Best of Euro 2012

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

Netherlands

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.

Runner-up: Russia

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

Croatia

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:

Netherlands away.

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.

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By the Numbers: Is Spain the Best Team Ever?

Now that Spain has become the first European team in soccer history to win three consecutive major tournaments—having scooped up the 2008 Euro, 2010 World Cup, and 2012 Euro titles—they’ve moved front-and-center in all conversations regarding the greatest teams ever.

There are multiple candidates for that title, from the Dutch and West German teams of the 1970s, the Hungary side of the 1950s, several eras of Brazilian teams, and France’s team from the late 1990s to the early oughts.

But most observers agree that it comes down to Brazil’s team from the early 1970s and the 2008–12 Spanish side.

We could argue subjective style points all day, but right now, let’s take a look at some hard data:

• As mentioned, Spain is the first team from Europe to win three straight major tournaments.

• The last 71 times Spain has taken a 1-0 lead, they’ve won—a span stretching back to 2006.

• Spain’s 4-0 win over Italy in the Euro 2012 final is the widest margin of victory ever in a Euro or World Cup final.

• Spain hasn’t lost in its last 12 European Championship matches (nine wins, three draws)—a record for the event.

• With a 60.03% possession rate per game, Spain had more of the ball than any other side in the competition (the Republic of Ireland had the least possession, with 39.52%).

La Furia Roja averaged 626.3 passes per game, more than any other team at Euro 2012 (the Republic of Ireland averaged the fewest, with 221.3 per match).

• Spain has not given up a goal in its last five European Championship games, another Euro record.

• Except for the 2009 Confederations Cup—when they lost to the United States 2-0 in the semis, and defeated South Africa 3-2 in the consolation match—Spain has not conceded a single goal in the knockout stages of a tournament since 2006.

Bonus fact: Only one team has beaten both Euro finalists—Italy and Spain—in the past three years, and that is … wait for it … the United States.

H/T’s: BBC, ESPN, RefBaiter

Greece v Germany Preview

This match-up looks like the most lopsided pairing in the Euro 2012 quarterfinals, and it may turn out to be just that, but there are some interesting subplots to Friday’s game that could influence the outcome.

First is the economic situation involving the two nations, in which debt-ridden Greece has been bailed out, and taken to task, by Germany and its chancellor, Andrea Merkel.

“Bring us Merkel,” shouted one Greek headline after the national side advanced to the quarters. And they’re going to get her: the chancellor moved some meetings around and will attend the match.

As for the second part of that headline—“You will never get Greece out of the Euro”—well, that seems like a bit of whistling past the graveyard. Greece will put 10 men behind the ball on Friday, hope and pray they don’t give up a goal, and try to nick one at the other end. It’s a strategy that could work—and has worked before—but we wouldn’t put too much money on it beating this German team, which looks like the best side in the tournament.

On the other hand, the most famous time Greece’s negative football won the day was back in 2004, when,  led by German coach Otto Rehhagel, they won the Euros.

Rehhagel led Greece’s national team from 2001 to 2010 and also qualified them for the 2010 World Cup. The past 11 years have been by far their most successful era—and the foundations for it were built by a German.

But Greece has never beaten Germany in eight meetings (five losses, three ties), and we don’t see that changing on Friday … No, wait—scratch that: Our Man at the Valley just pointed out that Greece did win the very first meeting between the two nations. Highlights here:

Apparently, things haven’t changed much since then: “As you’d expect, it’s a much more defensive lineup” for the Greeks. Haha. Some other things we enjoyed from that clip:

• Beckenbauer’s inclusion in the German midfield.

• “Aristotle, very much the man in form.”

• “Nietzsche’s third booking in four games.”

• “The Germans are disputing it. Hegel is arguing that reality is merely an a priori adjunct of non-naturalistic ethics, Kant via the categorical imperative is holding that ontologically it exists only in the imagination, and Marx is claiming it was offside.”

Back in the modern era, here are some match facts ahead of Friday, none of them boding very well for Greece:

• Germany has won its last 14 competitive games—a record for the German federation, which is saying something.

