||ESPNsoccernet: Euro 2012
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Nobody does it better
Euro 2012 was a magnificent tournament and it finished with a flourish as Spain beat Italy 4-0 in the final. Vicente del Bosque's side were irresistible in Kiev and the superlatives will deservedly keep on coming.
To be quite honest I didn't think they'd really hit their heights in the lead up to the final but my word it was worth waiting for when they did. That first 45 minutes was as good as you will see anywhere, in any era of football. To play the way they did was simply sensational - the passing, the movement, it was breathtaking. Italy opened up and tried to attack with two strikers but you give Spain that sort of space, we saw what happens.
Some people were describing Spain as boring in the build up to the game but I scratched my head when I heard that.
It was patient yes, but cannot be called boring. They may have passed sides into submission at times but when you're faced with teams putting ten men behind the ball against you and dropping unbelievably deep, you have to keep the ball and move it sideways in order to keep probing away. There were also some moments where they perhaps lacked a bit of clinical finishing, but it's easy to forget that they had the country's record scorer and first-choice striker David Villa out injured. The fact is, the ideal of the game is to pass the ball and there is no team that does it better than Spain. They are like a boxer, just landing shot after shot, wearing opponents down and then delivering the knockout blow.
I wasn't disappointed with the way Italy played, they had a real go and it made for a good game. They could have tried to make it really tight but it would have been very stale. They had some decent opportunities themselves, too, it wasn't all one-way traffic. They've had a great, surprising tournament, especially considering the ongoing match-fixing scandal in the country; no-one expected them to get to the final. On the night, though, Spain were just scintillating.
Everything was so quick with Del Bosque's system and the way his players shifted the ball. However, I can't see any other teams trying to play their 4-6-0 formation. Spain are a unique team and only they are capable of making that work. No other international side, and certainly a team in the Premier League, is going to be able to play that way. The reason it is successful is because every single player on the pitch, including the goalkeeper, is an accomplished ball player. You're only as good as your weakest player on the ball, but they don't have any. It's an incredible way of playing football and I don't see it being emulated by anyone else.
Amazingly, most of the squad will still be at their peak at the next World Cup. I personally questioned whether they would do it this time and I still think that they might have been caused more problems by Germany if they had made the final instead of Italy. However, there is now no question that Spain will be the pre-eminent European side in two years' time in Brazil. They will have to overcome that obstacle of no European nation having won the World Cup in South America before but there's can always be a first, as they proved this time by winning their third successive international tournament.
Andres Iniesta was named the best player of Euro 2012 and it's difficult to argue with that. The Barca pass-master, along with Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso, were my three standout players from Spain. There were obviously a lot of good performances in the Spanish team but that trio were first class, hugely influential. For Italy, the trio of Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano and Andrea Pirlo were fantastic throughout. Balotelli surprised me as he was more consistent than expected; it was difficult against Spain but he soldiered on and worked hard - I think we saw a growing maturity from him. Pirlo, meanwhile, is the only one who could improve that Spanish team. He could play in that system but he just ran out of steam a little bit in the final.
Aside from those six, Cristiano Ronaldo was excellent and it could have been an unbelievable tournament for him if he'd put more of his chances away. He could have had seven goals after four games, he hit the bar and post several times and missed opportunities he'd usually knock in easily. Portugal coach Paulo Bento said Ronaldo now deserves to be win this year's Ballon d'Or but, for me, Lionel Messi is still the best footballer on the planet. Ronaldo is just very unfortunate that he's got this little magician playing at the same time as him.
All in all, Euro 2012 was a thoroughly entertaining competition. Considering how sceptical a lot of people were before it started, it was great to see such a massive success both on and off the pitch. UEFA has already decided to alter the tournament to 24 teams and it's not yet clear how the format is going to work. I don't really agree with that decision and also think Michel Platini's idea of hosting matches all across Europe is pretty flawed, too. Being the host nation for a tournament is really something to be proud of and savour, and diluting those duties to the extent that Platini is suggesting detracts from that. There may always added pressure on the hosts to do well, but presenting such a spectacle brings unrivalled sporting excitement to the countries in question, exemplified perfectly by Ukraine and Poland over the past month.