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Five Things We’ve Learned from Euro 2012

1) Pirlo is semi-divine.

He made England look, well, stupid, but that’s not saying much. His real performance for the ages was against a much better Germany side four days later. There was a moment in the first half of the semi-final where you thought he was going to get found out, though. Under pressure in the German half, ball at his feet, for a moment he looked old, frail even. A younger, fitter Özil harried him, and in turning away from the obscenely one-footed Real Madrid star, Pirlo stumbled, putting his right arm down to the turf to steady himself as he fell. Retreating with the ball to just inside his own half he seemed to gain his composure, then with supreme insouciance he sprayed a 30-yard pass out left as if to say, “Hey, Özil, go chase THAT.” From there, one, two more passes, a swivel by Cassano, a cross, and Balotelli had headed home the first goal. But it was Pirlo’s class at the start of the move that stood out, his quarterbacking so beautiful that it caused me to stand up off my couch and yell something profane, followed by the words “peerless” and “Pirlo.” (The atheist in me swears at God; still no lightning bolt; ergo.)

2) Tacky tiki-taka? Tsk.

So what if it’s death by a thousand cuts watching Spain play footy—they are about to win three major tournaments in a row. If I was Spanish, I wouldn’t care if they performed some kind of Stoppardian “short blunt human pyramid” on the half-way line as long as they won. English fans and writers especially hate the Spanish because their play reminds them that Jordan Henderson is the future of their midfield. I grew up with a father who reminded me constantly that “if you keep possession the other team can’t score.” Most everyone else in England said, “lump it forward.” That’s one of the many reasons why I loved my dad.

3) There are limits to human endurance.

The German team, so fluent and fit and quick during qualifying and the early games in this tournament, looked flat-footed and lethargic against Italy. Playing hyper-high tempo soccer takes its toll, and it was one game too many for them (especially as the Greeks, though dominated by Germany, did give them a hard game in the quarters—it was 1-1 after an hour, don’t forget). Germany always reaches the later rounds of big tournaments, but they haven’t won one since 1996. Partly, that’s down to fitness—it’s not that they’re not fit; it’s just that it’s impossible to be THAT fit. They’re going to have to slow it down a bit to win, though at least Brazil in June and July won’t be as hot as you might expect.

4) The World Cup is still a better tournament.

Whenever the Euros comes around, I find myself telling people it’s “like the World Cup, only it’s better because you don’t get lots of smaller teams in the early rounds.” Well, that’s rubbish, actually—the problem with the Euros is that it’s over too soon, even if the standard of play can sometimes be better than the World Cup. The sheer volume of soccer in any World Cup is what makes it so fantastic—game after game after game, which to a football fan is the best thing imaginable. I feel like the Euros just got going, and tomorrow’s the final. Boo hiss; I want more. Also, I want Scotland versus Iran from 1978, or Algeria to beat Germany in the opening game four years later, or Cameroon England, or Ghana USA; I also want Spain Brazil, and Italy Argentina.

5) Five things we’ve learned needs to stop.

I’m not sure who started it—I’d hazard it was The Guardian’s football website, which employs it pretty much constantly. Now I see it everywhere— on the five things we’ve learned from Joel Osteen (I could tell you all five, but I’d have to use the word “huckster” and “snake-oil” too much); the Boston Herald used it regarding the pre-season New England Patriots (I imagine it was things like, “that guy is kinda fat looking”), and on and on and on (and now, even TNR’s soccer blog—what IS the world coming to?) But it’s really a dreadful thing. First of all, why “five” things? What if there was nothing, except that Italy beat Germany by scoring one more goal than them? What if there were 26 things we learned—then what? Then there’s the “we”? It seems to me to be such a typically British way to formulate something: a people who continually force fake agreement on each other, don’t we? There’s something about the British cadence when speaking that makes people feel like hellcats for not agreeing, isn’t there? Lastly there’s the idiotic “learned.” I don’t watch soccer to “learn”—I watch it to see sublime athletic skill allied with tribal hatreds and a prayer that the game will be 1-1 with a second to go when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sticks out a foot and scores the wining goal in the cup final. Did I learn anything that day in 1999? Yes, this: that there was nothing to learn save that United won the Champions League for the first time since the year I was born, that I was screaming and crying for a bunch of men who’ve never heard of me, and that despite all that, one of my daughters, poor thing, would bear the middle name Solskjaer for the rest of her life.

 6) See how stupid it is?