Best Game – Portugal vs. Netherlands. This was a tricky one to call. Spain vs. Italy was a fascinating tactical contest and England vs. Sweden had the breathless harum-scarum ‘quality’ which makes the Premier League such a successful ‘product’. However, in seeing Ronaldo afforded such space to roam, van der Vaart getting on the ball so often (and scoring with a peach), midfielders pour forward at every opportunity (de Jong the exception) and such obvious emotion on the pitch made this game the pick for me.
Best Player – Bloggers are supposed to be biased so I have no shame in awarding this prize to Luka Modrić. Against Ireland and Italy the Croat was the star turn, showing his comfort on the ball and the trusted ability to probe away at the opposition with deftness and intelligence. The game against Spain pitted him directly against the celebrated midfield ball-hoggers of Xavi, Xabi, Busquets and Iniesta and, though the stats show he wasn’t as prominent, Modders exuded class in a midfield overrun. He doesn’t deserve to be going home so soon and the tournament will be a poorer place without him (so too will Spurs next season).
Best Goal – More blatant bias on show in awarding goal of the group stages to Mr Andrew Thomas Carroll. The whole thing was an act of beauty: Gerrard working a pocket of space for himself; delivering an arrowed deep cross onto the edge of the box; Carroll leaping like a salmon on ‘roids, generating awesome power to crash the ball home. It was all the more affecting as it was exactly the type of play England had been pinpointing in the build-up as the route to break through the Swedish defence.
Biggest Shock – Greece slipping past Russia 1-0. As in 2004, the Greeks seemingly enjoy turning the tables on their underdog status. Russia had cruised through their first one and a half games and were complacent against a workmanlike Greek side. A lax header from Zhirkov before half-time let Karagounis in and that was that; a resolute defence was able to keep the Russians at bay and book Greece a place in the QFs. Give them a sniff and they’ll take it.
Biggest Flops – Step forward: Russia. As described above, they had the group there for the taking. A 4-1 demolition of the Czech Republic in game 1 might have led them to take their foot off the pedal. While Holland (the individual award would go to Robin van Persie) crashed out with no points at least they were in the ‘Group of Death’. That the Czechs then went on to win the group only highlights how much Russia botched this up.
Biggest Cock-up – Doesn’t go to the goal line official who failed to spot that Marko Devic’s shot for Ukraine had passed the line before JT hooked it clear. Neither does it go to the linesman who didn’t flag for Milevskiy being in an offside position when he played Devic through on goal. Instead this award is shared between all the myriad commentators (TV and press) too busy pontificating on the goal line incident to notice the earlier offside. Video technology, eh?
Biggest Tantrum – Honourable mention to Karagounis again for his Jim Carrey-esque overacting (complete with multiple pleas to God for intervention) after unfairly picking up a yellow card for ‘simulation’ against Russia which has seen him suspended for the QF. However, in my mind, Balotelli’s childish behaviour after scoring Italy’s second against Ireland wins him this award. It was reminiscent of so many playground reactions from pupils aggrieved at not being picked first for a lunchbreak game of 26 vs. 26.
Biggest Gripe(s) – As a cynic who innately dislikes populist change I’m delighted to present this award to Uefa for their twin ‘innovations’ of 1) public countdowns to kick-off and 2) repeated playing of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, most gratingly immediately after goals are scored. Football doesn’t need superfluous crowd-pleasing gestures which detract from the game itself. If you want to do something useful how about some constructive action to fight the scourge of racism?