Euro 2012, we knew you but briefly. Now, though, what will we ever do with ourselves?
More than a month remains until the start of the club season, and although we have the Olympic tournament to keep us company during some of that time, the next few weeks figure to be a punishing, withdrawal-filled experience for footy fanatics.
In the meantime, we might as well commence the dissection of all things Euro 2012. The Spanish are champions again and they're the rightful rulers of all, but what else can we make of the tournament?
Read on for the Euro 2012 wrap-up edition of Open Mike Monday.
Olé and a merry tiki-taka to you and yours! Spain are the champions of Europe again, and may their rule be long, wise and beneficent for all us underlings.
Spain whipped Italy 4-0 on Sunday in Kiev, winning the Euro 2012 final and claiming their third straight major international title. No team had ever done that before, not even West Germany of the 1970s and the great Brazil teams of always.
Spanish victory was total. La Roja scored 12 goals, conceded one and went more than 500 minutes of game time without allowing opponents in their goal.
So is this the best team ever? Television commentators in the United States would certainly have you think so.
Brazil’s 1970 World Cup champions might be interested to hear your answer to that, but nobody can doubt Spain’s claim as international football’s greatest dynasty.
How about this? Fernando Torres, the butt of every bad English Premier League joke over the past 18 months, is your winner of the Euro 2012 Golden Boot.
What’s more, Chelsea’s oft-lampooned £50 million man has had quite a 2012 already: Champions League and FA Cup medals with Chelsea, and along with his Golden Boot at Euro 2012, winner’s medal with Spain.
The Golden Boot’s golden totals? Three goals, one assist, two games started and just under 200 minutes of time on the pitch.
Two goals came against Ireland, and the third followed in the latter stages of the final, long after Spain’s win had already been assured. Even later came the assist on Chelsea teammate Juan Mata's goal, the assist that tied Torres with Germany’s Mario Gomez.
The tiebreaker, coincidentally enough, was the number of minutes Torres had played. So instead of feeling upset over a lack of playing time this summer, Torres might want to shake Vicente del Bosque’s hand and take him out to dinner.
All part of Vicente del Bosque's master plan, right?
In the immediate aftermath of Spain’s trouncing of Italy in the Euro 2012 final, former striker-turned-TV-pundit Gary Lineker eulogized (via his Twitter account) the endangered species known as the center forward.
Too dramatic? Maybe, but consider the unspectacular form of Fernando Torres in winning the Euro 2012 Golden Boot—and then consider the charging, swashbuckling goal scored by Spain defender Jordi Alba near the end of Sunday’s first half.
Much like most of Spain’s goals at Euro 2012, Alba’s goal was big on aesthetics and light on central-forward involvement. And that’s no coincidence: Spain’s experimentation and tiki-taka tinkering nearly rendered central forwards unnecessary this summer.
They’re not gone yet, but like their natural habitat—otherwise known as the 4-4-2 system—central forwards are well on the way to joining goal-line technology deniers in the dustbin of world football artifacts.
Ageless midfielder Andrea Pirlo furthered his legend and enhanced his legacy with a vintage performance. Man-child forward Mario Balotelli came of age in the semifinals, blazing home an impressive brace as the Azzurri upset the Germans.
And Gianluigi Buffon, still among the world’s best at 34, was set to lead his country to Euro glory first the first time since 1968.
Well, so much for that.
Italy ran into a Spanish buzzsaw in the final, and looking back with the benefit of hindsight, it seems silly that so many of us were predicting an Italian job on Spain.
But the ride was fun while it lasted, as was watching the performances of Pirlo, Balotelli, Buffon and even multi-position handyman Daniele De Rossi.
Will they challenge for glory two years from now at the World Cup in Brazil? Maybe it’s best not to make any predictions with this bunch.
As the semifinal round dawned, there was Spain, Germany and everybody else. The two titans of Europe were all set for their showdown, and the world would finally see if the German attack could conquer Spanish tiki-taka.
We didn’t get the showdown. Germany fell two goals behind Italy in the first half of their semifinal and never recovered, scoring only through Mesut Ozil’s penalty in second-half stoppage time.
Instead of pressing, impressing and dominating, Germany flattered to deceive against Italy. Where all the attacking had yielded fine fruits before, all turned to dust against Italy’s organized, disciplined, restrained—and above all mature—unit.
Germany would do well to emulate Italy—and of course Spain—in such matters. Because for all of Germany’s attacking promise, their defensive frailties were alarmingly apparent every time they touched the pitch.
The World Cup in two years may prove pivotal. Win it all and all will be forgiven for Joachim Löw and Germany—maybe even considered part of the process.
Suffer another disappointing defeat and the time might be ripe for another grand rethink.