Spain is Euro 2012 victor

July 2, 2012 • 4:28 am

This result was almost a foregone conclusion, but congratulations to my Spanish friends.

Although the New York Times may have exaggerated when calling the Spanish national team the “beat national team in the history of soccer,” (the Wall Street Journal agrees) it’s probably not far off. They were wonderful yesterday, with a superb exhibit of ball handling that crushed the Italian team, winning the European championship with the score of 4-0.  This video shows all the goals (the first, on a header, is stunning):


On Sunday in Kiev, Ukraine, Spain defeated Italy, 4-0, to become the first nation to win back-to-back European championships. And let’s not forget that Spain won the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Comparisons? Brazil? West Germany? The great Hungarian teams of the 1950s? Spain is great and may have time to be even greater. Its players are young and in their prime, and there is no reason to doubt that Spain will contend in 2014 in Brazil and again in 2016, when France hosts the next Euro.

Interesting footnote: the United States is one of the few, if not the only, team to have beaten both Spain (2009 Confederations Cup) and Italy (friendly earlier this year) in recent years.

Spain has an incredible record of 42-3-4 in its last 49 games and made Coach Vincente del Bosque the first coach in soccer history to win the World Cup, European Champions League and European Championshisp.

It’s hard to know where the superlatives end.

I’ve been following soccer for only a few years, so I have no idea if this is the best national team ever.  Readers can weigh in here, though if one could form a single fantasy team with the best players of modern time, it would surely be Brazil.

116 thoughts on “Spain is Euro 2012 victor

  1. Brazil 1970 is generally seen as a ‘classic’ international team. I always find it difficult to compare teams from past decades with modern sides, but this Spain team with Xavi, Iniesta, Silva, Fabregas in the midfield is quite something.

    I still don’t really understand why Del Bosque didn’t play any strikers when he has players like Torres and Llorente on the bench (first choice striker David Villa was injured).

    1. I didn’t quite understand the no striker thing either. But, the tactic seemed to be almost like they were trying to counter-attack from midfield.

      1. I agree, the lack of striker thing looked pretty silly, particularly in the first round. I was actually thinking that Italy–using their momentum from the quarter- and semi-finals–would defeat Spain, only in the sense that they would get an early goal and then lapse back into Catenaccio, which is boring as all hell to watch.

        But clearly Barcelona’s–ahem–Spain’s midfield found a way to score without Messi–cough–I mean a Spanish striker.

        1. Brazil 1970 played without a pure striker.

          It’s unusual to view it that way but it’s not an entirely new thing. False nines, wingers and all sorts of other positions make a striker-less teammore common than most people think.

          The most unusual thing about Spain is that they are widely labeled that way, not simply that they play that way (saying 4-6-0 a while back to describe your formation would probably result in laughter, today it’s oh, you have 6 Spanish midfielders).

          1. Yeah, I agree, but at least Brazil started players who are viewed as forwards–Jairzinho and Tostao–even if they are not considered “pure strikers” as you say.

            This thread has prompted me to break out that excellent book: “Inverting the Pyramid: The HIstory of Football Tactics”

          1. I was using “momentum” in the sense of “confidence” “finding a rhythm” etc. I thought Italy was playing increasingly well, and considering they tied Spain earlier in the tournament, I was suspecting that they might take their new-found confidence and prevail. Obviously, Spain had other ideas…

    2. Do you mean play or start? Because Torres played in the final and got a goal and an assist.

      And although Torres was not heavily used in the tournament, he somehow got the Golden Boot!

      1. I mean start. And yes, him winning the Golden Boot was a bit odd!

        (He was joint top-scorer with Mario Gomez, but got the prize as a result of having played fewer games)

    3. It was foreseeable Italy would have their defense line very far up in order to put a lot of pressure on Spain’s side of the field, because Spain likes to begin playing from their own side (Casillas gives the ball to Piqué; no long passes). A striker wouldn’t be able to do much damage in that situation because he would have to keep himself far from the goal or otherwise he would fall off-side.

      Spain’s response to an advanced defense line is to have fast midfielders (and super fast Jordi Alba) penetrate the defense line and try to make passes through it. This is what happens in the first 2 goals.

      Arguably Torres could do this as well, but he’s not fit enough to play a whole match, and Negredo and Llorente aren’t fast enough to play like this.

  2. It’s really quite hard to argue, they could well be the best side of all time (winning three major tournaments in a row is incredible). Their passing and control of the ball is head and shoulders above any team currently. At times they can keep possession simply to stifle the opposition but when it all clicks together it is beautiful.

  3. Always difficult comparing teams from from different eras but this Spain team not only play the game beautifully they have actually won three consecutive major titles in a row. And the Euros are harder to win as there are no whipping boys in the early stages unlike the world cup.

  4. Who cares? Overpaid bunch of prima donnas. Notice the idiots genuflecting and pointing towards the sky after scoring. Since Italy is just as much of a Catholic country as Spain, we must assume then that God is a Spanish supporter. Although it seems he can’t make up his mind between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

    1. I care because it’s great sport and entertainment, and I suppose lots of readers do. The religious stuff is a bit off-putting, but what is the point: you want to tell us that YOU don’t care? Is that it?

