Euro 2012, Tournament of Political Scores

Germany defeated by debt-shocked Italy, villains and thugs abound. Stay tuned.

By Steve Burgess 29 Jun 2012 |

Steve Burgess has returned from his Euro trip and is back to watching TV like the rest of us.

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With Thursday's victory, Italy now heads to Kiev's Olympic Stadium to face Spain.

Aesop told us the fable of the ant and the grasshopper -- the ant industrious, the grasshopper carefree. In the end the ant is safe and well-fed, the feckless grasshopper cold, hungry and doomed. What Aesop failed to mention is that a lot of people would like to squash that smug little ant right into the dirt. Yesterday afternoon belonged to the anti-ant crowd. And Mario Balotelli.

Going into Thursday's European semi-final the Italians seemed to have about as much chance against Germany as Obama's health care plan vs. the U.S. Supreme Court. When Upset Thursday was over, anyone wearing German face-paint or a Justice Antonin Scalia mask was weeping quietly. In the morning, Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the majority to uphold the health care law, and in the afternoon Italy kept the party going, riding the mighty boot of Balotelli to a 2-1 victory. It was a stunning win over a German squad that had previously looked ready to transform the entire tournament into a giant economic metaphor, bringing debtor nations to heel one after another.

This week posters of Angela Merkel in a Hitler get-up have been pasted up all over Rome. One might almost think football and politics were somehow connected. Just a lucky coincidence really, as few could have predicted the semi final match-up. Fewer still bet on the outcome.

Never beat the boss

Poor Germany. What did they do to deserve this opprobrium? German jokes have been the vuvuzelas of 2012. (And that's not even to mention all the taunts that must have aimed at German forward Andre "Don't Call Me" Schurrle.) Germany's match against Greece was nearly delayed by the blizzard of Twitter wisecracks. Eventually the Germans scored four goals to Greece's two -- which according to standard Greek bookkeeping methods would have given the underdogs a three-goal victory. It probably worked out for the best for Greece -- it's never a good idea to beat the boss at golf. Yet many hoped the plucky Greeks would defeat their reluctant benefactors, if only to see whether a team would be allowed to play a European semi-final barefoot in their underwear.

As it turned out, another tottering economy would topple the mighty Merkel colossus instead. In Sunday's final Italy will face the even more beleaguered Spain, which earned the right to defend their championship after defeating a game Portugal side Wednesday on the cruel lottery of penalty kicks. As players stepped up to the line one by one, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo watched helplessly from the sidelines, a place where falling down repeatedly does no good. He never got his chance to kick -- it was all over before his turn came. Ronaldo had a great tournament, yet still managed to perfect his impersonation of the most obnoxious eight-year-old at every birthday party. He's easy to admire, when vertical. But if the Republicans ever decided to launch an anti-soccer ad campaign to match their anti-health-care smears, Ronaldo would be the star.

Rematch ahead

Balotelli's redemption has been more complete. One of the enduring images of Euro 2012 was the sight of Italian teammate Leonardo Bonucci rushing over to clamp a hand over Balotelli's mouth after the mercurial Manchester City striker scored against Ireland. But Balotelli doesn't need his mouth to get into trouble. He once set his house on fire with fireworks and got yanked from an exhibition game against the LA Galaxy after blowing a sure goal with some ridiculous showboating.

At Euro 2012 he was being used sparingly during the group stage. Against Germany the 21-year-old showed just what he could do, scoring both Italian goals with awesome style and finish. By halftime the unbeatable Germans were beaten.

Germany did not deserve their role as Euro 2012 villains. They played with determination and flair and actually scored goals in bunches. You've got to love that. Besides, the real villains were elsewhere. Racism and thuggery brought disgrace and heavy UEFA penalties to Russia and Croatia. And ominously, Spanish fans earned their team a 20,000 euro fine for racist chants directed at Balotelli in the Spain-Italy 1-1 draw that opened the tournament for both teams.

Now comes the rematch. A chance for Balotelli to complete his redemption; a chance for Spain to claim their position as one of Europe's greatest teams ever; and a chance for Spanish fans to prove themselves worthy of their team.

And Germany? They will have to be content with a rising GDP accompanied by low 6.7 per cent unemployment. And the chance to remind their neighbours that you can't eat football trophies.  [Tyee]

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