|photo by pasotraspaso||via PhotoRee|
Columnist Scott -- a veritable dynasty of the written word himself -- passes judgment on a Spain team that may go down as the world's best ever:
Vicente del Bosque has been alternately extolled and vilified by the media throughout the Euro tournament which just concluded, but Spain's victory over Italy in the 2012 Final can't be interpreted as anything other than vindication for La Roja Furia's coach. Attacking from the start despite that nontraditional formation that lacked a formal striker, the Spanish instantly placed the Azzuri on their heels and needed fewer than 15 minutes to go ahead. Cesc Fabregas could have put it only one place for David Silva, which he skillfully did for the diminutive Manchester City playmaker to head home at full stride.
Silva's Manchester City teammate, Mario Balotelli, however, had his Super Mario cape confiscated in Kiev. A frustrating day for the mohawked phenom saw him limited mostly to pot shots from distance. Spain's back line, and Sergio Ramos in particular, deserve credit for personifying Mario's kryptonite as they consistently withstood and reciprocated the Italian's muscling style of play.
But the victory was not all Spain all the time. When Xavi put Jordi Alba thru to double the lead, Italy responded valiantly for 10 - 15 minutes as they sought to bring the game back into reach. But then Spain re-asserted their dominance once more and mostly controlled from then on, showing frequent flairs of the type of football their critics had recently insisted they were lacking.
When Italy did threaten, Iker Casillas was more than up to the task, parrying away a couple hard shots and swatting away a pair of dangerous corners.
Coaching questions must be asked of Cesare Prandelli who inserted Giorgio Chiellini into the lineup despite the Juventus defender struggling with fitness and missing earlier games. While he may be the best Italy has, that is only true when he's 100 percent fit. Not surprisingly, Prandelli was made to pay when forced to substitute the fullback in the 21st minute as the injured hamstring tweaked again.
Tactics and coaching do matter. To wit, when Prandelli then subbed again in the 56th minute, it was his third and final instead of his second. That proved to be a fatal flaw when Thiago Motta went down to injury after only minutes on the pitch and the brave Azzuri were forced to play the balance of the game with only 10 men.
Pulling two goals back with 11 healthy players is a monstrous feat against the reigning world champions - it's impossible with only 10. This axiom was proven when the stretched and tiring Italians conceded twice more in the final 10 minutes.
The first concession was to Fernando Torres who came on with 15 minutes to go. When the Chelsea star was played through in the 84th minute, he cooly and expertly found the side netting past a well-positioned but still-beaten Buffon.
Four minutes later, Torres also played part in the next goal, unselfishly cutting the ball back for his streaking Chelsea compatriot, Juan Mata, who also had only recently entered the fray. Torres, much-maligned for most of the Blues' season, also won the Golden Boot award, beating out several other notable strikers (including Super Mario) who also scored 3 goals due to his having played fewer minutes. !Bien hecho, Niño!
Some will point to how long Italy played with 10 men and how, with almost even possession (which still boggles my mind given the game I witnessed), things might have gone differently. But no excuses can be made. Spain was the better team and won, with the last two goals merely being exclamation points scribbled by talented and hungry substitutes.
The significance of Spain's victory cannot be overstated. After years of underperforming on the international stage prior to 2008, they are now the first European team to win three consecutive international tournaments and the only team to defend a European Championship. They are now being mentioned in the same breath as the greatest teams of all time.
And perhaps they should be. While France and the Netherlands flamed out in a blaze of conflated egos, and Germany, Italy and Portugal lost their mojo when it mattered most, only Spain has consistently slogged through years of games, winning both ugly and pretty, to hoist those consecutive trophies. Perhaps they looked to be a waning dynasty at the start of the tournament, but they regrouped and passed their way to victory, Arsene Wenger's unflattering assessment notwithstanding.
It is with great anticipation that we now look forward to Brazil 2014. Will A Selecao end Spain's dynasty with home-court advantage? Vamos a ver.
This is farlieonfootie for July 3.