The winners get one more game, but for the semifinals’ losers, a critical eye and a savage dissection is their immediate reward. Finishing one step short of the finish line, their demises tease one of our favorite questions: What if.
What if Portugal had ordered their kickers differently, or converted that counter attack at the end of regulation? What if Germany hadn’t played their worst half of the tournament in the face of their toughest opposition? What if they had done a little more to mitigate their predictable mistakes?
It’s a ridiculous but irresistible game, and for many, it’s all that remains. After their teams came tantalizingly close to the finals, scrutiny, blame, and questions are what fans use to offset unrequited hope.
We have two more days to dwell on Spain and Italy. Looking back on the semifinals, our thoughts dwell on the teams we’ve lost.
How We’ll Remember …
Spain 0 (4), Portugal 0 (2) – As a cagey if unremarkable affair, one that threw a more gas on the already tiresome “is Spain boring” debate. We’ve quickly became a world of spoiled toddlers, having spent of last Christmas’ gifts. Yeah, but what are you getting me this year. Given how we’ve embraced and discarded Spain, we’ll either finally get that pony or no gift at all. I know which one we deserve.
We should also come to remember this as a huge missed opportunity for Portugal. Portugal is a talented team, but they’re only modestly endowed compared to the teams likely to compete for the next two Euros: Spain, Germany, France. Toss Belgium in if you need a wildcard.
The point: Portugal isn’t one of the nations you see when looking out at the oncoming European landscape. Their performance in this year’s competition was built on a number of great performances glossing over a limited and (beyond the first XI) thin team. Is it reasonable to expect the likes of Pepe, Cristiano Ronaldo, Fabio Coentrao, Joao Pereira, Joao Mourinho, and Burno Alves to performance as well in Brazil and France? Perhaps one or two will, but all simultaneously again? It’s not going to happen. Other players could step in, but who?
Going out on penalty kicks to the defending World and European champions, Portugal may come to see this as a regrettably close call.
Italy 2, Germany 1 – As a reminder that the sport’s stories are told on the field, not with keyboards. It’s an important point considering Germany’s narrative arc, a path that saw them in Sunday’s final. That’s not going to happen, putting to waste all the time spent portraying Euro 2012 as a German coming out party. Instead, it’s an Italian renaissance.
Instead of relying on a story of German ascendance that started in South Africa, people like me are going to have to start writing about what is happening. Rather than the focusing on rosy story lines whose telling require no more than the dressed up recycling of a few timeless tropes, we’ve been handed Italy. Of course, there are plenty of clichés about Italian resourcefulness that could be used in lieu of tales of what Cesare Prandelli is actually doing.
For Germay, the Italy loss should go down as a learning experience. For the players who had trouble putting together mistake-free matches, the loss reminds them of international soccer’s small margin of error. Where talent gaps are not as big as in the club world and players don’t have as much training time together, mistakes can be much more difficult to overcome. When Germany fell two behind Italy on Thursday, they didn’t have the kind of tricks club teams develop over hundred of hours of preparation.
Joachim Löw may also take a few lessons from the tournament. For all the talk of his team wanting the title, Löw’s team inexplicably lacked urgency. They played more like a team that had already accomplished something than a still-improving squad. Löw also seemed rash to bring on the post-Miroslav Klöse world after the veteran showed himself healthy, and he never made the needed decision to bench a hobbled and increasingly ineffective Bastian Schweinsteiger. If the international game does feature of small margin of error, Löw did his team no favors.
Team of the round
G: Gianluigi Buffon, Italy
LB: Fabio Coentrao, Portugal
CB: Sergio Ramos, Spain
CB: Pepe, Portugal
RB: Joao Pereira, Portugal
DM: Sergio Busquets, Spain
M: Andrea Pirlo, Italy
M: Daniele de Rossi, Italy
AM: Mesut Ozil, Germany
AM: Ricardo Montolivo, Italy
F: Mario Balotelli, Italy
Subs: Jordi Alba, Spain; Xabi Alonso, Spain; Antonio Cassano, Italy
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