Greece are still in; Holland are out. Germany and Spain predictably topped their groups; England surprisingly won theirs.
Sublime goals, and some lucky ones too. Back threes and false nines; registas and trequartistas. Blasts from the past and stars of the future. Euro 2012 has had it all, and we’ve only just finished the group stage.
On the pitch, these European Championships are as good as any major international tournament in recent memory. The best, arguably, since Euro 2000.
Off it, for the most part, the threat of racism and violence that had hung like a cloud has failed to materialse. Speaking of clouds, even thunderstorms have failed to dampen spirits.
Sadly, though, there is one thing spoiling it: the word ‘UEFA’ prefixed onto ‘European Football Championship’.
Much like FIFA, it appears the lunatics are running the asylum at European football’s most powerful body.
Firstly, they are expanding the 16-team tournament to include 24 nations. Some will see this as a good thing – surely bigger means better, right? – but from an entertainment point of view it’s difficult to see who will benefit.
Yes, it’ll mean we get to see more teams, but outside of Belgium and Norway there aren’t really any sides who would improve the quality of competition. Rather, what we’ll be left with is an oversaturated group stage, which will feature a lot more one-sided wins and a lot less excitement.
The real stuff will begin in the first knockout round, when the amount of teams left will be…16. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but then again, money talks.
Speaking of money, Nicklas Bendtner celebrated a goal by giving the world a flash of his Paddy Power sponsored boxers, and was rewarded with a €100k fine (which Paddy Power have agreed to pay). Had it been a UEFA-approved sponsor, say Adidas or Coca-Cola, I *ahem* bet no such fine would have been forthcoming.
To make it even more ridiculous, the fines given for racist chanting in recent years are thus: Spain (2004) – £45k; Serbia (2007) – £16k; Croatia (2008) – £10k.
Perhaps the worst thing about lackadaisical approach to racism is that it’s no longer surprising.
During the 2010/11 season, Man City were fined more for being one minute late onto the pitch than Porto were for their fans directing monkey chants towards Mario Balotelli. Arsene Wenger was fined the same amount for confronting and criticising the referee as the Bulgarian Football Union were after racist chanting from their fans.
Perhaps the scariest thing is that Michel Platini, UEFA’s president, is the heir apparent to Sepp Blatter’s throne at FIFA. Out of the official-UEFA-sponsored frying pan, into the official-FIFA-sponsored fire.