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Euro 2012: Spain, Kings of Europe and the World

Cesare Prandelli, coach of Italy, felt that his team lacked freshness in the aftermath of a 0-4 hiding at the hands of Spain in what was the final of Euro 2012, no less. Indeed, even Spain’s mere one day advantage in rest would have weighed on players who had had to play two competitive matches in a week for almost a month.

But that was not really it... Simply stated, Italy was steamrolled by what is undeniably the best national football team of the present day.

The Spaniards were not always entirely convincing in their previous matches. Against France in the quarter-finals, tiki-taka was effective but the match was likewise such a frightful bore.

Against the Portuguese in the semi-finals, the Spaniards seemed unnerved by the physical approach of their neighbours in the Iberian Peninsula and did not play with the same fluency. In a game when they were surprisingly more eager to play forward, they ironically could not find a goal.

If there was ever an embodiment of the cliché saving the best for the last, then the Spaniards’ performance in Kiev has got to be it. I struggle to recall a more fluid performance by a winning national team in a major international tournament.

In the end, Italy was reduced to the image of a team that had exceeded expectations and was eventually unmasked as the ordinary team that it really was. The victory over England was not, perhaps, unexpected; but it could only be obtained after extra time and a penalty shootout.

But it was probably the semi-final against the Germans that was the more physically and mentally draining. The Germans were more talented; and to beat them the Italians had to rise above themselves. To expect the Italians to do exactly the same just a few days later was ultimately always going to be something of a big ask.

The Italians, though, could not really claim fatigue as the reason for its poor performance and expect it to be believable. For one, the Spaniards likewise had to play extra-time along the road to the final. More significantly, no other team in the tournament covered as many blades of grass as the Spaniards did.

Their style of play dictated it. The players had to perpetually move for the team to be able to keep as much possession as it did; and there were no other players who worked as hard as the Spaniards did to get the ball back when possession was lost.

To defeat the Germans, the Italians had to get ‘in their faces.’ This was not merely pressing hard for the ball. Italians being Italians, there was the carefully planted kick behind the legs or the perfectly timed elbow to the face.

Personally, I thought that the Germans were not prepared to draw their fists and square up to the Italians. In short, I think that the Germans allowed themselves to be bullied.

The Italians could not do this to the Spaniards. When an Italian player had the ball, he would quickly be surrounded by two or three Spaniards boxing him into tight space.

The moment the Spaniards got the ball, it was quickly pushed away to a teammate and it started being knocked all over the pitch at speed. The Italians could not get physical with the Spaniards because none of the latter lingered on the ball long enough for the former to get close.

Unlike in the game against France, the Spaniards were in the mood against Italy. Against the French, the Spaniards kept the ball well but showed little ambition to go forward once a two-goal lead had been established.

Against the Italians, the Spaniards wanted goals. This ultimately paved the way for an entertaining performance; but unfortunately for the Italians, the scoreline could even have been more emphatic and, thus, more embarrassing.

What the final simply told all of us was that the Spaniards stand head and shoulders above the rest of Europe; and yes, certainly even the rest of the world. Considering that Spain’s bench could have won the tournament as well, suffice it to say that the Spaniards will be around to win a few more major championships before the country’s fortunes ultimately decline.

Success in football, it is said, is cyclical. Considering how starved for international success Spain used to be in the past, I will not be surprised if the country’s current stay at the top lasts longer than others’.

My advice for the coming World Cup in Brazil two years from now? Do not bet against the Spaniards!

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