International soccer, and European soccer in particular, couldn't have imagined a better tournament than Euro 2008, which ended yesterday. One might say that the latest European championship was soccer's Spring of Nations. No more enslavement by superstars, no more capitulating to big money, no more terror in the face of hooligans.
The consensus and euphoria surrounding Euro 2008 stem from its starting point. Soccer's future had never been so bleak, its standing never so low as when Euro 2008 began. The two tournaments preceding it, Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup, begot champions (Greece and Italy) who played cowardly soccer, whose whole purpose was holding up the trophy. Anyone who tried to challenge them with attractive, bold and fun soccer was vanquished.
The big question at the beginning of Euro 2008 was what conclusions the vanquished would draw. Would they join the winners and adopt their methods, or would they launch a rearguard battle for enjoyable soccer? And this is a source of bliss, because Greece was humiliated in the group stage, and Italy lost to Spain's creative game in the quarterfinals. It proves that there is another way of going about things.
From the moment the whistle sounded, it became clear that most teams decided to die or win gracefully. UEFA President Michel Platini meant what he said when he told the media that "coaches were positive this time, players were positive, the soccer they played was full of joy. We can be proud of what he have shown the world."
The second triumph belonged to national sentiment. For too many years we have heard fears that the great soccer clubs of Europe, the ones building international brand names as a financial strategy, would end up replacing national teams.
The Tower of Babel of Milan, Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid, for example, are dependent on an endless cash flow from their owners to keep their fans occupied all the time. Now it became apparent that they would not render extinct national pride, or the feeling of solidarity with the national team, the flag and the anthem.
In all the participating nations, the tournaments' games topped the television ratings. The Spanish royal family and the German chancellor became frequent guests in the stands, the streets were empty during matches, and euphoria or a deep sense of defeat engulfed each country, based on the result on the scoreboard. Euro 2008 reminded us how helpful soccer was in achieving a sense of national pride and unity.
It was the same for old and plump France; Turkey, which is fighting for its secular character; and Croatia - a mere toddler in the world of soccer.
The third triumph is perhaps the most important. It merits careful handling when putting into words, and one needs to clarify that it is not light at the end of the tunnel, but a brilliant shining: Violence, racism and hooliganism have been abolished.
Save for a few isolated incidents, Europe taught the world that patriotism and nationalism are not necessarily declarations of war. In other words, we have seen an entire tournament where no one scored an own goal.
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