Euro 2012 Final: The Brilliance of the Spanish
Well, so much for the talk of Spain being boring. I, too, had been one of the people accusing the Spaniards of playing mundane, unattractive football. And that’s because they had been in their last two matches. Sure, they had been keeping possession of the ball, but they had not gone forward and attacked with the gusto that we’ve become accustomed to of this team in the past four years. I understood this tactic when they went up a goal against France and then pulled their foot off the gas, but against Portugal they played to a 0-0 draw in which they didn’t look a serious threat until the second half of extra time. And thus questions were asked of this Spanish side – did they really have it inside them to win a third straight major tournament, a feat no other team had ever before accomplished? The answer was a resounding yes.
The 4-0 final score line might be slightly misleading due to the fact that the last two were scored with the Italians playing down a man after Thiago Motta had to leave the match with cramps (Italy had already used all 3 substitutions and therefore couldn’t bring on a replacement for Motta; a horrible rule that needs to be amended). But don’t get it twisted – Spain thoroughly dominated play and showed why they deserve to be the champions. Leading up to the first goal by David Silva, the match was completely dominated by Spain, who was playing the expressive and beautiful football we’ve come to expect. Silva’s goal was a masterpiece, with Iniesta playing a perfectly weighted ball to Fabregas at the edge of the box, who then coolly chipped it back across the face of goal for Silva to put into the back of the net with a well placed header.
After the opening goal, Spain did drop back a bit and Italy had long spells of possession in the Spanish half of the field, but Iker Casillas was never seriously troubled in the first half, save for a few long shots from outside the box. The second Spanish goal wasn’t as pretty as the first, but was still a testament to the fluidity with which this team plays. Xavi played a sublimely timed ball to a streaking Jordi Alba on the counterattack that left Alba one-on-one with Gianluigi Buffon. Alba opened his body up beautifully and slotted the ball near post, past the legendary Italian keeper. In all honestly, Xavi’s ball should have been cut out by the Italian defense, but it wasn’t, and Alba still needed a great deal of composure to put the ball away as comfortably as he did. At this point, though Italy was still in the match, one could see the quality of Spain shining through, and an Italian comeback appeared increasingly bleak.
In the early stages of the second half, Italy played admirably and had a few real opportunities to pull a goal back, most notably when Antonio di Natale snuck in behind the Spanish backline but found himself unable to beat Casillas. However, when Thiaga Motta went down with a pulled hamstring in the 62nd minute, after Italy had already made their three allotted substitutions, the Azzurri were forced to play with ten men for the remainder of the match. At that point, all who were watching knew it was over, it was just a matter of how ugly the final score was going to be. At the time Motta went down, possession was 51% – 49% in favor of Spain. The game was close and Italy looked quite capable of scoring a goal that would have put the match in question for Spain, and in turn set up an exhilarating finish. Unfortunately, once Motta left the pitch, the Italians were barely able to possess the ball, let alone threaten the Spanish net. The final score of 4-0 could have easily been 5-0 or 6-0, and the last half-hour of the match turned out to be a mundane progression toward a thoroughly anticlimactic finality. Spain played clinical football and the result was never in the least bit of doubt.
Spain became the first team to win three major tournaments (Euros and World Cups are put in this category) in a row, and cemented their place in the annals of football history. Whether or not they are the greatest team of all time is obviously debatable, but they certainly erased all doubt (if there was any) that they are one of the top candidates. Although it may be too early to look ahead (I’m sure the Spanish team is joyously relishing this victory rather than thinking about future footballing endeavors), one cannot help but take note that the core of La Roja is still quite young for the most part. The oldest key players are Casillas, 31, and Xavi, 32, who should both be good to go for the World Cup in Brazil in two years. Can they win an unprecedented four in a row? If they pull off that feat, I think there will be no doubt that they are the greatest national side of all time. But we’ll have to wait a little while – two years, to be exact – to find out if that’s going to happen. For now, let’s just take some time to bask in the greatness and remarkable play we have been fortunate enough to have shine upon us.
From someone who doubted their ability to win this tournament, I tip my hat to a Spanish side that has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that they are one of the best to ever play the game. I really wish I was in Barcelona or Madrid for the next week – they’re gonna be poppin’ so many bottles that even Drake and Chris Brown might get jealous.