The 2012 UEFA European Championships for the most part have produced entertaining free-flowing football, something that unfortunately couldn’t be said for the majority of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Even the less glamorous ties from the group stages were mostly easy on the eye.
From all the football I’ve seen so far (and I’ve seen a lot) I think it’s safe to say the tournament is shaping up nicely especially as we now enter the latter stages of the tournament.
Leaving the action on the pitch for the time being, I’d like to focus on another encounter, the battle of the broadcasters, BBC vs ITV.
In my opinion the BBC have dominated the studio analysis, while ITV prevail in the commentary box. BBC for the group stages chose not to have an on-site studio unlike ITV, however their choices of studio ringers have outclassed ITV’s by some distance.
Harry Redknapp (pre-sacking) was in the studio, who not only offers insightful opinions, but also enabled Gary Lineker to grill him over the England job, or lack of it. Now post Redknapp sacking, the BBC have David Moyes, who again is a well-respected manager with people interested to hear what he has to say. However, on this occasion, he was also one of the favourites to take over from Redknapp at Spurs.
Cue another grilling from Lineker. Lastly, we have former Dutch international Clarence Seedorf, usually sat between the two Alans. The former AC Milan midfielder talks sense and is clear and concise in everything he says. The same sadly can’t be said for ITV’s Jamie “you know what I mean” Carragher. Now I’ve got nothing against the Scouse accent, but I’m sure this isn’t normal Scouse. He must be from some secret Scouseland which only he knows. Whatever it is, it makes me nostalgic for vuvuzelas.
Where ITV have got it right however is behind the mic. Clive Tyldsley and Peter Drury so often perform well during the season for the big Champions League matches and they have kept their usual high standard. Co-comm Andy Townsend who has irritated in the past, also seems to have upped his game. The Beeb have brought in Mick “trending on Twitter” McCarthy and Martin Keown. McCarthy is at a disadvantage from the start given his deep, sleep-inducing tone.
So whatever he says that might be of interest rarely has the impact it deserves. He does have the tendency to say it how it is, which can prove quite entertaining but perhaps shouldn’t be said on air. My personal favourite came in the Italy vs Rep. Ireland match.
When referring to a weak effort by Antonio Cassano he commented that the Italian “should have hit it with a bit more violence.” Alright Mick. Keown has also been heard taking a similarly aggressive approach, he commentated on a Greek player’s poor decision making; “He should have just pulled the trigger and shot himself.” Which I thought was a bit harsh.
If you combine the dull tones of McCarthy and the “eh you know what I mean, eh, eh, you know what I mean?” of Carragher, we may have stumbled upon a new weapon of mass destruction. I think it would be impossible for the human brain to cope with such noises simultaneously and the head would simply explode. Eat your heart out Leo Szilard.
Returning to the football, and I think it’s fair to say for the most part the tournament has gone as expected. There have been a few exceptions however, Russia’s exit at the hands of Greece, the Netherland’s inability to claim a single point, oh and England winning their group.
One thing which we can take from the tournament and perhaps the most significant is that Spain for the first time, look beatable. Del Bosque’s refusal to start a striker in any game so far (Torres doesn’t count) doesn’t seem to be working for them.
Don’t get me wrong they still look good on the ball, and capable of tearing apart any defence given the chance. But that chance isn’t coming as often as it did a couple of years ago. Teams are becoming wiser (with the exception of Rep. Ireland) and more capable of dealing with the onslaught of their natural ball players. A prime example of this was in their last group game against Croatia.
The Croatian manager Slaven Bilic, ever the tactician set up his side to soak up the pressure and catch the Spanish on the break, accepting they couldn’t beat them with possession football. The Croatians looked solid and organised and the Spanish struggled to create any real chances of note, being guilty on several occasions of over-playing. It wasn’t until the Croatians pushed up their line, that the Spanish could take advantage. England will take confidence from this given there’s a chance, albeit a slender one, we could face Spain in the final.
In my opinion however England should fear the Germans more than Spain. They’re the only team to collect maximum points in the group stages and coming from the “group of death” that’s quite an achievement, as hard as it is to admit. They eventually made light work of Greece in their quarter-final, with the luxury of resting some of their top players, and a couple of gears. As potential semi-final finalists for England this brings back memories of Euro 96, where we came so close to winning, the length of a stud to be exact. But it wasn’t meant to be, and despite “Jules Rimet still gleaming” we couldn’t end thirty years of hurt.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, first England face the Italians. For me the key battle will come in midfield. Stephen Gerrard has been England’s best player this tournament, helped in the knowing that his central midfield partner Scot Parker will hold allowing Gerrard to push forward and influence the game. Italy have the class-act of Andrea Pirlo, now 33 he doesn’t have the same engine and his fitness may become a problem as the game goes on.
However, he merely sits in the middle of the park pinging inch-perfect 40 yard passes like there’s nothing to it. He is the quarter- back of the team, the puppet master. It’s true many of the English players have come off the back of successful seasons domestically which will no doubt help, but let’s not forget the Italian side compiled of many players who enjoyed an unbeaten league campaign with Juventus, Pirlo included.
Overall this has been hugely enjoyable tournament; however I feel we are still waiting for that one moment of pure genius which every tournament needs and can be remembered by. Danny Welbeck comes close with his goal against Sweden. It was a brilliant piece of improvisation which many wouldn’t have attempted. But it wasn’t quite genius. The one-man show of Cristiano Ronaldo showed some delightful touches against the Czech Republic in their quarter-final and hopefully he will continue to perform in the same way.
This then begs the question; If Portugal win Euro 2012, with Ronaldo being the main influence, can he then be considered the current best player in the world, knocking Lionel Messi of his perch? The reason I ask is it’s not unknown for Messi to struggle in major tournaments, and the top players are always measured on both domestic and international performances. Just a thought.