Spain became the first nation to win three consecutive major international tournaments by beating Italy 4-0 in Ukraine today, adding the 2012 European Championship trophy to their 2010 World Cup and 2008 Euros triumphs. Unfortunately – for neutral spectators at least – their success was built on a brand of football that was less than entertaining to watch. Barcelona and Spain have risen to the top of the club and international game over the last five years by dominating possession and breaking down their opponents with incisive passing. In this tournament, Spain controlled the ball for the majority of all of their matches, but did not pair that with a cutting edge up front. Part of the problem was the absence of their all time record goalscorer, David Villa, who missed out due to a long-term injury sustained at the World Club Championship last December, but Vicente del Bosque still had other strikers at his disposal, but chose to play without any at all for more than half of Spain’s games.
Only in their demolitions of Ireland, in the group stage, and Italy, in the final, were Spain’s performances anywhere near entertaining, but for the Spanish fans who spent so many years seeing their county underperform in major championships, the style with which the trophy is won will not be of too much concern. By the World Cup in 2014, it will be 8 years since Spain have conceded a goal in a knock-out match – their 3-1 loss to France in the Second Round in Germany – and in this year’s Euros they conceded just once, despite playing Sergio Ramos out of position in the centre of defence. This strength at the back has been the basis for their success, even though the plaudits tend to go to attacking players like Xavi and Iniesta.
While Spain winning a tournament in which they have not played entertaining football is, in a microcosm, not too much to worry about, it reflects a concerning trend in the modern game. Too many games at this championship – and all season long – were wars of attrition: one side dominating possession and trying to find a breakthrough; with the opposition holding two deep lines around their own penalty areas to spoil any attacks that are thrown their way. Spain’s success as the team controlling the ball couples with Chelsea’s victory in the Champions League to encourage more sides to play either one way or the other in the future.
As as a whole, Euro 2012 was not one of the better tournaments I have watched and only a handful of games were particularly entertaining: Russia vs Czech Republic; England vs Sweden; Denmark vs Portugal (all group stages); Germany’s 4-2 thrashing of Greece in the quarter-finals; and the 2-1 semi-final win for Italy over Germany. That’s only 5 matches out of 31, hardly a good average for a championship that is often considered to be of a higher overall standard than the World Cup, because of the smaller number of teams. This was the final chance for that theory to be proven too – 24 teams will contest Euro 2016 in an expanded tournament to be played in France.
Heading into the final, my wife had built up an almost unassailable lead at the top of the table, as she predicted all of the quarter-final and semi-final winners. However, it was only an almost unassailable lead and Spain’s success over Italy meant she was pipped at the post by Will Godfrey of Brooklyn, NY, who won by 5 points (his entry is listed below the table). Thanks to everyone for playing and look out for a Premiership Prediction Competition coming before the start of the new season.
|Will Godfrey||PIIGS Ear||175|
|Pamela McVeagh-Lally||Imogen’s picks||170|
|Laurence Weinstein||Larry’s Legends||157|
|Iain Bagnall||Mrs. Coletate’s Comics||151|