1. What if Croatia had beaten Spain?
Spain has won two straight major trophies (two out of three if you count the Confederations Cup, which we’re doing until 2013 because we’re patriotic). They are on the verge of cracking the greatest team of all-time debate. Croatia beats Spain, their run is stopped right there. In two years, they’re a different team. Xavi goes from midfield dominator to 20-30 minutes a game. Will Del Bosque still be there? Will two more years of heated Clasicos wear down the other Barcelona and Real Madrid players? Sure, there are plenty of good, young Spaniards. But good enough to beat the good, young Germans? The French? The Belgians? (We’re kidding about that last one… sort of).
2. What if Fabio Capello doesn’t walk out on England in the spring 2012?
Capello walked out on England like Jason Bateman walked out on Jennifer Garner in Juno. If he didn’t England come out in Euros, play some remotely attractive football. They probably still go through the group stages, but fail to impress the English media, who massively criticize the team, and they probably get spanked by Italy anyways. OK, so, nothing really changes there. But, if Capello doesn’t walk out on England, Hodgson still languishes at West Brom, Redknapp is at Tottenham, and John Terry is either captain again or has quit the team in a fit of rage.
3. What if Andrea Pirlo had been born Andrew Fall, in Carlisle, Cumbria, England?
I mean, sure he’s an undisputed genius who’s more accurate over distance with either foot than you or I would be with our good throwing hand (a couple of overhit corners aside), but is he disciplined enough to play in the center of the first of two banks of four? Or would he have been turned into a right back at age 12?
4. What if Euro 2012 had been expanded to 24 teams?
This is ground that’s already been covered elsewhere. Would it lower the standard of play? We’re a little ambivalent, as too many of the non-classic games from this tournament seemed to stem from teams not even trying to compete with some of the continent’s giants. If those minnows had more minnows to compete against, then they might set out to win a few more games rather than sit back and absorb pressure (We’re not sure we buy this argument either. Just trying to look on the bright side).
5. What if Euro 2012 had been expanded to 32 teams?
Let’s face it. It’s not going to stay at 24 for ever. It’s an awkward number to have for something like this, and nobody really likes the idea of certain third place teams going through…nobody but Russia anyway. Hopefully sense will prevail and it will be returned to sixteen; thirty-two is more than half the total membership of UEFA today, and that number will only decrease as Germany absorbs debt-ridden nations into itself.
The alternative, is to say screw it and blow the whole thing out. Forget the whole qualifying process, invite all 53 teams, plus 10 guest nations and one team of recently retired superstars, seed them, and play the whole thing out single elimination, March Madness style. Spain vs. San Marino in the first round? Gareth Bale carving up Turkey to give 12-seed Wales the upset over the favored 5-seed? The good old U.S. of A. going on a surprise Final Four run? Bring it on.
6. What if France had actually utilized one of the wealth of attacking options on its bench from the get-go against Spain, rather than playing two right backs to try to neutralize Jordi Alba?
They’d have still lost, but the game might have been more entertaining.
7. What if Mario Balotelli had attempted a panenka with his first spot kick in the shootout against England?
A. Let’s assume he’d have missed it. Given the fact that this tends to be how stuff like that works out for him, and the fact that he’s not a Zidane or Pirlo-level living legend who can actually pull one off (just ask Cristiano, who despite his greatness isn’t quite there yet), I think this is a fair assumption.
B. Assuming that the penalty was missed or saved, we can conjecture that first, Twitter would exploded instantly. Not “filled your newsfeed” exploded, but literally self-destructed, unless it dropped and sealed its fuel rods to prevent a catastrophic meltdown. Second, Pirlo, knowing he couldn’t very well try it again during the same shootout, sends a just slightly less than inch-perfect penalty right into the path of a diving Joe Hart, who makes the save. One of the Ashley’s, doesn’t matter which, has his nerves eased by the fact that he couldn’t possibly screw up that badly and buries his. England wins the shootout. Hart is hailed as a national hero. The team score a controversial second goal against Germany that the fifth official rules is over the line even though in replays it doesn’t appear to have entirely crossed the plane. They lose to the Germans 4-2.
8. What if Sweden had turned on before their last group game?
It’s fairly easy to imagine. One player marking the biggest Ukrainian threat of the game in the second half, one time. One more goal during either of their first two games. Danny Welbeck not getting really, really lucky with that incredibly brilliant backheel, and suddenly the Swedes are through. Granted, the French might have played a little harder if elimination was on the line, but given how poorly they did I’m not sure how much it would have mattered. Any of those, and suddenly we get the Swedes’ forest-worth of six-foot-bodies charging into the Spanish box on every set piece and lumbering around the midfield chasing red shirts and the ball. Stylistically, it had the potential to be thrilling, and another game of Zlatan would be infinitely better than what the French through out there.
9. What if Portugal or Italy actually manage to upset Spain or Germany, setting up a group stage rematch in the final?
Not really sure, to be honest. I mean Spain-Italy was a pretty good game, right? Germany-Portugal a little less so. Could Cristiano succeed in completing his single-handed conquest of the tournament? Would Spain actually try to score the second time around? Or would we all just rather prefer to see what Spain’s tiny judo masters do against a team that might bother to try to attack them constantly?
10. What if Estonia had beaten Ireland in their qualification playoff?
Probably the exact same thing as what happened to Ireland.