Unstoppable | Spain’s performance in the Euro 2012 final, after an occasionally underwhelming campaign, has left many asking if they are the best team in the history of football. (Image | Getty)

After three weeks of 10-second countdowns, Pirlo-praising and Spanish superiority, the UEFA European Championships are over. A thoroughly enthralling group stage was followed by a below-average knockout stage that culminated with a sizzling Spanish performance in Kiev to complete an unprecedented trio of consecutive tournaments wins for the newly-crowned ‘greatest national team of all time’. In this article, I will be looking at how everyone performed.

Group A

Poland: Fourty-five minutes into the tournament you would have been forgiven for thinking Poland were a shoo-in for knockout stages, a goal up and a man up against 2004 champions Greece. However, in typically Arsenal-esque, self-defeating fashion, Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny stupidly got himself sent off and they could only summon up a draw. The highlight of their tournament came with a draw against Russia which included a Jakub Blaszczykowski wondergoal. Ultimately faded away in their final game and will be disappointed to have finished bottom of the easiest group.

Greece: Great credit must go to the Greeks for making it to the knockout stages. Dimitris Salpingidis was a livewire despite not starting the tournament, but Germany were always going to have too much for them in the last eight. A splendid effort, albeit nothing on their exploits of 2004.

Czech Republic: Surprised many by winning Group A. Looked dead and buried after a 4-1 defeat to the Russians but bounced back superbly, and Gebre Selaisse was a constant threat on the right hand side. A shame they set up so defensively against Portugal, as a team who had looked to create prior to this switch subsequently never looked liked winning the game. Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar will be in high demand this summer.

Russia: My tip for the trophy, and looked good as odds dropped from 20/1 to 12/1 after their opening day demolition of the Czechs. Hugely disappointing that they didn’t make the quarters. Andrey Arshavin never really got going in my opinion, but Alan Dzagoev was impressive in his first major championships.

Group B

Germany: I wasn’t as impressed with the Germans as many others. Mario Gomez was outstanding against the Dutch, but their performances against Denmark and Portugal didn’t suggest they were world beaters. Players like Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle looked very promising when they got on the pitch. Defensively I wasn’t convinced by Holger Badstuber or Jerome Boateng, while Manuel Neuer too looked surprisingly suspect. Deservedly beaten by Italy in the semis, they have a lot to learn but should be contenders over the next few years with the wealth of talent available.

Netherlands: Predictably poor in defence and wasteful in attack sums up the Dutch performance. Always on the back foot after a surprise defeat to Denmark in their opener. It looks like 2010 was their best chance of glory, which has well and truly passed them by. Coach Bert van Maarwijk left the job shortly after their exit and I would like to see Bergkamp appointed to build for a new era. The Dutch players need an ego bigger than theirs to get them together.

Portugal: A superb team performance throughout the tournament. Ronaldo was colossal, but many others chipped in. Moutinho, Coentrao, Pereira and Nani all showed flashes of brilliance. Came unstuck against the Spanish in the semis, but should be happy that they proved they’re not just a one man team.

Denmark: A good start against the Dutch was followed by mediocrity. Michael Krohn-Delhi, a man who no-one had heard of before the tournament, briefly became a national hero, and Liverpool’s Daniel Agger was superb at the back. Disappointed not to see more of Ajax’s young prodigy Christian Eriksen, but it was always going to be tough for him to shine in a group of European heavyweights.

Group C

Spain: Made a slow start to the tournament without a striker. Slated for being boring. I could see where this argument came from, we are spoiled by seeing Barcelona every week, and Spain are almost the same team, just without Lionel Messi’s genius. Proved everyone wrong in the final with an unforgiving mauling of the Italians. The array of attacking talent available to Vicente Del Bosque was mind blowing. Fernando Torres won the golden boot despite limited time on the pitch, and the likes of Juan Mata and Fernando Llorente, who would have walked into most other European teams, got less than 15 minutes of fame. Proved they were miles ahead of the competition, and scary to think they’ve still got the ageing but brilliant pair of David Villa and Carles Puyol to come back in.

