Extracts of Blagg's football blogs as he follows West Ham United and England through the usual series of near disasters.

Featuring links to the Annual Billy Blagg Advent Calendar of Christmas Songs.

Also featuring guest appearances by 'Captain Olympic'.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Euro 2012

Anyone wanting to read the whole of the tournaments Blagg blogs - and all those from the other correspondents - can find them still at the Soccernet Euro2012 home page here

There's also a rather nifty summing-up page on 'the final verdict' here

Euro 2012 - Goodbyee - Final Match Report and Review

As another tournament ends, I'd first just like to thank Soccernet for giving me the opportunity to lumber their pages with my amateurish - but well intentioned - prattle. Secondly, many thanks to all those of you who took the time to read the Blagg column and send in comments and emails.

For those with an interest in the domestic English Premier League, I hope to be back next season as West Ham United correspondent and - who knows? God, Soccernet editors and Lady Blagg willing - I may even be back here for Brazil 2014.

Now, I'm outta here... someone turn off the lights, eh?
Italy 0 Spain 4

A masterclass of football. I've always said the 1970 Brazilian team was the best I'd ever seen but I'm starting to think this Spanish side could actually give them a game. From front to back and onto the bench, Spain were superior in every department to an Italian team that wasn't that bad in itself, just outplayed by a squad that is likely to become legendary in international football.

Spain looked stronger from the off and immediately it became apparent that Italy's playmaker Andrea Pirlo would not be dictating play as he did against England and Germany. Pushed back deep in his own half and harried by three or four Spanish players, it sometimes seemed as if there were more men in red shirts on the pitch than those in blue.

It was no surprise when Spain went ahead after 14 minutes, Andres Iniesta finding Fabregas superbly running into the area, taking on the full-back and cutting the ball back for Silva to head home from an angle.

Italy went on the offensive after and had a spell of pressure but it was not much more than that as, unlike the 1970 Brazilians, this Spanish team is as effective at the back as they are everywhere else. Even when breached, Casillas is able to deal with everything.

On 41 minutes, Xavi threaded a fine through-ball to left-back Jordi Alba who had put in a sprint that would likely find him a place at the Olympics - the new Barcelona player outdistanced the Italian defence and slotted home past Buffon. In between the goals, Spain had put on a thrilling sideshow of intricate passing that took the breath away; no longer passing for its own sake as they seemed to do earlier in the tournament, each move seemed to open up the Italians leaving them chasing shadows. It really was quite exquisite.

In all honesty, Italy looked out of it and although the introduction of Di Natale for Cassano did give the team a brief respite just after half-time, chances were no more than brave efforts in a tide of red passing. On the hour, with the Italians visibly wilting, Thiago Motta was introduced for Riccardo Montolivo. As the injured Giorgio Chiellini had been replaced by Federico Balzaretti early in the game, this was Italy's last throw off the dice - a move that signalled the end of the game when Motta pulled up clutching his hamstring and had to be carried off.

With Italy down to ten men, Spain threw on Torres who promptly helped himself to the Golden Boot, scoring on 84 minutes, flicking the ball round Casillas when played through and then gaining an 'assist' by selflessly slipping the ball for Mata - who'd only been on the field for two minutes - to strike home Spain's fourth.
As the final whistle blew, the Italians generously applauded their opponents realising that they had been dismantled by probably one of the best passing sides ever witnessed in world football. Balotelli stormed off for a while but returned later to get his runners-up medal. As the impressive fireworks exploded around the ground, you couldn't help but consider the fireworks that had been seen on the pitch. Spain are the only side to have retained the European trophy and the only team to have done the Euro - World Cup - Euro treble. It may be a while before we see another name on an international trophy.

This was an excellent tournament, played in an impressive spirit with little unsporting play and surprisingly few red cards; the right team won and - more importantly - so did football.

The End of the line

I always find the end of tournaments to be a bittersweet time.

It's sad the competition is over for another four years, but that sadness is always tinged with a bit of relief from the intensity of daily matches for three weeks. More importantly though, at the conclusion, you can sit back without favour and predjudice and, stripped of all the expectation, bombast, criticism and disappointment, just see things for the way that they really are. Sometimes that way is to be expected, others not. I'd opine that Euro2012 is a little of both.

