Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Sporting Picks of 2012, Part 2: July 1st

14th European Championship Final: Olympic Stadium, Kiev; Spain 4, Italy 0

Spain made history in magical fashion as they outclassed Italy and claimed a successive European crown to add to their 2010 World Cup triumph.  Vicente del Bosque's side staged a compelling claim to be the greatest international side of all time as the Euro 2012 final was transformed into an exhibition with Italy - who performed creditably for long periods - passed brutally into submission.

Spain's virtuoso performance was a decisive answer to a growing band of critics who had forced coach Del Bosque and his players to defend themselves against allegations that they had been "boring" throughout Euro 2012 at the pre-match media conference.”

One of the pitfalls of doing lists like this is that in a vintage year like 2012, something has to fall short.  In this case the toughest decision surrounded how much Olympics to do and where everything else fitted in.  After deciding on the amount of Olympics, the final decision came down to writing about either Spain’s historic hat-trick of Football championships or South Africa’s series win in England that saw them unseat England as test Cricket’s best team.

Spain won out because they are undoubtedly the best football team on the planet just now, and because South Africa, whilst being the best Test Cricket side in the planet, I suspect are not the legendary sides that the West Indies were in 1976, or Australia were in 1995.  On the other hand, Spain are already compared to the West Germany sides of the mid 70’s and the France side of the turn of the century – this summer Spain surpassed them.

This summer Spain took their biggest advantage…  and took it to it’s logical conclusion.  Remember when Scottish football fans slated Craig Levein for playing 4-6 against the Czech Republic two years ago.  Well…  Spain essentially won Euro 2012 with that exact formation.  Whereas Levein’s version of 4-6 was intended more as a 4-4-2-0 (which morphed into 4-6 due to Scotland’s inability to keep possession), Spains version was more of a 4-2-4-0 or a 4-3-3-0 and did keep the intended shape.  Spanish journalists called the formation 4-2-3-1 with Fabregas as the “false 9”.  Poppy!  And indeed cock!  It was 4-6, simple as.

What this formation did do was enable Spain to retain possession and operate their Tiki-taka style.  In this respect, it worked.  Where the formation didn’t work so well (which is why Spain were called boring) is that Spain’s possession was not converted into goals.  Fabregas was always too much of a midfielder to be a proper “False 9”, so doesn’t have the forwards instinct for getting into goal scoring positions or for making runs that forwards would make.  Had Villa not been injured, Spain would have romped to victory.  Spain looked their most uncomfortable against Italy in their first game, Italy remember played 3-5-2 in that game.  For every other game, except their next game (against Ireland, who they thrashed 4-0), Spain dominated without really getting the goals their play deserved.  So what happened in the final?

Put simply, Spain looked like they switched Fabregas and Silva, with Silva playing through the middle and making the sort of runs that Fabregas should have been.  As a result, Silva fitted into the mould of the “false 9” better than Fabregas did.   This undoubtedly contributed to Spain’s flying start – which included their opening goal (scored by Silva).  Spain got the second just before half time from a counter attacking move that saw Jordi Alba steer the ball past Bufon.  When Italy’s third substitue Motta was forced off with an injury, it was essentially game over.

The big question now is how long this Spain side can go on and what happens next?  The previous sides to have won back to back championships have evolved differently.  France fell apart in South Korea, becoming the first World Champions to fall at the first hurdle since Brazil 36 years previously, before reaching the Quarter finals of Euro 2004.  In contrast, West Germany could have made it 3 in a row losing their European crown on penalties to Czechoslovakia.  However unlike France, who have still to put together a side that puts them into contention for a championship, West Germany built the foundations of a side that would see them become European Champions again in 1980 before reaching the next three World Cup Finals – winning in 1990.

While the odds will be stacked against Spain retaining the World Cup next year in Brazil, I suspect that the future of Spanish national team will be in good health for several years to come.

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