With Euro 2012 having finished the world's attention will once again switch to domestic matters. But before events in Poland and Ukraine fade into black and white, let's assess the impact that the Chelsea contingent made upon the tournament.
The most high profile participant from Stamford Bridge was undeniably Fernando Torres. While others might have spent more minutes on the pitch than the Spain striker, Torres departed Kiev not only with a winners medal but also the Golden Boot despite making Vicente Del Bosque’s starting eleven only twice in his team's six matches. Much was made of Spain tactics that often dismissed the need for an orthodox striker but there is no doubting that when Torres was on the field the eventual champions looked far sharper in attack. He may have missed as many chances as he scored during his fleeting appearances but he did become the first man to score in two European Championships finals having scored the winner in 2008 which is no mean feat.
The incredible amount of talent at Spain’s disposal was exemplified best by the fact that Chelsea’s player of the year, Juan Mata, was restricted to just five minutes of action in the whole tournament – and those were the final five minutes after the destination of the trophy was already beyond doubt. Had the little maestro been English, you can be certain that his name would be the first on the team sheet and the rest of the eleven built around him. Still, his brief foray into European Championship football yielded one well-taken goal that was set-up superbly by Torres to rubber stamp the quality of Roberto Di Matteo’s squad.
While they may have returned home with no silverware, Chelsea’s best regular performers were John Terry and Ashley Cole. Terry re-affirmed himself as one of the very best central defenders on the continent with a succession of imperious displays that formed the bedrock of England’s encouraging - if dour – run to the quarter finals that included two clean sheets in the four games played. How he was not selected in UEFA’s official squad of the tournament is beyond me. The effervescent Cole did not put a foot wrong either until he stepped up to take a penalty that was thwarted by Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon in the last eight. After a magnificent campaign for the left back it was a cruel way for it to end but I still couldn’t help thinking that I was glad that he had missed that one instead of his attempt in Munich on 19th May.
Raul Meireles continued his fine end to the season with some good displays for Portugal though he must be ruing a slightly under-hit pass to Cristiano Ronaldo in the closing seconds of Portugal’s semi-final with Spain that forced the Real Madrid man to check his run and ultimately fire high over the crossbar. Florent Malouda was relatively anonymous for France which is not too much of a surprise looking back at the last 10 months though Petr Cech’s form for Czech Republic was alarmingly poor. Four goals – the majority of which were saveable – were rattled past him by Russia while a shocking mistake against Greece almost derailed a comfortable cruise to victory.
It was a shame that Belgium did not qualify as it would have presented Chelsea fans with a chance to see a whole collection of the club’s talent face Europe’s best, not least £32m man Eden Hazard. Thibaut Courtois would have featured, alongside Kevin De Bruyne and reported target Axel Witsel while Romelu Lukaku would certainly have been in the squad.
Though perhaps keeping Hazard under wraps for the new season is a good thing. He will have had a decent rest before the Premier League season kicks off again in August and he is unleashed against Wigan on the opening day.
I can’t wait.
You can read more of Phil's opinions at ShoutyAndSpitty.com or on Twitter @PhilLythell