Monday, 2 July 2012

'Boring' Spain triumph again

Critics have labelled them boring. Many felt that the Barcelona and Real Madrid contingents couldn't continue to gel amid an ever-intensifying rivalry between the two clubs. Others questioned how it was possible for a team to succeed without naming an out-and-out striker in their starting line-up. Spain may not have lived upto the heights of Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup in terms of their overall performance, but victory at Euro 2012 has silenced all their doubters and left them pondering whether this really is the greatest international outfit to have ever graced a football pitch.

Nothing left to prove: Casillas marks four years of sheer dominance
Brazil's World Cup winning side of 1970 would certainly have a thing or two to say about that but it is often stated that there are too many variables to consider when it comes to comparing the different eras of football. At the very least, Spain's achievements have ensured that they will feature in the debates of fans and pundits alike for many years to come.
With this in mind, to call them boring is nothing short of an insult to their brilliance. Twelve goals scored to one conceded across their six matches. An average possession rating of 60.5% (60%, 78%, 62%, 53%, 59% and 51%). The player of the tournament in Andres Iniesta and the Golden Boot winner in Fernando Torres, who played only 189 minutes in total. If these sort of statistics are perceived as being boring, then we're in for a treat when an exciting team comes along. Those who have played the game, from top to bottom of the football pyramid, will appreciate just how difficult it is to do what Spain do. The problem is that they make it look so much easier than it actually is. It's football in its purest form. Incisive passing with an incredible amount of thought and consideration for every touch of the ball. When executed properly by top-class players at the peak of their powers, it can't be beaten.

Four players from Real Madrid (Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso) and six players from Barcelona (Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba*, Xavi Hernandez, Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas) started the final in Kiev on Sunday night. Certain sections of the media have conjured up the idea that the ill-natured duel between Spain's two biggest clubs could cause problems in the national team's camp. It didn't cause problems at Euro 2008 or the 2010 World Cup and even though the bad blood has escalated considerably since then, when Jose Mourinho arrived at Madrid from Inter Milan, there were no reasons to suggest that it would cause problems during Euro 2012. These players are top professionals and are more than mature enough to put any animosity aside for the sake of their country. In fact, Graham Hunter's book, Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World, details a close relationship between the captain Casillas and the midfield general Xavi, amongst others, which dates back to the very early days of their careers. Friendships of this magnitude aren't diminished in the heat of an encounter. Beneath all the antics and scuffles of an El Clasico lies a mutual respect that will always exist.

Now to clear up the final point of contention. Following criticism of Vicente Del Bosque's decision to name six midfielders against Italy in the opening match of Group C, the manager responded by starting Torres against the Republic of Ireland and Croatia. It may have seemed that the starting eleven against the Azzurri was merely an experiment but Del Bosque continued to show his belief in the system by employing it with undeniable success against France in the quarter-finals and Italy once more in the final. Had David Villa been fit to take part and arrived at the tournament on the back of another successful season at Barcelona we may never have witnessed this new phenomenon. The fact that we did, and that it worked, is not only testament to Del Bosque and his players, but to football as a whole. As said previously, Spain may not have been quite as spectacular as they were at Euro 2008 or the 2010 World Cup but their suceess at Euro 2012, more than any other, shows just how good a team they really are. Total football has prevailed.

*Barcelona have signed Jordi Alba from Valencia for £11.2m on a five-year deal, subject to a medical.