With only 16 teams in the competition, the European Championships roll from group play to tournament final in slightly more than three weeks. It’s a streamlined event, and we hope it stays that way—forget the recent push to expand the field.
But it does pass by quickly. So before the next major competition—the London Olympic tournament—gets going on July 25, let’s look back at the best and worst from Poland-Ukraine 2012
1. Best Goal Jakub (Kuba) Blaszczykowski, Poland vs Russia, group stage
Poland’s captain pulled his side level and inspired a nation with this cracker against Russia, set up by an ideal first touch:
Too bad neither of the hosts advanced out of group play.
Runner-up: Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s flying side volley against France.
2. Best Game
We’re going with the final, on the strength of Spain’s high-octane first half and sensational first two goals. Top players performing at their peak in the biggest moment.
Runner-up: England vs Sweden, group stage. Five goals, dramatic lead changes, and Danny Wellbeck’s sick (and slightly lucky) winner.
3. Biggest Flop, Team
By a landslide. The 2010 World Cup finalists and pre-tournament favorites went three and out, with some strikingly bad defending against Germany in the second game.
They were looking like tourney darkhorses after their 4-1 romp over the Czech Republic in their opener. And then… a tie with Poland, a loss to Greece and Do svidaniya!
(And if you’re wondering, Ireland wasn’t a flop; they were never getting out of that group with eventual finalists Italy and Spain, and an excellent Croatia.)
4. Biggest Flop, Individual:
Wayne Rooney, England.
The Shrek and Chad Barrett doppelganger took this dubious honor at South Africa 2010, and his Euro 2012 performance only enhanced his reputation as a club hero-international zero. After sitting out the first two games with a suspension, he scored a tap-in header against Ukraine and then was largely ineffective against Italy.
5. Closest Resemblance to Young Frankenstein’s Marty Feldman
Mesut Ozil, Germany
Takes the honor for a second straight major tourney. He is the Spain of this award.
6. Breakout Star
Jordi Alba, Spain
The 23-year-old left back buried Italy with goal No. 2 in the final. He joins Barca for the new season. The rich get richer.
Runner up: Mario Mandzukic, Croatia. The 26-year-old striker scored three goals and played his way into a contract with Bayern Munich.
7. Best Player
Andres Iniesta, Spain
Is it us, or does Iniesta not quite get his due?* He is easily one of the top five players in the world. He scored the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final, and set up the winner in the Euro 2012 final with a gorgeous through ball to Fabregas.
8. Best Team that Didn’t Advance to the Knockout Stage
They tied Italy and played an incredible game against Spain, creating multiple chances, and narrowly losing on a goal that might have been offside. They were excellent, and would have made a better quarterfinalist than the Czech Republic, England, and Greece.
9. Best Fan(s)
Super Mario Bros., Italy. But after that Gazzetta dello Sport cartoon, we’re not sure Italy deserves Super Mario Balotelli.
Runner-up: This fan, who rooted for—wait, let us finish reading her shirt—yep, she rooted for Germany:
10. Best Uniforms:
At least they looked good while completely tanking:
Runner-up: Tie—Portugal’s away, and Croatia’s “Full Tablecloth.”
Portugal’s cross is slick, and while we acknowledge Croatia’s are a ‘love em or hate em’ phenomenon, we’re in the former camp.
There you have it. What do you think of our choices? Was there a better goal than Kuba’s? A bigger flop than Rooney? Let us know in the comments.
*UPDATE: UEFA named Iniesta the player of the tournament. So, okay, he’s getting his due, and we salute the selection. Here are a couple of money quotes from the announcement:
Andy Roxburgh, the head of UEFA’s technical group, told reporters:
“AndreaPirlo was magnificent for Italy, Xavi won it last time and could have won it again. Xabi Alonso was magnificent, but Iniesta sends a message about creative and incisive football and was superb throughout.”
And the man himself:
“I am very happy to win this title again, to do something unique and magical. This is practically unrepeatable and I am enjoying the moment. The important thing is that Spain are champions and that this is what the entire team wanted.”
Gotta love that guy. Not a word about his (richly deserved) individual honor. He’s only 28, too. Very good chance he’ll be able to add to his incredible legacy (he’s won two Champions League titles during this run) at Brazil 2014.