Spain players on arrival in Madrid, on Monday
In the wee hours of Monday, I went to bed a deeply contended man after watching the Euro 2012 final. Since I was a neutral watcher, my happiness did not come from the fact that Spain won the title. I was delighted because the Spanish team proved one thing beyond doubt — football, primarily, is a game of sheer skill and it would remain so at the top level for many more years to come.
Having spent almost 55 years of my life playing football and watching it through the eyes of a coach, I was bit distressed in the last few years after several coaches across the world put more emphasis on height and physical strength.
It happened in India too when a particular national coach openly talked about recruiting only taller players with considerable physical prowess. They, somehow, missed the most important point — in football, muscle can never replace proficiency.
After watching Spain toying with Italy, I am absolutely convinced that no team in football history, except Brazil of 1970, could be compared with Vicente del Bosque’s squad. Some might talk about Hungary in the 50s or Rene Michel’s Holland, but both these teams stand far behind Spain in terms of successes on the pitch. In case Spain manage to retain the World Cup two years later, the soccer world would be forced to accept them as the greatest ever side, even better than Pele’s Brazil, who had demolished Italy 4-1 in the 1970 Cup final.
Despite watching many great matches, I was truly amazed by Monday’s final. During the first goal, which finally came from a David Silva header, there were four defenders around Cesc Fabregas, the passer of the ball. Yet, Fabregas found the time and space to keep the ball to Silva with a deadly inswinger that had the Italian defence on their knees.
Equally stunning was the Xavi through-ball for the second goal. While Xavi acted in a lighting speed, he also made the ball to travel 40 yards to find Jordi Alba. Two such goals in the first-half were enough to break the backbone of any team. No wonder the Italians were a pale shadow of their usual self in the second session.
During this edition of the Euro, I heard many people complain how boring the Spanish team looked because of their “tiki-taka” football — that they keep the ball in possession for most part of the match. The observation was extremely stupid. Keeping the ball in custody should be the main aim as it minimises the chances of conceding a goal. At the same time, it also enhances the possibility of scoring goals, that ultimately decides the result of a match. There is no place for grumbling as football also has the provision of snatching the ball from the rivals!
After this Euro triumph, Del Bosque would definitely go down as one of the greatest coaches in history. Yet, I could not back his strategy of keeping Fernando Torres at the bench till midway through the second-half.
The change that Torres brought to the game after he hit the pitch was for everyone to see. Credit should go to Torres for giving his best even after being neglected by the coach. People have been talking highly about Mario Balotelli, especially after his fine showing against Germany, but Torres is still miles ahead of the Italian.
The defeat of Germany at the hands of Italy, in the semi-final, did not surprise me. The Germans had a good team, but the Italians were a far more passionate team. While Andrea Pirlo and his teammates looked eager to prove a few points, the Germans had more of a mechanical approach. Having too many youngsters had its negative effect as the Germans looked rattled by the two first-half goals. I expect them to display more maturity in the World Cup in 2014.