Euro 2008 sets the bar high

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

Vienna, Austria -- It is a tournament that will be remembered for validating the beautiful game.

It is a tournament that will hopefully change the way the game is played.

It is a tournament that will be remembered as one of the best.

Euro 2008 has left more than just indelible memories. It has left a legacy for the sport of soccer.

It's a legacy of positive, entertaining and enjoyable play. It's the kind of soccer the world was hoping to see, the kind the world wants to see, the kind that needs to be played.

The tidal wave of criticism for the few teams who insisted on bucking the trend is a klaxon's call for change.

It may not happen all at once. There will be times when the pressure to win at all costs will entice certain teams to return to cynical play, even though that cynicism was not rewarded in this tournament. If Euro 2008 has proven anything, it's that it is possible to win playing a pleasing style, one that will benefit the game in the long run.

What would have cemented this tournament as perhaps the best would have been a great final. But Germany and Spain couldn't produce that. The teams played 90 minutes, disappointing in its mediocrity. Spain's 1-0 win was earned, but the tournament merited a better ending.

This tournament had enough highlights for several events. Three teams took the tournament by the throat in turn, provided thrilling moments in quantity and quality.

The Netherlands shocked early on with a flowing style of play and unmatched scoring.

Russia survived a first-game thumping to attack, attack and attack some more.

Turkey was the tournament's great revelation. Relentless, refusing to lose, fearless in how their players compete, the Turks overcame great odds to provide one heart-stopping finish after another.

But Turkey fell victim to its own heart-stopping moment. In the best game of the tournament, perhaps the best game in 20 years, Turkey and Germany played a semifinal worthy of a final.

In an atmosphere throbbing with emotion, three goals were scored in the final 11 minutes. Turkey managed to yet again tie a game late, but Germany's Philipp Lahm ended the magical run with a goal in the 90th minute for a 3-2 win.

The game was the exclamation point, the snapshot that captured everything the tournament signified -- grace, beauty, toughness, joy, despair, excitement, atmosphere and drama.

There were many other great games.

To get three or four memorable games in a tournament is wonderful. To get eight is fantastic.

The tournament offered a world stage for some of the most gifted artists to produce their most innovative work. The list is long and impressive.

Many have used Euro as a coming out party. Others have used it to strengthen their reputation and no doubt fatten their bank account when contract time rolls around -- the Netherland's Wesley Sneijder, Spain's David Villa, Germany's Lukas Podolski, Spain's Iker Casillas and Italy's Gianluigi Buffon.

No question, on the field Euro 2008 was a model for future tournaments to follow.

But it should also have taught organizers a lesson. The tournament's success will lead to an expansion. An informal meeting of UEFA member nations has found support for eight more teams, bringing the total to 24. An official decision will come in September.

There are several reasons for expansion. There are some high-profile teams that organizers would have liked in the tournament. England and Scotland are two of those.

Be aware. The advantage of Euro is with so few teams, quality is guaranteed. A week shorter than the World Cup, Euro offers a different kind of pressure and immediacy.

UEFA might consider only putting the tournament in one country. Putting it in Switzerland and Austria guaranteed places to both those countries, even though the teams weren't very strong. That will leave another spot for a deserving qualifier. But that's for later.

For now it's time to remember the thousands of fans dressed in their team's colour, singing, chanting, dancing, flushed with excitement.

For now it's time to celebrate hope becoming reality, the type of tournament everyone longed for actually happened.


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