The curtain came down on Euro 2008 last night with the result that football fans around the world hoped for. With some familiar faces from the Premiership wearing the red of Spain, we English fans now rather like their brand of football. We used to think it was boring and slow, but now we recognise our good friends Nando and Cesc in the team, we have decided that actually we love it.
‘A victory for football!’ we all cried. ‘Fans of the beautiful game, rejoice!’ ordered the newspapers.
The stylish Spaniards finally overcame their fear of success and put to the sword an average German team. It was not a bad German team, as many had suggested, it just lacked the defensive intellect of its predecessors. The Spanish midfield resembled a hive of bees, always on the move, darting around with purpose and impossible to track. Poor old Christopher Metzelder and his giant of a partner, Per Mertesacker. Their defensive frailties were a small pull of thread before kick-off that the Spaniards had comprehensively unravelled by the end of the night.
Spain did not play well for the entirety of the tournament. They were lackadaisical against Sweden before David Villa’s last minute winner and dominant, yet uninspiring against Italy. The difference was that whatever the scoreboard read, they kept the ball. There was no ingenuity about their passing style, it was short and to the nearest man. But did you notice anything about that nearest man? He was always in space. That wasn’t an accident. He didn’t wander there and fortuitously end up with the ball. He created it for himself.
Euro 2008 has not been a tournament for defenders. Alan Hansen and co have been having a field day tearing apart nearly every back four on the BBC. The eventual champions were no great defensive side, but they did enough. Carlos Puyol and Carlos Marchena looked like a dam ready to burst at times, but they held out. The importance of attacking full-backs was apparent for most sides, but such was the ability of Spain’s midfield, Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevila were not quite as vital to their teams as the likes of Philip Lahm, Hamit Altintop and Yuri Zhirkov.
The Spanish were not the most flamboyant , the strongest or the quickest side at Euro 2008, but they were the victors. Their sheer ability to starve their physically superior opponents of the ball was the defining factor. Were they ever likely to fail though with two strikers of the quality of Fernando Torres and David Villa?
The red rag of a Spanish shirt tempted the German bull and had him aimlessly charging around the Ernst Happel Stadion all night. Now the jinx has been broken, can Spain realistically maintain a challenge for the World Cup in 2010? Is this the start of something wonderful or the climax of so many years of hurt?