      1. The truly astonishing statistic: of the eight Barça players selected for Spain’s team, all but one (goalkeeper Víctor Valdés) saw action in the Euro final:
        Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Cesc Fábregas, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Pedro Rodríguez, and Jordi Alba.

        With the exception of Pedro Rodríguez, all are Barcelona homegrown.

        So it is a paradox worth pondering that, in a sport rife with corruption, ruled by cynicism, and rotten with money, the one club that forms the backbone of the world’s best football team is precisely the atypical cooperative one that still views education, solidarity and social engagement as worthwhile policies and profitable strategies.

        1. Jordi Alba shouldn’t count. He wasn’t played for Barcelona yet. And all Spanish (and European, in fact) clubs have youth team programs. The difference is that Barcelona just had a particularly successful generation. Also, they rely on the quarry and give chances to the younger players. I wished Real Madrid took note. To think that they let go Silva and Mata….

    2. You are reading too much into it.

      I might have done the same thing without any religious meaning. Hell, I even say “thank God” despite not believing in one. Shit, I just have mentioned Hell… well, at least shit does exist IRL.

    3. I like football – even though I laugh at the description of a match as ‘watching two teams of millionaires ruin a perfectly good lawn’. If it was baseball I wouldn’t feel compelled to come on here are whinge about it though.

        1. It’s quite common to hear things like “it’s just kicking a ball around”.

          It’s a bit like saying that playing chess is just “moving bits of wood around a board”, or writing Hamlet is just “making some inky squiggles on a bit of paper”.

          1. I’m not denigrating footballers’ skill – anybody who is the best in their field is worth watching whether they’re bashing a ball of gutta percha into a small hole or explaining the night sky (I might exclude cricketers from that list).
            What I don’t understand is the enthusiasm of the fan base. Why does anyone support, say Arsenal, when of the 35 team members only 5 are from England – and I would bet that none of them are from Woolich, so they’re not local boys. These men owe their loyalty to whoever pays them most.

            1. Yeah, humans are so funny, let’s all pretend we’re above these quaint things… as if we were all Vulcans. *rolleyes*

              1. So it’s OK if you’re serious about high-stakes sport, but anyone who takes another view is pretentiously different?

              2. You can take any other view you want, it’s just hard to take such a cliched line as actually representing “a view” you might hold. Your criticisms are full of strawmen just like the Star Trek version of logic that Vulcans hold is a straw man version of logic.

                There’s plenty of good criticism of sport in general and soccer in particular, your post did not resemble that.

              3. I think you’re mistaken – a baseball fan may well not understand the niceties soccer, but they will recognise and appreciate the enthusiasm a team follower that I don’t understand. Overseas fans of the big league teams who may only know the UK by its football clubs are another area of mystery.
                Robert, we could have got a lot further with this if you hadn’t jumped to the conclusion that I was starting from a position of sneering superiority instead of simply being someone a long way outside with natural curiosity. Perhaps, if I had proposed a psychological or sociological investigation into the motivations of the followers of Premier League clubs it might have made a difference.

            2. It’s been 99 years since Woolwich was “local” to Arsenal. You’d be better off googling your complaints first.

              1. I don’t know how this has got so out of hand – I probably expressed myself too crudely. I genuinely don’t understand the enthusiasm of modern fans. Perhaps I have an overly romanticised view of the past when players worked at the the Woolwich Arsenal and West Ham players spent the week in the foundry, a time when the fans were supporting local men who they knew and went for a drink with after the match. That kind of support I can comprehend.
                But how does anyone watch and support a team whose players could be playing for the opposition the following week? What is it that makes a team so attractive?

              2. Well it just boiled down to an argument from ignorance or personal incredulity. “I can’t imagine what is fun about this so how can other people enjoy it?” It was silly to begin with.

                I would agree with your characterization of those views of Woolwich Arsenal and West Ham as overly romanticized.

                There are millions of reasons to support a team, being born in the same city/neighborhood that the team calls home is but one. Of course there’s a lot of stereotyping of people who support teams for other reasons as “plastic” (or fake) fans but that’s nonsense. Just like a baseball fan won’t get why a soccer fan is so excited about soccer, a homegrown fan won’t get why a foreign fan is devoted to a team thousands of miles away. That doesn’t make one or the other more legitimate, just more well-understood or more common.

        2. 90 minutes. At least give the impression that you know something about the thing that you are ridiculing.

          1. Of course – must have been thinking of some other unappealing activity. I’ll just go and make more sawdust.

  5. I’ve read & heard on the radio that Spain hasn’t allowed a goal in an elimination game since 2006. If there is a better team in history I’m not sure how you could tell with statistics like that.

    1. They drew 1-1 with Italy in the group game so that cannot be quite right. Oh – I see they mean the knockout stage of a tournament, after the group games! Well the Italians hardly tested the Spanish defence, the Germans showed them too much respect & yet they played attractive football in the end & cam through when it mattered.
      This comparison might interest –

      I feel sorry for Buffon who is a great goalie (& I am jealous of his hair!) but had no chance with most of those goals.

      1. Foprget what I said about Germany – I was thinking of Portugal – they lacked teeth to score when they needed it.

        1. You know you’re doing special pleading right?

          The thesis is ‘Spain is a great team because they have not conceded a goal in 10 knockout tournament games in 3 tournaments over 4 years.’

