The buildup to the first major football tournament behind the old Iron Curtain in eastern Europe was dominated by scare stories: the transport infrastructure wasn't ready; there weren't enough (affordable) hotels for supporters to stay in; racism was a widespread problem in both host countries; foreign fans would not be welcomed in many of the host cities, and so on.
Yet most of the fears have been unfounded. Yes, there have been issues with supporters that European football's governing body UEFA has had to deal with, and member associations have been fined for specific incidents of failing to keep their fans under control.
Some of the magnificent stadia have not been full for every game, but that is probably down to the fact that Europe is going through difficult economic times right now and Poland and Ukraine are further away than most host nations have been, resulting in increased traveling costs.
But by and large, Euro 2012 has been an unqualified success. The group stage matches were full of attacking intent and fine goals and the knockout stages have produced two penalty shootouts of unbearable tension, not to mention Italy's awesome destruction of Germany. Referees have let games flow and kept the card count down, and the players have responded by concentrating more on their football and less on feigning injury and trying to artificially gain their team an advantage.
Everywhere you looked, there was a story: Andriy Shevchenko gave the Ukraine people a memory they will never forget with two goals to see off Sweden; Greece put their country's vast financial problems aside to qualify from Group A; the much-fancied Netherlands went back home with tails between legs; and then there was Spain and Italy, quietly working their way through the tournament.
With 30 of the 31 matches played we have seen only three red cards -- two of which came in the opening game as Poland drew with Greece -- and there have been 21 goals scored from headers, which at 29% of the total 72 stands way higher than at any previous Euros.
Wonderful goals have crashed in with regularity, from the acrobatics of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Balotelli to the gorgeous flick of Danny Welbeck, the emphatic volleys of Sami Khedira and Marco Reus to the unstoppable rocket shots of Jakub Blaszczykowski and, again, Balotelli.
And then there was Pirlo's "Panenka."
With England leading Italy 2-1 after the first two penalties in Sunday's quarterfinal shootout, Pirlo produced a moment of genius to change the momentum entirely in Italy's favor. He watched the England keeper buzz around on the line trying to put him off, before coolly chipping the ball -- a la Antonin Panenka in the 1976 European Championship final shootout -- delicately into the net after Joe Hart had dived early and erroneously to his right.
England missed their next two penalties and Italy triumphed. "Hart seemed to be very confident in himself. I needed to do something to beat him and it seemed to be a psychological blow," said the unflappable Pirlo. England boss Roy Hodgson added: "The cool, calculated way Pirlo chipped it, that is something you either have or you don't have as a player."
The watching football world swooned, and Pirlo produced his second successive man-of-the-match display to help Italy slay Germany in the semis and continue the Azzurri's amazing record of never having lost a competitive game to "Die Mannschaft."
On Sunday, Cesare Prandelli's team can keep another record intact: that of a country never winning three major international tournaments in a row. Spain are potentially 90 minutes away from sporting immortality.
A captivating conclusion to Euro 2012 lies in wait.