5 reasons why Euro 2012 is so good
1 Blatter and Platini have let the forwards flourish: Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini are frequently criticised, often with due cause, but the pair deserve credit for the entertaining nature of the tournament.
After the dire 1990 World Cup, Blatter tasked Platini with finding ways to improve the game, then backed him when he came up with solutions.
The most significant were the ban on goalkeepers picking up backpasses, and outlawing the tackle from behind.
The backpass ban meant that while pressured defenders could often still roll the ball back to the 'keeper, there was a 50pc chance that would lead to losing possession as the 'keeper would have to kick it.
Gradually, defenders improved technically so they could play their way out of trouble, usually in harness with fellow defenders.
Goalkeepers also sharpened their kicking skills and increasingly pass the ball out rather than boot it. Both adjustments brought midfielders back into play.
The change also meant the ball stayed in play more. Eliminating the tackle from behind -- and cracking down on the use of the elbow -- enabled skilful players to operate without fear of being cut down by injury, as Marco van Basten was.
There was also the widespread adoption of the red card for professional fouls -- an idea originally backed by Jimmy Hill -- and the six-second limit imposed on goalkeepers holding on to the ball.
More recently, the introduction of a period of rest between the end of the club season and the start of tournaments means fewer players (England aside) are either absent through injury, or carrying one into the championship, a factor that especially blighted the 2002 World Cup.
And the presence of fifth officials does appear to be reducing the amount of grappling that goes on in the goal area, even if the Italians are finding it as hard to let go of old habits as opponents' shirts.
2 Despite this, the defenders have been striking back
Tactics are a constant battle between attack and defence, with each development in one aspect triggering a response in the other.
The law changes, to the dissatisfaction of many an old- school pro, reduced the physicality of the game, allowing smaller players to flourish, as highlighted by the success of Barcelona. They also made the game more fluid.
Showing a red card for professional fouls and a yellow to players who broke up counter-attacks with an early trip or shirt tug led to a period when swift transitions were the target for many coaches.
Inevitably, as Arsene Wenger noted a few years back, "countering the counter (became) the main trend".
Some teams pressed high up the pitch as soon as they lost the ball, notably Barcelona and Spain, but most dropped into a defensive shape like a basketball team -- England's current preference.
This appears to have reached a zenith with only a handful of the goals scored in this tournament through counter-attacks -- notably three of Russia's against the Czech Republic.
3 But we are still seeing goals,
goals, goals . . .
Few counter-attacks, not many long-shots, yet goals galore.
Going into last night's matches there were 39 in 14 games, an average of 2.785, the highest since 1976 with only four teams in the finals.
By contrast, in the fondly remembered Euro 96 there were 64 in 31 games (average: 2.06). One reason is the dramatic increase in headed goals.
With defences sitting deeper, several teams have opted to sling the ball into the box, where powerful strikers such as Mario Mandzukic and Nicklas Bendtner have taken advantage.
But also, it is much harder to close out games now, in part because of Platini's reforms, in part because there is so little between the teams.
4 In this tournament, there are no passengers
Unlike a World Cup, there are no makeweights.
The lowly Fifa ranking of Poland and Ukraine has been much commented upon but it is a red herring; the rankings place little weight on friendly games and the co-hosts last played competitively in 2009.
The only team clearly out of their depth have been Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland, in an admittedly strong group, with the Irish already doomed to the wooden spoon.
Of the first 12 matches not involving Ireland, 11 were drawn or settled by a single goal -- the exception was Russia's 4-1 win over the Czech Republic -- even that was 2-1 with 12 minutes to go.
Close matches have generated tension but not stalemates, since most games (12 of 16) have enjoyed first-half goals.
The tightness of the competition is clear -- whereas in Euro 2008 two teams had been eliminated and four had secured a quarter-final place at this stage, going into last night no one had qualified and only Ireland were out.
5 So make the most of it . . .
Sadly, this will be the last tournament with such a depth of quality, as in 2016 there will be 24 teams.
Would including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Estonia, Turkey, Montenegro (the four teams beaten in the play-offs) and Switzerland, Norway, Slovenia and Hungary (the next four Fifa-ranked teams) really make for a better competition?
Apart from the diminution in quality it will probably mean a tournament structure of six groups of four with a quartet of third-placed teams qualifying, producing several meaningless matches and an extra round.
This tournament is short, taut, and high-class. Enjoy it while you can. (© Independent News Service). Glenn Moore