          And your argument is that:
          Spain did not concede against Portugal, but that does not count ‘because they (Portugal) showed too much respect’?

          Spain did not concede against Italy but that does not count because ‘they (Italy) barely tested the defence’?

          Since when do records/results ‘not count’ because of those, rather subjective, reasons?
          Maybe…Portugal showed that respect precisely because Spain are great (and they will do to you what they did to Italy if you do not show respect)? Does it sound reasonable that Italy did not test Spain’s defence precisely because Spain are great?

          If it was so trivially easy to score against Spain one would think that in 10 games, some of the world’s other best teams would have actually found a way to do that (Germany, Final Euro 2008 and semi-final WC2010, Netherlands WC final 2010, Portugal SF Euro2012, Italy final Euro 2012…)

          1. Sports fandom is full of special pleading. I love your post as I love calling that special pleading out. I sometimes use it myself but I try not to, I actually enjoy being rational about sports (it can be done!)

  6. Italy turned Germany over in their semi, whereas, to all reports (I was otherwise engaged), Spain played very negatively against Portugal. I was worried that the final would be hideous.

    I was wrong. Absolute masterclass by Spain.

    The centre forward debate… to be honest… with midfielders like that, all of whom have a “decent” scoring record at the minimum, a dedicated target man is kind of surplus to requirements!

    1. Yes but not for the English commentators for whom football tactics consist of hoofing it upfield for the Big Man. I note that David Silva, who scored the first goal *with his head* is one of the smallest players on the Spanish team.

      1. But that’s a ‘tactic’ that everyone can understand! Commentators do seem to have an ever decreasing grasp of the subtleties of the game.

        1. Well I don’t know who you were listening to, but every commentary I have heard on the radio on the BBC has criticized that type of lack of technique & has said that you have to hold the ball & pass it, but keep moving so you are ready to get back the ball in another position. They all criticized England for their antipathy to the ball & many did not want Hodgeson as they have seen his type of team – ones designed to grind out positive results to stay in a league, in a ‘solid’ & ‘reliable’ way. Football is not a complicated game really – if you cannot keep the ball then you will not score goals from open play very often.

          1. Really? I suppose I sort of meant generally, as in over the years. True, it may be ‘uncomplicated’ but there are myriad subtle ways of not playing well as a team, and it just seems to me (any maybe to Matthew Cobb as well)that there is a lot of attention aimed at the ‘big man’. Anyway – I did enjoy it.

      2. Yes – I saw a depressing statistic. The most successful passing combination for England against Italy was Hart (GK) -> Carroll (ST).

        This is even more embarrassing considering Carroll was brought on as a substitute midway through the second half.

    1. hahah – yeah, totally. i paused it, and from the best angle he seemed to be exactly in line with the two defenders when the pass was started; so it was just barely legit.

  7. What makes Spain so good is first and foremost their running off the ball. Their passing looks good in particular because there is always someone who has made the effort to get into a position to receive an easy pass. Similarly their pressing is the best I’ve seen outside the English league.

    Of course the last team to beat Spain was England, but somehow I don’t think we’re going to read anything into that. I saw the Spain-USA Confederations cup game in 2009 and it was clear that the USA were the only team in the tournament who were actually trying – the other players were just trying to avoid injury and go home as soon as possible.

    Comparing teams from earlier eras is very tricky because the lighter balls adopted from 1994 have changed the game substantially.

    However, I’ve been watching football since 1977 and in that era I reckon the title of best national team is between the current Spain team and the German team of 1990-96. Its only the lack of a real goalscoring striker that stops Spain being clear winners.

    1. Running off the ball indeed. Just look at the second goal. Jordi Alba passes it and then sprints 60 meters or so for the return pass. The through-ball was sublime too.

      1. I’m a soccer fan who only just became one about four years ago, so I can’t say I know much about the game other than who the best teams and players are and that the US will NEVER be as good as Spain/Italy/Brazil/Argentina etc… But regardless I do understand and appreciate the sheer effort of Alba’s play there. He sprinted a LONG way to get into position to make that play, and as always with Spain the pass was right on the money. Awesome, awesome goal.

  8. Switzerland won 1-0 against Spain in their world cup opening match in 2010, so even they can be beaten by lesser teams when confronted with stubborn defense. I remember T-shirts on sale in Switzerland after Spain won the world cup proudly declaring the Swiss team as “Weltmeisterschaftsiegerbesieger”.

    1. I remember that match. What impressed me was that, even with time running out, Spain continued passing and probing for a goal as they had all match. I remember thinking – sadly, as I am English – that an English team would have been deserately hoofing long balls upfield as full-time approached.

    2. I also recall Switzerland’s goal being more of a very funny and clumsy mess-up between Spain’s goalie and defender than the result of Switzerland’s extraordinary attacking skill.

      I guess after that mishap, Spain ironed out that wrinkle too…

  9. Ha, “on a header”.

    Sorry Jerry, to my English ear, steeped in football jargon, this is amusing. Apologies for the condescension.