Lasting image | Pirlo’s audacious chip will be the abiding memory for many of a disappointing campaign for England. (Image | The Sun)

Italy: I said before the tournament it would be all about Andrea Pirlo and it was. A delightful performance throughout the tournament, the highlight perhaps being his cheeky penalty against England. Mario Balotelli also showed his true potential and Antonio Cassano looked lively, considering his recent troubles with serious illness. The Azzurri can be proud of Cesare Prandelli’s men, who have come a long way since their premature World Cup exit two years ago.

Croatia: Showed early promise and were probably the most unlucky team not to get through. Mario Mandzukic finished joint top scorer and Luka Modric was influential as ever. Not quite at the team they once were with Zvonomir Boban, Davor Suker and Slaven Bilic, but it will be interesting to see how they fare, now the latter is no longer in charge.

Ireland: Simply didn’t turn up, a review isn’t even warranted.

Group D

England: Predictably defeated in the quarter finals, predictably lost on penalties. Looking back a half decent tournament for the English, but only if lessons are learned. In the most outstandingly terrible piece of punditry of the tournament, Martin Keown said at the final that technical ability didn’t matter so much in winning a tournament. Pirlo and Spain proved the exact opposite is true. With Wayne Rooney being our only world-class player, England need to build a technically adept generation of players. The likes of Danny Welbeck, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Adam Johnson, Phil Jones and Ross Barkley make this a possibility, but it is important Roy Hodgson starts this revolution, rather than making us go through another few years of Gareth Barry, James Milner and Stewart Downing.

France: Potential unfulfilled. A promising side blighted by Samir Nasri’s petulance and Karim Benzema’s terrible finishing, the latter always likely after I tipped him for the golden boot. Mathieu Debuchy and Yohan Cabaye look like the future of french football, but Laurent Blanc’s side looked a very long way from world beaters. Incredible that until they beat the Ukraine, they had never won in a European Championship game without Zinedine Zidane or Michel Platini in the side.

Sweden: Outdone by Andriy Shevchenko, outperformed by England (just) and impressive against France, but it was all too late. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal of the tournament is little consolation, but an Olof Mellberg brace deserves credit too, even if it was against a calamitous England defence.

Ukraine: Shevchenko’s brace in the tournament opener was the truly outstanding moment for the co-hosts. Never really got going against France or England. Surprised they weren’t burning effigies of John Terry after his ‘over the line’ clearance, but then again they are quite impartial to a racist.

Conclusions

Overall a good tournament, and certainly more watchable than the last World Cup. I think the month break between the end of the league season and the start of the tournament served many players well. Sets us up for a cracking 2014 World Cup. Brazil will host under enormous pressure from home support, Messi has the chance to stake his claim as the greatest player who ever lived, the Spanish can continue their dominance, while the Germans should be in the middle of a golden generation. Only 709 days to go!

My player of the tournament: Jordi Alba. Spain’s two previous successes came thanks to an all-round team performance, with no real outstanding player. The one weakness of this great Spanish side was at left back. Step up, Jordi Alba. Without an out-and-out striker Spain were always going to need attacking options from other areas. Ramos has always been great for Spain on the right, but moved central in Puyol’s absence. This meant Arbeloa played at right-back, who didn’t have a bad tournament but is the worst of a very good bunch. Alba offered dynamism from the left, a superb assist for Xabi Alonso in the last eight was followed by a stunning burst of acceleration in the final for Spain’s second goal, which arguably sealed the win. A key member of the Spanish defence, who conceded one goal all tournament.

My team of the tournament: Casillas, Pereira, Hummels, Ramos, Alba, Iniesta, Moutinho, Pirlo, Dzagoev, Balotelli, Ronaldo

Twitter | @sbboh

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