With Euro 2016 kicking off, Dennis Gedling takes us back into the not too distant past to an Englandless Austria / Switzerland

Almanac Soccer: Let’s Look Back at the Euros – Euro 2008 (Austria/Switzerland)

Euro 2004 had been full of latin flair drenched in sunshine, epic comebacks, drunken northern Europeans with sunburn and other such moments that had us glad we stayed up all hours. That tournament was complemented by a wonderful 2006 World Cup in Germany where Australia finally had a place at the table. All these good vibes and with the sport no longer a self-serving mess in Australia had fans bursting with anticipation for Euro 2008 even if they weren’t European.

After the sun, sand and bacalhau of Portugal the tournament would move back to more central and conservative surrounds with Switzerland and Austria co-hosting. While both hosts weren’t really expected to go near winning the tournament and were not footballing powerhouses in any way it was expected to be a party-like atmosphere much like on the Iberian Peninsula four years previous. It would be a European Football fest set to eurobeat dance music and there would be plenty of Sound of Music references. The hills were alive with the sound of football as they say. Around Europe countries would stop, public spaces such as town squares would fill to watch on big screens and talk would all be about football. Talk about the growing GFC? Nah. Well, okay, maybe in Greece and Spain.

The mascots for Euro 2008 would be ‘Trix’ and ‘Flix’ who looked like a LSD inspired manga version of the twin brother Irish pop act Jedward. They even performed with Shaggy for the official song of the tournament. What a Jamaican performer had to do with European football I’m not too sure but who am I to question the UEFA marketing department.

QUALIFICATION

Everything went the way of seeds in qualifying with no real surprises. Poland was the only country to make its debut at the tournament along with hosts Austria. England were the only big name to not be going but with the way they were playing under Steve McLaren this was not a massive surprise or disappointment. ‘Second choice Steve’ was never a popular choice and had tried to stamp his authority when taking over from Sven-Goran Eriksson by getting in ex-boss Terry Venables to assist and dropping David Beckham along with other older stars.

England struggled and McLaren had to perform a u-turn recalling Beckham taking it down to the final match where all they had to do was draw with an already qualified Croatia at New Wembley to go to the tournament. In the pouring rain that night McLaren stood seemingly helpless under an umbrella as his side went down 3-2 earning him the headline ‘The wolly with the brolly’ in the papers the next day and was promptly sacked. Scotland were in a tough group with Italy and France and almost qualified being denied in the last minute by an Italian goal in Glasgow.

THE GROUP STAGE

The Swiss kicked off proceedings in GROUP A with a match against the Czech Republic. While the atmosphere was top notch luck didn’t go the way of the locals with captain and star player Alexander Frei injured and the Czechs winning 1-0. Portugal now had a fully developed and powerful Cristiano Ronaldo and Turkey were the other two teams in the group with Portugal winning their clash 2-0. In the second lot of games the Swiss were out already after being beaten 2-1 at the death by Turkey with the immortal BBC commentary:

“It’s a tap in….by Hakan Yakin!”

Portugal were through beating the Czechs 3-1. In the final games the Swiss beat a half-arsed Portugal 2-0 in a dead rubber. In the big match that would see who would go through with Portugal, a game worthy of last tournament was played out between the Turks and Czechs. The Czechs had the measure of their opponents during the game going ahead in the first half thanks to immovable object and cult baldy Jan Koller and then doubled the lead on the hour. The Turks were symbolic with their fightbacks in this tournament and got one back through Arda. Then with minutes left and the result seemingly done the master keeper Petr Cech uncharacterisitcally dropped the ball at the feet of the Turkish striker Nihat who equalised. If it stayed the same there would be a penalty shootout to see who would go through with both sides tying on points, goal difference and goals scored yet just before the end Nihat sent a curving shot from way out past Cech to seal the win 3-2. Or was it? There was still time for the Turkish keeper to be sent off for fouling Koller and an outfielder had to don the gloves with no more Turkish subs available. Delicious drama to finish off the group as Turkey never gave up on more than one occasion.

In GROUP B the Slaven Bilic coached Croatia, Germany, Poland and the hosts Austria would do battle. Bilic was a part of Croatia’s wonderful 1998 World Cup side. The now West Ham boss was also a socialist, heavy smoker and played bass for the band that did the official team song for this tournament. Austria took on Croatia in Vienna and fell 1-0 thanks to an early penalty scored by then Spurs star Luka Modric. In a rematch of a 2006 World Cup group game a double to Polish born Lukas Podolski for Germany saw them defeat Poland 2-0 leaving the Poles bitter about various things west of their border once again. Podolski not doing his Judas reputation any harm despite not celebrating the goals as a mark of respect.