    I would have to agree with the greatest team ever. Their technical ability, and retention of the ball is absurd. When (in the quarter finals) you can play a 4-6-0 formation and STILL have players like Pedro, Fabregas, Llorente, Mata and Torres on the bench, AND with Puyol and Villa injured, the rest of us may as well forget it and go home.

    1. To be frank, given the way some of their defenders now play on and off the ball, it won’t be long till you can describe the Spanish formation as simply “10”.

  10. Out of curiosity: are the Spanish players `hispanics’ according to current US ethnological terminology?

    1. MKray
      All Europeans are white with little ethnic differences between nations. Some genetic markers could be found for example between Scandinavian versus Mediterranean population or Anglo-Saxon versus Slavonic people. For example Spanish, French or Italian people don’t have racial differences. The Hispanic´s US ethnological terminology is the ethnic mixing between white Spanish and original Amerindian population from America. Even in Argentina, Chile or Uruguay most population is European white because are direct descendant of Spanish, German and/or Italian emigrants without Amerindian ancestors.

  11. Well, they’re definitely one of the best. The ESPN article arguing the same position pointed out Brazil’s title-winning record since 1994 (2 World Cups and 1 second place in 3 tournaments, Copa Americas, Confederations Cup wins).

    As the very first comment pointed out, comparing teams from different eras is near impossible – if you actually were to put today’s teams up against old ones, today’s teams would crush them on fitness alone, but that’s a pointless comparison.

    I certainly hope they don’t win 2014 though, it gets boring when one team wins everything… unless it’s your team.

    1. And I forgot to add a paragraph there.

      Spain has one huge advantage and that is that 90% of their players already play together. While most national teams get together at the last minute and are composed of players that come from different teams (sometimes each player from one team), Spain is a group of players that are already very familiar with each other and gets more and more comfortable with each match.

      This is an example that other teams would find difficult to follow in this era but that speaks volumes about the value of “entrosamento” as we say in Brazil.

      1. Yes, absolutely, what was it, 10 of the starting 11 play for either Real or Barcelona.

        Having the bulk of your team in the top 2 national teams is a luxury that us English can only dream of.

        We used to have a rule that teams could only field 2 foreign players at a time. Since that was dropped, and the cheapest option in many cases is buying players in, our youth development has gone to crap.

        1. I don’t think that follows. There have been 9 major tournaments since the Bosman ruling swept away the restriction on other EU players.

          Since then, England’s record in major tournaments has been WC: 2nd rd, 1/4s, 1/4s, 2nd round; EC: Semis, 1st rd, 1/4s, DNQ, 1/4s.

          In the 9 pre-Bosman tournaments, it was WC: DNQ, 2nd rd, 1/4s, semis, DNQ; EC: 1st rd, DNQ, 1st rd, 1st rd.

          Not sure there’s a massive difference in English performances.

          1. Agree with Nick. It’s an advantage but it’s not THE explanation of why Spain > England. There are several factors that have gone into Spain becoming the better national team.

  12. I have a few general questions for the soccer gurus out there.

    1) How exactly did Spain go from roughly the level of Belgium in terms of their national team to this unstoppable force???

    2) How is a tiny nation like Holland able to churn out world-class players? (yes I am aware of how poorly they performed at Euro 2012)

    3) What did Germany do in the last 10-15 years to rescue their national side? I seem to recall that about 10 years ago, they got worked at home by England 5-1 in an important qualifying match.

    4) Why don’t chronic underachievers like England start adopting the successful systems of other countries? Watching England play football against today’s elite nations is like watching Ali vs. Jerry Quarry.

    1. 1 – To be fair Spain have a title from before this streak (Euro 1964). I’d say though that Barça’s youth program and their overall contribution to the national team are the big factor in that transformation.

      2 – Great youth programs focused on producing good players all withing the Dutch system (good with the ball at their feet).

      3 – Trading in the old guard for the new generation, a product of a good youth system that focuses on developing on the ball skill and passing.

      4 – You’d think they’d learn with so many examples don’t you? All you need is a forward-looking youth system that focuses on skill, not results. If you want results at the pro level results at U-17 and so on don’t matter (not that England has those either, do they?).

      1. 1. Yes, and of course they had/have some of the best club sides ever. But England also have a WC under their belt and completely dominated club level soccer from the late 70’s up to the mid-80s. Is it also the case that England’s players are never on the same page when it comes time for these international tournaments? A commentator above noted how most of the current Spanish players play on the same club side.

        2-4. Skill over brawn and a focus on player development at rather than winning next week’s tournament, eh? And being coached by pros rather than Jimmy’s dad? That’s crazy talk!

        The US and England therefore suffer from a similar illness. Many folks think that the US will only join the elite ranks of soccer when we get our “best athletes” playing the game, leading to some very comical speculations of what 6’8″, 260lbs Lebron James would do if he had been pushed into soccer instead of basketball. My answer to that is a slightly better version of Jan Koller, or a goalie that would have trouble getting down for low shots.

        The US does not lose soccer matches these days because of inferior athleticism. We lose because we lack genuine offensive creativity and skill.

        1. The better athletes argument is getting old (I’ve seen it for ages on soccer forums) but do keep in mind that Brazil is consistently one of the most fit teams at the World Cup and has been since 1970 (when they had a month-long pre-tournament prep, which of course you can’t afford to have these days due to the schedule).

