Euro 2012: Biggest Winners and Losers

Michael CummingsWorld Football Lead WriterJuly 1, 2012

Euro 2012: Biggest Winners and Losers

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    Euro 2012 is over, and you probably think all the winners and losers have already been decided.

    Think again. Besides the obvious—yes, Spain were winners in more ways than one—there's plenty to sort out from this summer's tournament.

    Who won? Who lost? Who played it cool and who made fools of themselves?

    All is revealed inside.

Winners: Spain

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    Duh, you say?

    Well, yes, this one is easy. Spain won it all and claimed their third straight major international title—an unmatched feat—in the process.

    In their collective wake, the Spanish also claimed wins for tiki-taka, supersubs (Fernando Torres, Jesus Navas and even Juan Mata) and the chronically underappreciated work of manager Vicente del Bosque.

    La Roja didn't always sparkle, but their victory over Italy in the final was certainly a win for the ages. And they are certainly worthy of the title of international football's greatest dynasty.

Losers: Center Forwards

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    In their collective wake, the Spaniards also did a bit of damage—even to one of their own.

    After Euro 2012 and the success of Spain's experimental 4-6-0 formation, football tactics might never be the same. The center forward now seems at best slightly less necessary and at worst a relic of some ancient bygone age.

    Sure, Fernando Torres scored three goals and had one assist, and that was somehow good enough for the Golden Boot. Sure, Mario Gomez played well at times and seemed unstoppable when scoring three goals.

    And, sure, Mario Balotelli made headlines with his goals and antics at the top of Italy's formation.

    But there were other times—mostly when Spain was off winning it all and left-back Jordi Alba was scoring a brilliant goal in the final—when forwards didn't seem all that important to the successful playing of football.

    Footballer-turned-pundit Gary Lineker, himself a striker back in the good ol' days, feared the worst:

    I have a feeling the time of the centre forward is over #RIP

    — Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) July 1, 2012

    That might be a little over the top, but the times are definitely changing.

    Indeed, why waste a perfectly good lineup spot on a comparatively one-dimensional player when a speedy left-back and a gaggle of midfielders can do the job just as nicely?

Winners: Advocates of Goal-Line Technology

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    When England defender John Terry "cleared" Ukraine forward Marko Devic's shot off the line, the final nail was plunging into the coffin of goal-line technology deniers.

    Much like skeptics of the wheel, the lever and the inclined plane, goal-tech deniers are quickly going the way of central forwards and pre-industrial societies.

    After Euro 2012's Anglo-Ukrainian Incident, FIFA president Sepp Blatter quickly reiterated his support of goal-line technology, all but ensuring its use at the 2014 World Cup.

    Take that, Luddites!

Loser: Michel Platini

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    Alas, for all the potential progress on the front of goal-line technology, UEFA president Michel Platini's head remains firmly planted in the sand.

    With FIFA threatening to join the 21st century and implement goal-line technology, Platini and UEFA are doubling down on their dubious five-referee setup, a "technology" that failed to spot Marko Devic's goal against England.

    Meanwhile, Platini's Euro 2012 highlights also featured less-than-full stadiums, concerns over disease and racism, and an outrageous fine for Nicklas Bendtner.

    All in all, a predictably poor performance from Platini, not that he'd ever let himself know it.

Winners: Italy, Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli

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    Spain trounced Italy in the final, but Italy still had a tournament to remember.

    Dogged by poor results and another match-fixing scandal ahead of the tournament, Italy came together right on time and charged unexpectedly past Germany and into the final.

    The Azzurri's driving force was 33-year-old midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who led Juventus to the Serie A title last season, his first since parting company with his longtime club, AC Milan.

    But although Pirlo had been deemed unnecessary by Milan, his vintage performances at Euro 2012 only enhanced his reputation and legacy.

    Mario Balotelli, meanwhile, took an important step toward adulthood. Balotelli, 21, remains a wild card both for club and country, with his equal parts of childish antics and on-field brilliance.

    Whether or not he can fulfill his outsized potential remains a question, but this summer could serve as the beginning of something special.

Winners: Headers

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    Euro 2012 was the tournament of the header, and appropriately enough, the final gave us yet another.

    Spain's David Silva opened the scoring against Italy in the 14th minute Sunday with a quick-reaction header from Cesc Fabregas' pull-back pass.

    It was the 22nd header of the tournament, by far a record (per Opta).

Winner: Roy Hodgson

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    Roy Hodgson had 40 days to work with England. He apparently put the time to good use.

    Hodgson, hired in May after the unexpected resignation of Fabio Capello in February, managed an England side that bore all his fingerprints. The Three Lions didn't play sexy football, but they played smart and maintained discipline. The results were greater than the sum of their parts.

