Siempre con nosotros
Jon Holmes believes the unifying spirit of Euro 2008 - epitomised by the classy team football of champions Spain - will live long in the memory.
Last Updated: 30/06/08 10:23am
When David Silva butted his way out of a tete-a-tete with Lukas Podolski in the second half of Sunday's final, a feeling of deja vu descended.
Zinedine Zidane's self-destruction two years ago cost France the world crown. Would Spain have to play the final third of the game against Germany with 10 men, potentially costing them the European title? Would arguably the best tournament of recent times be remembered for a moment of madness, rather than a moment of genius?
Fortunately, however, Podolski did not collapse to the ground writhing in agony - a sight which has become all too familiar in such incidents. Silva was foolish to react in such a manner, but both men were guilty of an over-aggressive attitude. The officials took no further action, and Luis Aragones withdrew Silva from the action a minute later. Common sense prevailed - and that's a phrase you don't hear in football very often.
Sadly, such clear thinking for the good of the game does not appear to be shared by the current crop of UEFA bigwigs, led by Michel Platini. It's difficult to trust a man who can't even knot his tie properly, but Platini's support for the proposal to expand the European Championship shows where his true motives lie. Much of the success of this summer's Euros can be attributed to their succinct nature - a three-week-long festival of thrills and spills. From the UK's point of view, has Euro 2008 been any worse for the absence of the five Home Nations? If the continent's next best eight teams were added to the mix, only Wales from the British Isles would have missed the cut. Throw in Bulgaria, Israel, Norway and Serbia too for a 24-team competition - six groups, top two go through plus the four best runners-up into a round of 16. More money in the pot to satisfy UEFA's greed, but the product already sounds bloated. Bigger isn't always better.
Vienna's last hurrah was a satisfying culmination to a perfectly-formed tournament. National 'daleks' made of coloured balloons rotating slowly to the strains of You'll Never Walk Alone; Germany starting as solidly on the pitch as in the stands, their fans' mosaic a testament to their organisational strengths; Spain expressing themselves beautifully through the vision of Xavi and the deft finish of Fernando Torres; and going on to dominate the game with style and panache, Silva's silliness aside. After the final whistle, the Spanish heroes gave the bumps to their coach Luis Aragones - a man who turns 70 next month. A hugely controversial figure during his four years in charge of La Seleccion - we will always recoil when reminded of his notorious comments about Thierry Henry - Aragones has ultimately delivered silverware to Spain for the first time in 44 years. It's hard to admire the man, but you can easily admire his team and within such a context, the contribution of Brazilian-born anchorman Marcos Senna.
Nor were absent friends forgotten in the post-match celebrations. Sergio Ramos, who at just 22 is now a European champion as well as a two-time Spanish Primera Liga title winner with Real Madrid, wore a T-shirt bearing an image of his fallen comrade Antonio Puerta. The Sevilla midfielder, who suffered heart failure in August 2007, won his one and only cap for Spain at the start of qualifying. Below Puerta's picture was the slogan 'siempre con nosotros' - 'always with us'.
If you recall, the motto of the tournament was 'Expect Emotions' and reflecting on my week in Austria and Switzerland, and from what I've seen on TV, Euro 2008 delivered time after time. I wasn't sure 'togetherness' could be classified as an emotion but after some quick research (alright, I looked on Wikipedia), I'm selecting it as my most frequent. It works on so many levels. At the start, most people were looking towards the best individuals from the league champions of Europe to impress us - Cristiano Ronaldo from England, Franck Ribery from Germany, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Italy. But none of those players fulfilled their true potential; instead, we marvelled at the intricate team goals of Holland and Russia, the power and determination of Germany and Turkey, and of course the free-flowing football of Spain. And in the stands and the Fan Zones, the atmosphere among people of different nationalities was overwhelmingly good-natured and respectful. Y viva Europa.
So having counted down from 20 to 11 on my last blog entry, I'm bowing out with my top 10 stand-out moments from the 13th European Championship. Adios...
10. When Christian Panucci brings down Daniel Niculae in the box at Zurich's Letzigrund, it looks like curtains for world champions Italy. Romania's Adrian Mutu steps up to finish off the Azzurri, only for Gianluigi Buffon to pull off a quite remarkable save with his right glove and then his right boot. Mamma mia!
9. David Villa had already scored a hat-trick in Spain's opening Group D clash with Russia to plonk himself right at the top of the scoring chart. But the goal that ultimately clinched the Golden Boot for him was genuinely outstanding. Joan Capdevila knocked a long ball down the left channel and Villa scampered onto it, touched the ball past Sweden's Petter Hansson and slotted it neatly across Andreas Isaksson. Pure class.
8. The best player at Euro 2008? You could make a case for Wesley Sneijder, and his goal against France which capped a 4-1 win for Holland was a stunning solo effort. With substitute Robin van Persie expecting a little give and go, Sneijder simply left Jeremy Toulalan standing and spun round before unleashing a powerful rising shot which clipped the underside of the bar and went in.
7. Spain's marvellous midfield were a joy to behold and the winning goal in the final was as much down to the vision of Xavi as the strength of Fernando Torres. A perfectly weighted pass put Philipp Lahm in all kinds of trouble and Torres used all his knowhow to get in front of the defender before dinking it over Jens Lehmann.
6. Another Spanish moment to savour, and this time it's from the substitutes. Part of their success can be attributed to the ease with which Luis Aragones' replacements slotted into his system. Cesc Fabregas combined with Dani Guiza for the second goal against Russia - a first-time chipped pass over the defence keeping Guiza onside before the striker chested the ball down and lifted it over Igor Akinfeev. A place in the final was theirs.
5. Turkey's incredible never-say-die spirit has just seen them equalise against Germany in the first semi-final in Basel. It appears extra-time will be required but in the 90th minute, Germany stage another offensive. Thomas Hitzlsperger spreads the play wide left to Philipp Lahm, who glides inside the injured Colin Kazim-Richards. Lahm initiates a one-two and goes haring into the penalty area, and Hitzlsperger picks him out with a superb pass. In the blink of an eye, the ball is in the back of the net and Germany are in front again.
4. Russia are leading 1-0 in their must-win clash with Sweden in Innsbruck and have played some scintillating football. Five minutes into the second half, the Swedes thump a free-kick downfield only for Russia to win the ball in midfield. Yuri Zhirkov bundles Igor Semshov to the ground in his rush to pass to Andrei Arshavin, who slips the ball left to Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. Zhirkov is now racing away down the left, and Bilyaltedinov finds him with a wonderful through-ball which he takes in his stride. Arshavin is on his shoulder and all that is needed is a subtle switch to the right and the little master slides in to score in the bottom corner. A breathtaking team goal.
3. Petr Cech's howler has presented Turkey with a gift-wrapped equaliser in Geneva and penalties are on the cards. But the momentum is all with Fatih Terim's men, and the Czechs look nervous. Volkan Demirel's goal kick is headed on by Tuncay, and David Rozenhal makes a lousy clearance straight to Hamit Altintop. With the Czech defence at sixes and sevens, Altintop plays in Nihat who readjusts his body and curls a shot over the advancing Cech from the edge of the box, the ball bouncing down off the crossbar. 89 minutes gone, and the Turks lead for the first time.
2. After a slowish start to the tournament, and coming off the back of a dreadful game between France and Romania, the Berne meeting of Holland and Italy was much anticipated. The Dutch go in front with a controversial goal which looks offside, but there can be no debates about their second which comes from a lightning-quick counter-attack. Giovanni van Bronckhorst swings a deep cross over from left to right, Dirk Kuyt lays the ball off with a neat header and Wesley Sneijder hooks his shot inside the near post. The much-vaunted Italian defence looks stunned, and Euro 2008 is officially up and running.
1. Turkey's run to the semi-finals can be attributed to many factors. Several large dollops of good fortune, Fatih Terim's substitutions, a high-tempo style which they kept up even into the final minutes... but their spirit and belief was arguably the most important. We're deep into the 119th minute of extra-time in the quarter-final and Ivan Klasnic has headed Croatia in front. It's game over, Croatia think they're into the semis and are understandably celebrating wildly. The game goes into time added-on - the 121st minute, the last-chance saloon. Rustu launches a long free-kick into the penalty area, Croatia let the ball bounce and Semih Senturk turns and fires into the top corner. It genuinely could not have come any later, and it has to be the most dramatic moment of Euro 2008.