England went into the qualification phase of Euro 2012 on the back of a lacklustre 2010 World Cup campaign in South Africa, which ended in a 1-4 defeat to the Germans in the second phase. Italian boss Fabio Capello however kept his job and comprehensively qualified for the Euros without defeat in a campaign which saw five wins and two draws. The English were drawn alongside the Welsh, as well as Bulgaria, Montenegro and Switzerland. England visited Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Late March 2011, securing three points with a 2-0 win, with a penalty from Frank Lampard as well as Darren Bent on target. In the return fixture the following September at Wembley, England triumphed again with a 1-0 win secured by a first half goal from Ashley Young.
England secured qualification in October 2011 with a 2-2 draw away to Montengro, however lost a two goal lead and saw Wayne Rooney red carded and consequently would miss England’s opening two games in the tournament finals. Wales finished their qualification with a 1-0 away win over Bulgaria one month on with a goal from Gareth Bale and finished in fourth place overall.
One month later, Wales thrashed Norway 4-1 in a friendly at the Millennium Stadium, to give the Welsh cause for optimism. Sadly, tragedy struck eighteen days on as Welsh boss Gary Speed committed suicide at the age of just forty two, the motive behind which never has, and probably never will be fully explained.
Once again, England were the only home nation to qualify. The Scots however in Group I, drawn alongside World Champions Spain, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Liechtenstein came within two points of a play-off place. Scotland suffered a 2-3 defeat to Spain at Hampden Park in October 2010. Their qualification hopes effectively ended in the return fixture twelve months on with a 1-3 loss in Alicante.
In Group C, Northern Ireland held Italy to a 0-0 draw at Windsor Park in October 2010, though in the return fixture twelve months on would suffer a 0-3 loss in Pescara.
The Italians won the group by a twelve point margin, though in October 2010 would be awarded a 3-0 victory after their match with Serbia in Genoa was abandoned after six minutes due to rioting by Serbian fans.
Joining England in the Finals of Euro 2012 however would be Eire. The Irish were runners up to Russia in Group B, whom they were defeated by 2-3 at Landsdowne Road in October 2010.
In the play-offs however, Eire were drawn against Estonia, whom they defeated 4-0 away from home. Back in Dublin a 1-1 draw was enough to send the Irish through 5-2 on aggregate.
The Euro 2012 finals would be jointly hosted again by Poland and Ukraine – for the first time held in territory which formerly lay behind the cold war ‘iron curtain’. Fears were raised ahead of the tournament with regard to hooliganism and far right activity, with a Panorama Special titled ‘Stadiums of Hate’, during which former England star Sol Campbell gave a drastic warning that fans ‘risked coming home in a coffin’ if they dared to attend the tournament. England fans however debunked Campbell’s claim and even those involved in the Panorama Special, such as Jonathan Ornstein, the director of a Jewish Community Centre in Krakow, accused it of sensationalising the threat to fans.
The opening fixture of the tournament would be between Poland and 2004 winners Greece in the National Stadium in Warsaw. The Poles took the lead with a goal from Robert Lewandowski, though Greece equalised six minutes into the second half. The match ended in a 1-1 draw with Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny – in goal for the Poles - sent off with twenty two minutes left to play. Later that same day, Russia inflicted a 4-1 hammering on the Czech Republic.
Four days later, the Czechs however got their first points on the board beating Greece 2-1.
In Warsaw meanwhile, the Poles played out a 1-1 draw with Russia, in a game that was marred by violence between both sets of fans.
The Poles however crashed out of the tournament in the group phase after a 0-1 defeat to the Czech Republic in their last fixture. The Czechs progressed as group winners, while Greece went through to the knock out stage as runners up after beating Russia 1-0 in Warsaw
Group B would be a group of death of sorts with Germany drawn alongside Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, Denmark and a Dutch side inspired by Robin Van Persie’s form at Arsenal throughout the 2011/12 season. Holland however crashed to a 0-1 defeat to Denmark in their opener in Karkiv. That same day, Germany managed a 1-0 victory over Portugal at Lviv.
Five days later, Portugal got their first points on the board with a 3-2 win over Denmark despite Arsenal’s Niklas Bendtner surprisingly hitting form and bagging two goals for the Danes. The Dutch however crashed out of the tournament with a 1-2 defeat to the Germans with two goals for Mario Gomez, while Robin Van Persie pulled one back for Holland.
The Dutch crashed to a third victory in a row after Portugal secured their passage to the Quarter Finals with a 2-1 win. Two goals for Cristiano Ronaldo pulled it back for the Portuguese who went a goal behind after Rafael Van Der Vaart put the Dutch ahead. The Germans also progressed as group winners with a 2-1 win over Denmark secured by goals from Lukas Podolski and Lars Bender.
