We all know how the Euro 2012 group stages panned out, the World Cup finalists in Holland were dumped out without a single point to their name. Germany looked the favourites to win the whole thing, winning all three matches, whilst Spain and England didn’t lose whilst not playing their best football.
In this article I intend to describe what happened when I cracked out the Euro 2012 video game and simulated the entire tournament – starting with the Group stages.
The tournament kicked off in earnest as the co-hosts Poland were pitted against the 2004 champions in Greece. Much to everyone’s bemusement in the National Stadium in Warsaw, Greece took an early lead through Georgios Samaras in the sixth minute. Poland plugged away at the Greek goal and finally just before the break the Borussia Dortmund striker, Robert Lewandowski struck from distance to level the match prior to the half-time break. Shortly after the hour mark, Adrian Mierzejewski put Poland into a lead which would be doubled late on by Kamil Grosicki as Poland pulled away in the group. The win was improved by Russia and Czech Republic’s dull 1-1 draw as a late Andrey Arshavin equaliser cancelled out an early opener from Vladimir Darida.
Next up for the Czechs who looked to capitalise on a draw with the group favourites, Russia, were Greece who had tormented them in the 2004 semi-finals of the tournament in Portugal. This time the Czechs make light work of the Greeks, racing into a 3-goal half-time lead courtesy of 2004 top scorer, Milan Baros, Petr Jiracek and Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky. Baros added another after the break before goals from Theofanis Gekas and Sotiris Ninis threatened a comeback at 4-2 before Baros got the third of his hat-trick and Rosicky added another in a tantilising 6-2 win. Poland’s tournament took a downturn when they were humiliated against Russia. Andrei Arshavin doubled his tally for the tournament before goals from Zyryanov, Alan Dzagoev and Alexandr Kerzakhov set Russia on their way to a decent lead. Ludovic Obraniak got a goal but it only served as consolation thanks to a fifth from Igor Denisov.
Greece were out of the tournament but could put an oil in the ointment for Russia who were looking for a second successive quarter final in the Euros. Poland were out of the top two but a win over the Czech Republic would seal qualification if not top spot. Dudka and Obraniak got goals for Poland before Baros’ 80th minute strike had the co-hosts feeling nervous until Obraniak added a third to put Poland in the quarter finals. If Greece recorded a win by three clear goals, the Czechs would be on their way through but a strike from Alexandr Kerzakhov all but saw Russia through. Gekas and Samaras netted two late goals to turn the match on its head and stop Russia from qualifying as group leaders but they still qualified.
Poland [GD: 0, PTS: 6]
Russia [GD: +3, PTS: 4]
Czech Rep [GD: +2, PTS: 4]
Greece [GD: -5, PTS: 3]
The group of death was before us and the game couldn’t possibly conclude the same results as in real life, could it? The tournament really livened up and turned into a goal fest in the Dutch’s encounter with the Danish. Goals from Nicklas Bendtner, Lars Jacobsen and Simon Kjaer put Denmark into a 3-0 lead before van der Wiel and Sneijder netted twice late on to scare Denmark. Bendtner doubled his tally for the tournament with Jakob Poulsen scoring late on in a 5-2 thrashing of the World Cup finalists. Not to be outdone, Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portuguese side put one over on Germany. A cheeky lob from Ronaldo followed his long range first effort before goals in the second half from Miguel Veloso and Pepe put Portugal into an unassailable 4-0 lead before Mario Gomez snatched a late consolation goal in a poor day for the favourites of the group.
After the goal fest that was matchday one in Group B, they were treated to near enough the same the following week as a late showing between Denmark and Portugal proved all the drama any fan could stomach. Miguel Veloso and Cristiano Ronaldo netted for Portugal but Nicklas Bendtner got a goal five minutes from time to unsteady the Portuguese. Bendtner added a second in injury time but not before Cristiano Ronaldo would have the last laugh, netting which would ultimately be the winner in the third minute of added time. There was no such drama to be had in Kharkiv where Holland were resoundingly beaten by the Germans through two from Podolski and a third from Mario Gomez before Narsingh could claim a consolation goal in the 3-1 loss which all but ended Holland’s dreams.
