As a big football fan and Irish to boot, I’ve never been in such need for a break from the beautiful game as I have been this summer. With Irish hopes so high going into this tournament, thinking just maybe we could be in with a chance of making a big name for ourselves in Poland, how utterly naive we were. It was 10 years since our last appearance at a major championship, the World cup and we had a squad back then that was a bit more experienced as regards to the better teams our players were playing for. In 2002 we were in a group with Germany, Cameroon and Saudi Arabia. With all due respect, these teams, Germany apart and even back then they were nowhere near the team they are at present, the chances of us progressing were very good. Now when you take into account the last and only time we qualified for the European championships was 1988 and the teams we were drawn against for this years championship, reality really kicks in. On our day, we can give any top nation a run for their money but when it comes to tournament football of the highest quality we were left fully exposed. To think most people back home thought we would qualify from a group including Spain, Italy and Croatia suggests a lot of people had their heads in the clouds and when Croatia ran us off the park in the first game, winning 3-1, my interest completely evaporated and actually had no interest in the tournament due to such disappointment, hence my complete loss of interest in writing any posts concerning Ireland or football.
I gradually came out of exile and brought myself around to watching some of the games. Who would have thought Russia would have been going home early after winning 4-1 against the Czech Rep. in their opening fixture, who in turn actually won the group. Or Holland’s dismissal performance. For a team blessed with such fantastic players and not even register point was baffling. Apart from them shocks in the group stage, most teams that were expected to progress didn’t disappoint. The Quarter finals produced some classic matches. Germany went through against the Greeks and did so in style, while at the same time making themselves most people’s favourites for their relentless style of play. Spain went about their business beating France without much fuss and not even playing at their best to progress. Portugal actually improved as the games progressed, with the brilliant Ronaldo finally coming good on the international scene, leaving people to believe that he was about to prove to everyone what he really is capable off. The last Quarter final saw England v Italy and the English had to be admired for their backs-to-the-wall performance that earned them a 0-0 draw and another dreaded penalty shoot out. Again they failed. How frustrating that must be. A special mention must go out to the immense Andrea Pirlo. He really is an outstanding player and has been the driving force behind Italy at these championships.
And then there were 4. Spain/Portugal was much hyped and was a good game in terms of outstanding technical ability but lacked in the goal department. And so it was the Spanish who won through to the final, after a penalty shoot out, their 3rd consecutive appearance at a major football tournament, truly an outstanding achievement. Tonight’s pairing between Italy and favourites Germany really didn’t disappoint. As I mentioned in my earlier post’s were I gave a guide to the teams competing at Poland/Ukraine 2012, I stated that Mario Balotelli could be anything here, villian or hero. As it is, it’s turning out to be the latter. What a devestating display with 2 superb goals to boot to stun the Germans and send them home packing. Now that really was unexpected. But again if you got a chance to read my group guide’s post, you would have noticed that the price the bookies had on Italy to win the tournament was brilliant value for money 25/1 to win outright, Yes that’s winning 25 euros, pounds, dollars or whatever currency you are laying for a 1 Euro etc. stake.
And now what a final we are in for, and the 2 best teams in the tournament will be hosting the main event which really is a good thing. Just who will win is hard to say. Most would say Spain and probably have from the start but think back to the game the 2 of them played in the group stage and you will remember that Italy were very impressive against the Spanish, looking dangerous every time they broke and scoring a fantastic goal into the bargain. It took the Spanish quite possibly one of the moves of the tournament to eventually break down the resolute Italian defence to gain a point. Lets hope we will be treated to more of the same in the final on Sunday. But if there is one tiny bit of consolation Ireland can bring away from this tournament, it’s the fact that we were in the same group as the the 2 teams that eventually reached the final. All I can say now is roll on August the 18th for the start of the English premier league, where I can get my fix of some proper exciting club football.