So, the European Football Championships, or European Nations Cup (as they were variously called when I was a lad) is/are over for another four years. What, if anything, have we learned from the past few weeks of footballing endeavours?
Well, first of all, it would seem that reports of the decline of the Spain team have been greatly exaggerated. Indeed, many would opine that the tactical experimentation being instituted by Vicente Del Bosque is indicative of a further evolution of his squad. Can this generation of players maintain the motivation and zest to launch a credible defence of their world title in Brazil in two years' time? At this juncture, the answer would seem to be in the affirmative, although much can transpire over such a timespan.
Although defeated in the final, Italy also emerge with considerable credit from events in Poland and Ukraine. Before the tournament, they were not being totally discounted, but equally they were not exactly receiving rave reviews and endorsements, either. In the event, they applied themselves to their task, and relied on their inherent good footballing habits and tactical nous to progress to the final, augmented by the imperious play of Andrea Pirlo in midfield, and cameos from others.
One of the nations which has most to ponder in the aftermath of Euro 2012 is Germany. As the tournament went on, they were increasingly being feted as likely winners, but in the end flattered to deceive, more than meeting their match in the semi-final against the Italians. For me, the Germans had not been wholly convincing in the group stages, seeming to lack the fluency and bite which they showed in the World Cup in South Africa. Injuries and fatigue affecting key players may be partly to blame, but there is clearly also much work to do to turn this group of players into the "finished article".
As for England, they achieved one objective by reaching the quarter-finals, although their shortcomings were evident even as they accomplished that aim. It was acknowledged, and even accepted, going into the tournament the the current crop of players did not have the quality in depth of previous squads, and effort and organisation proved insufficient to make up the deficit. Without wishing to sound defeatist, the cupboard looks relatively bare as we look forward to the next World Cup. Roy Hodgson is no doubt keenly aware of the task facing him, but is at least being afforded some breathing space and leeway by media and public alike.
So, how will Euro 2012 be remembered? Despite what some are saying, I don't think that it was a sensational tournament. There were some bright moments and some entertaining matches, but these were counter-balanced by mediocrity. It did not have the entertainment, excitement or all-round quality of, for example, Euro 2000, which is probably the best international tournament which I have watched in my lifetime. However, it was played in a generally good spirit, and was blessed with exceptional victors in Spain.