    Advancement to the quarterfinals was probably expected, even for an England team clearly in transition. Admittedly, so was elimination in a penalty shootout.

    But topping Group D was probably unexpected, and Hodgson looked all the better because of it.

Loser: The 4-4-2

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    Speaking of Roy Hodgson, his England team was one of only a few to employ the stately 4-4-2 formation.

    England made the best run of them all, while another, the Republic of Ireland, served as the tournament's worst team.

    The failure of the 4-4-2 might not have a neat explanation. It's more likely a complex problem involving tactics, luck and the skills of the players in question.

    But as of the summer of 2012, the 4-4-2 is officially an endangered species in international football. None of the four semifinalists used anything remotely resembling it, and none of them are likely to look back.

Winners: Irish Fans

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    Irish fans had little to cheer about at Euro 2012. Their team was pants, giving up nine goals in three forgettable group games and exiting the tournament without a single point.

    That didn't stop the tradition of fun-loving Irish support at international matches. In fact, it only seemed to embolden them.

    Behold, in the video included, Irish fans' spine-tingling version of "The Fields of Athenry," sung as their team was in the process of being whipped by Spain.

Loser: Frank Lampard

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    England captain Steven Gerrard played well at Euro 2012—so well, in fact, that onlookers were asking what had prompted the sudden change.

    Was Gerrard riding a wave of emotion after returning to the captaincy?

    Was he making up for Liverpool's disappointing season? Giving his 32-year-old bones one last Euro hurrah?

    Probably, maybe and possibly. But here's another variable.

    Frank Lampard wasn't around, and Gerrard wasn't stuck trying to accommodate a highly similar midfielder in England's tight midfield.

    Gerrard played better with Lampard gone. Coincidence?

Winner and Loser: Portugal

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    Did anyone play Spain better than Portugal at Euro 2012?

    And was anybody surprised by either part of Cristiano Ronaldo's brilliance and wastefulness at Euro 2012?

    Just think: Had Ronaldo not wasted that chance at the end of regular time in the semifinal against Spain, Portugal might be celebrating a first-ever major title.

Losers: The Netherlands

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    The Dutch entered Euro 2012 as one of the favorites, touted as one of the three or four best teams in the tournament.

    They left with reputations tarnished amid infighting and disarray after three bitter defeats.

    Now the Oranje are without a manager, without direction and still without a major title since 1988.

Winners: Greece

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    Back home, a nation aches, wilting under the weight of crippling debt and a wrecked economy.

    On the pitch, Greece soared this summer, overcoming one of the two co-hosts, an awful start, injuries and a red card to finish second in Group A and advance to the quarterfinals.

    Euro 2012 ended there for the Greeks in a 4-2 defeat to Germany, but not before an equalizer at 1-1 and a morale-boosing performance against the then-favorites.

    Eight years after their shocking triumph at Euro 2004, Greece can still claim to be winners on the international scene, dour football and all.

Losers: Russia

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    Off the pitch, their fans provoked trouble. On it, their players turned a 4-1 win in their opener into an almost inconceivable exit at the group stage.

    Afterwards, captain Andrei Arshavin ran his mouth and found trouble because of it.

    Elsewhere, the Kremlin got involved and the federation lost its chief.

    In short, Euro 2012's aftermath is the equivalent of a Gulag sentence for Russia.

Loser: Samir Nasri

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    Like Andrei Arshavin, Samir Nasri ran his mouth a bit too much after his team was eliminated from Euro 2012.

    Now Nasri, a French midfielder, is facing a potential two-year ban for his trouble.

Winner: Mario Mandzukic

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    Last season, Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic feuded with his manager and struggled to get games at VfL Wolfsburg.

    This summer, after scoring three times at Euro 2012, he has signed with Bayern Munich.

    Good for him. Let's hope it turns out well for the Bavarians, too.

Loser: Joachim Löw

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    German manager Joachim Löw casts a respected figure in international football after leading Germany to the Euro 2008 final and the semifinals of the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.

    Under his guidance, Die Mannschaft have evolved into a youthful, stylish attacking side seemingly capable of winning major tournaments.

    And yet Germany stumbled again at Euro 2012, losing unexpectedly to Italy in the semifinals.

    So at what point do we start wondering when Löw's promise turns into results?

Winner: Jack White

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    In its first life, "Seven Nation Army" was a minor hit for American rock band The White Stripes.

    In its undead zombie existence in the world-football universe, it's a near-ubiquitous presence at big matches, sung incessantly during matches and especially after goals.

    Let's hope Jack White is receiving royalties for all those cover versions.