WC2014 Spain 0 – 2 Chile

World stunned as Spain's football king announces his abdication

World stunned as Spain’s football king announces his abdication

The Reign Of Spain Ends Mainly With Great Pain

“Mes Hombres,” began the tearful announcement, “it is over.” So spoke Spain’s once and former king as behind him legions of distraught workmen began the three day clearout of Iker Casillias’ trophy cabinet. Two European Championships, one World Cup, A World Youth Championship and six years of world domination had failed to slake his thirst. Like all great men he believed he was immortal. And like all great men he was mistaken.


WC2014 Spain 1 – 5 Holland

Bonk! That was a moment to rival his Goal of the Season first touch volley. Robin van Persie begins the psychic destruction of Iker Casillas.

Bonk! That was a moment to rival his Goal of the Season first touch volley. Robin van Persie begins the psychic destruction of Iker Casillas.

No One Expected The Spanish Inquisition

Wow! No, really, just Wow with capital letters and everything. You don’t normally expect this sort of thing at major tourneys, certainly not from the sides that played out such an ill-tempered dour World Cup Final in South Africa four years ago. And if that seems like a long time, it will feel like another universe ago to the Spanish this morning. For they were served a spanking that will be seared into their collective unconscious for generations to come.


Euro 2012: Day 19 The Final

Saved The Best For Last: Spain 4 – 0 Italy

Now most finals are a catastrophic disappointment. They’re usually devoid of real excitement or genuine skill and usually feature a bunch of players too overawed for the occasion to actually rise to it. Fortunately this wasn’t one of those occasions. Both Spain and Italy bought their A-game and went at each other from the start.

The first half was simply a delight. Far from being over-complicated and indecisive about their game, Spain’s passing was clinical, incisive and determined. Each pass appeared to be part of a larger attempt to move Italy about the pitch before cynically decapitating them with the odd goal. The first saw them move the ball all over the Italians’ half before Fabregas cut in, went to the byline and crossed for Silva to head in. The second saw Xavi and Jordi Alba combine to set Alba through to beat the keeper. Spain were so dominant that Italy had barely had a chance, yet they never looked like they were outclassed, just overwhelmed.

Italy had no answer. With Spain having in effect a 6 man midfield, Pirlo wasn’t given the freedom to get into the game and so Italy weren’t able to adapt. Ballotelli was isolated and unable to contribute, and despite their changes there was no change in the state of play. Indeed they soon went a player down as their final sub succumbed to a hamstring injury.

Spain’s substitutes, by contrast, worked fine. Torres came on, score a goal, set up another for substitute Mata, and won the golden boot in the process. Not bad for 15 minutes work for a striker who is, apparently, washed up, devoid of confidence and way past his best. Add these to the Champions League winner’s medal he received for just over half an hour on the pitch and it’s not been that bad a season for Fernando. Spain were four up and it could have been 20. Italy were as outdone as Engerland had been a week beforehand, only Spain were able to finish somewhat more effectively.

This was the final the tournament, which started so well, deserved. A truly great match to crown this Spanish side one of the all time greats. It’s probably no consolation to the Italians, but they’ve managed to lose the two classic international finals (this and Mexico 70), conceding 4 goals in each and given us some real entertainment.

Their next match, a friendly against the hapless Engerland, will be very, very interesting.

Euro 2012: Day 17

Stalemate: Spain 0 – 0 Portugal

You hope for a riot and you get a small disturbance by the corner shop. This should have been a feisty, combative battle between the team of the tournament and the man of the moment (Pirlo excluded). Instead it was possibly the dullest of all the matches in the tournament so far as the two philosophies of Portugal and Spain cancelled each other out.

This was everything that football shouldn’t be. The focus on the individual rather than the team, the focus on the individual rather than the football. This should have been the moment for Ronaldo to seize control, to finally show that he can be the decisive factor in the really really big games in the same way that Pirlo was against Engerland. Instead this was Ronnie at his least effective. Indeed, it was Nani (ever the understudy) who appeared more effective, although given the torpor the game induced that isn’t saying much.

Spain themselves seemed surprisingly outclassed for the first half, only really rousing themselves for extra time and even then they weren’t roused enough to really make a difference.

Still, like Engerland, penalties were funny, funny, funny. The best joke being that Ronaldo, who obviously sees himself as the saviour of football, didn’t even get to take his penalty.  From glory boy to glory hole in one fell swoop.

