Euro 2012: Five Trends From The European Championship

Now that Euro 2012 is over, let's take at a few more general trends from Euro 2012 that might have gone missing in the main stream media's appraisal of the tournament. I have identified five interesting facets of the tournament thus far.

1. The importance of taking the lead

It's not unique to this tournament that scoring the first goal in a match is crucial, but at Euro 2012 it has more often than not been decisive. We had 31 matches, and only twice did the team who scored first go on to lose the game (Sweden 1-2 Ukraine, and Netherlands 1-2 Portugal). It has felt like this as well--the whole tournament has felt like a long series of mismatches, not necessarily on paper, but in reality, once a game has got going, there's very rarely been any way back. Italy's win over Germany was a perfect example of this. Germany had been highly praised and entered the match favourites but there just didn't look like there was any way they were going to come back from 2-0 down at any point.

2. Lack of upsets

There has barely been anything in the tournament that you could classify as an upset. Obviously there's a fine balance - The 2002 World Cup in South Korea & Japan was negatively affected because a lot of the favourite countries went out early on and left the tournament light in star power and appeal. From this tournament, Greece 1-0 Russia is the standout game that was a major surprise. The Netherlands losing 1-0 to Denmark was a surprise at the time but given they lost all three matches it doesn't feel so momentous in retrospect. Italy beating Germany in the semi-final was another one, but Italy has won four world cups and they are hardly outsiders at any tournament.

3. What now for Strikers?

It's been an odd tournament for strikers. The obvious example is Spain's 4-6-0 formation which has tried to render strikers obsolete, but the initial rounds of the group stage seemed to find most of the primary strikers of teams in the tournament on the scoresheet. Robin Van Persie, Mario Gomez, Robert Lewandowski, Danny Welbeck, Nikica Jelavic, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andriy Shevchenko, Fernando Torres and Nicklas Bendtner. The only exceptions were Alexander Kerzhakov and Karim Benzema.

However, they all fell away. By the time the semi-finals came around, Postiga was out for Portugal in favour of Almeida, Spain, although playing a striker, picked Negredo over Torres. Despite his three goals there was talk of Mario Gomez not starting the semi-final for Germany in favour of the more mobile Klose, in the end he was substituted at half time.

 The only contradiction to this was Mario Balotelli, who himself had been dropped for the Ireland game earlier in the tournament and had squandered a lot of chances all tournament long. It seems there is something about the modern style of football that centre forwards are struggling to adapt to. Sid Lowe, for instance defends the 4-6-0 by arguing that there's not much point in a quick striker to get in behind a defence that never comes out of its 18 yard box.

My personal opinion is that one possible solution is that we may see a return of the old fashioned centre forward who is capable of being a physical presence in the box that requires extra attention from defences and presents an aerial threat. However, with Fernando Llorente sitting on the bench all tournament long for champions Spain, this argument is on shaky ground too.

4. Number 10's obsolete in favour of playmakers

With teams moving away from two strikers and the traditional No. 10 role suffering, it has been a very good tournament for many quarterbacks of the teams. Modric struggled against Italy, but was tremendous against Ireland and Spain. Xavi struggled against Portugal because they gave him less time on the ball, but is still the number one component of Spain's tiki-taka style. Gerrard, whatever you say about his tactical discipline, had three assists in four games.

Ozil shone in patches, as did Moutinho. The player of the tournament for me was a 35-year old Andrea Pirlo, who has been playing as a deep lying playmaker in a four-man midfield; rather than the more popular five-man version, which has meant his defensive duties in the middle of the park could not be shirked either.

5. Dodgy Goalkeepers?

Euro 2012 has not been a good tournament for goalkeepers. While there have been some stand out performances, (Rui Patricio's of Portugal against Spain jumps at me for one) keepers have not really been up to much. Some (Neuer, Casillas) have had to do very little, others have had very shaky tournaments.

For example, Joe Hart of England's wasn't impressive. Buffon had his least sure handling game that I've ever seen from him in the semi-final and then conceded to a rampant Spain. Between Greece's Kostas Chalkias and Ireland's Shay Given there was enough comedy keeping to ensure the highlight reels keep the Christmas DVD's going for another year.

Conclusion

All in all, it's been quite a disappointing tournament now that it's through. The main thing I feel we've learned is that football teams are so well organized and disciplined these days that it's incredibly tough to get the ball off them (Spain) or create scoring chances against them even if you have more of the ball than them (Italy, England).

 Therefore the game can effectively be strangled and constricted to death. When you couple this in with the general level of playacting, referees stopping play for faked injuries, the time modern players take for throw ins, substitutions to waste time, cheap fouls in the middle of the field to stop an opponents flow without yellow cards, very few of the matches have had anything resembling a genuine ebb and flow and if you're interested in feeling like you're watching a sport where anything can happen, this has not been the tournament for you. We can only hope that there is another tactical "leap" to come soon in football to circumvent the defensive era football is going through.

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