Print Edition: July 4, 2012
So the LA Kings won the cup, and the Summer Olympics don’t start in London for another month. In the meantime you may have noticed a new sport moved to town, and by town I mean TSN and CTV. And by new I mean football; real football – the kind you play with your feet. The final tournament for the UEFA (Union of the European Football Association) Euro 2012 Cup kicked off on June 8 with 16 lucky teams slotted to represent their country.
The road to the Cup started long before last month; in fact, it started way back in August 2010 with the first qualifying-round game between Estonia and the Faroe Islands. At that time, 51 countries entered the contest and were divided into nine groups, where they played a series of home/away games against the other teams in their groups over the course of the next year. In each group, both the team with the most points and the first runner up were granted entry into the final tournament. Unlike in hockey, three points are awarded for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss). The eight remaining teams then battled for a spot in the final round by entering a playoff tournament. They were paired up and played two matches in November of 2011, one home and one away. At the end of those matches, the team with the greater aggregate goals was granted admittance to the final tournament. This year Turkey, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Montenegro and Estonia said goodbye to their chances at the coveted Cup during this playoff process. The host teams, Poland and Ukraine, were automatically entered into the finals, bringing the number of teams competing to an even 16.
Poland met Greece in a draw and Russia dominated over the Czech Republic during the opening of the final tournament matches on June 8. The group stage contained a series of three matches per country, at the end of which the two teams with the lowest number of points were eliminated. It was easy to pick out the strongest teams at this stage in the tournament. Germany breezed through the round robin undefeated and unmatched. Defending champions Spain and Portugal—home to Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo—both scored a total of six goals in three games, making them the top scoring teams of the tournament. England dominated its group with seven points to France’s four.
The quarter finals began on June 21, with Portugal knocking out the Czech Republic – the game saw just one goal. Germany eliminated Greece and Spain eliminated France, both by a difference of two goals. No one fought harder, though, than Italy. They went head-to-head with England and its solid goalkeeper, Joe Hart. The teams battled for 90 regular time minutes, 30 overtime minutes and the match was determined based on a best-of-five round of penalty shots. Italy succeeded and then moved on to beat out Germany in the semifinals and awaited their opponents for the final match.
Spain moved through the tournament with relative ease as goalkeeper Iker Casillas commanded his net. If anyone was going to prevent them from defending their title in the final match, it would have been Portugal – but their chances faded as Ronaldo sailed numerous free kicks over the crossbar. They, too, battled for 120 minutes in their semifinal match and Spain came out victorious after Cesc Fàbregas bounced the winning shot off the goal post and into the net.
While we celebrated our country’s birthday on July 1, Italy and Spain met at the Kyiv Olympic Stadium in Ukraine for the final match. Star Italian striker Mario Balotelli was continually shut down as Casillas was as solid as ever. After an expertly executed header by Spain’s David Silva, scored only 14 minutes into the game, the Spaniards caught fire. Italian goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, looked shaky as Jordi Alba poked one past him late in the first half. If there was any hope left of Italy coming back, it was crushed at the 75 minute mark when Fernando Torres stepped onto the field for Fàbregas and scored 10 minutes later. The final nail in the coffin came at the 88 minute mark after Juan Mata scored Spain’s fourth unanswered goal.
The victory was record setting for the Spaniards – they became the only team to successfully defend the Euro title and joined Germany as the only team to win the title three times. Spain is also the current reigning FIFA World Cup Champion, making them undeniably the strongest national team in the world right now. With the Olympics just around the corner, Spain is the team to beat.