The Spanish Reign
La Furia Roja’s success at Euro 2012 has placed them among the greatest footballing sides in history, writes Angelo Risso.
Their victory was doubted all along.
Lacking an orthodox striker due to the injury of all-time top scorer David Villa, the Spanish National Football Team prodded and pushed throughout Euro 2012, unable at times to turn their unique tiki-taka possession-centric football into anything concrete.
Accusations were hurled at the squad despite their unrelenting march to the final: they were boring, insipid; they lacked the killer instinct of old. Questions were raised: could Cesc Fabregas perform in an unfamiliar ‘faux-9’ deep-lying striker role? Did Spain have a ‘Plan B’ to break teams down? Would Villa’s absence come back to haunt La Furia Roja?
“The worst thing we can do is to doubt the style and to change it,” said Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque, calling for calm. “It has worked.”
Spain’s 4-0 demolition of Italy in the Euro 2012 Final was the perfect way to debunk all these uncertainties and doubts.
In a sense, this tournament was all about these two finalists. With the exception of Germany, most major players in Euro 2012 were not really meeting common expectations. The Dutch went home without a point in Group B. A strong Russian outfit were surprisingly toppled by Greece in Group A. After showing some early promise both Group D qualifiers, England and France fell out at the quarterfinal stage. Portugal played well and successfully navigated the ‘Group of Death’, but was far too reliant on the form of talisman Cristiano Ronaldo to cause any real damage.
Italy defied stereotypes in Euro 2012 by playing a pleasingly attacking brand of football, overcoming both a resolute English squad and a much-fancied Germany to reach the final. Coach of the Italian team, Cesare Prandelli, set his team out to dominate and demonstrated a refreshing self-assurance in his team’s ability to pass, create and dictate terms – driven forward sumptuously by Juventus playmaker Andrea Pirlo. Pirlo’s effortlessly efficient performances were typical of a player of his class, and lent credence to his standing as one of the greatest mid-fielders in modern football.
Yet for all their attacking flair and intent, Italy faced a Spanish outfit in the final that were not just better, but entirely dominant in possession, in chances and in goals. After all the accusations of ‘boring’ football, Spain put on an attacking spectacle on the greatest stage of all.
Italy played admirably, refusing to shift their attacking philosophy despite playing with ten men after Thiago Motta’s second-half injury. But champions create their own luck, and goals from David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata were more than enough to seal the Italian’s fate. Alba’s goal, the second of the match, saw the wing back bomb forward over 50 metres to latch onto Xavi Hernandez’s pass and slot it past Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
It was everything beautiful about the Spanish philosophy — fluidity, precision, refinement and outrageous speed. Under the Spanish model even a wingback is dangerous.
“You have to pay credit to Spain. They made history and deservedly so … (but) Italy have shown you can play attacking football,” said Prandelli.
According to Craig Foster, a Football Analyst from SBS, it is incorrect to criticise Spain for their possession-based approach. Rather, other teams should be criticised for ‘parking the bus’ and refusing to attack the Spanish with any fervour.
“People become tired, they want something different,” said ex-Socceroo Foster. “Spain struggled at times to break down teams intent only on stopping it, necessitating a more patient approach … and it’s Spain’s fault?”
Questions have been inevitably asked regarding the Spanish squad’s place amongst the great international teams. Are they greater than Pele’s Brazil, or Puskas’ Hungary? It is difficult to compare. But no modern team rivals this Spanish squad for quality, depth, cohesion or success. This fact alone must surely catapult them to footballing immortality.
“It’s very difficult to be champions once, twice is a lot more difficult, and three times is brilliant,” said Del Bosque.
Spain’s final victory in Kiev cemented not only a footballing dynasty but offered what must be considered the zenith of the world game’s beauty.
Long live the Spanish era.