Manchester United's Howard Webb And Other Reasons The Euros Are Brilliant

It could still go horribly downhill from here on in, but UEFA EURO 2012 has been an expectation-topping blast so far, with not a cagey 0-0 draw in sight.
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It could still go horribly downhill from here on in, but UEFA EURO 2012 has been an expectation-topping blast so far, with not a cagey 0-0 draw in sight.

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Manchester United's Howard Webb And Other Reasons The Euros Are Brilliant

Here are five reasons why it’s been pretty damn good.

1. The refereeing

Things did not start well, with Spanish fusspot Carlos Velasco Carballo brandishing a crazy red card at Greece’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos in the opening game. But since then, give or take the odd Ukrainian and Croatian gripe, the men in the middle and their assistants have largely got it spot on, giving divers short shrift, waving play on where possible, calling it back where necessary, and generally keeping themselves to themselves. Even Howard The Enforcer has been keeping a low profile, though the next time a flare lands pitchside on his watch I wouldn’t bet against him whipping out the police tape and cordoning the area off.

For once, the players, who’ve accepted the large majority of decisions with good grace, seem to know where they stand. Credit for that must go to peerless ex-whistler Pierluigi Collina, who has morphed (ahem) into a seasoned administrator since taking over as UEFA’s Head of Referees, helping to impose a sensible, consistent approach to implementing the Laws of the Game.

2. Teams refusing to sit on one-goal leads

The first sign of this came in Denmark’s enjoyable 1-0 defeat of Holland. Rather than hold on to their advantage by defending deep, Morten Olsen’s side, prompted by the excellent Niki Zimling, attempted to keep the ball, denying their opponents the chance to mount a late onslaught by retaining possession and trying to sneak a second.

Italy were even more adventurous the following day against Spain, and since then even the previously defence-minded Portuguese have thrillingly come out of their shell, putting the benevolent Dutch out of their misery with some lightning counter-attacking and then keeping their foot firmly down on Czech necks to close out the opening quarter-final. Russia, Croatia, Sweden, France and yes, Roy’s brave new England, deserve honourable mentions here too. As for Germany and Spain, with the riches at their disposal, they have little option but to stay on the front foot.

Even Howard The Enforcer has been keeping a low profile, though the next time a flare lands pitchside on his watch I wouldn’t bet against him whipping out the police tape and cordoning the area off.

3. It’s not the Champions League

We’ve been led to believe that UEFA’s bloated annual money-spinner is the only yardstick that counts these days, the only means by which today’s players can properly be judged, making international football a largely irrelevant sideshow. Clive Tyldesley predictably took that line at the last World Cup, arguing that Gerrard, Lampard and Co, with all their CL experience, would be far too strong for bling-free Algeria. Fortunately, football doesn’t operate according to Clive’s playground logic. If it did, an Ajax reject like Michael Krohn-Dehli would never be able to bloody the noses of supposedly superior Dutchmen.

Upstaged at times by the Europa League last season, the continent’s premier club competition has grown increasingly stale. Familiarity has bred boredom, which is why it has been so refreshing to see relative unknowns like Krohn-Dehli, Zimling, Mario Mandzukic, his Wolfsburg team-mate Petr Jiracek and Theodor Gebre Selassie make a mark here. Don’t be surprised either if some the clubs who habitually moan about having to release players for international matches come in for some of those names in the weeks ahead.

4. Low expectations

One last pop at the Champions League. Last season’s largely predictable parade, enlivened only by Messi’s brilliance, Chelsea’s dramatic collapse and comeback against Napoli, and their semi-final escape act, did not bode well for Poland and Ukraine 2012. And, let’s not forget that when it comes to failing to deliver, the European Championships have plenty of previous.

True, the Europa League had its moments, thanks to Schalke, Athletic Bilbao and others taking it seriously, but the players would surely be too knackered to turn it on for their countries, either that or lacking in motivation, especially with international football’s standing gradually being eroded by rampant club-centrism. We needn’t have worried.

Cristiano Ronaldo is a case in point. Ok, so there’s a Ballon d’Or in it for him, but when you see the world’s second-most destructive player busting a gut for his country after another punishing domestic season, it almost restores your faith in the game. Almost.

Some say it’s overrated, and I have seen some fine 0-0 draws in my puff. But, all the same I’m grateful to the Dutch for defending like East Stirling on a bad day, to Sergei Ignashevich for his misplaced header into Giorgos Karagounis’ path.

5. Slack defending

Now, I admire John Terry and Gary Cahill for throwing themselves in the way of Barcelona buckshot as much as the next man, and there’s a lot to be said for clean sheets, keeping it tight, closing down the opposition and turning in a polished performance at the back. But let’s be honest, we all need some goal porn in our lives.

Some say it’s overrated, and I have seen some fine 0-0 draws in my puff. But, all the same I’m grateful to the Dutch for defending like East Stirling on a bad day, to Sergei Ignashevich for his misplaced header into Giorgos Karagounis’ path (actually Sergei, come to think of it, I might hate you for it come a week on Sunday), and to Ireland’s creaky back-line for keeping the goal count high. Nice work, fellas.

And good one reason why it might all end in anti-climax:

Greece. Sorry, it’s nothing personal, but they’re stinking the house out, again. Germany, your continent needs you.

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