Euro 2012: Day 15

Football Is Chess Played By Stupid People: Spain 2 – 0 France

Now loads of people have come down on Spain. They are apparently too lovely for their own good, they play beautiful, if often unthreatening football, they have won too often, they don’t allow other teams to beat them, they are boring and they win everything. Oh and they don’t give crappier teams a chance and they don’t let others score goals against them. So naturally it’s all the Spaniards’ fault.

Really the onus is on all the other sides to find a way around the Spanish gameplan. Not for the Spaniards to dumb down their play to accommodate the failings of the rest of the world. And given it’s taken Mourinho, who has the strongest alternative footballing philosophy, the best part of three seasons (and umpteen Classicos) in Spain to even challenge the might of Barcelona, it’s no surprise that the rest of the world has taken a while to get to grips with Spain’s success.

Latest to try was former world great France. Their previous period of dominance has culminated in just over a decade of catastrophic failure, infighting and acrimony. This campaign has been conducted with an undercurrent of bitterness, rancour and loathing that has been scarcely believeable, with players like Ben Arfa, Ribery, Malouda, Benzema and particularly Nasri being accused of not pulling their weight. With team solidarity like that it was no surprise that France bottled it, preferring to play a bizarre containment game before going one down, then failing to put together a meaningful attack for the rest of the game.

From Spain’s perspective their plan worked perfectly. They wore France down, pulling them all over the pitch, destroying their will, before breaking down the left, beating the two right backs Blanc had inexplicably deployed, before Xabi Alonso headed the ball into a practically unguarded net. Despite the introduction of Nasri, who barely even touched the ball, France had no response.

This might not have been a harem-scarem match like yesterday’s Germany Greece match, but from the Spanish perspective this was a perfect plan immaculately executed. The question for the rest of the world remains, Whatchagonna do about it?

Euro 2012: Day 11

Play Badly And Win: Spain 1 – 0 Croatia

What should have been a great match was made dreary by tactics. Despite the Croats needing to score to have a chance of qualification (only a win or a high scoring draw would do) they really didn’t pose much of a threat for the first 70 minutes or so. Their plan seems to have been to tire the Spanish out by allowing them to have too much possession of the ball.

The Spanish, meanwhile, appear to have been playing well within themselves. Either that or they were giving a very good impression of a team that was unable to meet its own high standards, appeared somewhat exhausted and was unable to gel together properly. Indeed, there were moments when they were comprehensively outplayed by the Croats, when Modric sparkled down the right wing, then put in a beautiful cross off the outside of his boot only to see Rakitic head it straight at Casillas. That and a volley from outside the area were the Croats two significant chances. After that the game was effectively over.

Spain’s one moment of genuine class decided the game. A through ball from Fabregas saw Iniesta finally break the Croat defence and square the ball for the onrushing Jesus Navas to slam into the net from a couple of yards. The venom with which he struck the ball ensured that, but for the net, that ball would still be traveling two days later.

Play Badly And Lose: Ireland 0 – 2 Italy

Well top marks the Irish. At least they managed to hold it to nil-nil for more than five minutes. Indeed it wasn’t until the 36th minute that their chronically useless defence spreadeagled itself in front of the Italian onslaught. A corner headed in and once again the Irish had conceded from a set piece. And while an Irish goal might have sent the Italians home, it never looked like really happening. And when they conceded a late second, again from a corner, their misery was complete.

Bad beyond belief the Irish have even less to take home from this tournament than the Dutch (and that’s saying something). Null points, one goal and a goal difference of -8. Two goalkeeping howlers, three goals from set pieces and a brace for goal drought Fernando Torres. The Irish represent everything that is wrong with ‘macho’ football. Staffed by big men with plenty of ‘heart’ and nothing in their boots, they showed that there is no point to football without skill, tactics and guile. Rarely threatening, always in danger, Ireland were like the minnows of the Cup coming up against the big boys and finally understanding the possibilities the game they had been playing all their lives had to offer and realising that they would never, as individuals, begin to ascend the foothills of the talents they were playing against.

The idea that the Irish can qualify for this tournament while teams like the Belgians are left on the sidelines makes a mockery of the qualification process. The sooner they and the footballing philosophy they represent are banished the better.