• Germany has scored in each of its last 19 games.

• None of Greece’s last 10 Euro goals have arrived before minute No. 42.

• Greece has attempted the fewest shots (17) of all eight quarterfinalists.

• Germany has advanced to the semis five of the last six times it has reached the quarterfinals of a major tournament.

The game kicks off at 2:45 on ESPN.

Ireland Needs Some “Joxer-Goes-to-Stuttgart” Inspiration Ahead of Spain Match Today

After a 3-1 loss to Croatia in their Euro 2012 opener, Ireland and LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane need a special effort against world No. 1 Spain to get back in contention in Group C.

Maybe this’ll help:

Pack up the rosary beads and sandwiches, Ireland fans, this is a big one.

For his part, Keane is ready. He spoke to Reuters in advance of the game:

“For me personally, as captain, there is not a chance in hell that I will go into any game thinking that I can’t win it. We have to believe that we have every chance to get a win. It’s 11 versus 11 for 90 minutes. We’ve played against the biggest teams and beaten them and drawn with them. People have written us off and given us no hope. The fact of the matter is after what happened the other night against Croatia we need to get points on the board.”

The game is at 2:45 on ESPN2.

H/T to Our Man at the Valley

This Little Guy Was Ready for Euro 2012

Too bad his team wasn’t:

That’s pretty good, and pretty damn cute.

But what happened to the Clockwork Orange yesterday against Germany? They played so well at the start, and then their defenders (goalkeeper included) decided to go all Matador D on Mario Gomez.

As Backpost reader Tango said, the coach should show them the above clip for motivation before they face Portugal. They need to beat Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. by two goals, and hope Denmark loses to Germany, to reach the quarterfinals.

Jimmy Conrad is Enjoying the Euros

Former U.S. international defender and friend of Backpost Jimmy Conrad is in Ukraine and Poland covering the European Championship for KICK TV, and he is letting the good times roll.

Here’s his bulletin from the Spain-Italy game, where he fell in with some Spanish fans, scalped a ticket, and made like Judah Friedlander (also a soccer fan!) in that Dave Matthews video from 2001:

He later interviewed a Swedish superfan who has been to dozens of big events, including the 1958 and ’82 World Cups, and asked the man which nation has the best fans. The gent’s answer? Scotland.

And the worst?

Wait for it …

England.

It just so happens that Sweden will take on England and its allegedly unseemly fans on Friday afternoon at 2:30 (ESPN2).

Quick Thoughts on the Euro 2012 Draw, and What England Must Have to Succeed

That's the LA Galaxy's Robbie Keane, second from left.

They held the draw for Euro 2012 in Kiev today, and the results yielded two brutal groups, a middling one and a weak sister.

Here they are:

Group A: Poland, Greece, Czech Republic, Russia

Russia should top this one easily. Poland is only in the tournament because they’re co-hosts (with Ukraine); Greece actually did win Euro 2004 (no, it really happened), but they’re a defensive-minded eyesore, and the Czech Republic are not their usual selves at the moment. Talent drought.

Group B: Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Portugal

As Backpost reader Old27 said earlier today, “Every team in Group B is better than every team in Group A.” There are three legitimate finals contenders in this group, and Denmark is no slouch. Grupo de la Muerte. (Look for Portugal to give way to Germany and the Netherlands.)

Group C: Ireland, Spain, Italy, Croatia

Poor Ireland. They get unjustly bounced out of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, then reach the Euro finals for the first time since 1988—only to draw this fearsome group: The reigning world champs, perennial powers Italy, and always-difficult Croatia. It’s just as much of a Group of Death as B.

Group D: Sweden, England, France, Ukraine

Hey, look, a group England can advance out of! You know, England has a lot of talent. If they get into the quarters, you never—oh, wait, right … they’re England.

And just because it’s late on a Friday, let’s randomly roll this, because while England won’t have Paul Scholes at Euro 2012, they will need a certain Survivor’s trait to win in Poland/Ukraine next summer: