According to UEFA predictions, approximately 250 million soccer fans tuned in to watch the Euro 2012 final match on Sunday evening. Compare that to the 111 million that watched this year's Super Bowl, and you get an idea as to the impact and significance of this event. The game pitted reigning champs Spain against the Azzurri of Italy. The Euro championship is held on even-numbered years between World Cup tournaments, and the winner qualifies to play in the FIFA Confederations Cup, which will be held next year in Brazil. Spain was already qualified after winning the 2010 World Cup, so Italy was given the pass to Brazil.
Spain was the heavy favorite entering the game, attempting to become the first team to win three straight major soccer tournaments. They were the top team in the FIFA world rankings, and came in with a roster full of superstars as Euro and World Cup champions. They beat France and Portugal in the knockout stages to reach the final. Italy was also in Group C with Spain, and won against England and Germany on their way to the final.
We headed over to the The Richmond Arms Pub (5920 Richmond Ave.), traditionally a great place to watch fútbol in Houston, to see the final and soak up the energy only soccer fans are able to transmit. We spoke to several fans and asked them to give predictions for the game and other soccer-related questions:
Name: Idris Olugbayo (right), 37. Prediction For The Game: Italy wins 2-1; Balotelli scores the deciding goal. Favorite Club Team: Manchester United (English Premier League). When Did You Fall In Love With Fútbol?: I used to play as a kid back in Nigeria. My favorite player back then was Eric Cantona. Later on, they got Ronaldo and then Chicharito. Plus many ManU fans are hooligans. I'm a bit of a hooligan myself!
Name: Jolene Ulises (below), 36. Prediction For The Game: España wins 2-1. Ikar Casillas outplays Gigi Buffon. Favorite Club Team: It's really River Plate (Argentina), but I also love Real Madrid (Spain). When Did You Fall In Love With Fútbol?: When I was living in Argentina, I married a local and fell in love with him and the sport. You cannot not love fútbol there, the people are so wild and passionate. It was an instant love. Plus I'm a Messi fan!
Name: Eric Subirats (above), 30. Prediction For The Game: España wins 2-1 with excellent play from Iniesta and Jordi Alba. Favorite Club Team: Barcelona! When Did You Fall In Love With Fútbol?: When I was in my mother's belly. My dad used to play back in Spain, and we used to go to the stadium and watch him.
Name: Erick Lacovara (below), 33. Prediction For The Game: Italy wins 2-1. Balotelli is a force for Italy. His ego can win or lose you the game, but Italy will upset Spain today. Favorite Club Team: AC Milan When Did You Fall In Love With Fútbol?: I'm from Venezuela, but my family has roots from Italy. Fútbol is in my blood. I loved playing as a little kid.
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Name(s) (L-R): Dasha Ivanova, 22. Ksenia Kozakis, 21. Prediction For The Game: España wins 3-1. Fernando Torres will score two goals. Favorite Club Team: Chelsea (English Premier League), because a Russian named Roman Abramovich owns the team. When Did You Fall In Love With Fútbol?: Russians watch a lot of fútbol. We love to play also. It's very exciting to see the pros score a goal. Plus there are very handsome players like (Spanish goalkeeper) Ikar Casillas and Cristiano Ronaldo from Portugal.
Spain scored early with a goal by Silva in the 14th minute. The ebb and flow of the game is what we love the most, with the crowd volume following each scoring attempt or defensive tackle, erupting when a goal is scored or a foul is made. The excitement and heartbreak are enough to make someone go crazy, but only one who truly loves the game will sit through it. It's like watching baseball for most people. You either love it or hate it. And fútbol is the most loved sport in the world.
Another score by Spain in the 41st minute and things looked quite bleak for Italy, but not impossible. Being down 2-0 at halftime is not the ideal situation, but anything can happen in a soccer game. Comebacks are always exciting, but it seems that Spain saved its best fútbol for the final. Italy makes several passionate attempts at goal in the second half, but then loses hope as Fernando Torres scores the third of the game, then assists on the fouth, sealing Italy's fate.
Four to zero. Spain wins. Eric celebrates and Erick shakes his head. But in the end, goals were scored, friends were made and we all win.