Euro 2012 wrap up
Published: Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
Euro 2012 is now over after 23 days, 76 goals, and countless memories. Spain successfully defended the crown as champions of Europe, completing an unprecedented treble of a World Cup triumph sandwiched by two continental championships. Here are some thoughts on this Spanish side and a “best of” compilation.
Critics of the Spanish side complained the team was “boring,” opting for a 4-6-0 formation that went without an out-and-out striker. Dubbed a “false No. 9,” the role ordinary played by a striker is occupied by an attacking midfielder, in this case Cesc Fabregas.
But what the critics fail to realize is how much this side has missed David Villa, who broke his leg playing for Barcelona in December. Had Villa been fully fit and able to play, it’s doubtful manager Vicente del Bosque would have trotted out a team that played with six of the best midfielders in the world. (That’s no exaggeration: Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta, David Silva are top class, while Sergio Busquets and Fabregas are certainly nothing to sneeze at.)
To say they are “boring” is disingenuous, and actually not true statistically. Spain averaged 2 goals per game – joint highest with Germany – and averaged 9.7 attempts on target – second only to Italy at 10.2.
The beauty of many of the goals Spain scored stands on its own. Take Silva’s goal in the final against Italy as an example. The buildup play was excellent, consisting of sublime passing, good movement, and a great header from the Manchester City winger.
And what makes this Spain a joy to watch is that passing ability. Spain had ridiculous passing stats all tournament, including averaging 626.3 passes per game (compared to Ireland, which had the worst at 221.3). The team also completed more passes in the final third than any other country.
Spain was also very sound tactically and defensively – something that’s actually underrated about this team. When you could get actually sniff of the ball, Spain as a unit would get it right back off of you, pressing high up the pitch and immediately putting teams under pressure.
Maybe it’s “boring” to watch the same team win again and again, but from a footballing perspective, Spain are a unique side to watch.
So is Spain the greatest international team of all time?
In short no, but only because it’s too difficult to compare different eras of football and different generations of players. Spain has achieved what no other team has done, winning three straight major tournaments and hardly conceding any goals along the way. Three major trophies in just four years is a simply remarkable accomplishment. Whether you like them or hate them, they are a truly special footballing side and something we might never see again.
But that doesn’t necessarily make them the greatest team of all time, nor is that a fair argument to make either for or against Spain. International football is littered with some tremendous sides. Uruguay in the 1920s and 30s, for example, won two Olympic Gold Medals on European soil before hosting and winning the first-ever World Cup in 1930. (The Olympics decided world champions before the invention of the World Cup.) La Celeste dominated the era and pretty much set the gold standard for internationals by both their achievements and playing ability, essentially playing an attacking 2-3-5 formation.
There’s also Brazil in the late 50s and early 60s and again in the 90s and early 2000s. Brazil in 58 and 62 won back-to-back World Cups. Its 1970 squad was simply remarkable, going 6-0-0 en route to winning it all and playing a truly special brand of football. In more recent times, Brazil won the World Cup in 1994, reached the final in 1998, and won again in 2002, making three straight appearances in the final of the World Cup. In-between at the Copa America (South American continental championship), they were finalists in 1995 and winners in 1997 and 1999.
Germany in the 70s are also a great shout and the only European team that came close to matching Spain’s achievement. European champions in 1972 and World Cup winners in 1974, West Germany fell just short of sandwiching their World Cup triumph by being runners-up at Euro 1976 after losing on penalties to Czechoslovakia – thanks to Antonin Panenka’s famous chip.
But the debate over the greatest team of all time misses the point. Each of the above mentioned teams brought something special and different to the game beyond trophies. Cherish each team for what has made each special and appreciate the beauty that each brought to the game at different times.