Reigning World and European Champions Spain meanwhile would be drawn alongside Italy, Eire and Croatia in Group C. Their campaign kicked off with a 1-1 draw with Italy at Gdansk. Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas equalised for the Spaniards three minutes after they were given the lead by thirty five year old Antonio Di Natalie of Udinese. Later that same day the Irish crashed to a 1-3 defeat to Croatia in Poznan.
Four days later Croatia held Italy to a 1-1 draw, while Ireland would be eliminated from the tournament after 0-4 defeat to Spain with goals for Cesc Fabregas, David Silva and two for Fernando Torres.
Spain concluded their group fixtures with a 1-0 win over Croatia in Gdansk as Jesus Navas scored with two minutes to go, to put them top of the group. For Croatia it would mean elimination as Italy bagged a 2-0 win over Eire in Poznan with goals for Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli.
England however – now under the stewardship of Roy Hodgson after Fabio Capello would resign after the FA’s decision to strip John Terry of the England captaincy in February – would be drawn in Group D alongside France, Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine. In the opener against the French, Joleon Lescott gave England the lead on the half hour, however Samir Nasri of Manchester City equalised nine minutes later with the match ending in a 1-1 draw.
Hosts Ukraine meanwhile would bag a 2-1 win with two goals from Andriy Shevchenko, after Zlatan Ibrahimovic gave Sweden the lead. Ukraine’s next game with the French the following Friday would be interrupted after four minutes and twenty seconds of the game when referee Bjorn Kuipers led the teams back into their dressing rooms due to a huge thunderstorm in Donetsk.
This led to a delay of nearly an hour, which in turn would delay England’s game with Sweden by fifteen minutes to avoid overlap between the two games. The co-hosts however would crash to a 0-2 defeat
Meanwhile in Kiev, Andy Carroll gave England the lead with a header after twenty three minutes. By the hour however, an own goal by Glen Johnson and one from Olof Mellberg put the Swedes 2-1 up, before England levelled with a superb strike from Arsenal’s Theo Walcott. England however would secure their first victory over the Swedes for forty four years, as a goal from Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck would give England a 3-2 win.
In their final fixture, the Swedes bagged a 2-0 win over the French in Kiev though it would not be enough to prevent the French from qualifying for the Quarter Finals. England however would go through as group winners with a 1-0 victory and a goal from Wayne Rooney returning from suspension, which as with their co-hosts Poland, also condemned them to a group phase exit.
Into the knock-out phase and in the first quarter final, a goal from Cristiano Ronaldo gave Portugal a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic in Warsaw. One day later, Germany secured their passage to the Semi Final after a 4-2 win over Greece in Gdansk.
In Donetsk, two Xavi Alonso goals meant that the Spanish bagged a 2-0 win over France. The last quarter final tie in Kiev would be between Italy and England. The two sides played out a 0-0 draw after 120 minutes of play, however once again the English challenge would collapse with a penalty shoot-out defeat, this time Manchester United’s Ashley Young and Chelsea’s Ashley Cole missing their all-important spot kicks, while Andrea Pirlo’s effort would be a chip redolent of Czechoslovakia’s Euro ’76 hero Antonin Panenka, as the Italians won the shoot-out 4-2.
Into the Semi Final and reigning Champions Spain would meet their Iberian neighbours Portugal in Donetsk. The game finished goalless after 120 minutes, though Spain would progress winning 4-2 on penalties. Missing their efforts from the spot for Portugal would be Joao Moutinho and Bruno Alves, which denied Cristiano Ronaldo his final penalty glory.
The other semi a day later in Warsaw saw two goals for Mario Balotelli grab the glory for the Italians. A last minute penalty for Germany, successfully converted by Real Madrid’s Mesut Ozil, was not enough to prevent them crashing to a 1-2 defeat, meaning that the Italians would progress to meet Spain in the final the following Sunday in Kiev
The final however would be a one sided affair. The Spanish were two up by half time, with goals from David Silva and Jordi Alba. The final six minutes saw two further goals from Fernando Torres and Juan Mata, meaning that Spain routed Italy 4-0.
History would be made in that this would be the biggest winning score line in either a European Championship or World Cup Final. It would also be the first time that a European side would win three international tournaments on the bounce. It would however be the peak of Spanish dominance of international football. Their 2014 World Cup campaign in Brazil would be almost as embarrassing as England’s and, as will be seen in next week’s review of Euro 2016, ultimately unsuccessful in retaining their European Championship title also.
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*Published July 21st 2017