Going into the final matches, Portugal were pretty much through with Denmark and Germany battling it out for a place in the quarter finals. Portugal were looking as dominant as ever, racing into a three goal half-time lead courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul Meireles and Joao Moutinho. The Dutch half-time substitute, Ibrahim Afellay pulled one back before Nani and Robben exchanged goals in a 4-2 win for Portugal which saw them top the group with maximum points and left Holland without a point in a group stage for the first time in their history. Germany knew that a win over the Dutch conquering Danish would pit them against the co-hosts, Poland in the quarter finals. Christian Eriksen cancelled out Muller’s opened before Muller netted again on the stroke of half-time. With Denmark pressing and pressing, Marco Reus blew Denmark’s dreams out of the water as the Germans ran out 3-1 winners to qualify.
Denmark [GD: +6, PTS: 9]
Portugal [GD: +4, PTS: 6]
Holland [GD: 0, PTS: 3]
Germany [GD: -7, PTS: 0]
Group C involved the currently holders of the tournament, Spain and in their first match they were rampant against a very poor Italian side. The Italians, spearheaded by Cassano and Balotelli had most of the chances but were unable to capitalise against a clinical and free flowing Spain. Andres Iniesta hit a hat-trick with other goals from Fernando Torres and David Silva in a 5-0 win in which they had just five shots the entire match. Ireland were outfoxed by a decent Croatian outfit who netted in the first half through Jelavic and Vukojevic, meaning Stephen Hunt’s late strike was only consolation.
Spain were sent crashing down to earth, though, as they were held in their second match as the Irish kept their dreams alive with a 2-2 draw against the world champions in Gdansk. Andres Iniesta broke the deadlock shortly after the hour mark only for Darron Gibson to immediately equalise. Iniesta hit his fifth of the tournament soon after with Kevin Doyle’s 90th minute strike serving as the crucial equaliser. The Italians rose out of the ashes it seems for their second match, beating Croatia 3-1 with the decisive Mario Balotelli on hand for two of their goals in the first half. Mario Mandzukic had opened the Croatian’s tally for the match only for Balotelli’s brace and a late settler from Federico Balzaretti to finish the tie off for the Croats.
They would soon be heading out of the tournament after a second successive loss but only narrowly to Spain. Fernando Torres opened the scoring with an Ivan Rakitic strike being sandwiched in between the opener and Xavi’s first of the tournament on the half hour mark. Mandzukic levelled Croatia up on the hour only for a third Torres strike of the tournament to eliminate Croatia and put Spain in the quarter finals as the Group D winners. Ireland knew that a draw, thanks to Italy’s poor goal difference, would put them in the quarter finals but their dreams of a knockout place were ended as a swift free kick from Andrea Pirlo on 51 minutes. Robbie Keane had his head in his hands after he blazed a penalty kick late on in the second half against the cross bar as Italy joined Spain in the quarter finals
Spain [GD: +6, PTS: 7]
Italy [GD: -2, PTS: 6]
Croatia [GD: -2, PTS: 3]
Ireland [GD: -2, PTS: 1]
The two figureheads of Group D battled it out in Donetsk as a five-goal thriller separated England and France with the French resembling their 2004 group stage win over the English. The French looked rampant and secured a 3-0 half-time lead through Jeremy Menez, Karim Benzema and Yohan Cabaye. A poor England hit back but it was too little, too late as goals from Walcott and Rooney ensured they would leave without a point. A fascinating second half meant Ukraine would beat Sweden 2-1 as video game imitated real life. Yarmolenko and Voronin broke the deadlock for Ukraine with Ibrahimovic’s 79th minute strike not enough for the Swedes.
They wouldn’t have their revenge in the second group game against England as they were made to rue a missed Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty as Ashley Young and England turned the game on its head as Roy got their first points on the board in Group D. France qualified from the group as they recorded a big win over the co-hosts Ukraine with their talisman, Karim Benzema on target again in the 3-0 thrashing which also included goals from Yann M’Vila and Samir Nasri.
Group D would go down to the wire as France were already confirmed as the group winners and they would re-kindle the 2006 world cup final in Donetsk against Italy. England and Ukraine were ultimately battling for the right to face Spain in the quarter finals. Danny Welbeck hit his first goal of the tournament only for it to be cancelled out on the other side of the half via the head of Andriy Voronin. Welbeck would save the day and ensure qualification late on with the winner and his second of the tournament. That just left France to finish off the group stages, which they did by recording a 2-1 win over Sweden.
France [GD: +5, PTS: 9]
England [GD: +2, PTS: 6]
Ukraine [GD: -3, PTS: 3]
Sweden [GD: -3, PTS: 0]