          A good example of a national team that was made of players from different clubs but that understood each other is Dunga’s Brazil. It took a few years to get everyone on the same page though and one injury and the very same “the world is against us” mentality that helped strengthened them were all it took to destroy that team’s chances.

          The benefit of having everyone already on the same page can’t be overlooked if you want to understand Spain’s success.

        2. I think a good example is Jozy Altidore. Not many better athletes on the pitch, but he’s not as skilled as other players so he doesn’t stand out very much. Of course pure athletic ability goes a long way in soccer/football, but the amount of skill it takes to handle the ball while running, to make good passes with your feet, to receive the ball, and the timing to make good strikes when the opportunity arises is pretty high. It really doesn’t matter how strong or fast or big you are if you can’t make an accurate pass.

          1. Jozy is a great example, and so is Oguchi Onyewu. A prime physical specimen who lacks the technical ability to compete at the highest level.

            Also, during the NFL lockout, wide receiver Chad Johnson actually trained with an MLS club. He was fast, athletic…and useless with the ball at his feet.

            Proponents of the need for muscled-up players should also take a gander at the imposing physiques of Iniesta, Fabregas, Xavi, and Messi. Pirlo also. Had they been born in the US, is there one traditional North American sport that they could even compete in at the pro level, much less dominate like they do in soccer?

            Clearly, the US is not discovering or developing our mightly mites.

            1. I think Messi has to be considered the perfect counter argument to the “athlete argument.” He’s probably strong pound-for-pound, and he’s definitely quick and fast and all that. But he’s simply too small to be an elite competitor in any other team sport than the one he plays now. He couldn’t play football, definitely couldn’t play basketball, probably not even baseball, and would have to be the greatest skater ever just to survive, let alone play well, in hockey. But in soccer, because of the demand for skill in addition to the athletic aspect, his lack of size matters much less.

              I remember reading about Ochocinco’s attempt to be a pro soccer player. As soon as it was brought up, I laughed it off. He could outrun anyone, he’s big and strong, but what could he do with the ball? Kick it if someone kicked it to him? Well, there’s more to it than that!

              1. Even in a tough, physical league like the EPL, there cannot be more than two dozen outfield players who are over 200lbs (appx 14.5 stone or 90 kilos). There are probably none over 100 kilos.

                Yet there is no shortage of these athletes; rugby and Aussie rules pitches are full of them.

                At a certain point, height and weight must work against one’s effectiveness on the pitch. The fitness demands must be a big reason for this, but I’m sure there are rugby players that can match the cardio of a modern soccer player. The ability to successfully manipulate a ball with ones feet must get increasingly more difficult the larger one gets.

            2. is there one traditional North American sport that they could even compete in at the pro level…
              Ha, this is a trick question, isn’t it? Lacrosse is a traditional North American sport. I honestly have no idea what the level of competition is like in Major League Lacrosse. Basketball and volleyball are also reputedly of North American origin. Other than that, what is there; buffalo-tipping?

              1. Basketball, football, baseball, hockey – the so-called big four – those are the sports I was referring to. These are the sports that, according to some, are stealing the best athletes from US soccer.

        3. Note that Clint Dempsey had an excellent season at Fulham, though, so its not as if there are no good US attacking players.

          1. Clint is very good, but we need more than just one hardworking guy who is adept at making good runs into the box and finishing.

      2. The other thing that disadvantages England etc at the major tournaments is simply the fact that they are always played either in summer in the N hemisphere or somewhere hot in the S hemisphere. This is a clear disadvantage for all players from cold/temperate countries, but especially if they naturally play a high-tempo game, as most British/Irish teams do.

        So for example when England play Brazil in a competitive game, the conditions will at best be slightly favouring Brazil, and at worst massively favouring them.

        Let’s have a World Cup in Scotland, in winter, and see how all those latin fancy-dans get on……

        1. That argument did not hold for the 2010 tournament in South Africa; the climate was favorable for Northern European teams yet England had one of its worst performances ever. I believe that the favorable climate was one of the reasons that the England team was hyped so much before that tournament.

          Also, one would think that the climate disadvantage would apply equally to all European teams of similar latitude. Yet the likes of Germany, France (when the aren’t arguing with each other), and Holland (ditto) seem to get on with things despite the heat.

          Finally, also those “fancy dan” Latin players have been coming to the EPL for years now and have been among the best players in the league. And when they are past their best, some of them go and play in the SPL.

          1. There have also been plenty of “BST Brazilians” who have only played well at the start and end of the season when its been reasonably warm.

            Any yes, while ENG had no chance in 2002 due to the heat, they should have done much better in 2006 and 2010 when it wasn’t so bad.

            Its not just the temperature you are used to, it is the type of game you play in it. The Br/Ire style involves a lot more running round like a headless chicken, which you just can’t do in the heat.

            1. The EPL is now over 60% non-British, so either they no longer play the hurly-burly style, or Johnny Foreigner copes with it just fine.

              Ireland was not the worst team at Euro 2012 because it could not “play its style” – it was beaten because it has players that are both physically and technically inferior.

              The Scottish national team, the one that was just beaten 5-1 by the US, would get mauled by any good side even if the game was played in a blizzard. Their last true world class player is that grumpy little man who was just fired by Liverpool.

