Monday, 2 July 2012

Euro 2012 Observations: Part Six (1st July 2012)

Spain dine at top table as Italians are roasted in Kiev

So Euro 2012 is done and dusted. As many predicted beforehand, Spain have emerged victorious and after the brutal 4-0 decimation of Italy in final, reinforced their position as one of the greatest international sides the game has ever seen. At the same time sticking two fingers up to all those who were less than impressed with their somewhat subdued performances in this tournament leading up to the final. Accusations of their possession based game being boring, negative and, most absurdly, 'anti football' were unduly harsh and at times laughable. In the end, such claims were left to look truly idiotic as Vincente Del Bosque's team put in one of the all time great performances that will no doubt leave a permanent imprint on the minds of anyone fortunate enough to see it. More often than not, cup finals tend to disappoint as teams enter with a sense of caution resulting in cagey affairs that rarely live up to the occasion. Spain blew that idea out of the water in some style.

It didn't take long for the Spanish Juggernaut to get into gear. Much has been made of Del Bosque's decision to play without a striker for a lot of the competition. The prevailing view is that he sacrificed an outlet in order to accommodate an extra attacking midfielder to aid in their retention of the ball. While this is true on a basic level, it doesn't, as the cynics would like to believe, reduce their attacking options. Playing with a more withdrawn forward or 'false 9', actually gives the team more fluidity which in turn, enhances their creativity. Tasked with this role as the advanced attacking midfield player is Cesc Fabregas who demonstrated the effectiveness of this strategy by waltzing into the box & delivering a pinpoint cross for David Silva to head home. Contrary to the lazy belief that Spain are one dimensional, a cross and header in fact demonstrates that they are capable of scoring different types of goal rather than simply trying to 'walk the ball into the net'. Not for the first time either. This was Spain's second headed goal of the competition following Xabi Alonso's opener against France. Providing the cross that day was the continuously impressive Jordi Alba and it was the marauding left back who doubled Spain's lead in the final. An ambitious initial run, a fantastic one-two with Xavi and the most composed of finishes essentially ended the game as a contest before half time.

That's not say Italy were bad. For a lot of the game they performed admirably and even created a fair few decent chances themselves. At 1-0 they were very much in the game and may have even found themselves level but for the Spanish centre back pairing of Gerrard Pique and Sergio Ramos. Behind them, the impenetrable Iker Casillas was not to be beaten by any Italian chances that found their way through. On another day, against another team, the efforts of Cassano et al would have yeilded greater rewards. It was difficult not have sympathy at the end but they simply had no answer to a rampant Spanish team whose display was as close to perfection as one would imagine possible in football terms.

As if things weren't difficult enough, they were also forced to play with 10 men for much of the second half when their third and final substitute Thiago Motta was forced off with a hamstring injury just minutes after coming on. This simply meant the Spanish could grind them down and duly scored their third and fourth goals in the closing stages of the game to add some gloss to what was already a pristine performance. Fernando Torres, who has otherwise been one of the few disappointing players in the squad, came off the bench to latch onto another incisive Xavi through ball and become the first player to score in successive Euro Championship finals. Just minutes later, Torres laid on a pass for Chelsea teammate Juan Mata, himself making his first appearance in the competition as a late sub, to finish a typically majestic Spanish move.

The once again flawless and inspirational Andres Iniesta was rewarded with the Player of the Tournament gong by UEFA and you'd be hard pressed to find many dissenting voices. The Barcelona man is the beating heart of a team that contains an almost obscene number of star players. The fact he can still stand out in such a brilliant side is testament to his ability which doesn't even appear to be relenting as he gets older. If anything, as he matures, he seems to flourish even more.

'Boring' Spain, have made history by becoming the first team to successfully defend the title & in doing so, have now won three tournaments in a row after their triumph at the World Cup in South Africa two years ago. Debates will now naturally rage over whether this is the greatest international team ever. It's often a futile exercise attempting to compare things from different eras because quite simply, circumstances change over time. What was beneficial to teams of the past may be detrimental to modern sides and vice versa. There is no doubt about it though, the Spanish team of the last five years can unquestionably sit alongside the famous Brazil, France, Uruguay, German and Italy teams that have achieved similar greatness in years gone by and it's not unfair to suggest that anybody who loves football will feel a sense of privilege that they were around to witness their ascension to the top of the footballing tree.

Viva Espana!

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