Italy's Antonio Cassano with baby in his hands (R) looks on team mates as they celebrate their victory against Germany at Euro 2012 semi-final soccer match at the National stadium in Warsaw, June 28, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger)
Spain's historic victory over Italy capped a championship filled with surprises. From major upsets, to underperformers, to individual performances, the Euro Cup 2012 was one unexpected revelation after another.
Like Us on Facebook
Here are the greatest surprises and disappointments from the Euro Cup 2012.
Easily the most surprising result of the entire tournament was Italy's conquest of their German foes. Germany was seen as the uncontested favorites not only to trounce Italy, but to take the entire tournament by storm.
When Portugal and Spain climaxed their match with a shootout finale, one commentator mentioned that the real winner of the match was Germany, as neither team could stand up to their aggressive offense.
Germany ran through their group and even if none of the scores were impressive, the performances were. They showed their true potential with a 4-2 thrashing of an impressive Greek side, but when it came to Italy, the Germans could not find a solution.
They were impressive in the early going, but when push came to shove, Italy's Andrea Pirlo and his genius command of the Italian midfield proved too difficult for the Germans.
The win was all the more impressive after Italy's abysmal inability to score against a weak English side. The most frustrating aspect of that match was watching the Italians almost lose the match in penalties after dominating but being incapable of putting the ball in the net.
Fernando Torres Wins the Golden Boot
In 2010, an injured Fernando Torres could barely run, much less score. So when Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque inserted him against Italy over midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who had just scored a goal, it was a huge surprise. Why would the genius tactician utilize damaged goods like Torres?
Torres created opportunities but was largely ineffective for the remainder of the game. In the ensuing matchup against Ireland, he erupted for two goals, including one in the first five minutes of play. He played poorly in the ensuing match with Croatia and would be benched for what seemed to be the remainder of the tournament.
And yet, in the waning moments of perhaps Spain's most important victory, there was Torres coming on to replace Fabregas. And then he proceeded to win the Golden in the final 10 minutes of play by adding a goal and an assist on Jesus Mata's first goal on his touch of the entire tournament.
Torres tied a number of players with three goals and his one assist tied Mario Gomez of Germany. However, Torres played less minutes than Gomez in the tournament and as a result was the winner of the award. Torres will likely not be around in two years for the World Cup, but the striker was able to cap his time with the Spanish squad with a historic performance and tournament.
Russia was supposed to waltz through the "easiest group" of all and book a spot in the Quarter Finals. The Czech Republic was supposed to fighting for the runner-up spot. After one game and a 4-1 dismantling at the hands of those same Russians, most were already booking return flights for the Czechs.
But they would not be had and silenced their critics with two goals in the first six minutes of their match against Greece. They held on for a 2-1 victory and followed it up with a clutch 1-0 victory over Poland in front of a highly unfavorable crowd.
In the quarter finals they played against a solid Portuguese team that shut them down. However, the Czechs only lost by a score of 1-0 and limited superstar Cristiano Ronaldo to a single goal.
Regardless of their exit, the Czechs had a successful tournament.
Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Robbin Van Persie, Rafael van der Vaart, Luuk de Jong, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Maarten Stekelenburg, Nigel de Jong, Gregory Vand der Wiel. All of those names have the words "dream team" written on them. This squad was essentially the same one that almost defeated Spain in the 2010 World Cup Championship match and was expected to do as much or more in the Euro 2012. Now more than half of those players may end their careers without winning a major tournament with their international squad.
Despite being placed in the infamous "Group of Death" which included Germany, Portugal, and Denmark, Netherlands was still expected to get out of the group as either leaders or runner-ups. They did neither. In fact, they did nothing the entire tournament.
In their opening match to the Danish, the Dutch played perhaps their best game and generated numerous opportunities to win the game. However, the result was a 1-0 score line favoring their opponents.
In the ensuing match against the Germans, the Dutch looked porous on defense and lost in the German half. Germany took a 2-0 lead in the first half and essentially flooded the midfield until Robbin Van Persie scored in the 73rd minute. However, it was too little too late as the Dutch could not build on the score line.
