a penalty right at the death but little consolation should be gained from it. By then it should have been 4-0.
And so tomorrow we have Spain versus Italy. Hard to make predictions as so much depends on how the teams react to the pressure of a major final and because this will be the hardest test both teams have faced. That at least means we have the right teams in the final. Nobody is there by luck or accident of the draw, both these teams deserve to be there because they have progressively beaten better and better teams to take their place in the Kiev dressing rooms.
Spain must be favourites;
The world champions have now won their past nine knockout games at major tournaments without conceding a goal, and are unbeaten in their last 19 competitive matches.
But, I’m going to go for Italy, without the need for penalties. It might require De Natale to be sharper than he was in the semi, it will certainly need Balotelli to curb his enthusiasm and not get sent off and hopefully we can look forward to a cracking goal from Pirlo.
So I guess they will win 4-0! ;-) Cracking second goal. That Jordi Alba should get straight over to the Olympics for the 100m. Happy for Juan Mata too, he was great in the Premier League last season and I think this last 5 minutes was the only time he got on the pitch the whole tournament. Shows just how good the squad is.