At the start of Euro 2008 I made a partially correct prediction that Germany along side the Netherlands would make the finals because I fancied the uncommon blend of grit and flair to sum up the tournament.
Well, after exactly 22 days of uninterrupted football, save for 4 odd days split in half prior to and after the semi final matches, the final act of the 13th edition of the Euro Cup will be staged today at Vienna’s Ernst Happel Stadium. At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, I dare say that the tournament has popped very few surprises to me. Other than the shocking 3-1 defeat of pre-tournament favourites, the Netherlands, at the hands of the industrious Russians all the other traditional power houses got only as far as would have been expected.
The Italians are renowned for their age long defense mentality but its high time they realized that tournaments are won by scoring goals. With just three goals for and four against in four matches, the Azzuris hardly justified their dignified position of the World Champions. The largely overrated Portuguese looked so vulnerable in set pieces that for a moment I doubted the credentials of Carvalho, Pepe and Fereira, all acclaimed defensive stalwarts. As for the hopelessly lousy French team, I have already given an elaborate synopsis of their poorly scripted plot, so I’ll save my breath.
But if some of the big boys disappointed, a handsome compensation package came in the form of Russia and Turkey, the two rank outsiders who came so close to stealing the show. After an initially slow start, the Russian lit up the tournament with sterling performances that left more fancied opposition like the Swedes and the Dutch reeling in their wake. My player of the tournament remains to be Roman Pavlyuchenko, the sharp shooting sniper from Moscow who had the Dutch defense in sixes and sevens in that memorable quarter final win. Escape artists, Turkey, rode the wave of their mental toughness and an extraordinary ability to wriggle free from tight spots. But one can never use the same trick once too often; their lack finally ran out when Schweinsteiger and company gave them a dose of their own medicine.
The two finalists, Germany and Spain, couldn’t have been more contrasting both in style and the dissimilar routes that they have taken to a final Vienna rendezvous. Typically, the Germans muscled their way with a combination of an intricate tactical game plan and unrivaled physically endurance. While their talismanic captain Michael Ballack has been their mainstay in midfield, Bastian Schweinsteiger has plotted and delivered the final blows with remarkable precision. The only cause of concern has definitely been their ageing goalkeeper, Jens Lehman. The fumbles and soft goals that he has conceded are perhaps tell tale signs of prolonged layoff warming the bench at Arsenal.
In contrast, the smooth and seamless passing game of the Spaniards is enough testimony that after years of trying they have finally been able to overcome the stage fright symptom that often afflicts them on the big occasion. Its amazing that Luis Aragones seems to be spoilt for choices in the midfield where the exploits of Barca duo Xabi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta have relegated midfield supremos Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso to the bench. All said and done, the final match today promises to be a titillating affair.