Monday, July 2, 2012

Another Gear

One day, my son will be old enough to ask me about this game... and I will tell him that as it happened, as I witnessed the greatest performance in a final of a major international tournament of all time - that he was there beside me, sound asleep. And that one day, he will hopefully share a similar moment with his own son.
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Spain were simply too much for Italy. Let me further qualify that statement: THIS Spain (that we saw in the final) were too much for Italy.
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A Tale of 2 Sides
I am not however, part of the press/pundit bandwagon-thinking who are now saying "You see!?! Spain aren't boring!" Come on. Watch all the pre-final games again: they were boring (at least to me). They were ponderous and over-elaborate - they were also a very good side. 'Very Good' as a functional team capable of winning matches, scoring goals when it mattered and keeping clean sheets. The pre-final Spain's brand of ponderous and over-elaborate tiki-taka was as boring as it was effective - and yes: DEFENSIVE. It was in short, a complete opposite of their 'we play beautiful flowing football' advertising.
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Thus, let me make it clear: my criticism of Spain's 'boring' play pre-final is not because they were boring per se - but because of the insistence among them and their blind followers that it was supposedly 'beautiful'. If the 'advertising' was merely about how good they were, how effective, how impenetrable they were (and there's no shame in that at all), then I wouldn't have minded at all. 
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Another Gear
Last night (or rather, this morning) however, Spain played at another level - it was as if they had another gear they could go up on and that all they needed to do was get Del Bosque to flip the switch to crank it up. That's exactly what they did. Their speed by which they passed the ball, resembled the movement of a ball in a pinball machine: zipping back and forth from player to player, gaining speed and momentum as they got closer to Buffon's goal. Even before Silva's opening goal, the 1-2 exchanges between Iniesta and Fabregas at the edge of Italy's penalty box had been very impressive and were a clear indication that Del Bosque has in fact managed to get his boys to crank it up another gear against Italy. 
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Tiki-Taka's beauty does not come merely from passing and moving. It in fact comes from passing and moving with purpose, speed and attacking intent. This was what Spain did last night that made its performance so mesmerizing and truly memorable. My friends who aren't fans of the sport have asked me casually about how these Euros have been and while I've been telling them that they've been enjoyable to watch, the tournament still needed a match that would make you tell yourself that you were proud to have seen it happen 'live'. Who knew that it would be Spain's performance in the final that would give me such an experience? 
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Erasing the 'Pirlo Factor'
Over dinner last night, my non-football-watching friends had asked me who I fancied to win the final. My answer was 'the winner based on who the better team was would be Spain' but 'the winner based on momentum, timing, "destiny factor" and the intangibles would be Italy.'
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"Pirlo!" my friend Oliver (who knew a bit about the game) shouted. "Pirlo's been great right?" he asked me.
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"Pirlo rattled Spain in the group stages. Pirlo destroyed England by himself. Pirlo is the reason Germany played scared and changed their entire system to deal with him - only to fail." I said. 
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"Pirlo..." I continued "...has been the player of the tournament so far in my opinion. If Italy are going to win, he'll need to boss the game. I don't know if he can do it against Xavi, Alonso, Busquets, Cesc, Silva and Iniesta though - those FIVE are all just as good as he is in bossing a game."
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On my way home, I read Michael Cox's tactical preview, including the diagram over-laying Italy's midfield diamond vs. Spain's 4-6-0. Pirlo was the beef patty in a Catalan midfield sandwich between Fabregas and Xavi. As the game unfolded, it was very apparent that Xavi was given instruction to pester Pirlo when the ageless Italian got the ball. Pirlo barely had any room to breathe as a result. Most of Italy's offensive moves instead came from De Rossi and Montolivo while Marchisio (who had impressed me in this tournament) was invisible. Italy's midfield diamond was swallowed by Spain's 6-midfielder formation. 
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Having lost the battle in the midfield, the battle on the flanks was on - and with Arbeloa and Alba taking turns to move forward (mostly the former), Italy's fullbacks (the Azzuri's only source of width) were pinned back too. Pique, Ramos with Arbeloa, together with the security that Casillas provided, was enough to keep Balotelli and Cassano at bay. The Real Madrid-Barca central defensive axis of Pique and Ramos possessed aerial power, physical strength, speed and technical ability not just as individuals but playing together as well - adequate to deal with Balotelli's menace. 
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Italy Should Hold Their Heads High
I felt very sad at the sight of Bonucci crying uncontrollably. Pirlo was clearly weeping too in his typically dignified demeanor. The Italians however should hold their heads high with what they have accomplished. their countrymen ought to be proud of them too. From being once again at the epicenter of yet another match-fixing scandal, their results in the tournament allowed the world to look again at Italian football and see not a scandal, but quality. Most of all, Prandelli's brand of pro-active attacking football showed the world that Italian football has in fact moved on from the dark days of cantenaccio and onto possibly a new footballing rennaisance. I will remember Italy's Euro 2012 team as the one who played attractively, who dared to defy the tactical conventions - giving us a refreshing look at the game and how it's played, not to mention Italian football.
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Spain and Their Golden Generation
Many pundits scoffed at my thought that Spain, until last night were boring. What I scoff at is the idea that Vicente Del Bosque is a mediocre coach who uses his teddy bear persona to just let everyone get along in order to win. You don't win 2 Champions League Titles, a World Cup and a Euro merely by being a nice guy 'teddybear-grandpapa figure'. I've said it before and I'll say it again: "When God created the idea of a Real Madrid Manager, he was thinking of Vicente Del Bosque. The problem was that Florentino Perez (at the time) thought he was God."
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Spain's Golden Generation have now won an unprecedented 3 major international titles. The scary part for the rest of the world is that there's a new batch of tiki-taka technicians already in reserve to carry the mantle from the current batch. We may no longer be talking about just a Golden Generation, but a Golden Dynasty.
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I will openly admit that I fancied the Germans to win this tournament and that on the back of their dour performances till last night, I wanted Spain's brand of boring tiki-taka to end in defeat in these Euros. Last night's performance however has shown to me that the beautiful version of tiki-taka is alive and well and was just hidden away in the backpocket for the big occasion. I can only hope that there will be more of it to see in the coming years. God knows the world is desperate to see more of it.

1 comment:

  1. great article, this is how i see the Spain path to the final
    they started as the WC in a very slow way, and the absence of Villa forced VDB to not count on Torres, even though he was performing very well in the past couple of months with Chelsea, and with the Euro's going on the team slowly managed to understand the new way, and i believe VDB is the best tactical coach in the world, since the RM days, i have never seen any coach read the game like he does,and because of his personality he never gets the proper recognition.
    people were surprised to see Spain this good in the final, i truly wasn't, they are that good, i think they throw people off in the previous rounds to take the pressure of them,and in the final they were too good for Italy.

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