A football feast to challenge any

At the very least, Euro 2012 will properly go down in history.

A football feast to challenge any

In terms of its eventual champions, it has proven a record-breaking tournament.

The broader question, though, is whether it deserves its own place in history? Has it been a competition to match the quality of its victors?

In truth, the very fact Spain are involved almost makes that impossible. The 2012 champions are on a level far above any other side thanks to a deep coaching set-up below, a Barcelona core running through and a remarkable philosophy imposed from above.

As such, hindsight lends a flattening inevitability to Spain’s eventual victory. The tense semi-final against Portugal can be seen as an aberration rather than a reflection of a trophy that was truly there to be won.

Unlike Mexico 1970 or Euro 2000, we only had one genuinely great team.

Those two previous tournaments, however, are an admittedly high bar. They saw a series of countries provide teams that were genuinely among the finest in their histories; two exceptionally strong fields.

Because of the present-day domination of the club game, current international sides will always struggle to reach that level unless they follow the lead of Spain.

There is, however, one big difference between Euro 2012 and the majority of the last decade: far from being fatigued by the club season, the majority of teams played to their full potential.

This may not have meant the mix of both high quality and high drama of Euro 2000, but it did make for a highly entertaining tournament.

In that, it set a high enough bar of its own.

Many teams, after all, played to their potential in another sense. By favouring proactive football, they sought to push their limits rather than simply accept them.

Cesare Prandelli appeared to catch the mood of the tournament on the eve of his team’s game against Ireland.

“You earn luck by playing attacking football,” he said.

That attitude made for a wonderfully open tournament beyond the champions. It also marked a refreshing change from the club season. As best illustrated by Chelsea’s Champions League win, the 2011-12 campaign generally saw defensive football rewarded.

Not Euro 2012. Fortune always favoured the brave.

The irony to that is it didn’t favour actual attackers. Think of the stand-out strikers. Few had more than two good performances. A ‘team of the tournament’ featuring Vicente Del Bosque’s 4-3-3-0 formation would not only be acceptable but appropriate and indicative. Should, for example, Balotelli or Torres be in instead of Cesc Fabregas?

Of course, this is only following what Pep Guardiola did at Barcelona at the start of the 2011-12 season, illustrating how international football now lags behind the club game. It’s also unlikely to “kill off” strikers, but may mean they have to further adapt.

Another plus of all that, though, was that teams had to continuously adapt in Euro 2012. Unlike Euro 2008 where, in even the best games, one attacking side would just go ahead and stay there, this tournament saw a series of matches that were on the edge until the very end.

That unpredictability also created a situation where, uniquely in a tournament, every single game in the last round of group matches had something on the line. In this case, the final was the aberration.

A further consequence of such tension was that it created the conditions for true drama. Even more so than attacking football, this is what really makes a tournament last in the memory: the landmark moments.

Euro 2012 had several. There was Poland’s equaliser against Russia, Andriy Shevchenko’s perfect ending, the last few minutes of Greece-Russia, Denmark shocking the Dutch, Mario Balotelli’s second against Germany, Spain’s first and second goals in the final and of course, Pirlo’s penalty.

When we discuss the tournament in the future, these are the incidents we will recall.

No, Euro 2012 was not complete. It cannot claim to be the highest-quality international tournament.

It did, however, have the highest-quality winners, high drama, high entertainment, some good teams and some great moments.

All in all, that probably makes for the best international tournament since Euro 2000 – and one that was better than a fair few before that.

International football may not have been reborn. But Euro 2012 further revitalised it.

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