Euro 2008: A Recap For The Average American
It's been nearly a month since the NBA finals, a month since the Red Wings were crowned, so long that it's easier to look forward for NFL action, and years since early season baseball has mattered to anyone other than Mike and the Mad Dog.
Could Euro 2008 have had better timing? Not for an American sports fan.
Sifting through channels it would have been easy to skip right by a MLS match, but Euro 2008 possessed a different allure. For those of us lucky enough to watch in high definition, a delight to the eyes it was.
Stadiums full of unruly fans bearing the colors of their country and chanting for the heroes of their lands. Of course no European soccer match is complete without the commentary of the lovable, albeit opinionated Irishmen Tommy Smyth; whom we heard from plenty.
For anyone watching, there was no shortage of drama. Spain's first game was a plethora of David Villa, with a hat-trick in the contest and no retaliation from the Russian's he became the tournament's biggest scoring threat very early on.
With David Villa's individual efforts fresh in their minds and a triumphant game one dethroning of the defending World Cup champion Italians a day earlier, the Dutch squad went to work. A sea of orange jerseys took the "Group of Death" to school with a three game sweep by a margin of +8 in the goals column.
All stats aside, the Dutch looked unbeatable, not to mention merciless, capitalizing on any and all opportunities in the early going.
The group stage was not without its drama, a defeated Italian squad squeaked through after drawing a tie with Romania and then handling France two to nil in a rematch of World Cup 2006's final match. I will not let it go unsaid that watching the Italian national side is a bit like watching a child learn to figure skate.
Not to discredit the skill of any Italian player in the least. However, at times it seems that Luca Toni and company would rather exaggerate a collision in an effort to earn a free kick, sooner than fight through to keep a play alive. That said, the group stage is all about a top two finish.
With Spain and Holland clearly in control it was time for some dark horse teams to make a run. The Croatians, who have earned international futbol's respect in recent years, upset heavily favored Germany and went on undefeated through Group B. However the Croats would not be the only underdog handed a ticket to the quarter finals.
After losing their first to Portugal, a "never say never" Turkish side dazzled with a comeback victory and a late game winning goal to earn a match against Croatia in the quarter finals.
Russia ousted Sweden to end the group stage, and Euro 2008 was cut to eight teams (half of the initial 16). Notably not mentioned in this group was World Cup 2006 runner-up France.
The remaining teams were: Portugal, Germany, Croatia, Turkey, Holland, Russia, Spain and Italy. Teams would play one game with the winner advancing and the loser sent packing. With each game it became more and more apparent that no one wanted to go home.
Germany opened the quarter finals with a bang. In the 22nd minute of the opening quarter final match Bastian Schweinsteiger made his way past Portugal's "at times lazy" defense and put a great pass from Podolski in the back of the net.
The potent German offense would add another tally just six minutes later off the head of Miroslav Klose. Nuno Gomes gave Portugal life just before halftime to send this game to the break with the score Germany two, Portugal one.
It didn't take long for Ballack to find the goal in the second half, he hit the net with a header in the 61st minute. With the score 3-1 and time to play, Portugal unleashed an onslaught attack. Shots were constantly whizzing at Lehmann (Germany's net minder) for the game's remaining 30 minutes. He stood confident and tall to the barrage. Just when things looked dismal for Portugal, Postiga found the net with three minutes plus stoppage time to go.
Long clears from the German D ensured that the second Portuguese goal was simply to little too late. Germany, with a 3-2 win, advanced to face the winner of the following day's match between Turkey and Croatia.
What a match it was! 0-0 at the end of regulation, the two teams would play 30 extra minutes, most of which was uneventful. As the match grew ever so close to penalty kicks (it was the 29th minute of extra time), Croatia scored. Croatian fans went crazy.
With the stadium still ringing with the sounds of jubilant Croat fans and one minute to play plus stoppage time, Turkey came back to score a miracle goal for the third game in a row. This goal was as close to the buzzer as a soccer tally can be.
