So Euro 2012 is almost done and dusted with Spain and Italy set to contest the final in Kiev on Sunday. It took a penalty shootout to separate Vicente Del Bosque’s men from their Portuguese neighbours, while Cesare Prandelli’s side stunned the Germans with a brilliant display. Here’s who caught the eye in this round:
Mario Balotelli – How can you describe the man? Super Mario lit up the semi final with two stunning finishes, showing just why if he puts his mind to it, he can truly be one of the best players in the world. Balotelli even worked hard for his side, tracking back and chasing the ball, something that will have shocked everyone at Manchester City. His header was well taken, but his second was simply sensational, firing past Manuel Neuer in the German goal before ripping off his shirt ensuring that if he fails in football, there’s always a gig out there for him as a stripper. Balotelli said before the game he never celebrates his goals, but this was a display of raw emotion from a young man who’s never out of the headlines. Perhaps this could be the moment for Mario to grow up and fulfil his obvious potential. Or maybe he’ll get sent off on Sunday. You just never know.
Cesc Fabregas – Nerves of steel that boy. He might not be completely sane talking to the ball on his run up, but it sure worked for him. Spain seem to finally have put their penalty hoodoo behind them, winning the last two in a row. If only they could teach England how to do it. Or just give us their players.
Andrea Pirlo – Another masterclass from the maestro. The Germans picked Toni Kroos to try and mark him out of the game, but Pirlo still dominated the midfield, outplaying the Germans’ Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Ozil and starting the move that led to Balotelli’s opening goal. He even showed his defensive qualities, clearing one off the line from Mats Hummels. Calls for the Ballon d’Or may be premature, indeed the footballing world seems to simultaneously fall into orgasm every time Pirlo even breathes at the moment, but he’d certainly be a worthy winner of player of the tournament. Majestic.
Cesare Prandelli – Credit has to go to the coach for Italy’s performances this tournament. They were written off before it had even begun, losing 3-0 to Russia in a warm-up and struggling with the accusations of match fixing. No one expected them to really get this far and Prandelli’s tactics have to be praised. He set out to beat the Germans in Warsaw rather than just contain them like other Italian sides might have done previously and got his just reward. England should perhaps take note.
Gianluca Vialli – Slotted onto the BBC sofas effortlessly, adding a touch of class to proceedings whilst providing us viewers with some insightful analysis,. And therefore we didn’t have to listen to Alan Hansen. Joy of joys!
Germany – Arrogance is never a nice personality trait. And the Germans displayed it in abundance on Thursday. If resting their key players for the Greek game wasn’t enough, Joachim Loew’s side seemed to have simply decided they were going to beat Italy by default. They paid for it as well, Italy stunned them as the Germans started unusually sluggishly and therefore it’s once again only the semi finals for this talented young side. Hopefully they’ll have learnt their lesson.
Portugal’s penalty order – Never leave your best penalty taker till last. Ever. Ronaldo should have stepped up earlier to give Portugal the advantage. Instead, Paulo Bento’s order meant their talisman and dead ball specialist didn’t even get the chance to take one and could only watch on in horror as Bruno Alves thumped his effort against the bar.
Mark Lawrenson – Listening to his ‘punditry’ is almost as painful as hearing someone drag their nails down a blackboard. I lost count of the number of times he said ‘surely not’ in a sarcastic voice, while he’s doing a good job of defining the phrase ‘stating the obvious.’ If ITV signed him up to do a show with Adrian Chiles, I’d wager it would be even less popular than watching Blackburn at Ewood Park.
Mats Hummels – Back down to earth with a bump for the German centre back, who’s stock has significantly risen this tournament. However, the Borussia Dortmund man had a bit of a shocker in Warsaw, defending poorly, while also missing his side’s best chance. He’ll be deeply regretting his performance now, while the pundits can put away their constant admirations towards him for now.
Spain and Portugal – For such an eagerly anticipated game, this was a massive disappointment. I don’t buy into the new ‘Spain are boring’ concept that is now doing the rounds, but they certainly haven’t dazzled this tournament. Portugal were never going to play all out attack given their inferiority to their rivals, but this game was so poor, I’m surprised the BBC managed to put together a highlights package for the end of game montage.