Wednesday, December 26, 2012
ESPNsoccernet: December 27, 10:12 AM UK
Spain make history; Spurs break mould
ESPN FC's network of correspondents are dedicated to bringing you the best news and features from around the globe and here are some of their favourite moments from 2012.
• Miguel Delaney, London Correspondent
On a balmy July night in Kiev, the sun isn't too far off coming out over the city's Olympic Stadium. There is still, however, absolutely no sign of the Spanish players coming out of the dressing room.
It's almost 2am and, understandably, they're still enjoying their latest landmark win with old friends. The injured David Villa and Carlos Puyol are in there smiling, Placido Domingo is in there singing. Iker Casillas and Sara Carbonero aren't kissing - to the disappointment of the media - but they are hugging.
Typically, the players are in no rush to leave. That unhurried feel, though, suits the whole atmosphere of the night. This isn't the energetic joy of 2008 or the extreme emotion of 2010. In Vienna, the victorious squad did an almost innocent conga around the pitch. In South Africa, by contrast, Iker Casillas wept while Andres Iniesta offered himself up to the heavens.
In Kiev, though, there is only the curious sight of the likes of Xabi Alonso quietly sitting on the centre of the pitch watching their children play. There is a serenity about the celebrations, a sense of professional satisfaction - even completion. They have, after all, made history.
When Cesc Fabregas eventually emerges with a broad smile on his face and a record third international medal around his neck, he attempts to explain it. "I don't think we're ready to see what we have done yet," he says. "Three major trophies in a row has never been done before in the history of football."
By the time Fabregas came out, the last Italian player had long gone. Not surprisingly, that player was Mario Balotelli. Even less surprisingly, after enduring a difficult night, the young forward glared fairly angrily at a journalist who asked for a few words. Balotelli, though, was one of a minority of Italians not to provide any. For the most part, they were perfectly prepared to stop and lionise the Spanish.
The ultimate 4-0 defeat, after all, came with no shame. Italy were mere details on a night when everything that has contributed to this Spanish era of success combined and culminated in one glorious crescendo. Afterwards, the victorious individuals simply seemed in awe of the level of performance the collective had reached. Most just puffed their cheeks, exhaled and talked of a 'partidazo' - an immense display.
They were also in awe of their coach. Every Spanish player interviewed spoke with reverence about Vicente Del Bosque and the calm intelligence he brought to the team. Typically, having led the way throughout Euro 2012, the manager was the first out from the Spanish dressing room.
Often deadpan or simply dour in his media press conferences, Del Bosque was smiling serenely here and just accepting handshakes - and congratulations - from the remaining journalists.
There were, after all, no more questions to answer: not about whether Spain could make history or whether they were making people bored. This wasn't just a historic victory, after all, but a high-end vindication. Because, given how the Euro 2012 final proceeded, it is remarkable to think of all the debates that preceded it.
Not only was there growing talk that an improving Italian side - who had already frustrated Spain in the group stages - would finally end a tired team's reign, there was the supposedly underwhelming nature of Spain's passage there as well as the contentious strikerless formation Del Bosque was insisting on implementing. To some, it was as if a gloriously talented team was wilfully suppressing their supreme attacking ability in order to simply play out their possession philosophy.
In truth, such a view was probably from the wrong perspective. Because one of the consequences of Spain's dominant passing, pressing game was that it meant opposition sides' only possibly counter-strategy was to sit very deep. It wasn't that the Spanish weren't attacking, it was that other sides were refusing to come out. In response, then, Spain had no option but to try to draw them out with improvised formations. In that, they almost became victims of their own success - at least in terms of their perception.
Within minutes of the final starting, though, Italy would become victims of their own progress - and Spain's supremacy. Because, having grown as a team over the course of the tournament, Cesare Prandelli's side felt confident enough to step up.
For them, it would prove fatal. For Spain, it would finally provide the space to fully illustrate their excellence and end so many debates. For a start, there was the very nature of the opening goal. All of their most advanced midfielders in that 4-3-3-0 combined exquisitely to completely unravel Italy. First, Iniesta played a divine through ball for Cesc Fabregas. He went around the outside while David Silva went inside, with the latter then very simply heading in Fabregas' chip.
The second goal, though, was even more fitting. Because, just like the Spanish team as a whole, the player that has most defined this generation saved his best until the last. On 40 minutes, Xavi supremely picked out left-back Jordi Alba to slide the ball past Gigi Buffon. Given the manner in which a full-back thundered up the wing to finish, it was reminiscent of Brazil 1970.
By the end of the match, though, Spain had arguably surpassed them. For one, there was the fact they went one better in winning by four goals in their keynote match against Italy. Secondly, it was an unprecedented third major trophy for them in a row.
At about 2.30am in the Kiev mixed zone, Sergio Ramos came through - the last to emerge. A player who had a magnificent tournament, he graciously stood and let journalists - many of whom were momentarily leaving aside professional obligation - pose with the silverware. Then, off he went. The sun was coming out. But there was no sign of it coming down on this Spanish era of success.
• Kevin Palmer, London Correspondent
The White Hart Lane faithful have become used to being teased by false dawns over the last two decades, yet even the most sceptical member of their congregation dared to believe their moment had arrived on what seemed to be a breakthrough evening for Tottenham Hotspur on February 11, 2012.
An increasingly threatening Newcastle side were the visitors for a game that was dripping with emotion before a ball had even been kicked, as this was Spurs manager Harry Redknapp's first game on the touchline since he was installed as odds-on favourite to be the next England manager.
Days after Fabio Capello had resigned as national team boss and Redknapp had been hailed as his only natural successor by all observers, an emotionally driven audience of devotees lauded the coach who had emerged victorious from his agonising courtroom battle against tax fraud charges just a few days before.
Before a ball was kicked, cries of "Harry Redknapp, we want you to stay" echoed around a capacity crowd at a football ground that still boasts the potential to produce an atmosphere like no other in London despite its modest capacity. Indeed, that was before the feast of entertainment provided by the Tottenham players, who made their own bid to keep their manager with a scintillating display.
It was not just the 5-0 victory that appeared to have emphasised Tottenham's arrival as a member of the game's newly branded 'Big Three' - the swagger in their step left few in any doubt that they were ready for the big time at last.
Redknapp, it seemed, had succeeded in replacing the flaky Tottenham of old with a vibrant side oozing with class and potential, and the press briefing after the game focused on why he would want to walk away from such a wonderful team to take on the poisoned chalice that is the England job.
"I can only thank the supporters for the reception the fans gave me and it will live with me forever," Redknapp said, his eyes reddened by the draining nature of the week he had endured as he entered a frenzied pressroom after the game. "This is the best team I ever managed. We can all be proud of what we've done here."
Redknapp made the error of speaking in the past tense about the club and the team he was clearly expecting to wave a fond farewell to a few weeks later. That scenario was to transpire, but not in the manner he was expecting.
Those of us present who were duped into believing that Tottenham had shattered their own mould and become something more than a Premier League bridesmaid should have known better as, just 124 days later and with Tottenham preparing for another season of Europa League football, Redknapp was sacked.
The adulation that had surrounded him a few short weeks before was forgotten amid an end-of-season collapse he was incapable of averting, with Redknapp's exit barely lamented by those who had delighted in lauding him just a few short weeks before. Falls from grace have rarely been hastier.
Sport has a habit of presenting you with apparent realities that quickly reveal themselves to be mirages and that is precisely what Redknapp and Tottenham served up against Newcastle last February. For 90 glorious minutes, they looked like a team ready to take on the world. As it turns out, they were the same old Tottenham after all.