Now that the European Football (Soccer) Championship, also known as Euro '12, will come to an end tomorrow night, it's time to give my impressions of the tournament. This is not the typical review of who I thought the best teams and players were, or who had the best dives and referee-influencing theatrics. Without further ado...
Battle of the Colors: Italy and defending European champion Spain will meet in the final tomorrow night. Spain is known as La Furia Roja, or The Red Fury and Italy is the Azzuri or Blues. But if the final had ended up being France versus Italy, anyone betting on the Blues would pick the winner because the French team is Les Bleus or the Blues.
Best Fans: Ireland. Even though Ireland lost all of its group stage matches, and didn't score a single goal, Irish fans kept up their singing and support of their team. Honorable mention goes to Greece, which had fans dressed up in capes and Trojan helmets for its quarter final loss against Germany.
Biggest Surprises: Italy making the final after not even making it out of the group stages in the 2010 World Cup. Czech Republic winning its group after a 4-1 loss to Russia in its first game.
Biggest Flop: No, I'm not referring to the best dive and fake injury of the tournament. The Netherlands, which was the 2010 World Cup runner-up to Spain, didn't even make it out of the group stages. The team known as Oranje, or Orange (here we go with colors again), lost all of its group stage games.
Shortest and Longest Last Names: Simon Cox of Ireland and Sokratis Papastahtopoulos of Greece. Sokratis has his first name on his shirt instead of his last.
Needs to Buy a Vowel: Polish names have a tendency for being hard to pronounce because of their lack of vowels. Two Polish players who could use a vowel or two in their last names, or at least a pronunciation key, are Wojciech Szczesny and Jakub Blaszczykowski (who simply has "Kuba" on his shirt). Honorable mention also goes to Croatian players Sime Vrsaljko and Darijo Srna.
Best Looking Goalies: The best-looking goalie of Euro '12 is Italy's Gianluigi Buffon. He and my husband could pass for distant relatives, which is probably why I think he's good looking. Iker Casillas of Spain is also nice-looking.
Early Surrender: France has a reputation of surrendering early when there's a war or when defending a World Cup title (they won the 1998 World Cup and didn't make it out of the group stage in 2002). This time they made it out of their group into the quarter finals. But within the first 3 minutes of its quarter final match with Spain, France seemed to have given up. Les Bleus lost 2-0, but it could have easily been worse.
Living Off Its Glorious Past: England last had real football glory back in 1966, when it won the World Cup. But judging from the way the fans talk about their team, England has been a big favorite to win every major football championship since then. English teams have been full of great players. But even though they can't seem to get it together in a major championship, the fans still talk about 1966 and England becoming Number One again.
So Close, Yet So Far: Germany seems to have a mental block about winning a major tournament. Its last tournament win was the 1996 European Championships. Even though German trainer Joachim Loew has put together great teams, Germany can't seem to win a title. This year Germany was a heavy favorite to win Euro '12 because of its fast, aggressive, and entertaining style of play. I must admit that I enjoy how Germany plays. Germany also was the only team to win every game in the group stage of Euro '12. But they got knocked out in the semi-finals by Italy and extended their losing streak to Italy in tournaments to 8 in row. Here is Germany's string of coming oh-so-close to a title. I am including the Bayern Munich team in this because most of Germany's starting lineup is from Bayern: 2006 World Cup--3rd, 2008 European Championship--2nd, Bayern Munich 2010--2nd in Champion's League, 2010 World Cup--3rd, Bayern Munich 2011 lost in Champion's League semi-final, Bayern Munich 2012--2nd in Champion's League, 2012 Euro--lost in semi-final.
Older Athletes Rule: Two of the best players in Euro '12 are the Italians Andrea Pirlo (age 33) and Gianluigi Buffon (age 34). Up through the semi-finals Pirlo has won the Man of the Match award 3 times and has a good chance of winning the award for best player in the tournament. Buffon has made a great comeback from the injury which sidelined him in the 2010 World Cup and has made some spectacular saves. Both Pirlo and Buffon played on Italy's team that won the 2006 World Cup. Thirty-five-year-old Andrei Shevchenko from Ukraine also had a great performance in his team's win against Sweden.
Hair Awards: Shaved heads and Mohawks are becoming passe and are no longer worthy of any special notice. The same goes for players who wear girls' headbands to keep their hair out of their faces. Here are my hair awards for Euro '12:
Best Hair: Mario Balotelli of Italy. His head is shaved except for a small strip down the middle (a mini-Mohawk) that is dyed light blonde and braided. He could puncture a ball with that hair. Balotelli could also play the Hulk with his muscular build and serious demeanor when he scores goals. See this video, which shows a good view of his hair.
Most Brylcreem: Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal. He looks like he uses a whole tube of Brylcreem before every game.
Hair That's Least Likely to Move in a Stiff Wind: Mario Gomez of Germany. Like Ronaldo, Gomez uses a lot of gel in his hair. Even when he's running and sweating, he never has a hair out of place.
Most Hairstyles in the Tournament: Cristiano Ronaldo. He seems to have a different hairstyle for each match. He even changed his hairstyle at halftime of Portugal's match with Germany. Instead of being with the rest of his team and figuring out a strategy for beating Germany, Ronaldo was re-styling his hair. Maybe if he paid less attention to his hair, Portugal would have tied or even won the game.
Best '80s or Southern Redneck Hair: Petr Jiracek of the Czech Republic, who has a mullet. Who knows, maybe mullets are the latest fashion in the Czech Republic these days.
Hair Plugs: Wayne Rooney of England got a recent hair transplant. He gets an honorable mention because it's so strange seeing him with hair after so many years of seeing him bald.
Move Over, Paul: Paul, the football match predicting octopus, died last year. Here is my post about him during the 2010 World Cup. So far no other animal has been able to replace Paul. The seagulls on the North Sea and a cow somewhere in Germany have all been dismal failures at predicting the outcomes of Germany's matches in Euro '12. But I may have a future in predicting Italy's matches. Before Italy's quarter final match with England, I went out for a long run. As usual, I listened to the tunes on my iPod. At first I heard some Antonello Venditti and Eros Ramazzotti. I thought, "This is a sign that Italy will win." But late in the run three Beatles tunes in a row played. I decided it was going to be a tie and come down to penalty kicks. Sure enough, Italy and England tied in regulation and Italy won on penalty kicks. For the semi-final against Germany I mixed the same number of Eros Ramazzotti and Falco songs into the playlist that I planned to use. Falco is an Austrian group, but they sing in German. I figured that was close enough. During my run, I heard one Ramazzotti song and zero from Falco. I thought that the score would be Italy 1, Gemany 0. The real score was 2:1 for Italy, but I got the goal differential right.
Who Not to Hire as Paul's Replacement: Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany, who obviously watched too many Westerns while recovering from a recent injury. Before Germany's semi-final match with Italy, Schweinstieger confidently predicted that Italy would be Germany's next big scalp. See the full article here. That big whooshing noise in Warsaw on Thursday night after the game was the sound of German egos deflating. Germany lost to Italy and was out of its customary rhythm for a lot of the game. As the search for a reliable match predictor for the 2014 World Cup continues, Schweinsteiger just ruined his chances of making the short list.
Who Will Win Tomorrow Night? Good question. I like both Italy and Spain, so I would be happy if either team wins. If Spain wins, it will make history by winning 3 major championships in a row (Euro '08, 2010 World Cup, Euro '12). However, I give the edge to Italy because the Azzuri were the only team to score a goal against Spain in Euro '12. The Italians did a great job of frustrating Spain during the group stage match. Italy played with a lot of heart against England and Germany in the knockout rounds. Spain looked good against France but very flat against Portugal in its knockout stage matches. Also, Spain is the defending champion. A European football champion has never successfully defended its title. Italy also gets the edge because its players do a better job of influencing the referees with their dives and theatrics. I guess I'll have to mix some Italian and Spanish songs into tomorrow's running playlist and figure it out from there.