Yet somehow Fernando Torres emerged as the winner of the tournament’s “Golden Boot” award, which goes to the top goal scorer.
Torres scored three goals in six games on the big stage. That total tied him with Germany’s Mario Gomez, Russia’s Alan Dzagoev, Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic, Italy’s Mario Balotelli and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
But he also had one assist — on Spain’s seemingly inconsequential fourth goal in its 4-0 drubbing of Italy in the final — that served as the tie-breaker and handed him the award.
Torres only registered that assist because of the kinship he felt with the goalscorer Juan Mata. Torres scored Spain’s third goal in the 84th minute. Four minutes later, he found himself in a good position to take a shot, but passed it to Mata instead. Mata easily rolled the ball into the open Italy goal.
On Monday, the Daily star reports Mata said that Torres told him he would have taken the shot himself if any other Spain player was involved in the play. But he decided to pass Mata, who is also his teammate at Chelsea FC. The two players are thought to be close friends.
“Torres told me he saw me and passed the ball because it was me,” Mata said.
Torres won the award despite only playing 189 of a possible 570 minutes. He was once among world’s soccer’s most feared strikers, and even scored the winning goal in the final at Euro 2008. But his form and confidence have drastically fallen in the last two years, and he was largely relegated to the bench at Euro 2012 as a result.
He was forced to watch from the sidelines as manager Vicente del Bosque preferred to use midfielder Cesc Fabregas in Spain’s opener against Italy. Torres started and scored twice in Spain’s next game against Ireland (but didn’t play the full 90 minutes). Those two goals earned him a spot in the starting 11 against Croatia, but he was removed after 61 ineffective minutes.
Torres’ role in the crunch knockout games says a lot about his current place in the national team. Fabregas started in the quarterfinal against France, and Torres only entered the game in the 67th minute. Spain was comfortably in control of the game at that point. Del Bosqe opted for Alvaro Negredo over Torres in the semifinal meeting with Portugal. In fact, Torres played no part in the game which was decided on penalty kicks after 120 scoreless minutes.
Fabregas started in the final, and Torres entered in the 75th minute. Italy was playing with 10 men at that point and seemed to have already conceded defeat. “Mop-up duty” and “garbage time” are apt descriptions of much of Torres’ playing time at Euro 2012.
His three goals are a reflection of Spain’s complete dominance over hapless Ireland and the fact that Italy had lost the will to fight at that point in the final. Even though he won the “Golden Boot” award, Torres’ name does not appear on anyone’s all-tournament team.
Euro 2012 was missing a great center forward or out-and-out striker. Balotelli came closest to the tag, as he played well throughout the tournament and devastated Germany in the semifinal. Gomez started off well, but faded into anonymity by the time Germany made its exit. Mandzukic played well enough to earn a move to Bayern Munich, but not a place in history (as far as all-time great performances go). Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie didn’t come close to delivering what was expected.
Perhaps this means that at this moment most of the great forwards in world soccer are not European. Each of the 16 countries that participated in Euro 2012 would love to have the services of Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi, Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez, or Hulk. Or maybe it confirms the old adage that it is better to give than receive.