In the second lot of games Croatia defeated Germany 2-1 (Polodski scoring again for Germany) which confirmed Croatia’s move past the group stage. Poland looked to be taking the points against Austria 1-0 but some three minutes in to time added on Howard Webb gave a baffling penalty to Austria and they equalised to stay alive with a 1-1 draw. For the final matches Poland were out being defeated by the red hot Croatia 1-0 but in the other match there was still hope for Austria if they could beat the Germans. Vienna was again a picture for the match but the Germans were just too strong squeezing past 1-0 thanks to a goal by their illustrious captain Michael Ballack. This German side had been rebuilt and won back respect at the 2006 World Cup playing attacking sexy football which went against the dour nature of previous sides. Now under the coaching of the impeccably dressed Joachim Low they were a fancied team.

There is always a group of death in a tournament and for this instalment it was most definitely GROUP C. The world champions Italy would be up against the team they defeated in the World Cup Final who was France. They were also up against a Marco Van Basten coached Holland and plucky Romania. Romania impressed early drawing with France 0-0 while the Dutch showed that they could perhaps be a chance belting Italy 3-0 in a shock result, Ruud Van Nistelroy still a major threat even at 32 with their third goal something of counterattacking beauty.

In the next games Italy were in massive danger of being bundled out when down 1-0 to Romania after a wonderful team goal in the second half but a quick equaliser restored parity. In the dying stages of the game a penalty was given to Romania but Mutu’s attempt was brilliantly saved by Gianluigi Buffon keeping Italy in the competition. For the final round it would be a World Cup replay in Zurich with Italy prevailing again with a 2-0 win to send post-Zidane France out with a whimper. In the game on simultaneously in Bern the Romanians attacked knowing Italy had scored and were a chance to progress but Holland pounced on this winning 2-0 to top the group with Italy through in the second.

Many had eyes on GROUP D to see what Spain could do. La Furia Roja had decided to start from scratch following years – no, decades, of poor results and just making up the numbers despite having some of the best teams on paper and two of the biggest clubs in the world. Luis Aragones developed ‘tiki-taka’ to keep possession and protect his side’s suspect defence more than anything while also bringing together the Madrid and Barcelona factions within the squad along with playing to their gifted strengths. Some hard decisions had to be made with established players as well with one of their greats, Raul, being dumped in what caused massive arguments right up to this tournament between Real Madrid fans supporting their legendary captain and the rest wanting a fresh change. Despite these misgivings it was now 44 years since they had won a trophy and wanted to finally end the drought with extreme prejudice.

First up for Spain was the Guus Hiddink coached Russia who had many emerging stars from Zenit St Petersburg who had just won the UEFA Cup at club level. The first game would be a test for both sides but the 4-1 win to Spain showed who passed their first hurdle. Team Zlatan (Sweden) defeated the champions Greece 2-0 in the other opening game of the group. Spain confirmed their entry in to the next stage after beating Sweden in the last minute 2-1 thanks to their star striker David Villa while Russia defeated Greece 1-0. With Spain through they could rest players and again left it late to defeat Greece 2-1 sending the champions home without a point. Russia would join Spain after their 2-0 win over Sweden in the pivotal match in Innsbruck.

THE QUARTER FINALS

Portugal and Germany, two sides in decent form and both World Cup semi finalists in 2006 would play in the first of the quarter finals. Schweinsteiger and Klose put Germany up 2-0 but a late goal had 2-1 at half time. The two goal lead was restored in the second half thanks to Ballack but had to hang on in the end 3-2 after Helder Postiga had scored late to keep Portugal in it and almost force extra time. More tears for Ronaldo performing for the cameras again, Germany into the semi finals. Croatia and Turkey played off in the next quarter final with a scoreless and soulless 90 minutes. In extra time Croatia broke the deadlock some 90 seconds before it would go to penalties through Klasnic after a howler by the legendary veteran Turkish keeper Rustu. It seemed that would be it but with whistles emanating from the Croatian fans and the ref checking his watch Rustu sent a very long goalkick up the field hoping for something to happen. Two Croatian defenders went for the ball with a Turkish player with all missing the ball leaving one Turkish player on the ground to slam the loose ball past the keeper and equalise with the last kick of the 120 minutes. 1-1! Penalties! Croatia were bereft of spirit after conceding that goal with Modric having his penalty saved along with two other Croatians failing to convert sending Turkey through 3-1 after coming back from the dead yet again.

