These are not the five best players in the world, or even the players who performed the best in the last 28 to 31 days. These are the players who improved themselves in terms of perception in the public eye, who made their managers smile, or whose legacy got a nice polish, on the field or off the field, spiritually, ecumenically, grammatically, whatever.
This week, whereas we’d normally rank players, we’re going to take advantage of what small amount of interest remains in the European Championship and rank the five best matches of the Euros so far. The criteria I use will be a nice melange of importance of the game, excitement factor, goals scored, and, if no other device remains to separate two matches from each other, a coin flip.
5. Germany-Greece, 4-2, Quarterfinals. OK, so this match was pretty much a foregone conclusion from the 35th minute or so. Still, it gets the nod for two reasons: 1) the most goals scored in a game; 2) the opportunity to see the German machine in it’s highest form. Sadly, that would be the last time we’d see the German machine in it’s highest form, but it was quite awesome.
4. Portugal-Denmark, 3-2, Group Stage. For Portugal, it was effectively win or go home. For Denmark, it was win or play the German machine for the opportunity to advance. Neither team would settle for a loss, and what resulted was a super exciting match of the best variety. A great first half performance from Portugal, ketchup from the Danes (Bendtner of all people) to see the game to 2-2, then a last second volley-rocket from Varela to give Portugal the life-saving win it needed.
3. Sweden-Ukraine, 2-1, Group Stage.Or, the match known as “Shevchenko’s Last Stand.” Ibra opened the scoring, as he is wont to do, and Sweden looked to be cruising to a comfortable, if narrow win. Then, out of nowhere, Shevchenko puts in one, and then another, and Ukranian fans suddenly saw the Euro trophy within their grasp. No one saw that coming, and that’s why this game gets the third place position.
2. England-Sweden, 3-2, Group Stage. Like Portugal earlier, England were in a win-or-die mode. That might be a bit exaggerated, but that’s what the English media would have had you believe. Andy Carroll, the most notable of the should-Hodgson-have-taken-him selections, also got his first start. He made good on it with a rocket header. It all went downhill from there. Olof Mellberg (who, let us not forget, plied his trade in England with Aston Villa for a few years) put in two goals (one of which was called a Glen Johnson own-goal) to take the score to 2-1. On the ropes, England responded as only England know how. That’s actually not right at all. England surprised everyone as Hodgson subbed in Walcott, who scored, then saw Danny Welbeck demonstrate the most miraculous of touches. Next thing you knew, England fans were rioting in the stands.
1. Italy-Germany, 2-1, Semi-Final. Come on, how good was that? The ultimate schadenfreude, amirite? Germany have a great team, but there was something cathartic (for me) in having their asses handed to them in such a manner. Balotelli, everyone’s favorite anti-hero, absolutely killed it. And, on the biggest of stages. And, he ripped his shirt off because Balotelli laughs in the face of caution(s). He already had a pretty large profile, but it’ll only get larger after a performance like that. The best match of the tournament so far, bar none.