Shame we had to leave party so early

Mon, Jul 2, 2012, 01:00

Ireland didn’t show up with the right plan but those teams that did have made it a fine tournament

WORST TEAM

Eh, that would have to be us, wouldn’t it? The Dutch also got no points but still looked a much better side. True, Ireland were drawn in a desperately difficult group that produced both finalists and were saddled with irrationally inflated expectations.

The bottom line, though, was that Giovanni Trapattoni’s side was the most ill-equipped to deal with the challenges presented by the tournament. Though higher ranked and therefore notionally better that the two host nations, they looked significantly inferior in terms of technique and, arguably, tactics.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

The Dutch who will have been somewhat surprised to have come home with no points given that only two years ago they pushed Spain pretty much all the way in the World Cup final. They then outscored everybody in qualifying but many of their fans hadn’t even bothered to leave home for the tournament when it became apparent that the whole enterprise was going to go very, very badly.

Failure to take any of the many chances they created in the opening game against Denmark left them in a tight corner almost from the start and defeats by Germany and Portugal turned elimination into humiliation as they went down in three consecutive competitive games for the first time in the team’s history. Somewhat inevitably, Bert van Marwijk, paid with his job.

REFEREEING CONTROVERSY

The failure of the Hungarian officials, including the goal line additional assistant to see that Marko Devic’s deflected shot for Ukraine against England had crossed the line dealt a fairly hefty blow to Michel Platini’s argument that their introduction would make goal-line technology unnecessary.

It also killed off any chance that one of the host nations might make it to the knockout stages, something that would have added to the sense of vibrancy around the tournament.

LESSONS LEARNED

Don’t keep your best goalscorer for the fifth penalty, it might not happen; Success stories like Greece in 2004 are merely the exceptions to the rule; that the cream rises to the top at these events; the English are a long way from being able to win one of these tournaments; the Irish are quite a way off being able to seriously compete at one; really good players can make a system work.

HOW DID THE HOSTS DO?

Pretty well really. There were many of the expected problems in Ukraine where accommodation was scarce and expensive, and some of the transport fairly chaotic. It was unusual too to see the game in Donetsk between the hosts and France delayed for an hour because of a thunderstorm but that, of course, wasn’t anybody’s fault.

Some early violence petered out thankfully and the mood around all of the venues was generally very good.

For Poland, though, the whole exercise seemed to prove something of a triumph with great stadiums complemented by generally excellent infrastructure, welcoming host cities and marvellous people.

Team of the tournament IKER CASILLAS (Spain)

Rounded off another terrific tournament – he conceded one goal – with a fine display last night, the highlight of which was a great stop from Antonio Di Natale.

PHILIPP LAHM (Germany)

The German skipper turned in a series of fine performances, defending well, while also showing an eagerness to help drive the team forward at speed whenever possession was won.

SERGIO RAMOS (Spain)

The Real Madrid defender might well have played elsewhere in the team had Carles Puyol been fit enough to travel, but he looked commanding at the heart of his team’s defence.

PEPE (Portugal)

The Real Madrid defender was central to getting his side to the semis. He scored in the shoot-out and against Denmark and was impressive in his challenges in defence and his passing out of it.

JORDI ALBA (Spain)

Barcelona paid about €14 million to Valencia for the 23-year-old during the tournament. His performance, and goal, last night suggested they have got a real bargain.

ANDREA PIRLO (Italy)

Rejuvenated, it seems, by his role in Juventus’s title success. The former AC Milan maestro’s vision and passing proved a nightmare for opponents, especially England and Ireland, prior to the final.

SAMI KHEDIRA (Germany)

The 25-year-old reaffirmed his position as a major midfield force, working tirelessly to protect the German back four but also showing the enterprise and energy to launch well-timed runs forward.

CLAUDIO MARCHISIO (Italy)

After a fine season at Juventus, the midfielder made a major impact here. Covered a lot of ground for the team every time he played, pressured opponents and passed the ball well.

ANDRES INIESTA (Spain)

The general consensus was so much success with club and country caught up with some of Spain’s bigger stars. Iniesta, though, remained a whirlwind of attacking creativity.

RONALDO (Portugal)

It is hard to see how Portugal would have got as far as they did without the Real Madrid star. Scored three goals and provided a huge percentage of the team’s attacking threat.

MARIO BALOTELLI (Italy)

Produces the goods, as we saw again last night, in fits and starts but when the 21-year-old striker is at his best, he is uncontainable. His performance against Germany was memorable.

MANAGER: CESARE PRANDELLI (Italy)

His side may have been overwhelmed in the final but then the Italian has had to cope with the loss of important players to injury and a poor build-up overshadowed by scandal which he had seemed to take in his stride.

IRELAND'S TOURNAMENT: BY THE NUMBERS

Goals scored:1

Goals against:9

Yellow cards: 8

Red cards: 1

Attempts on target: 11

Attempts off target: 14

Corners: 8

Fouls committed: 51

Crosses attempted: 37

Crosses completed: 16

Passes attempted:1,249

Passes completed:725

Completion rate:58%

Average share of possession:40%

Minutes per game on ball:22

Total for tournament:66

* In almost every category Ireland came last.

Highest players in Uefa/ Castrol player ratings: Seán St Ledger (86th), Keith Andrews (127th), Robbie Keane (132nd).

* Robbie Keane tied with Fernando Torres, Antonio Di Natale and Dimitris Salpingidis at the top off-side chart having been flagged six times.

* Keith Andrews and Sokratis Papastathopoulos topped the bookings table with three apiece.

* Ireland v Italy, along with England v Italy, produced the most attempts on goal, 24, until last night’s final (25).

* Ireland v Italy produced the highest number of corners: 17; and offsides: 10.

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