With Euro 2012 done and dusted, it’s time to bring you the final week of Heroes and Zeros from the showpiece event. The Spanish proved once again that they’re simply another level above everyone else and fully deserved their victory. Congratulations to Vicente Del Bosque and his men. Here’s who impressed in the final and who didn’t:
Jordi Alba – The Valencia left back certainly wasn’t the most illustrious name on the Spanish team sheet before the tournament began, but he’s finished it as one of the players of the summer. His goal in the final was superbly taken, racing onto a through ball despite having six Italians surrounding him. He’s now sealed a move from Valencia to Barcelona for a bargain £11 million, so expect to hear plenty more of Alba’s name in the coming months. One of the stars of Euro 2012.
Tiki-Taka – Boring? Pull the other one. Spain’s style of play had attracted criticism before the final as many people decided the Spaniards were simply too dominant to play beautiful football anymore. Del Bosque’s men utterly destroyed that concept in the final and the merits of tiki-taka were there for all to see as the midfield maestros in the Spanish line-up pulled their opponents all over the park. Everyone else needs to catch up and fast.
Xavi and Iniesta – Simply brilliant in everything they do. Messi and Ronaldo may steal all the plaudits when it comes to the best player in the world tag, but take these two out of either Spain or Barcelona’s side and there simply wouldn’t be a team. They’re that good. Xavi provided a number of assists in the final, while Iniesta picked up the player of the tournament award after bossing Andrea Pirlo out of the final. Majestic.
Cesare Prandelli – Ok, his side got beaten 4-0 on the night and were completely played off the park, but credit has to go to the manager who’s done a wonderful job this tournament. No one expected Italy to get this far, but Prandelli rallied his troops after a difficult build-up that featured a hammering by Russia and match-fixing allegations. His dignity after the final whistle along with skipper Gianluigi Buffon was commendable and it’s a lesson that Mario Balotelli could do with learning.
Kiev – All the pre-tournament talk was of racism and vicious gangs that kept supporters away but these fears were fortunately never realised. Both Poland and Ukraine staged a memorable tournament, one of the more entertaining international competitions we’ve seen for a while. And Kiev’s hosting of the final was simply sensational as everything ran smoothly from the kickoff countdown to the spectacular fireworks at the end. Round of applause necessary.
Injuries – The Azzurri must be cursing those damn injuries that essentially ruined any chance they had of winning the game. If losing Giorgio Chiellini early on wasn’t bad enough, Thiago Motta’s second half demise reduced Italy to ten men, allowing Spain to simply rip them apart across the midfield. Bad luck is one thing you just cannot afford if you want to beat the Spanish.
The Italian defence – The back four that looked so assured against the Germans in the semi final and that defended terrifically in the opening game against Spain simply fell apart. They had plenty of men back to deal with Jordi Alba’s second goal, but nobody picked his run or that of Cesc Fabregas for the opener. Whether it was fatigue or just the size of the occasion, the Azzurri back four never turned up.
Spanish strength in depth – It’s an absolute killer that Spain can bring a player of Juan Mata’s calibre on with just three minutes remaining so he can score with his first touch of the tournament. Mata would walk into most other international teams as would forward Fernando Llorente who didn’t kick a ball all competition either. Iker Casillas says this is only the beginning for Spanish football and looking at some of the youngsters coming through like Bilbao’s Iker Muniain or Barca’s Thiago Alcântara, you have say he’s right. Scary prospect for world football and a highly annoying one as well.
Mario Balotelli – It just wasn’t the Manchester City man’s night up top, especially having to chase shadows for almost the whole 90 minutes. Unfortunately the petulance was there for all to see again. A couple of times during the game he looked like lashing out and when the final whistle went, he stormed off down the tunnel in a fit of rage. To his credit, he reappeared for the presentation in a flood of tears, but he needs to learn to control his emotions. No one else in the losing team behaved like that.
Riccardo Montolivo – He’s had a wonderful tournament, the highlight being his through ball for Balotelli’s second in the semi final, but Montolivo simply didn’t turn up in Kiev when the Italians needed him most. With Spain deploying those six midfielders once again, Montolivo needed to step up to take the pressure off Andrea Pirlo who found himself surrounded by a wave of red every time he stepped foot in the opposition half, but he didn’t and Prandelli replaced him early in the second half. He can still be proud of his performances during the rest of Euro 2012 though.