Russia hadn’t been bad but would face the Dutch in irrepressible form. Guus Hiddink had done his homework against his old side and had Oranje under a heap of pressure. The flying boyish winger Andrei Arshavin was particularly dangerous forcing a few top saves from van der Sar. In the second half Russia were rewarded for their pressure going up 1-0 through Pavlyuchenko side-footing in an Arshavin pass. Russia were cruising but there is always a twist at the Euros. With five minutes left Holland won a free kick and a perfect ball from the Inter Milan star Wesley Sneijder was headed in by van Nistelroy to force extra time. The late goal didn’t get in to the Russians’ heads and they continued to dominate through Arshavin who was a constant menace on the left. After a blatant penalty wasn’t given Arshavin again danced around the Dutch defence and sent in a cross that was headed in by Torbinski scoring one of only two goals he would score for his country. At 2-1 Arshavin wasn’t finished and just before half time in extra time launched down the right with pace and guile before finishing from a tight angle. Arshavin’s goal celebration was also something else showing off the cockyness of this new star (see above). Guus had done it again.

In the final quarter final Spain and Italy was a stalemate through a 90 minutes where Spain dominated possession but couldn’t get the goal preferring to almost pass the ball into the net which is harder when you have players like Cannavaro and Buffon up back for your opponents. It would go to an inevitable penalty shoot out where Real Madrid’s golden boy Iker Casillas saved two penalties with Buffon saving another for Italy. The Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas was next for Spain and if he scored he put Spain through which is what he did. This was the first competitive win Spain had managed against Italy in some 88 years. The World Champion Italians with an ageing squad barely deserved to get this far.

THE SEMI FINALS

Germany would be first up in the semi finals and would be up against the comeback kings Turkey. This would be a tense event with the social situation involving Turkish immigrants to Germany over the years splitting many points of view. It was heightened by German football fans putting out a shirt saying ‘danke swisse’ when Switerland ensured Turkey wouldn’t be at the World Cup in Germany some two years previous. A rivalry of sorts perhaps.

Turkey were up 1-0 after 22 minutes when Boral lashed home a shot that had cannonned off the crossbar but minutes later the midfield grunter Schweinsteiger had it back to 1-1. A tense stalemate ensued with Lehmann almost caught off his line and Podolski wasted a golden chance at the other end. Finally with 11 minutes to go the veteran left back Philipp Lahm sent in a deep cross that had Rustu off his line to collect. Unfortunately the cross deceived the Turkish captain with its pace and he couldn’t get to the ball before German goal-machine Miroslav Klose headed into an empty net to make it 2-1. The Germans were normally stoic in a situation like this running down the clock but with four minutes to go Galatasaray right back Sabri used trickery to get in behind the defence with his cross backheeled in at the near post by Semih for an another equaliser to the Turks.

What’s Turkish for luck?

Extra time loomed but Philipp Lahm (a future World Cup winning captain) tired of such things and made an extraordinary run up the pitch passing to a midfielder lying deep who sent back a defence-splitting pass to Lahm who kept running and finished the move off with a sizzling right footed shot that beat the keeper to win it for Germany. Not bad for a left back who normally only used his right foot for standing on. Germany through to the final and the Turks had almost got through to the final with pure grit and never mentally conceding. A team you couldn’t help but admire at this event.

Spain would take on Russia in the other semi final with both teams lovers of quick one touch play and trickery over power and kicking players all over the pitch. Hiddink tried to have his side match Spain in tikki-takka but they were taking on the kings and were promptly punished after a tight first half going down 3-0. Xavi, Guiza and Silva did the damage for Spain in a prime example of their attacking power booking their first place in a final in 24 years. The only downside was an injury to star man Villa who would be in a race to be ready for the big one after getting injured in the first half.

THE FINAL

Despite Villa being ruled out and looking as mournful in the stands as he did during any time playing for Melbourne City, Spain would go in to the final as heavy favourites. The press weren’t that kind to Germany thinking they had been lucky up until this point but they were still there in the last match of the tournament with captain Ballack passing a fitness test. One million were expected in the Tiergarten in Berlin to watch the match on dozens of screens just like what had happened when the World Cup Final was on in 2006. People forget how many upsets occur in this competition it seems so hope sprung eternal for the Germans. The anthems were played with the Spanish version containing to no lyrics to apparently keep all the different Spanish factions happy back in the day. A football tournament was always good for learning little tidbits.