              The SPL is a fifth rate league with only two decent teams, one of which is bankrupt.

              Ireland and Scotland have a severe player development and talent problem. Long gone are the days when Irish and Scottish lads populated some of the world’s best clubs.

              1. The upshot of all the foreign players in the EPL is 1) they know our game as well as we do and 2) are used to running around a lot.

                In other words we’ve sabotaged our own national side!

            2. One other thing about the climate – wouldn’t African nations benefit the most from the heat? Yet no African nation has been past the semis and there seems to be no relationship at all b/t the success of African teams and the thermometer at world cup games.

            3. England had a pretty good chance in 2002, the heat doesn’t excuse their inability to breakdown a 10 man team. They gave up a late goal in the first half due in part to an unwillingness to challenge early (watch Beckham simply concede possession to Ronaldinho iirc) and amateurish goalkeeping.

              If England ever pay attention to developing players the way holland, Germany, Spain and Brazil do, then we can worry about heat as a factor.

            4. Also, characterizing Brazil (if that’s what you meant by Br) as running around like headless chickens is very revealing.

              Sure, English players wilt in the heat, but that’s not a reason not to play in the heat, it’s a reason to learn how to play soccer – make the ball do the work while you make efficient runs – but instead English coaches just lament that they’re defeated by a factor that everyone had to handle and they just stubbornly refuse to acknowledge has the same effect on everyone.

              1. Since most goals are apparently scored from 3 passes or less, the Route 1 or Direct style would seem to be more effective than the possession style. I guess the thinking from folks like TJR is along the lines of:

                1) If the climate is favorable, a good Route 1 team can beat a possession team

                2) If the temp is freezing and the pitch is a cow patch, the Route 1 team will have decisive advantage.

                3) If the players are playing on a carpet which you could fry an egg on, the direct team has no chance.

                4) All major tournaments are played under the conditions of 3, never in the conditions of 2 or 1.

                As has been pointed out though, WC and Euro competitions have been played in the conditions of 1), and route 1 still fails. I would also argue that when you adopt a possession game and train enough players this way, you end up with teams filled with members who are both great athletes and great technicians. These teams would therefore still prevail under 2) conditions.

                Route 1 teams are probably not good for tournament play as well, with a concentration of multiple games with limited rest in between.

              2. One thing that goes against Route 1 working is playing route 1 all the time.

                Once upon a time soccer did not use an offside rule. The result was a lot of route 1. This resulted, surprisingly, in lots of defensive games. Why? Because if all you do is attack the same way all game, you can be shut down easily.

                This is why the stat that most goals come from 3 direct passes or less is misleading. You MUST spread the field and make the other team chase the ball in order to consistently develop those chances.

                Take Brazil over the last 20 years. Their biggest problem is their fullback play. Every thinks it’s fantastic and such a wondeful characteristic of the national team, but the focus on full-backs means that when we have nothing else to offer we are extremely easy to shut down. It took Dunga a long time to get a team in gear that could create chances (from a forward triangle of Luis Fabiano, Kaka and Robinho) without always relying on the same full-back play.

                Soccer played in poor weather usually results in fewer goals because it’s easier to counter a team that employs only one strategy (and in poor weather many teams are forced to do just that).

              3. OK, this isn’t really the forum to discuss this, especially as I agree with most of your points. By Br/Ire I meant British/Irish, of course.

                I was merely pointing out, as the point had been raised, that when tournaments are played in conditions that are at best warm and at worst very hot, it is hardly surprising that teams from cold/temperate countries who are used to playing a high-tempo game tend to underachieve.

        2. Exactly! That explains why nations with a similar climate to England’s always fare poorly at big tournaments. Countries like Germany, the Netherlands, France, never get very far… oh wait.

          And ‘high tempo’, well, not sure if EPL teams play a higher tempo then say, Real Madrid, but these Spanish players seem to be holding up well. If anything, playing in a cooler climate throughout the year should be less draining for players in the EPL and should help them post-season.

          1. Another thing is that the best teams in the EPL tend to play a build-from-the-back, possession style game. Man U, Man City, Chelsea, and Arsenal have more in common with a continental side than they do with the likes of Stoke.

            Kick and rush, route 1, early attack, or whatever you want to call it, is simply an inferior way of playing.

  13. Sometimes big sporting events end up being fun and memorable because they are exciting and close and dramatic and all that. I was fortunate enough to go to Game 6 of the World Series last October and watch my beloved St. Louis Cardinals pull a rabbit out of their hat to win what will probably be an all-time classic World Series game.

    Yesterday’s game wasn’t of that type. It was fun and memorable because Spain, the best national team in the world and at least in the conversation for best ever, played at the absolute top of their game. Their passing, their movement, their chemistry, and their ability to finish when given the opportunity make them a nearly impossible team to beat in the best of circumstances, and it would’ve taken 15 Italians on the field together yesterday to have knocked them off. Incredible, incredible performance.

  14. It’s a fun question, but a bit silly, actually. The sport has changed so much from the 70’s that pretty much any European national team would beat the Brazil of 1970. Of course the talent of individual players like Pele or Cruijff was outstanding by the standards of any age, but the tempo and tactics have developed hugely. Against today’s top teams like Spain, Italy, Germany and Portugal even the best of the 70’s and 80’s teams would just be running after the ball without ever touching it before it’s in their net. The same goes for any other sport, especially team sport.

