The Best Of Euro 2012 - A Review
Adam Hurrey's crusade to analyse, in excruciating depth, the unique language of football.
As Euro 2012 comes to a close, today on the blog our tournament correspondent Adam Hurrey delivers his awards for the best of this year's tournament in Poland and the Ukraine.
Best Player of Euro 2012: Andres Iniesta
It's hard to argue with UEFA's decision to mark Iniesta's contribution to Spain's historic title triumph. Amidst the absurd backlash towards Spain's style of play, he always seems to produce a positive, forward-thinking touch or pass. Arguably more important to Spain as a potent force than his Barcelona colleague Xavi, Iniesta's movement, vision and incisiveness allowed Spain to go strikerless and confound both the critics and their shadow-chasing opposition. Del Bosque's attacking line-up was tinkered with throughout the tournament, but Iniesta was undroppable.
Best Goal of Euro 2012: Zlatan Ibrahimovic v France
In an entertaining tournament surprisingly short of outright stunners, Ibrahimovic's goal stands out. Sweden were heading home, and their captain provided the thousands of travelling Swedes with a memory to cherish. Sebastian Larsson's cross was met perfectly, just inside the penalty area, as Ibrahimovic swept a flying volley past Hugo Lloris.
If there was any doubt as to how to describe him, I should point out that there are 767,000 Google results for "mercurial Ibrahimovic".
Best Match of Euro 2012: Denmark v Portugal
You can stick your knock-out games. The hope-fuelled, seemingly horizonless expanses of the group stage is where the real joy can be found.
The Portuguese had lost their opening game to Germany, while Denmark headed into this clash in Lviv on the back of a surprise win over the dismal Dutch. As all crackers should do, the game saw one team race into a comfortable early lead, as goals from Pepe and Helder Postiga put Portugal in the box seat. Then the Nicklas Bendtner show began, as the supremely-confident Arsenal striker nodded a goal back for the Danes with half-time approaching.
The inevitable narrative started to take shape when Ronaldo, experiencing a frustrating start to his one-man Euro 2012 crusade, conspired to throw away two gilt-edged chances to restore (and secure) Portugal's lead. Football script-writers duly gave themselves a pat on the back when, two minutes after Ronaldo's wastefulness, Bendtner headed an equaliser. The Danes eyed the quarter-finals, while Portugal looked dead and buried.
The final twist was emphatic. Late substitute Silvestre Varela fired home at the second attempt to give his side a crucial win - a pivotal moment in their march to the semi-finals.
Best Stadium: PGE Arena, Gdansk
The cavernous Olympic Stadium in Kiev, obligatory running track and all, was a suitably grand stage for the final and also hosted the veritable ding-dong battle between England and Sweden. Walking distance from the city centre, it sat unassumingly among the huge office blocks and hotels nearby. Warsaw's National Stadium - a more modern affair with its enclosed roof and hanging TV screens - was another capital city gem, but the best atmosphere was to be found elsewhere.
Gdansk's PGE Arena, home to the city's Lechia club, sits alone outside of the quaint town centre. Gleaming in the sunshine of the day, and glowing amber at night, the stadium is unmistakable from miles around. Once you've taken dozens of photos of it from the outside, you enter into a genuine cauldron of a football ground. Steep stands (with the upper tiers offering superb views) rise above the playing surface, giving the impression of a stadium far more volumous than the 43,615 spectators the Arena accommodates. Spain's tense encounter with Croatia played out before a spectacular thunderstorm, which finally reached the stadium when I was comfortably enjoying the refuge of the bar in my nearby hotel, lent the venue an even more dramatic hue.
Best Host City: Kiev
The most spectacular, best value-for-money Metro system in the world, grand Soviet monuments, and all the varenyky you can eat - the Ukrainian capital had enough to offer before Euro 2012 rolled into town. For the football fan, there was an added dimension. I've blogged previously about Kiev's impressive Fan Zone, which stretched as far as the eye could see down Khreshchatyk Street and beat the sprawling Warsaw effort hands-down. A trip to Dynamo Kiev's stadium in the leafy surrounds of Maryinsky Park was a must, as was a pilgrimage to the football hipster Mecca that is the Valeriy Lobanovsky statue.
Now that the tournament is over, and the hotel rates fall back somewhere within the stratosphere, Kiev is a highly recommended city break or a thinking man's football weekender.
Best Fans: Poland
POLSKA! BIALO CZERWONI! An exclamation very likely to earn you a free beer in Poland, if you sing it loudly enough. While nobody doubted the co-hosts' passion for the game, there were fears that the tournament would suffer after their group-stage elimination. Not a bit of it. Each knock-out game was punctuated by a rendition of the aforementioned Polish chant of choice and the mass twirling of scarves, and the hospitality was as warm at the end of June as it had been three weeks previously.
Honourable mentions should also go to the Swedes who turned out in their tens of thousands and the England fans who, mercifully, didn't.
Best Pre-Match Food: Varenichnaya #1, Kiev
A Joe Hart upfield-hoof away from the Olympic Stadium, this charming authentic Ukrainian restaurant was my first proper taste of Kiev. The best beef stroganoff the human mind could conceive (an opinion formed after a shot or two of horilka, I should confess) can be found here, and it served as the perfect appetiser before the feast of England v Sweden that evening.
Best Post-Match Beer: Foksal Street, Warsaw
The smart bars and restaurants that line Foksal lent Warsaw an unexpectedly Mediterranean feel as the fans filled the narrow streets, a brief stroll from the National Stadium, into the early hours. Celebrating Italians, and some rather humbled German fans, mingled with none-the-less highly entertained Poles after the semi-final, and Poland's superb work as co-hosts was done.
Thanks to Adam for covering Euro 2012 for the BettingExpert blog and equal thanks to our friends at Betfair for making it possible.
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Thanks for your posts during the tournament Adam, enjoyed reading every one of them. Looking forward to your future posts on the blog this football season.