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A Final Look Back at Euro 2012

Just like that, it’s all over. It doesn’t seem like all that long ago that ESPN was forcing Euro 2012 down our throats months before it began, even though 99-percent of the country didn’t even know the tournament existed.

But the four-letter network simply decided that it was going to operate under the assumption that Americans were extremely fired up for an all-European soccer tournament that occurs once every four years, and it acted accordingly. The commercials leading up to the event didn’t even explain what it was – they just told us to get excited.

“Euro 2012 is coming! Euro 2012 is coming! Soccer is beautiful! You’re an idiot if you’re not excited!”

ESPN almost pressured people into watching it. They made it seem like we were the weird ones if we weren’t prepared to give away a month of our lives to a sport that falls somewhere below football, baseball, basketball, hockey, tennis and golf on our national spectrum.

But they were right. Despite having no dog in the fight, I loved every minute of the tournament, beginning with the very first match between Greece and Poland. I was hooked, and any time the tournament was on and I was home, the television was turned to soccer. It got on my roommate’s nerves, and my family looked at me like I was crazy when I would ask them if they had “seen the match,” They hadn’t.

I know I wasn’t alone though. I had some friends that ate it up, and the ratings on ESPN were very respectable considering that the what the network was doing was akin to trying to sell bad weed to a flourishing drug dealer.

“What’s that? You’re the biggest dealer on the east coast? Then sir, I have some swag you would LOVE.”

“You already watch six-to-seven sports consistently? How would you like a little bit of international soccer…?”

The tournament ran for just over a month, and already I’m disappointed that I can’t watch and root for Spain anymore (I’m a front runner, so yes, I rooted for Spain), and that I can’t settle in on a Thursday afternoon and watch soccer for four hours instead of being actually productive in any aspect of life. When Spain beat Italy to win the whole thing on Sunday, I was both parts excited and sad it was actually over.

So I’ll miss you, Euro 2012. This is why:

Everyone on every team looked the part remarkably well

If you didn’t know which team was which while a match was going on, it took only one close-up of any player to figure out. For instance, take a look at Andrea Pirlo over to the right:

Even if you didn’t see the “Italia” on the middle of his shirt, how long would it have taken you to realize that man was from Italy? Holy cow. Pirlo looks like he has Ragu coursing through his veins. He’s more Italian than Leonardo da Vinci. Pirlo looks like one of da Vinci’s statues. He’s so Italian, he looks fake.

That’s how every single person on every team looked as it relates to their country. Amazing.

The insane amounts of national pride

These weren’t just games to Europeans. For me, if somebody lost, it wasn’t a big deal. I was just rooting for a good match most of the time. But in Europe, the outcomes of these games seemed like it might determine whether they made it through the rest of the week or just decided to leap out of their apartment window.

That’s only a slight exaggeration. It was damn near life and death for the fans. Every time a team scored, ESPN did this brilliant thing where it would cut away to the fans of that team celebrating in their home country. It was madness. Inevitably, there were always fireworks going off, everybody was wearing the team’s colors and people were making out. After the finals ended, this guy appeared on stage next to the Spanish team and partook in the celebration.

But to really see just how match these games mattered to the people of Europe, watch the cutaway on ESPN at halftime of the Germany-Italy semifinal. With Italy up 2-0, the camera zooms in on a girl in her mid-20′s – A German fan – and one solitary tear rolls down her cheek. It was sad, but awesome.

The differences between soccer and other sports

There are so many strange little aspects of the soccer experience that are nothing like other sports.

For instance, I don’t know who’s kids were walking out with the teams before every single match, but that was kind of a nice touch and something you don’t see in other sports.

Or, the unabashed flopping, which is much, much worse than hockey or the NBA. These guys literally don’t get touched, and they roll around like they were just shot with an Uzi. I’m not in favor of that, but it’s certainly entertaining, especially when four people run on the field with a stretcher, roll the guy on to it, then sprint off like clowns in the circus. It’s high comedy.

Then there’s the anti-racism stuff, which isn’t so much funny as it is interesting. There’s racism in America, obviously, but it’s not considered a huge problem within professional sports. In soccer, in Europe, racism is a huge deal, to the point that there are constant public address announcements about it, it’s advertised on the side of the field and the players wear shirts that say things like “bring the peace.” It’s so different, that there really isn’t any American equivalent.

Michael Ballack

I think my stance on this fantastic individual is fairly well-documented.

Getting to know certain players

I mentioned Andrea Pirlo above, and he was one of the guys who became really easy to like as the tournament went on. The announcers gushed over him, but there wasn’t much exaggeration. He was the quarterback of the Italian team, and the fact that he looks like he was carved out of marble only added to the appeal.

Then, he stepped up to take a penalty kick in the quarterfinals against England, and did the most bad ass thing anyone has ever done on a soccer field. I would link to a YouTube video, but apparently UEFA bans videos from the tournament from being available to the public. Essentially, he took a penalty kick, but just barely touched it straight the goal assuming the keeper would dive one way. Sure enough, the ball easily went into the net, and Pirlo jogged back slowly without even a smile, just pimping his shot. Part of me hoped he would break out in the Sam Cassell big-ball dance. He’s just the man.

Then there were guys like England keeper Joe Hart, Spain’s super-sub Jose Torres, some Italian named Di Natale who slipped and nearly fell EVERY time he touched the ball on the right side, the Polish manager, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and his hairplugs and hoards of others who I grew to enjoy watching.

Gleefully joining the “Is Spain the best ever?” debate

Me having an opinion on whether or not the Spanish national team is the best European soccer team of all-time is like my grandmother having an opinion on whether or not Lil Wayne is the best rapper of this decade, but that didn’t stop me from weighing in.

I couldn’t be less qualified if I tried, but from my brief foray into the world of soccer, I would say they were overwhelmingly the best team this year. Beyond that, it’s hard for me to say. They were great at the World Cup in 2010 where they won, and they were equally unflappable this time around.

Heading into the semifinals, Germany had been the most dominant team, but it was clear that the moment got to big for them in the semifinals against Italy. Spain had no such problem, slipping by Portgual before systematically taking apart The Azzurri in the finals with such precision that it looked like the two teams were playing entirely different games. It seemed like Spain possessed the ball for 90-percent of the match, and realistically, that number is probably not that far off.

The Spaniards were so cool to watch, because there was sort of a beauty to what they were doing. People want goals and action, and I get that 100 percent, but to see Spain hold the ball for 30 passes just to get one quality look on net was incredible. More often then not, they didn’t convert, but if they repeated that same recipe – get the ball on their end, move at a snail’s pace up the field until there was room at the top of the 18 – they would eventually score. And they did.

For an entire month, I watched less baseball, less golf, less whatever and watched more and more soccer. Will it continue? For the time being, no, because I’m not about to dive into the world of the MLS, but you can bet I’ll be back when the international competitions return.

The cool thing is, I don’t even have to wait all that long. Next year is the Confederations Cup, and the following year is the World Cup in Brazil. One major event a year is perfect. Plus, hopefully, the United States will be playing in both of those, and I can do my very best to muster one solitary tear when they inevitably get bounced.

And after that, I’ll get ready for Euro 2016, even without a dog in the fight. (Well, except for Spain)

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