From all the games at Euro 2012 so far, we have been privileged to witness some truly exceptional individual performances, some fantastic displays of team unity—and even some unusually good officiating.
For the neutral, watching the likes of Germany or Russia attacking in one of their trademark, free-flowing moves has been a hugely enjoyable part of Euro 2012—while Greece, having vastly overstayed their welcome with an overly defence-first approach, might have had the viewer reaching for the remote by half time.
Above all though, is the majesty and appreciation which comes from watching a player at the top of their game apply themselves in such a way that their individual brilliance shines through consistently—for the pure betterment of their team; their nation.
Alan Dzagoev of Russia, Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Sweden and Jakub Błaszczykowski of Poland all showed their undoubted elegance and quality in flashes, but ultimately their time in the tournament was undone by a mix of team-mates not on the same level, over-expectancy and perhaps over-confidence.
For two real stars of the world game though, the victory in the tournament remains a very real possibility.
Spain, the current World and European champions, face France on Saturday in their quarterfinal and in Andres Iniesta boast arguably the most in-form playmaker of the competition thus far.
Playing on the left side of a front three, but with serious licence to roam and wreak havoc on the opposition, Iniesta has been a constant supply for the centre-forward—be it real of false 9—and has created a significant number of chances for himself too.
Though Spain have an embarrassment of riches in the final third, Iniesta is an indispensable member of the starting XI and his mere presence is usually enough to guarantee openings on goal.
His movement, vision, assuredness of touch and artistry on the ball make him a real stand out player, one who could ultimately go on to be the difference between winning the tournament and merely making up the numbers.
Iniesta has already proven himself on the biggest stage of all, scoring the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup Final.
Poland/Ukraine has seen even better form from the Barcelona schemer, and he perhaps more than any other Spanish player can ensure they secure an unprecedented third major title in a row.
Germany though, following their 4-2 drubbing of Greece in the quarterfinals, have seen their own playmaker come to life in a big way after the imperious performance of Mesut Ozil.
Quiet yet effective in the group stages, Ozil stepped up in the first knock-out game for the Germans to run Greece ragged, finding pockets of space where there ought to be none, with the Greeks defending with a line of four protected by a line of five.
Ozil fashioned countless chances for the likes of Klose, Schurrle and Khedira to get on the end of and ended the game with two assists, though it could have been far more. The one blot on his book was the failure to end the game with a goal himself, after two or three golden opportunities were spurned.
Germany and Jogi Loew will not mind one bit though, for the way Ozil danced through challenges and threaded passes into space will be of far more pertinence in the semifinal than whether the Real Madrid maestro gets on the scoresheet himself; one thing Germany have—which Spain perhaps do not so much, this time around?—is goals from all over the pitch.
Italy, England, France and Portugal will yet have their own hopes of ending their respective waits to win a major tournament, and each of them have their own key figures who they will be counting on, but none have the poise, grace, elegance and sustainability of Iniesta and Ozil.
Who wins Euro 2012 is yet to be decided, but both Spain and Germany can rest assured that even when the going gets tough in these tense knock-out games, they have a man who can make the difference—maybe the difference to see them crowned Champions of Europe once more.