That’s it so far – 24 games played at Euro 2012 and a great tournament unfolding.
Not a single game was meaningless. Not a single game lacked goals and drama. That’s the Euro: short, intense and no team here just to make up the numbers. (Well, maybe the Republic of Ireland.)
Every group was contested with vigour. The permutations of what happened next mattered until the final kick of every group game.
The next Euro will be different. At the 2016 tournament in France, 24 teams will compete, up from the current 16. It will be more like the World Cup, with top, middle and bottom categories of teams.
So, before this Euro goes any further, let’s assess. Herewith, a list of highs and lows:
From Jakub Blaszczykowski’s scorcher for Poland against Russia, to Mario Balotelli’s sublime, twisting strike for Italy against Ireland, to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s wondrous volley against France in Sweden’s final game, it’s been a cornucopia.
It is a proud country and its welcome to visiting fans and journalists has been warm and wide. Rare is the local person here who doesn’t care and is hostile to visitors.
3. The stadiums
Warsaw’s National Stadium is a magnificent building. One that still draws awe from locals and visitors. Those in Poznan and Gdansk are more compact but gloriously atmospheric and aimed at pleasing everyone in every seat.
The Greek upset over Russia was both a shock result and a thrilling, passionate ride for every fan of Greece and any small country hoping for a Cinderella story.
5. Cristiano Ronaldo
Lifting Portugal on his shoulders, as Luis Figo did before him, makes a far more palatable soccer superstar.
6. Fernando Torres
He tore up Euro 2008, and since then seems to have been in a four-year slump. He arrived here after a surprisingly strong end to the season at Chelsea, and at last he re-emerges as the genius he is.
7. Irish fans
The long rendition of their anthem, The Fields of Athenry, as their country was losing 4-0 to Spain, was a performance for the ages. They are the darlings of a Euro tournament that started with fan culture painted as the root of evil in soccer.
8. Andrea Pirlo
His calm demeanour the field and breathtaking, curled 25-metre free kick against Croatia gave dignity to an Italy team that came here under the dark shadow of a corruption investigation.
9. The quarter-finals
England against Italy is a mouth-watering matchup. Germany against Greece has layer upon layer of euro zone politics built into it.
10. Andriy Shevchenko
Off the radar since he left the English Premier League, Ukraine’s iconic player turned in the veteran performance needed to give his country hope for a while.
Before the tournament started there were suggestions that fan elements in Poland and Ukraine chanted racist and neo-Nazi slogan during games. Then, real racism issues surfaced. Given that soccer is the world’s game, colour-blind, it was a blight on the game itself.
2 UEFA’s slow reaction
The insularity and arrogance of the European soccer body were starkly shown in its handling of the racism issue.
3. UEFA’s fast reaction
The heavy fine handed to Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner (for revealing underpants with the name of a non-sponsor) was in sharp contrast to its idleness and small fines handed out on the racism issue.
4. Russia versus Poland pregame riot
Video was gawked at around the world, shocking even people who already believed soccer was about hooligans.
5. The goal that was/wasn’t
Generally good refereeing was undermined by the extra goal-area official failing to see the ball had crossed the line before John Terry scooped it out in England’s 1-0 victory over Ukraine.
Security perimeters around stadiums here can stretch for kilometres, creating traffic chaos and causing some fans to wander, lost, looking for the game or the hotel.
7. England hype
Well done England for making the quarter-finals with some fortitude. But when striker Wayne Rooney muses he can’t win the Euro alone, England looks ridiculous.
8. Sponsor exclusivity
At the stadiums, it’s McDonald’s food and Carlsberg beer. That’s about it.
9. Ireland’s collapse
Shocking displays from hardy professionals, some of whom claimed “stage fright.”
10. The Netherlands
From a World Cup final two years ago, to this miserable, feuding team disintegrating. A huge disappointment to Dutch fans and the world of soccer.