With the world at their feet right now, Spain have been crowned the undisputed kings of European football for the third time. On the first of July, they successfully defended their throne with utmost brilliance and class which is hard to replicate and hard to compete against.
Only a month ago, when I was writing the preview of Euro 2012, I had little doubts about the team that had the depth, charisma and talent to etch their name on the Henri Delaunay Trophy; it had to be either Spain or Germany. And had the German players kept their concentration on their game against Italy, Euro 2012 final would have been a replay of the final of Euro 2008. But, Germany had to surrender at the hands of “Super” Mario Balotelli in the semifinal, as Italy surprisingly managed to reach the final.
The two finalists were in the same Group at the start of the tournament, and Italy was the only team in the entire event to breach the Spanish defense when the two teams met in the first phase of Euro 2012. Antonio di Natale gave the Italians the lead that day only to see CescFabregas score the equaliser two minutes later and that is how it ended. Italy then defeated England in the last eight and trounced Germany in the semis.
Spain, on the other hand, met France in the quarter-final stage and came out victorious. In the semifinals; however, Casillas’ men came up against a certain Cristiano Ronaldo. The semifinal between Spain and Portugal was arguably the best match of the tournament; although both teams failed to score a goal throughout the match and it had to be decided on penalties. Spain’s resilience and big match temperament prevailed and Portugal was shown the door.
The final was billed as the match between attack and defense, Xavi Hernandez and Andrea Pirlo personified the collective psychologies of their squads. Italian teams have traditionally been more defensive than their competitors, for they have the ability to grind out results, and this tournament was no different. The way they dumped Germany out of the tournament clearly showed how hard it is to penetrate the watertight Italian defense, especially when they are a goal ahead. And had Italy scored the opening goal in the final, things could have been just a little different.
But, to score a goal against Spain, you first need to get the ball from them! Spanish team is a combination of speed and skill; they have assembled a great squad that revolves around the king of passes, Xavi Hernandez. Their players are short and light-weighted, which gives them a very balanced centre of gravity and allows them to twist, turn and bamboozle their opponents into submission.
They have successfully implemented this ‘pass and move’ strategy for the last four years during which period they have won the world cup in South Africa in 2010, and two European Championships in succession, a feat no other team in the world has ever achieved.
It’s hard to find the superlatives that could actually describe the great Spanish squad; they have so much talent at their disposal that the absence of the influential CarlesPuyol and the ultimate goal-poacher David Villa was never felt. However, the praise for this Spanish team is incomplete without the name of their charismatic captain IkerCasillas. This man’s talent is so immense that star shot-stoppers like Victor Valdes and Pepe Reina will have to spend their entire international careers on the bench. Valdes and Reina, in a sense, are unfortunate to be playing in the same generation as the iconic Real Madrid skipper.
As a fan of the beautiful game, I consider it an honour and sheer privilege to be witnessing the finest football of all time. Football folklore is full of praise for the mighty Brazilian team that won the 1970 FIFA World Cup under, of course, Pele and the total football era Dutch team of Johan Cruyff; but the performance of Spain in this year’s European Championships have left football historians a lot to write upon. And Spain are now threatening to dethrone Pele’s team of 1970 as the best international team ever!