A final between Italy and Spain provides us with an interesting counterpoint. In Spain, we have the reigning European and World Champions who, though they seem to have lost a bit in attack due to injury and - perhaps (it's arguable) - loss of form, are still pretty much the same team they were four years ago. They know what to do, how to win and, more importantly, forgotten how to lose. They are virtually a goal up psychologically before the match starts and this is unlikely to change until this squad of players reach the end and slowing of their careers.

It's true some of their play has been ponderous at times and shows that, however beautifully you pass the ball, without shots and saves the game can become tedious. But that shouldn't disguise that Spain are in the final because they pretty much have the best players, all playing to the peak of their considerable skills. In retrospect, it's difficult to see any way they <strong>couldn't</strong> have reached the final.

In Italy though we have an interesting alternative. Without a doubt Pirlo is one of the best players in the world, but it's the emergence of Balotelli that has lifted the Italians beyond the point most of us thought they were at. Perhaps quarter finals or semi's seemed the limit of their expectations at the beginning...but was that fair? After all, I can't remember many tournaments where Italy were a team you wanted to play, always a threat over the decades, the Azzuri seem to do whatever is required to get out of the group before stepping up a gear. Italy have done it for as long as I can remember, and we really should be expecting it by now, almost to the extent that If I wanted England to emulate another country it would be Italy not Spain, Germany or France.

It may seem harsh but I take some comfort from the fact that Germany just weren't as good as we thought they were. I, for one, got tired of the constant pant-wetting that accompanied their every mention. I wasn't entirely convinced anyway, but again, with final day hindsight, it's easy to see that, for all their strengths and even with the probable exception of Ozil, the Germans are a Pirlo, Balotelli or an Iniesta or Fabregas away from a final.

Portugal are a good side, but I'm not sure they have a squad of good-enough players that can complement the team around star man Ronaldo enough to really take an extra step. One man can make a team - Maradona in '86 for Argentina and Zidane for France in '98 - proved that, but I don't sense the rest of the Portugese team can elevate themselves to just below the level of greatness required.

Of course, England were poor against Italy and many people expressed the view that we'd actually stopped ourselves from a humbling experience against Germany, but I think I'd rather have played Germany than Italy. Also, it's all very well saying England are a quarter-final team - after all last eight seems about right, in all honesty - but I'd have still fancied Roy Hodgson's side against the Czech Republic or Greece so I think a better draw might have helped our progress. On such narrow things are issues decided.

France still have some players you might cast envious eyes at - if you're English anyway - as do Holland, but if England really want to berate ourselves as a second-rate football nation we do really need to consider that - in this tournament, at least - we certainly bested France and Holland. To add to that, England have gone out to the finalists , maybe even the winners, and could probably have expected to beat at least two of the others joining us in the quarter finals.

In fact, I find myself doing something that I do at virtually every tournament and that's casting an eye round at the 'usual suspects' and just making sure England are not dropping below that mark. Critics weren't best pleased at the style or manner of England's play, but I reckon the group games showed significant improvement, even if only in terms of results. We've at last found a way to beat Sweden and a home nation and certainly played France when they were at their best and come out with a draw. With respect to the host nations, Greece, the Czech's and Russians etc. I'm not seeing nations that are likely to trouble the trophy engravers before England.

I'm not suggesting things are better than they look but I certainly don't think we're the laughing stock of Europe either, despite the way we like to paint ourselves. It goes without saying that we don't hold the ball well and lack those extra special players who win tournaments, but I do think we need to be reasonable too. We're a generation at least away from Spain but only a player or two short of an Italy.

It's a miss - and it's as good as a mile too (or at least an Ashley Young penalty) - but the hard facts suggest, if not something entirely encouraging, that at least there is something to aim for that is not completely beyond capabilities either. It may be all that's left to latch onto because Brazil 2014 is up next; we'll be playing in someone else's back yard and they sure as hell won't be lending us their ball!
What They Say No: 3

David Beckham: "I'm disappointed to have not been picked for the 2012 Olympic team but I hope to have a role at the Olympics somewhere"

Blagg: "I'm on site there at the moment David, and there's a really good concession down by the side of the Orbit that do a really tasty cheese and pickle one"