The tournament would be joint-hosted for second time in succession and the third time in all, with Poland and the Ukraine being given the honour of hosting the tournament – the first time any major international football tournament had been hosted behind what was the former Iron Curtain.
The build-up to the finals would garner plenty of controversy. From a purely footballing point of view there were two host countries that may not have reached the finals without being given a free berth – an argument levelled against 2008 co-hosts Austria and Switzerland, both of which failed to qualify this time around – while elsewhere there were issues with stadia, infrastructure and the political situation in the Ukraine as well as fears of local hooliganism and racism – with the latter hitting the headlines just weeks before the competition was about to begin.
Apart from a few minor scuffles between Polish and invading Russian supporters there would be little trouble, and all of the fears about grounds being invaded by knuckle-headed, banana-flinging racists would prove to be unfounded. Apart from the odd firecracker being released and Portuguese players being pelted with paper balls, the atmosphere in the grounds would be excellent. Poland would prove to be far more popular as a destination than the Ukraine, with the massive distances between the venues and overpriced hotels putting many visiting supporters off; while the games in Poland were all well attended, there were clearly visible spaces at the grounds in the Ukraine, particularly those in the far east of the country.
The competition itself would follow the same basic format as in Austria and Switzerland with the sixteen finalists being divided into four groups of four and the top two in each group advancing to the knock-out stages, but the arrangement would be slightly different so that group phase opponents would not be able to meet each other until the final itself (in 2008, group opponents Spain and Russia had met in the semi-final). As in 2008, drawn games in the knockout stages would be settled with thirty minutes of extra time, and after that a penalty shootout.
As had been the case four years previously, both of the co-hosts would make encouraging starts only to stumble at the first hurdle. Poland had started brightly with draws in their first two matches but would miss out when defeated in their final match, while the Ukraine would get off a flying start with a win in their opener, only to suffer two straight defeats and follow the Poles out of the competition.
The thirty-one matches would produce seventy-six goals at an average of 2.45 goals per game (0.03 lower than in 2008), with only two goalless draws – both of which would go all the way to a penalty shootout. Although Germany would be the only team to emerge from the group phase with a perfect record, Spain would be deserving winners, scoring the most goals (twelve) and conceding the fewest (one) en route to becoming the first country to retain the European title and draw level with the Nationalmannschaft on three tournament victories. It would also be La Roja’s third successive major title, following Euro 2008 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
This would be the last time that the European Championships would feature sixteen teams, with the quota being increased to an arguably unnecessary twenty-four for the next 2016 tournament, due to be held in France.
Qualifying Campaign and pre-tournament build-up
Germany were drawn in a six-team qualifying group along with Turkey, Austria, Belgium, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Their first game was against Belgium in Brussels on 3rd September 2010, and the campaign concluded against the same opposition in Düsseldorf on 11th October 2011.
The qualifying campaign was a hundred percent success for Joachim Löw’s side as they won all ten of their matches, racking up a total of thirty-four goals in the process. Highlights of the campaign included home and away wins against Turkey – their win in Istanbul being their first win in Turkey since 1983 – and a terrific 6-2 demolition of neighbours and one-time rivals Austria in Gelsenkirchen.
There was little in the way of drama, with every game won by at least two clear goals apart from the tightly-contested opening fixture against Belgium in Brussels and the encounter in Vienna against the Austrians which was settled by a late winner from Mario Gómez. Joachim Löw’s side were also never behind at any stage in any of the ten matches.
The ten from ten record was the first time any German side had achieved an hundred percent record in any European Championship qualifying programme, and on the basis of matches played was the Nationalmannschaft’s most successful qualifying round to date, bettering the eight from eight achieved under Jupp Derwall in reaching the FIFA World Cup in 1982.
There was not much of a pre-tournament build-up prior to Euro 2012, with the Mannschaft only playing two friendlies against Switzerland in Basel and Israel in Leipzig. The performances in these games were inconclusive, with an experimental side being beaten 5-3 by the Swiss – their first defeat against that opposition for over fifty years – before a more settled starting eleven overcame a stubborn Israeli side 2-0.
Germany’s Tournament in brief
Despite some patchy performances in their final pre-tournament friendlies, Joachim Löw’s squad came into the tournament as one of the favourites alongside holders Spain and old rivals the Netherlands. The tournament’s youngest squad would be drawn together with the Dutch in would quickly be dubbed the “Group of Death” alongside 2004 runners-up Portugal and 1992 champions Denmark, and right from the start the pressure would be on.
The opening encounter against the Portuguese in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv would be a tight one with the match settled by a late Mario Gómez header, while the grudge match against the Netherlands in Kharkiv would see Gómez once again on the scoresheet, as two excellently-taken first half goals would send the Mannschaft on their way to a 2-1 win.
With two wins from two Germany would have a foot in the knockout phase, but they still needed a point in their final game against Denmark to make sure of their place in the last eight. Having taken the lead through Lukas Podolski things would appear to have been settled, but an almost immediate Danish equaliser would throw things back in the balance. With Portugal leading the Dutch in the group’s other match Jogi Löw’s side could have even been eliminated with a defeat, but after a few nervous moments stand-in right-back Lars Bender finally put things beyond all doubt with an eightieth-minute winner. The Mannschaft were through with three wins from three, the first time any German side had picked up maximum points in any European Championship group phase.
The quarter-final draw would pitch the Germans against Group A runners-up Greece, who had reached the last eight after a shock 1-0 win against a Russian side that many had seen as potential tournament winners. Jogi Löw would select a far more attacki-minded side for the clash in Gdańsk, a move that would pay off as his side ran out 4-2 winners in what would be one of the more exciting games in the tournament. The ability of the German side to score goals would be reflected in their being four different men on the scoresheet – Philipp Lahm, Sami Khedira, Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus.
Having secured four straight wins and set a new world record of fifteen successive victories in competitive internationals since the World Cup in 2010, Germany went into their semi-final against bogey team Italy full of confidence, but the coach’s tinkering with the starting eleven would finally backfire as his side fell two goals behind before half-time. Despite a better performance in the second half that saw them halve the deficit with a very late Mesut Özil penalty, they would once more succumb to the Azzurri.
As in 2008 and 2010 against Spain, the coach was not quite able to trust his side to play their natural game, and his changing the side to accommodate the opposition rather than play to their own strengths would result in a defeat that was unnecessary as it was heartbreaking.
v Portugal, First Phase Group B, Lviv, 09.06.2012 Summary »
v The Netherlands, First Phase Group B, Kharkiv, 13.06.2012 Summary »
v Denmark, First Phase Group B, Lviv, 17.06.2012 Summary »
v Greece, Quarter-Final, Gdańsk, 22.06.2012 Summary »
v Italy, Semi-Final, Warszawa, 28.06.2012 Summary »