With Euro 2012′s group stage finally complete, Bigsoccerhead rewards the best and worst of the week:
Until the Fat Lady Sings
I’ve often maintained that European Championships make for far better tournaments than World Cups – the teams tend to be better, and the groups a lot tighter. So far, Euro 2012 has exceeded expectations, providing excitement and uncertainty right to the very end of the group stages. After taking a beating at the hands of the Russians in their first game, the Czechs stunned everyone by topping Group A after some shrewd tactical changes. Greece stamped its move to the knockout rounds after putting on a typically defensive and cohesive game against the Russians, who as one of the dark horses, exit the tournament in rather surprising fashion. Group B surely lived up to its moniker. The Germans topped the group as expected, while Denmark provided Holland with the kiss of death. Among the favorites to shine at the Euro, the Dutch were the unquestionable disappointment of the tournament. The Portuguese also move on from the group, and with Ronaldo finally playing to his potential, there’s a good chance Portugal will be contending to the very end. Spain and Italy headed their group as expected, but Croatia made it interesting to the very end. The Irish…well, they were just happy to be there. In Group D, the Swedes left with their heads held high after knocking inconsistent France into second place, forcing a mouth-watering quarterfinal clash against Spain. England controversially defeated Ukraine to finish in first place, and with a fresh Wayne Rooney and an organized unit, the English could continue to surprise.
Cristiano Ronaldo & Portugal
It was only one game, but Ronaldo’s performance against Holland suggests that the Real Madrid star has shaken off the pressure he was under, and that he’s ready to play at the level the world expects him to. CR7 knows that he’ll have to “carry” his team into the latter stages of the tournament in order to shut up his detractors, and prove that he’s worthy of being called the world’s best player. More importantly, though, Ronaldo understands that Portugal will only be considered one the best teams in Europe when he and his teammates get their hands on the trophy that so narrowly eluded them in 2004.
Slaven Bilic & Croatia
Although Crotia have been knocked out of the tournament, Slaven Bilic’s players can be proud of their performances. The Croatians played sharp, free-flowing soccer during the group stages and were very unfortunate not to at least earn a draw against the heavily favored Spain. Perhaps more impressive than their performances, was Bilic’s sharp criticism of Croatian fans who used the Euro as a venue to display their xenophobia. Not one to mince his words, Bilic proved once again that he is a gentleman of the sport, and that his successor will have some big shoes to fill.
A staunch opponent of goal-line technology, the UEFA president must have looked for a place to hide after one of his much-loved additional referees missed a clear Ukrainian goal against England. Mr. Platini claimed that the introduction of additional referees would eradicate goal-line disputes, but Tuesday’s events suggest otherwise. The whole idea behind goal-line technology is to avoid human error. Additional referees are human, and one of them has erred. While this has been the only case in the tournament so far, the potential for these mistakes is ever-present. Sepp Blatter seems to have finally understood this, why can’t Platini?