The Euro: Up Close

Soccer makes the world go around. During any international tournament, the frenzy grips the globe suggesting that soccer is the next big thing to happen to mankind after life itself. The Euro 2008 kicked off on similar expectations with a bang and is being jointly hosted by Austria and Switzerland. Like any other big tournament, it had exhilarating clashes lined up during its course.

The stakes were high and every team wanted to be on the right foot as the Euro Cup happens to be the next big tournament after the World Cup. It also provides teams a chance to assess their preparations for the World Cup lined up in two years time (leaving ample time to take corrective steps). This version of Euro had many pre tournament favorites because almost all big teams were peaking at just the right time. Moreover, all the big game players had the required match practices due to the fact that Champions’ League and national leagues climaxed just a month ago. The pre tournament favorites were Portugal, Germany, Spain, Netherlands and Italy and every team had a line of stars who could have led them to the trophy. Portugal was banking heavily on Deco, Nuno Gomez, Christiano Ronaldo and its ability to break any defense lineup. Germany has its perennial performing trio of Michael Ballack, Lucas Podolsky and Klose. The other contenders too had big starts in their lineups. The matches that happened during the first stages provided memorable moments with Netherlands looking as if they were a team from some other planet and were performing at ethereal level.

The way they beat both the World Cup finalists suggested that they were on a crushing goal scoring spree and no team would be able to defeat these men. However, they were upset by Guss Hidink’s Russia who has now a reputation of turning underdogs into achievers. The race for the crown got hotter as the quarterfinals started and the quality of matches kept getting better with close finishes like Portugal Vs Germany and Turkey Vs Croatia where Germany emerged on top and Turkey yet again upset Croatia. This was followed by biggest upset of tournament, when Russia beat Netherlands and semifinal line up was complete when Spain took a shot at defensive and depleted Italy. Germany is on the doorsteps of glory as they have defeated Turkey in the semis. Spain is also all set to shed the badge of under achievers if they happen to defeat Russia in second semifinal (for that to happen, they just have to keep playing the way they have been till now and hope that Torres and David Villa keep on making serious inroads into Russian defense with their artful crosses). And as for Russia, they just have to keep up the mantra of “nothing to lose” – and this might bring upon another huge upset them defeating Spain. And who knows if we have a repeat of Euro 2004 when highly improbable Greece upset all big teams to kiss the Euro glory.

The highly anticipated dream final would be Germany Vs Spain and it will be worth watching when clean, artful passes from the Spnaish players will be intercepted by physical play from Germans. This version of Euro Cup will be nothing but forgettable for some teams like France and Portugal who exited earlier than expected. France suffered at the hands of their passive and over defensive approach and some faulty and failed strategies by their coach. Their world cup preparations took a beating when their senior pros finally called it a day. But football fanatics should not be complaining much as long as good matches keep pouring in and there are still a lot of teams that can provide those heart stopping finishes. So as the Euro 2008 comes to close, every fanatic hopes to get one more nail biter finish as this is what sports is all about – rabid fanatics and endless celebrations.

Ajeet Shekhawat

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