The 2012 UEFA European Championship saw sixteen teams battling it out for one of the most coveted cups in sporting history. Running between the eighth of June to the first of July in stadia across Poland and the Ukraine, Euro 2012 was a nail-biting tournament, with plenty of highs and lows.
The run-up to the tournament
From the earliest stages of preparation, Euro 2012 was shrouded in controversy and uncertainty as UEFA decided on the host countries. Five bids in total were seriously considered at first, before the list was cut down to two options Italy and Poland and Ukraine. While many supported Italy's bid, allegations of match fixing and instances of fan violence ultimately ruled Italy out of the proceedings, leaving Poland and Ukraine victorious.
The drama was not over there, however, as many concerns were raised as to Poland and Ukraine's preparedness to host the Euro. Indeed, at several points in the process the infrastructure of both countries seemed to be lacking, as well as political unrest within the Ukraine in particular. However, by the time the opening ceremony started, all preparations were put in place for kick off.
The early stages
The group stages saw the wheat sorted from the chaff. Portugal, Germany, Spain and Italy progressed to the semi-finals, each team working their way through several nail biting matches to get there. Teams notable in their absence from the semi-finals were hopefuls England and France. Both teams played well throughout the tournament, but were unable to produce the extra burst of brilliance necessary to beat Italy and Spain respectively.
Spain vs. Portugal
First up to stake their claim to a spot in the finals were Spain and Portugal. The match was a tense one. At the Donbass Arena, Donetsk, the Spanish and Portuguese players battled bad-temperedly. Increasingly frustrated, the players made and missed several attempts at goal throughout the match, and yet the match finished at a frustrating 0 - 0, and went to penalties. Despite this, fan favourite Cristiano Ronaldo did not disappoint, and was entertainingly on form, responding to small victories with his signature confident stance: hands on hips, chest puffed out. However, even Ronaldo was not enough to save Portugal. Spain pulled ahead with four goals to two, securing their place in the final.
Italy vs. Germany
In the semi-final between Italy and Germany, there was a clear man of the match. Italy's Mario Balotelli, complete with signature Mohawk haircut played some of the best football of the tournament. Balotelli scored two goals for Italy, which was all that was needed to take victory from Germany, who performed disappointingly for fans who had hoped 2012 might be their year. Germany's Mesut Ozil caused a little anxiety in the Italian players when he scored a neat goal in injury time, but it wasn't followed by another and wasn't enough to beat Italy.
On the 1st of July 2012, rivals Spain and Italy entered the packed Olympic Stadium in Kiev. One would leave victorious, one disappointed. While Spain had had recent success, winning both Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, Italy had played well throughout the tournament, and with the talents of Mario Balotelli behind them, many saw the match going either way.
However, before the half time whistle went, things did not look good for Italy, who had let two goals slip through, and were losing 0 - 2. Italy was not helped by the loss of an eleventh player as third substitute Thiago Motta was forced to leave the pitch with an injury. In the second half, Spain went on to score twice more, resulting in an embarrassing score of 4 - 0, well and truly extinguishing Italy's hopes of victory.
While Italy were heartbroken by the defeat, everyone agreed: Spain had played some of the best football of their lives, and to be beaten by such talent was by no means a source of embarrassment for the Italians.
Spain won more than the cup that night with two of their players being singled out for their contribution to the team. Fernando Torres was awarded the 'Golden Boot', while Andres Iniesta was named the UEFA Player of the Tournament.
With Euro 2016 just around the corner, many of us are starting to wonder who might take the cup this year. After Spain's long winning streak, they suffered an embarrassment that knocked them out of the tournament in the group stages after they lost to the Netherlands 0 - 5. Germany went on to win, and fans are sure to be watching the team closely as this year's Euro Championship progresses. Can Spain claw back their reputation as the world's best? Or is it time to well and truly pass the baton on?
Euro 2016 starts in France on the 10th of June, here's to another eventful tournament!