Football is nothing if not cruel. And I don’t mean the tackles and fouls. I’m talking about the psychological impact on the players and the immense emotional pressure, especially during major tournaments where every game counts, and only one mistake can be fatal.
Closing in on the group stage, the biggest surprise so far is without a doubt that the Netherlands, one of the favorites to win the title, were dumped from the Euro 2012. What is so surprising is not the fact as such, because Group B was indeed a tricky one and for good reason called the “death group.”
But what was really astonishing was that the Dutch weren’t able to get a single point out of three games. I guess it is true what they say: a team with a handful of world class players still doesn’t make a great team.
Elimination in the group stage also hit Russia. Starting off this tournament with a sweeping 4-1 against the Czech Republic, the Russians were only able to draw 1-1 against Poland, and were surprisingly sent home after a 0-1 loss against Greece. For Greece, it was nothing short of a miracle. For Russia, it was a disappointing disaster.
One man’s meat is indeed another man’s poison.
Football, however, is also nothing if not beautiful. And I don’t mean Cristiano Ronaldo’s perfect hairdo and his boyish grin. I’m talking about his breakthrough in Portugal’s national team. Mocked by the whole world for his inability to perform on the same high level for his country as he does for his club Real Madrid, it was Ronaldo who secured Portugal’s quarterfinal berth with two goals against the Netherlands. He couldn’t have chosen a better moment for his comeback.
A similar thing happened to German striker Mario Gomez. Granted, he didn’t score in the third match against Denmark, but he performed extremely well in this tournament so far, as if to silence the many critics who complained about his inability to score goals when it matters. He brushed off the comments and gave his critics the best answer possible: by scoring, on early Thursday morning, when it mattered the most: two goals against the Netherlands.
And what about the story of 27-year-old Lukas Podolski, who earned his 100th cap for Germany last night and rewarded himself for this remarkable number with the first goal of the match?
There will be more excitement and drama to come, when other favorites will battle each other in an all or nothing showdown later today and tomorrow night: Spain, Italy, Croatia, England, France and co-host Ukraine – they all still have the chance to advance. The tension is palpable, and there might be more surprises along the way, more match winners and tragic heroes to be made.
Football, however, is not only cruelly beautiful. It is also insanely volatile.
Just take a look at the upcoming quarterfinal on Friday, when Greece meets its EU creditors Germany. In times of the European crisis, this game will be more than simply kicking the ball and trying to win. “We have to beat Germany and Merkel at Euro 2012,” Greek football fans already said. In this case, the football pitch becomes a political field.
There can only be one conclusion. I’ve said it before, and I said it again: there ain’t no game like football.