Wednesday, July 02, 2008

From Signors to Seniors of European Football

Before you think that the post is about Italy, let me clarify that I have borrowed the term to write about the team that beat Italy in the quarter-final stage of Euro 2008 - Spain. I had been out of touch with the game for close to two years before the Euro started and I am glad it was this tournament that brought me back to the game I have always loved.

In stark contrast to Euro 2004, when the ugliest defensive tactics helped Greece lift the cup and when I had thought that European football had lived its life, this edition of the cup belonged to the one team which stood out from the rest in terms of the sheer quality of football that they put on display. You could not but marvel at their accurate passes, deadly strategy, impressive energy and fitness - football at it's technical best.

Before the start of the tournament who would have thought (me included) that the biggest underperformers in the history of the game, the biggest chokers when it came to major tournaments, would go on to win it. But those who follow international football would know that the Spanish team always had the talent. The question was to deliver at the big stage. Many times they were knocked out in penalties. But none of that returned to haunt them this time. Not only did they play the best football in the tournament, they also beat Italy in in the quarter-final on penalties. The way they tired the Russians out in the semis with there possession of the ball after they were one-up was something to watch. The Russians, who only became better as the tournament progressed, had no answer to the Spanish strategy and style of play. The German's were no better.

In the absence of David Villa (the top scorer of tournament if I am not mistaken), Torres managed to redeem himself. He had been busy creating chances for Villa in the entire tournament, but he did not have his partner in the final. Torres missed a close chance with the header earlier when the ball deflected from the side bar. I thought it was not Spain's day because you strike the bar only when you are destined to lose. Who knew that from then on it would be all Spain in the game. Germany's reliable defender in Lahm had no answer to the strength and speed of Torres - in all a goal worthy of a final. Everyone knew that Spain's defence was its weak point, but the extra mid-fielder in Fabrigas made up for it. They never gave Germany any chance to even challenge Casillas. Even Casillas was seen coming forward and punching the ball to counter the height advantage that the Germans had against the spanish defenders. In all Spain played as a team. There was no surprsie, therefore, when UEFA in its statement praised the Spanish team so much and that they had even contemplated picking the entire team for the player of the tournament (though Xavi won it eventually).

On the other hand, Germany had done well to reach to the finals but their football in the entire tournament was disappointing to say the least. Everyone knows that they are very tough in the head in that they never give up. But that does not make up for the skill, or rather the lack of it. I have to say that it is a very average team with only one world class player in Ballack. The defenders are ageing and very slow (with all due respect they are not the same as they were five years earlier). The two central defenders were always so far apart that any good offender would have loved to take them on - he only needed to get between the two, and then he just had to counter the goalkeeper. They tried to level with Spain in the second half, but Aragones' team proved to be too good for them. One feels sad for Ballack who has lost two big finals this year - first the premiership to ManU playing for Chelsea and now the Euro Cup 2008.

The entire world can praise the Spanish team now, but the picture was not so rosy all along. To begin with, Spain has won a major title after 44 years. Even in the qualifiers to this edition of the Euro Cup, Luis Aragones (the coach) had resigned after consecutive losses to Northern Ireland and Sweden. As luck would have it, it was a great decision to ask him to continue, for nothing could be better than the championship as farewell to the 70 year old coach (it was his last game as coach). He has built a great team and, in Torres and others, Spain has players who will play alongside each other for many years to come and would take Spanish football to new heights - their sights firmly set on the World Cup in two years time in South Africa.



Varun said...

You've got international audience :)

I fail to remember names in football which is one of the prime reasons why I don't watch it. Nevertheless, the post was very informative. Am glad you've regained your love for the sport.

FelicitaciĆ³n Spain!!

Kumar said...

CK first of all, congratulations and welcome back to the world of soccer, no Football please..NIce blog but I beg to differ. Spain won the cup and they disserve the acclode, but I don't agree that Germany played bad. It's Ballack's bad luck, that a player of his calliber is on the loosing side. There are lot of chinks in the Spain's game and I don't think they can counter Latin American football.They have improved no doubt but they still have lot to do to challenge Brazil or for that matter Argentina. Infact at the risk of being called biased Germany can give them a run for there money on there day.

Chandan said...

This is the first time I have received 6 comments in under twelve hours of posting a write-up. Thanks to all those who liked it.

All of you are welcome to comment on my posts, so please do not be apologetic. Honest feedback always helps.

Varun, remebering all the names is not important. Besides while writing on real events, some research never hurts. You will remeber more names the more you follow the game. So that should never be an hindrance to following a game as long as you like what you see.

KP, I have not been to US yet, so I will call it football... not soccer. I like it that way. You have the right to your opinion as much as I have, but you will have to agree that Germany is only a shadow of its great past. The team is nowhere close to what it used to be. I thought that even in the semi-final, Turkey played better than Germany. Yes, Germany won and Lahm's deciding goal was fantastic; but overall, Turkey played better football. Spain has its own problems, but a good team is one that realises its shortcomings and plays as one to overcome them. Germany had an average height advantage of 3.6 inches over Spain, but see for yourself who had more possession of the ball. Germany is a strong team no doubt, but if they do not address their problems soon, I would not be surprised if they exit very early in the world cup. Having said all that, I stick to my point that it is a pretty average side with only one world class player in Ballack - in terms of skill, that is.


The Stupid Programmer said...

I dont like football (as you know already), but i liked your presentation. Keep up the good work.

dorothy said...

your writing shows the true colors of soccer in u... a very vivid n clear-cut presentation with every minute detail unaltered....lets leave it to that and since spain won i can only dream to relive the monment..

Chandan said...

Thank you, 'the stupid programmer' and Dorothy, for the lovely words.

Varun said...

You have been tagged :)