An out of form Fernando Torres (nicknamed El Nino or ‘The Boy’) replaced Villa in the line up and was welcomed by having a ball smacked straight into his face from close distance by the German defender Per Mertesacker. The Germans knew about the shaky Spanish defence and tried bypassing the midfield with Ballack covering twice as much ground as everyone else to make this happen but Madrid’s Ramos and Barcelona’s Puyol held sway in the initial opening burst. As the game fell in to a rhythm Spain were in control with Xavi the master almost forcing Mertesacker to put the ball in to this own net on 17 minutes. Torres came in to the game suddenly remembering he was one of the hottest strikers in the world heading high from a corner and then his next header from another corner hit the upright and out.

On 33 minutes the Spanish were ahead 1-0 when Xavi’s pass was sublime into the area where it seemed Lahm could clean it up but there was just enough pace and weight on the pass that Torres sprinted in and finished coolly past Lehmann. The boy was back! Silva wasted another golden chance for Spain as the Germans got frustrated with Ballack copping a hit and bleeding from an eyebrow. This resulted in handbags between Ballack and Puyol that was broken up by Casillas. Casillas was rewarded for taking the heat out of the clash by getting booked along with Ballack. Half time 1-0.

Germany started brightly in the second half after taking off Lahm but Spain again got on top playing keepy off with delicate little passes and chips almost being seized upon by Torres who almost scored an identical goal to his opener. From a corner on the hour Germany went close when Ballack lashed home a ball chested down to him by Schweinsteiger but it was inches wide. Germany gave the ball away, Lehmann fumbled and they seemed bereft of answers, a German side without confidence in their own abilities is as rare as seeing aurora borealis or a giant squid. Torres saw yellow for elbowing an opponent when perhaps should have been red and was subbed, Aragones’s choice to start him beyond justified. Spain had balls fizz in to the area with only a stretched leg needed to make it 2-0 but it just wasn’t there. As the game died down to an inevitable conclusion Germany were beaten down to attempting long balls like a lower division Sunday league team and that was it. Spain, after 44 YEARS, were the champions!

The Spanish celebrated in the stands, as everyone in Spain apart from those in the Basque region and perhaps even in spots around Barcelona. The final insult for the Germans was to walk through the well meaning Spanish guard of honour and up in to the stands to collect their losers medals from Platini who was the captain of the last side to be as complete and deserved winners as this Spanish side. The Spanish players eventually got up the stairs to lift the trophy with little bits of silver string and smoke going everywhere like someone had sneezed in to an ash tray. There was also the insufferable eurodance and tedious ground announcer welcoming the moment where Spain was no longer a joke.

Another brilliant instalment of the Euros and for once the winners were deserved feeling like there was some justification to the sporting gods. Spain had come into this tournament as an exceptional side rebuilt, repatriated and transforming the sport in to a game even more beautiful. For Germany the force was with them but they were not Jedis yet having more starlets come through the youth ranks and continuing to build. Wonderful entertainment throughout those long winter nights.

CHAMPIONS – Spain (2nd title)

RUNNER UP – Germany

GOLDEN BOOT – David Villa – 4 goals. The Valencia striker hit peak form for this tournament and was the finisher of all the handy work from his talented midfield. Some would say they would make any striker look good but Villa was some player at the time. Was tragic that he had not the same impact in the semi final and didn’t play in the final or it could have been more than four goals. This was, of course, nothing compared to when he signed for Melbourne City.

SACRED COW – It should be Xavi or a host of other Spanish players but Andrei Arshavin was the memorable player from this tournament burning brightly for the brief time he was on the pitch. Fresh from starring for Zenit in the UEFA Cup Final the pint sized 27 year old midfielder (looking like he was 10 years old) missed the first two games with suspension and then was a major force in the next two games slaying the Dutch in the best individual effort of the tournament. This tournament saw him be courted by a host of clubs eventually moving to Arsenal to become a bit of a cult figure even if his form was so-so.

DUNCE HATS – France were suffering from a massive case of ‘dead beagle syndrome’ at this tournament and despite their talent hardly made a dent. It was the first tournament for them following the retirement of the great Zinedine Zidane and the squad was hitting 30 and looking jaded. Then there was the in-fighting in the team that came to a head at the 2010 World Cup.

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About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

Comments

  1. Was back packing around Europe during this tournament. The big highlight was watching the final in Rome at an Irish pub with a bunch of Spainish students as Spain on the tournament. Some good memories there. Turkey were the huge surprise of the tournament

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