The longer England stay in this tournament, the luckier they get. Last night’s win over Ukraine – the first time England have beaten the hosts at a tournament – included a huge dose of luck, with the match officials refusing to award Ukraine a goal after Marko Devic’s shot was cleared from behind the line by John Terry. However, England demonstrated a spirit and sense of togetherness that was lacking in South Africa.
Tournament football is all about peaking at the right time. Russia, Denmark, Croatia and Ukraine are all out of Euro 2012 despite winning their opening games. Czech Republic and Portugal are preparing for quarter-finals despite losing their first games.
The momentum is with England, but Italy will present a much sterner test in Kiev on Sunday.
While England fans celebrate reaching the quarter-finals, an achievement that many did not think possible before the tournament kicked off, the rest of Europe is discussing Ukraine’s phantom goal by Marko Devic.
The goal-line official, the additional assistant referee (AAR), could not have been better placed to rule that Devic’s shot had crossed the line. Yet he did not move to offer an opinion either way. His silence spoke volumes and probably killed off any hope Michel Platini had offering the AAR system as an alternative to goal-line technology (GLT).
The International FA Board (IFAB) meets on July 5 to confirm previously discussed plans for GLT. The failure of the AAR to spot Devic’s goal against England is likely to be one of the deciding factors in forcing through GLT.
The great irony is that Platini fought hard to keep Ukraine as hosts of Euro 2012 amid all the troublesome preparations. Now Ukraine’s phantom goal is set to scupper a plan that helped to define Platini’s time at UEFA.
Meanwhile, Platini has defended the expansion of the European Championship to 24 teams in 2016. The UEFA president is reported to have said: “Twenty-four is okay… eight good teams to add. It’s not a problem of quality.
“It’s very important for the [additional] countries that qualify. It is good for the national associations and their devlopment.”
Platini’s argument is that the eight new teams will have to raise their game to compete with the superior teams, and the overall quality of the competition will not be affected.
That is debatable, as there would inevitably be more teams of the standard of the Republic of Ireland, or lower.
However, it is not just about the quality of the teams. The tournament structure will have to change, too, probably with six groups of four, with the top two from each group going through to a second round of 16, along with four best third-place teams.
So the tight format that has produced such exciting football at Euro 2012 will disappear. At this tournament, there have been no goalless draws, with only Ireland and Sweden out of contention going into the final round of matches.
Some of the excitement generated by the final round of group matches in Poland and Ukraine will be lost in a 24-team tournament.
As previously discussed here, the stadium countdown at Euro 2012 has attracted much ridicule. Now FIFA has responded to claims that the practice undermines the authority of the referee.
FIFA said in a statement: “The Venue Director at UEFA events provides the countdown for the Fourth Official anyway. The Fourth Official then informs the referee that everything is ready for the referee to start the match. At Euro 2012 this announcement is simply made public to allow spectators to be part of this experience. For the referee it does not make a difference whether this announcement is made only to the Fourth Official or is provided to the entire stadium. The actual starting of the match is still down to the referee (via the blow of his whistle).”
So, in short, FIFA is backing UEFA in giving kick-offs the Hollywood treatment. However, there remains the possibility that a referee could turn around and delay the whole circus by, for example, telling a player to tuck his shirt in. It would be a brave official who delayed a kick-off in such a way, though.
Though they were the worse football side in the tournament by some distance, it was sad to see Republic of Ireland go out. Their fans were magnificent, filling the stadium in Poznan with noise levels that I have not witnessed anywhere else at Euro 2012.
I travelled on the overnight train back to Warsaw from Poznan after the Italy-Ireland game with Irish fans who had clearly made a lot of friends during the tournament.
That was in stark contrast to the Russians, who kept Poland’s riot police on full alert in Warsaw. Russia’s exit from the tournament may have been a disappointment in pure football terms, after the early promise shown by Arshavin, Dzagoev and Co. But from a policing point of view, it was a relief and a blessing.