Spain’s victory in Euro 2012 was not just a triumph by a team imprinting their own mark on football history.
It was also a significant message to their detractors.
It became fashionable to knock Spain for being “boring” during this tournament. It was only marginally less fashionable than criticising television presenters’ coverage of the football. Specifically, they were accused of even being defensive, being less interested in scoring than stopping the opposition by keeping the ball for so long.
Certainly the same people who derided Spain for stopping the opposition scoring by passing it around will likely be the same as those who excuse other forms of defensive football, such as sticking ten men behind the ball or trying to physically intimidate the opposition.
Adding fuel to the anti-Spain brigade would have been the statistic that they have not conceded a goal in a knock out tie of a major tournament since 2006, when Zinedine Zidane (who he, ed?) struck against them for France.
This was always a fairly ludicrous argument though. Accusing Spain of being boring is like blaming a recent university graduate for the general lack of jobs. Spain were dull, if they were, because of the teams they played against. It does not look good when one team has the ball all the time but can’t do anything productive because their opponents are set up defensively. Even France, notionally an attacking side, changed and played two right backs against the Spanish in an attempt to nullify them.
In the last World Cup Spain came up against similar tactics, as they did in the semi final of the Euros against Portugal. Only when the Portuguese tired towards the end did Spain start to turn the screw. Similarly, their victory over Italy in the final was helped in large part thanks to Italy’s uncharacteristic desire to attack. Italy’s manager Cesare Prandelli, with his mentality of “I don’t want to lose without having a go” contributed to the finest spectacle Vincente del Bosque’s men put on all tournament.
So the blame on Spain for being dull and defensive seems rather mean spirited. This is a team who look to pass the ball incessantly until gaps open up in the opposition defence. If there are no gaps because they are playing an ultra defensive team, then a stalemate will form, which is of course, rather dull. It takes confrontation out of the game. This will be exacerbated when Spain are winning 1-0, as there is less urgency to score a second if you are winning already. Surely it is not a coincidence that the most frequent result Spain have achieved during their period of domination in tournament football is 1-0.
That is the result of one team who like to pass the ball and prevent the other having it, and another determined not to leave gaps in their defence. To blame Spain for this, seems misguided. The masterclass of the Euro 2012 final was the perfect riposte.