In their most crucial match of the tournament against Portugal, they answered the call... for the first 15 minutes. After van der Vaart scored the opening goal on an incredible long range blast, the Portuguese clogged the midfield, took away the wings and let superstar Cristiano Ronaldo take care of the score. The Dutch and coach Bert van Marwijk did nothing about it and saw their tournament slip away with a catastrophic 2-1 loss that was far worse than the score indicated. If not for goalkeeper Stekellenburg who made some incredible saves, Portugal scored another four or five goals.
What was even more disappointing was the continued inner turmoil of the Dutch. After being subbed out during Germany, Arjen Robben jumped over some ads and took the long way around the field in protest of his substitution. Wesley Sneijder stated that he wished that the team would get rid of some of the egos. Huntelaar expressed irritation at being placed on the bench in favor of Robin Van Persie in the first two matches after scoring more goals in qualifications that van Persie.
Van Marwijk resigned days before the final match and the core of the team will likely be separated prior to the World Cup Squad in Brazil. Netherlands was easily the worst team of the tournament due to the expectations placed on them to succeed.
Russia was ranked 13th on the FIFA rankings entering the Euro Cup 2012. Greece was 15th, Poland was 62nd, and the Czech Republic was 27th. Most had Russia breezing through the group with relative ease and making a deep run in the knockout stage.
Four years ago, the Russians came out in second place of Group D before knocking out the Netherlands 3-1 in the quarter finals. They would end their tournament at the hands of the eventual champion Spain, but would walk away as having had a successful run. In 2012, they were expected to have an even better run, especially after being placed in what many considered the "easiest" of all the groups.
One game in, it looked like Russia would be steaming through Group A when it demolished the Czech Republic 4-1 in the opening match of the tournament. However, they were slowed down a bit in a 1-1 draw with Poland, but few saw much to be concerned about.
In their third match, the score seemed headed for a 0-0 tie going into the half, until Greece struck on a Russian mistake. For the remainder of the match, Russia battled for its life but eventually found itself out of a tournament that they were expected to make a splash in.
But the tournament was only the beginning. Captain Andrei Arshavin got into an argument with a fan and told him that "The fact that we didn't live up to your expectations isn't our problem. It's yours."
The press has attacked its captain for his comportment and the comportment of his teammates who walked off the field without making any thankful gestures to fans. Russian coach Dick Advocaat has probably seen his last day as the leader of the squad and the future looks uncertain for a squad that managed four points in group play, but still failed to get out of the group. The country has a great deal of work to do leading up to its 2018 World Cup.
France Embarrasses Itself at Another Major Tournament
Two years ago, France made quite the embarrasing display when they not only failed to win a single game of the group stage of the 2010 World Cup, but they also staged a protest against their coach, had a major player suspended, and imploded under pressure.
With new coach Laurent Blanc and a wealth of young talent, many had the French as a darkhorse contender to win it all. In their opening two matches, they were an extremely impressive side; they tied the British and then unraveled a porous Ukrainian defense.
Then they seemingly did a complete turnaround and play poorly against a Swedish side that was had already packed its bags and was ready to leave shortly after the match. France did nothing in this match and then were eliminated at the hands of the defending and eventual repeat champion Spain.
But the decline in their performance surely did not compare to the extracurriculars that ensued. Samir Nasri, supposedly one of the bright spots in France's future, has been often critized by French media. When he scored the equalizer against England, Nasri put his finger over his mouth in front of the camera; a gesture thoguht to be aimed at the French media. After the loss to Spain, Nasri got into a heated argument with a journalist and using profane language in the argument. Nasri apologized after rumors that FIFA would ban the player for two years for his behavior.
However, there were claims that the French locker room was not in the great state. The sudden resignation of Coach Blanc after only two years behind the bench has led many to believe that the state of the locker room may be chaotic. More support to that notion was the fact that Blanc benched some of his major players in the knockout game against Spain, including Nasri for undisciplined behavior.
This was supposed to be the year that France showed itself as a reformed club; instead they disappointed yet again.