June 25, 2012
Fair is fair at Euro
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
WARSAW - There are times when there is no fairness in sports.
Sometimes, the most deserving are never rewarded.
Not so for Euro 2012. Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal, the four teams who deserve to be in the semifinals, are there.
It would be difficult to argue that any other team should have advanced.
Although Portugal only defeated the Czech Republic 1-0, there was no question which was the better team. Beating Denmark and the Netherlands just to get to the quarterfinal helped proved Portugal's worthiness.
Germany has been the best team in the tournament. Enough said.
Spain has been thorough, if unspectacular, and was in control of France throughout the quarterfinal game. Everyone wants to play like the Spain of 2008 and 2010.
Italy beat Ireland when it needed to and then took care of England on kicks from the penalty spot.
Some may argue that England could easily have been a semifinalist. Indeed, the English could have been in the semis but are they the fourth-best team in the tournament? England was badly outplayed by Italy. Some would suggest England was lucky to get past Sweden and let's not forget that Ukraine had a good goal called back.
While there was sadness that England had yet again succumbed on penalties, there was also joy among the English fans and media for the performance. One supposes that since this team has not won anything since 1966, getting to the quarterfinals of a major tournament is cause for celebration.
Although, upon further review, just how much do the English have to be happy about ... that they weren't eliminated in the group stage?
Italy exposed the English midfield as inadequate. Steven Gerrard was England's best player in the tournament but where is England's future? While Italy, Germany and others unveiled bright, rising stars, England appears bereft of any. At least, any who made an appearance at Euro.
It is delusional to believe that because of the performance at Euro, England is any closer to winning a major title of any sort.
The final four reflect the best teams in this tournament and, in many ways, a coming-out party for at least two teams.
Could this be the tournament that Portugal sees the best of Cristiano Ronaldo as an international player?
At the club level, Ronaldo is deadly, but at the international level, he has never been able to respond to the pressure and spotlight until this year.
If Ronaldo has learned how to play internationally and Portugal continues to find players to play around him, it could be a force internationally during Ronaldo's prime.
Italy, a team that has suffered through several difficult years, is lead by Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon and Daniele DeRossi but they have a long line of younger players who are contributing. Most of the Italian roster is between 20 and 30 but Mario Balotelli and Fabio Borini are 21, Leonardo Bonucci and Ignazio Abate are 25, Claudio Marchisio is 26 and Sebastian Giovinco is 26.
The good news for Portugal and Italy is that they've made it this far and the future looks pretty good.
The bad news is it will be difficult for them to go any further.
Italy has the difficult draw. Not impossible but difficult.
Germany has great depth, can grind you down with constant pressure and if one person doesn't get you, the other will. The Germans decimated Greece without three regular starters.
But given the traditional rivalry -- and Italy's terrific record against Germany -- this is no gimme for the Germans. Italy is playing well and has great confidence.
Portugal has a chance but must prevent Spain from hogging the ball. Sitting back and waiting for the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi, and Xabi Alonso coming at you is like playing Russian roulette. You never know when the gun will go off.
Portugal's best chance is to go right at Spain and try to get a quick one, open things up and force Spain to attack. Getting into a 3-2 game gives Portugal a better chance than trying to win 1-0.
No matter what happens, it's all good because for the first time in recent memory, the four best teams in the tournament have made it to the semifinals.