With the game tied this contest was down to penalties. Turkey prevailed with a 3-1 PK victory, thanks to great goal play by Rustu; they would play Germany in Euro 2008's first semi final matchup.
The team with the most hype surrounding them after the group stage, Holland, took the field opposite Russia in the third quarter final. The Netherlands had played flawlessly in the first three games, but it was all for naught.
Russia swarmed towards the Dutch goal and kept play right there for most of the game. The Netherlands managed a goal but it wasn't nearly enough for Russia's three tallies. A poor showing and an unfortunate loss for a Dutch side that had played so well in the early goings.
Russia, behind legendary coach Guus Hiddink had found their way into the second semi final game to face the winner of Spain-Italy.
Italy was clearly outplayed for 90 minutes. They managed just three shots on goal, and to each shot, Iker Casillas had the answer. Although the Spanish appeared the better side after regulation, they did not manage to find the back of the net-this all thanks to some nifty saves from Italian goalie Gianluigi Buffon.
Thirty more minutes of play found the score still deadlocked at 0-0. PK's were intense as both teams have fantastic finishers but two big saves by Casillas would give he and Spain the last laugh.
Semi finals were set: first up, Turkey and Germany, the German side heavily favored, then Spain and Russia would play with the critics in Spain's favor.
A pendulum of scoring went into motion when Turkey opened the evening with an early goal. Still in a daze after scoring first, a Turkish defensive lapse left Schweinsteiger wide open four minutes later to tie for Germany.
Klose got his second goal of the tourney in the 76th for Germany, swinging the flow of the first semi final in his side's direction. As commentators spoke of Turkey's late game miracles and reminded all viewers not to count Turkey out of any game. Turkey scored a seemingly scripted goal that followed seconds after the broadcasting crew had predicted a rally.
Philip Lahm needed no stoppage time to win the game for Germany. A long ball from one end of the field to the other, Lahm sped beautifully on to the ball, finished with authority and the game was all but over. Germany had locked their spot in the Euro 2008 final.
Spain took the field for the second semi final match as if they could not be defeated. Russia was just the opposite. Once Xavi Hernandez reached net for Spain shortly following half time, this match became one for the Spanish supporter.
Unfortunately for Spain-winners of the contest three to nil-they lost a star to an injury. David Villa was pulled in the game's 34th minute and would not return in tournament game play. Losing the tournament's leading scorer posed a serious threat to a potent Spanish attack.
Although the side sent three balls net bound against Russia sans David Villa, it was clear that Germany's experienced defenders would be much tougher to navigate.
Euro 2008 final match: Germany vs Spain.
At this point, the tournament was one win away from two teams; win it all or all for nothing. The Germans entered the game without a major championship within the decade, very unusual for the highly decorated nation. Spain hadn't won a major championship in 44 years.
The game started with nerves, from both teams and the crowd. Two clubs with everything to play for on the biggest stage any international side had seen in two years. 33 minutes in, Fernando Torres beat Philip Lahm with one touch on the ball and a burst of speed to his blindside.
After 60 more minutes of war, Torres' goal stood as the only of the contest. Spain bum rushed the field and celebrated for 10 minutes while trophy preparations were made. An ecstatic Iker Casillas accepted the trophy on behalf of the Spanish side and ended the 44 year championship drought.
As far as sports on television, there was nothing for the tournament's length as exciting or emotional as Euro 2008. Don't assume the MLS will now be the summer's sport to watch though, American soccer has not yet caught up to international soccer's intensity or passion.
As time may have it, another sports television juggernaut is on the horizon. The Olympics will host international soccer's second appearance in one summer, typically this tournament does not possess the thrills of the European Championships or the World Cup.
Although, the Olympics will be a good gauge of young talent for the countries that will compete.
A word to the wise, the next major soccer tournament is two years from now in South Africa, don't miss it!
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