    Just like modern science beats even your genius grandpa’s science, the modern teams have the benefit of decades of tactical and technical development. Moreover, global competition forces the modern players to train much, much harder than their predecessors. So the answer is obvious: as a team, Spain 2012 is the best by far.

    1. I wonder if the improvements in fitness have plateaued a bit in the last 20 years. I could see the German or Dutch sides of the late 80/early 90s giving today’s top teams a run for their money. Gullit, Van Basten, Rijkaard, Klinsmann, Matthaus, Brehme; these are the prototypes of the modern player. Same goes with the Milanese clubs of that time period as well; those were some very fit teams (who featured a lot of the players just mentioned).

      That England team of Italia 90’ is arguably just as good as the current squad – I don’t see Waddle, the young Gazza, Platt, Lineker, Beardsley, Walker, or even Paul Parker being left out of the side.

      1. And Brazil circa 1994, maybe? Good point.

        Still, one of the often overlooked strong points of the current crop of Spain is their unique fitness. Having the ball do most of the work helps, I suppose.

        But a high proportion of the current Spain squad has played an enormous amount of matches since 2007: all matches of Euro 2008, WC 2010 and Euro 2012, a lot of the matches of the 38-round Primera Division, and on top of that, Barca and Real have more often than not reached the semi-final or better of both the national cup and the Champions League in that period as well.
        That I don’t think has ever been achieved by any team (or players thereof). Fatigue was always at some point claimed to be a team’s downfall towards the business end of a season. These players are five years in and still going strong.

        Then I haven’t mentioned the absence of serious injuries; apart from the freak injury to David Villa, none very serious (correct me if I’m wrong) to any key player in over 4 years.

        1. Much is made of the packed schedule that modern players have, and it is indeed true that they play a ton of games. But they now also have larger squads with rotation systems.

          I recall reading that the 84′ Liverpool team played about 70 games that season using only 16 players.

  15. I don’t much care for sports, on account of having been greviously injured playing one. But, I am fascinated by the sociology and psychology of sports. What is sport lacking, that it does not qualify as a religion?

    For those hurting for something to do, there is a Sunday NY Times long article on Italy’s enfant terrible, Mario Balotelli.

    Sample: “If anyone was upset by his shirtless celebration, Balotelli said, ‘They saw my physique and they’re jealous.’ “

    1. “I don’t much care for sports, on account of having been greviously injured playing one”

      That doesn’t make much sense, because while you were still playing you must have heard of other people who had been seriously injured, yet that did not stop you from enjoying sport.

      “What is sport lacking, that it does not qualify as a religion”

      Belief in an afterlife and a deity.

      If you are interested though, a fascinating sociological treatment on soccer was done about 30 years ago by none other than Desmond Morris. It’s called The Soccer Tribe. I think it’s out of print though.

    2. Not much if you ask Bill Shankly… or perhaps more accurately – it’s bigger than religion in some societies.

      “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”.

      In other words for the working-class people who lived and breathed football Shankly recognized that it gave their life meaning.

  16. I feel a bit sad seeing this post here.

    I am spanish, and I don’t like soccer. Not a all. I would not say that it seems boring to me. I say exactly that it’s boring. I can see that to enjoy it, you have to have some faith. You have first to convince yourself that one of two is your team. That is no different from faith to me. Why, if a team happens to be based in and have the name of your city or country, have to be supported by you? Those who won yesterday where not my national team. Nobody elected them in any democratic way, and of course no common citizen have a say in it. But if i say to virtually ANYONE that i had no interest in yesterday’s match or Euro cup at all, I would be looke down and said something about not liking my country or the sort.

    That’s eactly the spirit in which this championship has been lived here in spain. The president (prime minister for you, thanks!) and the prince Felipe, went better to the final that to stay in spain, which the same day was suferinf the worst forest fire in almost 20 years. No only that; With the reccession i supose yoy know whe hace in europe now, and looking like that spain could be the next great fall, with the government making adjusts to everyone but giving money to bankers…

    And the people, oh! the people suporting spain “national” team… If only the would care with the same energy with which they support about politics, about being in the street protesting… doing something, please!!… we would be, with no doubt, better.

    En fin, i think you could get the idea. I sincerely can’t understand why disbelievers could have simpathy with such an espectacle.

    1. Sports where national teams compete are are an effective means of titillating nationalism without risking an all-out war. (Except, occasionally, in Central America.)

      Nationalism is the first refuge of scoundrels. They try, of course, to sell it as patriotism. Given the amount of money and influence involved, the prevalence of scoundrels in sport (as in politics) is rather high.

      We’ve been conditioned on “panem et circenses”; and when we’re lean on “panem”, a double ration of “circenses” is dished out.

      1. Morris’ The Soccer Tribe advances the interesting argument that sports like football are best understood as psuedo-hunting exercises. He argues hunting over millenia has given homo sapiens certain behavioral and physical characteristics, and that when we are not hunting for survival we crave substitutes.

