Memorable Euro 2008 raises bar for football

June 30th, 2008 - 2:12 pm ICT by IANS  

Vienna, June 30 (DPA) Football has been the winner at the European Championships which concluded Sunday with Spain’s 1-0 victory over Germany in the final in Vienna. Almost three weeks of at times top-level performances in Austria and Switzerland will linger in the memory long after the last kit bags have been packed and the Euro bunting removed.

The 31 matches in eight cities have been followed by a huge global television audience and millions of people attending fan zones and public screenings in the two countries and throughout Europe.

The tournament has produced 77 goals - one more than the total at Euro 2004 in Portugal but fewer than the 85 at Euro 2000.

Greece caused an upset by winning in 2004, but the 2008 version has been the more unpredictable and exciting on the pitch even if two of the pre-tournament favourites in Spain and Germany survived to the final in the Ernst Happel Stadium.

As in Portugal, the event has passed off peacefully with only minor incidents of crowd disorder, a refreshing change from past major tournaments which had been marred by hooligan violence.

The organisers have every reason to be satisfied with an event run virtually to perfection. One blot was the loss of television pictures during the semi-final between Germany and Turkey.

Both host nations also suffered the setback of seeing their teams fail to reach the knock-out stage, although this did nothing to dim host fans’ enthusiasm.

Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer praised the tournament as “a festival of European integration,” while Friedrich Stickler, head of the Austrian football federation, hailed a “dream” partnership with co-hosts Switzerland.

“We have seen some great matches in a wonderful atmosphere. We have had a bit of a summer fairy story in Austria and Switzerland,” he said.

Also praising the tournament atmosphere, Swiss organizing chief Ralph Zloczower said Berne would never forget the unexpected but peaceful invasion of some 100,000 Dutch supporters.

Euro 2008 has also been a success financially for governing body UEFA, with revenues up by about 56 per cent from 2004 and an expected profit of 250 million euros (some $400 million).

UEFA president Michel Platini, who presented Spain captain Iker Casillas with the trophy following a 1-0 victory over Germany in Sunday’s final, said the event had transmitted European football’s positive image across the globe.

“When you arrive at the end of a tournament you say thanks to people and I would like to thank the players and the coaches because they have given a very good image of European football,” Platini said.

“The players have been positive, the coaches have been positive. Since the start of the competition, the players have given happiness through the quality of their football.”

Apart from the excellence of some of the play, games have been played in a noticeably sporting spirit. Referees had been instructed to clamp down on violent play and play-acting, and players have generally responded well.

The tournament had produced just three red cards and 122 yellow compared to six red and 156 yellow at Euro 2004.

Arsenal’s French manager Arsene Wenger, who has been covering the tournament for French television, said: “The fact that the players are playing all over the world has increased the sense of respect.

“In the past, big players were kicked but we haven’t seen many bad tackles. Overall it’s been much better than I expected in terms of both mental approach and the fact that it took place at the end of a tough season.

“Everyone has helped everyone else. Look at the quarter-finals. I was asked who would win and I just couldn’t say because the level was so high.”

What will linger in the memory most though will be some of the performances by teams like the Netherlands, Portugal and Croatia initially, the advance of Russia and Turkey to the semi-finals and the successes of Germany and Spain in reaching the final.

Spain’s 1-0 victory over the Germans, thanks to a first-half goal from Fernando Torres, gives the country only its second title and the first since winning the European tournament in 1964.

Greece, who were unable to match the feats of four years ago, won few friends this time round, their defensively-minded game was a reminder of the sort of play which was so often absent here.

France were one of the major disappointments, with most of their star line-up failing to perform, while world champions Italy were another, only just scraping through the group stage before going out on penalties to Spain.

That failure cost Robert Donadoni his job, one of eight of the 16 coaches who have now either stepped down or moved on to other appointments.

Now UEFA looks ahead to Euro 2012, with some concern over the ability of co-hosts Ukraine and Poland to organize the event, and will decide in September whether to change to a 24-team rather than the current 16-team format from 2016.

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