The European Football Championships (Euro 2012) begin in Warsaw with co-hosts Poland being held to a 1-1 draw by Greece and both sides ending the game a man short. Russia make an impressive start by defeating the Czech Republic 4-1.
Group B starts with Germany beating Portugal 1-0 and the first surprise of the tournament when Denmark beat the Netherlands, who waste many chances, 1-0.
Group C starts with holders Spain drawing 1-1 with Italy. The Republic of Ireland begin their first campaign in the tournament finals since 1988 with a disappointing 3-1 defeat to Croatia,conceding early in both halves.
England, based in Krakow in Poland, begin with a match against France in Donetsk a long way distant in Ukraine. The match takes place in hot conditions. England start well and take the lead through Jolyon Lescott’s header. France equalise ten minutes later with Samir Nasri’s fierce shot from the edge of the area beating his clubmate Joe Hart. England seem content to play for a draw and achieve this as no more goals are scored. Group D’s other game sees the entry of host nation Ukraine who come from behind to beat Sweden 2-1 with Shevchenko scoring twice.
The second round of games kicks-off in Group A with the Czechs scoring two early goals against Greece and holding on for a 2-1 victory. Poland meet Russia with clashes occurring between fans outside the ground. the game itself is a good one Russia taking the lead only for the Poles to equalise in the second half.
Group B sees Portugal take a two goal lead over Denmark only for the Danes to level the scores. Cristiano Ronaldo misses easy chances before the Portuguese score a late winner. Germany and Holland clash in the other game and the Germans take a two goal lead into half-time. The Dutch pull one back but lose 2-1 to be on the brink of elimination.
In Group C Italy take a first half lead against Croatia only for the Croats to equalise in the second half. Spain are much too good for Ireland and cruise to a 4-0 win.
The first game in Group D’s second round of matches in Donetsk is delayed for an hour after a thunder storm forces the players off four minutes in. On the resumption France beat Ukraine 2-0. In Kiev England face Sweden and take a 1-0 lead into half-time after an Andy Carroll header. Early in the second half poor England defending sees Sweden take a 2-1 lead. Theo Walcott comes on as a sub. He scores one goal and sets up Danny Welbeck who back-heels a winner for England. It is England’s first win over Sweden in a competitive match.
The third and final games in Group A saw the Poles needing to beat the Czechs to have a chance of progressing. However, it was the Czech Republic who scored the only goal of the game and the hosts were eliminated. Russia were expected to top the group and dominated much of the game against Greece. However, the Greeks found the spirit which saw them win the championships on 2004 and took the lead. They held on to eliminate the Russians. So the Czechs won the group and were joined in the quarter-finals by Greece.
In Group B Germany went into the third games in the strongest position and the Dutch the weakest but any of the teams could still have qualified. Portugal were playing Holland and Cristiano Ronaldo finally took two chances to put them through and Holland out with no points. Germany were too strong for Denmark and won 1-o to top the group and be the only team in the competition to win all three group games.
In Group C Spain didn’t play their best and were given a scare by Croatia who had one golden opportunity to score the goal which could have put Spain out. Spain nicked the game with a late goal to win the group. Italy faced the already eliminated Ireland and won 2-0 to seal the second qualifying place.
In Group D France surprisingly lost 2-0 to Sweden who were already out. England played hosts Ukraine in Donetsk and took the lead just after half time with a header from a yard out by Wayne Rooney. Rooney had missed the opening games through suspension. Ukraine should have equalised when John Terry cleared a ball from behind the goal line. However, the goal-line official didn’t allow the goal, which further increased the calls for goal-line technology to be introduced. England held on to win and top the group following the French defeat.
The quarter-finals began with the Czech Republic playing Portugal. The Czechs were happy to soak up pressure and try to score on the break. This worked until late in the game when Cristiano Ronaldo headed home the only goal.
Germany faced Greece and were expected to win easily. They squandered several chances in the first half but their captain Lahm scored just before the interval from long range. The Greeks faced more pressure in the second half but equalise following an incisive break. The Germans soon took the lead again and added two more to win 4-1.
Spain and France met in the third quarter-final. Spain dominated possession as usual and took the lead through Xabi Alonso early in the first half. France didn’t make much of an effort to restore parity and went out with a whimper, Alonso adding a late penalty to the score.
The last of the quarters saw England playing Italy in Kiev. After a bright start England spent most of the final hour of the ninety minutes holding on as Italy pressed forward, missing a few excellent chances to win the game. The game went to extra time scoreless and after more good defensive work from England finished at 0-0, the first game of the tournament without a goal. Italy missed their second penalty and England scored to take a 2-1 lead. However the imperious Pirlo scored with a floated chip penalty down the centre of the goal to steady the Italian ship while Ashley Young hit the bar and Ashley Cole’s was saved. The Italians kept their nerve to score their final penalties and clinch a deserved win 4-2.
The first of the semi-finals was an Iberian Derby between Spain and Portugal. The game was a disappointment with few chances being created and no goals in ninety minutes. Extra time was slightly better with Spain starting to play well but unable to score and penalties were required to decide the winner. Portugal chose to save Ronaldo for the fifth penalty but as it turned out he didn’t take one as Spain had taken an unassailable 4-2 lead after their fifth.
The second semi was between Germany and Italy. The Germans were favoured to extend their impressive record of winning every game in Euro 2012 including the qualifiers but two first half goals from Mario Balotelli were enough to give the Italians a decisive lead. Germany scored a penalty in injury time of the second half but it was too late and the Italians made the final. It was the eighth time the teams had met in a tournament and the Germans were yet to win a game.
The final in Kiev was a repeat of the first group game of the tournament which had ended 1-1. This time would be a different story. Spain had faced accusations of being boring by playing so much possession football without a striker. On this day they would disprove that theory by playing some of the finest football ever seen in a major final. Early in the first half some fine passing gave Fabregas the chance to burst into the area. His cross was met by Silva’s header into the corner. Towards half-time a sweeping Spanish break was finished by left-back Alba to give Spain a 2-0 lead at the break. Any hopes of an Italian comeback were ended when just minutes after coming on their third and final substitute was injured. This meant playing out the last thirty minutes with ten men. Spain were never troubled and added two late goals from substitutes Torres and Mata, both of Chelsea. The final 4-0 score was the biggest margin of victory seen in a tournament final and was a little unfair on the Italians. Spain became the first team to win three successive international tournaments since Uruguay at the Olympics and first World cup eighty years ago. Spain were now acclaimed as one of the greatest teams ever.