        Recreational hunting was one of the early substitutes, but city living made this untenable for large segments of the population. Arena blood sports brought the hunt to the populace, and eventually arena blood sports were replaced by more humane arena ball sports. In a sport like soccer, the goal serves as the “prey” and the ball as the ballistic weapon. The opposing players are there to make the killing of the prey inordinately more challenging.

        Morris goes as far to argue that the popularity of soccer over other ball sports is due to the fact the soccer most faithfully reproduces all of the key factors of the hunt.

        Soccer as a substitute for battle, soccer as an opiate for the masses, etc. are given consideration but are considered inadequate to explain the global appeal and popularity of the game of association football.

        1. I am not in the business of explaining the appeal of soccer, or proposing an anthropological model for its origin. Desmond Morris may have a point, for all I know; he often has, no matter how off the wall.

          I am just commenting, lightly, superficially, and provocatively, on the use and abuse of soccer as a social and political phenomenon in the mass society.

        1. I think that you have to make a distinction between the behavior of the players and a small subset of fans. Popular sporting events have tended to attract the lowest common denominator in many societies, but should we be blaming the sport for that? Is rock music a substitute for war because people have died at rock concerts?

          There is nothing inherently violent about a ball-kicking game, and the vast majority of soccer matches are conducted without violence from the spectators. That of course does not make the headlines.

          1. Sorry, I actually see now I was answering to Occam, who actually proposed soccer as a less damaging substitute for war.

        2. “Tell that to the victims in Heysel”

          No, Jose, I won’t have any of that.
          I sympathise with your original complaint, and if football and all other competition sports disappeared from the face of the Earth overnight, I couldn’t care less. But throwing in the Heysel Disaster is totally specious. Totally.

          For one thing, if you think war is a commensurate comparison for the Heysel, you have no idea what war is. For another thing, crowd stampedes are always a deadly risk at mass events, especially when amplified by the cupidity, stupidity and imprudence of organisers, authorities, and, it should be pointed out, participants. Cf. the Hillsborough Crush of 1989, the Mecca stampedes of 2006 and 2010, the Duisburg Love Parade stampede of 2010. Hell, even Woodstock could have resulted in a disaster. 11 dead in Cincinnati (The Who concert, 1979); 9 dead, 26 wounded in 2000 at the Roskilde Festival in civilised, well-organised Denmark. The list goes on and on. Go to a mass event, get a free ticket for the Darwin Award sweepstakes. At least, folks go there of their own volition, whereas wars are usually thrust upon them.

            1. Jose,

              I indicated that I did not think that the comparison of football to war is a strong one, and your reply begins with “tell that to Heysel victims…”.

              If you were not defending the comparison to war, what then is the meaning of your reply to me?

              1. Should I explain why I say that the water in my house has no colour? I thougth it was self evidente. Ok, let me try.

                You said (I understood) that soccer is a substitute for war in a way that in prevents bigger damage. I deny that, I say that soccer itself promotes violence, I talked about heysel as an example of that. And to clarify, I can’t understan how the rivality from national championships up to the world cup, exaecerbated as it is necesary to enjoy a otherwise boring game, can’t be linked to violence.

              2. Jose

                “You said (I understood) that soccer is a substitute for war in a way that in prevents bigger damage”

                No, that’s not what I was arguing at all. Not even close.

                It appears that we have a language barrier issue here.

              3. Again Sorry, I actually see now I was answering to Occam, who actually proposed soccer as a less damaging substitute for war.

    2. Yeah, I hear this sour rant a lot. You’re not totally wrong, spectator sports are all pretty silly, but come on, lighten up. Sport is light entertainment, not dead serious control seeking business like religion. It may offer false hope and irrational happiness and some may be too fanatic about it, but unlike religion, nobody mistakes it for reality. Sportsmen frequently say “it’s just sports”. Have you ever heard a priest describe his sermon as “only religion” in any self-deprecatory manner?

      The fairytale virtual reality of sports offers a much needed psychological release valve for a lot of people. In real life, you get perhaps once or twice in your whole lifetime an experience the ecstatic joy of unadulterated success and being part of a great accomplishment. The real life almost never offers you even a single moment of shining victory. It’s all difficult shades of grey, and nobody really wins.  In the virtual reality of sports, someone always wins. You may try to find your entertainment from arts, music, theatre or cinema. But art is hard, you seldom find winners. In sports, there’s a winner every night. And if your favourite loses, there’s soon another game, another tournament, another sport that can give you the feeling of being part of something successful. Without sports, who would ever raise their hands up and cheer together with their friends? Perhaps the guys in NASA when their rocket reaches the orbit, that’s it.

      It may be different in the catholic southern Europe, but here in the north it works quite nicely. When our team loses, we cry for a day and then we move on. When our team wins, we smile for a year and reminisce it fondly for a decade. I think that’s a great way to feel better about your life for a moment.

      Spain is going broke, the rate of unemployment is horrible. A lot of people are desperate. So, it’s nice to see them celebrate and jump into fountains. Of course, if this takes them from actually solving their real life problems, the opium of spectator sports shows its ugly side. But in my experience, sport championships may even encourage economic growth as people feel that overcoming problems is possible.

  17. I loved the ‘total football’ of the Dutch in the seventies as they changed the way football was played. It was a pity they never won anything:-(

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