Three Sundays ago on the night of June 10, these two teams — Spain and Italy– played out what I called then a boring draw. I was in that mood that day, and I was not taking the defence to show up. But it did and it didn’t surprise me as two of the best goalkeepers were on the field. My favourites — Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon. It is a treat to watch them defend their territory and fight it out like gladiators. Yet at the same time, a pain to see one out do the other. Football do needs a winner eventually.
Thankfully, football isn’t close to any boxing match, but should it go to the penalties, the knockout punch will be felt. And so, after three weeks of entertaining football, I saw these two teams again on a Sunday night, this time it was for the championships.
It was 1920 in Belgium’s Antwerp when Spain last won against Italy straight in a high-profile encounter. That was the year of Olympics and if we do not include penalties, one can safely say it has indeed been a long time. I didn’t want this to change and like the previous edition of Euro, I wanted these two teams to settle it out on penalty shootouts. It wasn’t to be as Spain proved to be very strong and too good for the Italians. The result speaks for itself — 4-0.
I have not seen a more dominant side in football for a period that involves three major competitions. France had it in them during their run when they won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro, and Brazil prior to that. In 21st century, towards the end of the decade, the side more famously known as the “La Roja” showed their initial signs as world beaters.
So what makes this side so special? You only have to look at the players in the squad, and as any ardent football fan will tell you, the names do ring a bell in their heads, all the time. Barcelona is at the moment in a league of its own. Though Real Madrid showed little signs of a fightback, they are still few miles behind. Collectively, the core of the team that makes Barcelona the world’s most feared team happens to be the core of this Spanish team too. Add Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso, David Silva, Juan Mata, Fernando Torres and Sergio Ramos, you have a combination that looks deadly.
Among European football-playing nations, only Germany had come close with respect to the consistency and on their day, they certainly looked like the Cup favourites. Something was missing in the semis against Italy — call it the X-factor or ‘mojo’, and they couldn’t quite finish the way they started the tournament.
In my opinion, after France (1998-2000), I see this team to be the most feared and dominant team in the recent years. France had shown what a bunch of individual genius could do when they combined talents and gelled together. I saw a similar pattern here with the current Spanish team. And if the last three tournaments were anything to go by, they look pretty solid to retain the World Cup as well.
Credit goes to Del Bosque, the coach of this team, to have come with a different tactic in the absence of David Villa, the country’s leading goal-scorer. The formation of 4-3-3 did work wonders as the highly skilled mid-fielders and their tiki-taka style of play ensured genuine strikers like Fernando Torres and Pedro Rodriguez coming only as substitutes.
Strikes from David Silva, Jordi Alba and late strikes from Torres and Juan Mata made sure Iker Casillas lifted his side’s second successive Euro trophy and country’s third overall (they had won in 1964) and thereby joined Germany as the only two countries to be triple European champions.
Nearly four years ago in Vienna this team had taken a step towards scaling the peak of world football. They still are at the top, with World Cup 2010 in their kitty and the 2012 Euro Championships.
The beauty of football is that it has never allowed a team to be at the pinnacle for long. It has always given other sides to stake a claim for the top prize. With the Euro 2012 win, Spain is looking good to change this trend. We have to go back to Chile 1962 when Brazil successfully defended their World Cup title. It has been 50 years and we are yet to see a back-to-back champion. It has happened in Euro for the first time. In two years, the attention shifts to Brazil and all the eyes will be on this team to see history being made.