The European football championship has reached the semifinal stage with four teams, Portugal, Spain, Germany, and Italy remaining to contend for the title. Ukraine and Poland, much criticized before the tournament, have proven with their hospitality and spectacular stadiums that UEFA chose well in assigning them the championships. There have been no racist episodes, no technical malfunctions, no crowd issues, and no politics.
Sport and football have brought out the best in the millions of fans that have watched the game, bringing a welcome respite to citizens of countries like Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain that are suffering from severe economic downturns. It is in moments like these that football serves as a reminder of what is best in human beings, ability, team spirit, pure talent, unified in search of excellence.
A football event like the World Cup or European, held every four years, confirms the level of talent attained by the players of an individual nation. The World Cup in 2010 gave Spain, led by Iniesta, Xavi, and Puyol the world title. The same team, minus captain Puyol and striker Villa, have been close to form, easily entering the semifinals by defeating disappointing France.
The Spanish have played their ball possession game, risking a loss against Italy and Croatia, but generally showing that they have the best midfield in the world, with their Barcelona superstars, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, and Silva of Man City. Their superiority has almost been boring as they play keep away for 75 minutes of the game, only to casually score on one or two shots taken. Although not as sharp as in South Africa, Spain continues to dominate its games with irritating ease.
Cristiano Ronaldo had been struggling with performance at a national level for years. The world’s best player, along with Lionel Messi, seemed frustrated and petulant when playing for Portugal. Luckily for him, Portuguese Coach Bento also could bring world class Pepe in defense, Chelsea Meireles in midfield, and Manchester United Nani, giving him free range up front.
After a couple of superb games, Ronaldo starting playing...like Ronaldo, scoring three goals and bringing Portugal to an unexpected semifinal against their more talented Iberian brothers. Ronaldo, Pepe and Nani, know Spanish football well. They won’t be as reluctant to attack as the French. Stay only in defense and the Spanish will kill you. Attack them like the Italians did in their first game, and you may well get an upset.
It is always great to see the best in a superstar. Ronaldo has brought Portugal to the semifinals when it counted the most. He has shown his countrymen that he does deserve a monument in Lisbon, if only for his 73 goals scored in one season.
Germany was the revelation team in South Africa, losing in the semifinals to Spain on a head goal by Puyol. Their young superstar players Ozil, Khedira, Muller, have matured for two more years and it shows. The German team won all of their qualification, and round robin elimination matches. Coach Loew had the luxury of leaving strikers Muller, Podolski, and Muller on the bench and still easily defeating the surprising Greeks 4-2.
Their youth midfield and ease of scoring make them the favorites to win these championships although they must face their national "Bete Noir" Italy in the semifinals. Germany lost to Italy 4-3 in the epic 1970 semifinal of the World Cup. They lost to Italy, at home, in the semifinals of the World Cup in 2006, later won by the Italians. If they ever have a chance to change their luck versus the "Azzurri" this is it. But, the German performances have been nothing less than spectacular so far.
Very few people expected anything out of Italy in this Euro championship. The defending world champions were humiliated in South Africa. Coach Prandelli inherited a disjointed national team ferociously criticized by 60 million demanding fans. To revive the Italian team, Prandelli depended on world champions Andrea Pirlo and Captain Luigi Buffon.
Surrounded by young midfielders Montolivo, Marchisio, Diamanti, a solid defense and Mario Balotelli up front, the speedy Italians demolished the English Lions, hitting two posts, and creating 8 clear chances on goal. Andrea Pirlo has been the best player in these championships, passing 116 times against England, with only 4 errors!
He has taken over this young team, and shown why he became world champion in 2006. The Azzurri by defeating perennially underperformers England, have shown they deserve their place in the best four teams in Europe. Germany will do well not to underestimate them.
Other players have given us great moments. It was marvelous to see the great Shevchenko scoring two goals to win the game against Sweden in front of his home Ukrainian crowd. Young Polish talent Lewandowski, fulfilled his promise to score first, giving his fans temporary hope. Denmark’s Krohn-Dehli defeating mighty Holland with his goal will inspire countless young Danish football players.
The indefatigable midfielder Petr Jiracek brought his Czech team to the quarterfinals almost by himself. And who can forget the crazy Greeks, beset by a million woes, upsetting the Russian millionaires to reach the quarterfinal. Moments to savor. This has been a well organized, super exciting European championship so far. It has been a pleasure to watch each and every game, but I am sure the best is yet to come!