For all the laudatory praise that will inevitably follow Spain’s 1-0 victory over Germany in the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna, the culmination of the 2008 European Championship failed to live up to its consistently thrilling early stages.
Despite their clear failure to organise a defence befitting a truly great team, Spain are a competent collective force with an individual technical assurance that borders on comprehensive. The free-flowing touch and finesse of their midfield four (five, for the majority of the semi-final and the final) shielded a distinctly streaky back four, comprising of the Spanish Jamie Carragher (Carlos Puyol), a glorified athlete (Sergio Ramos) and the unconvincing Capdevila and Marchena.
Nevertheless, for a tournament as satisfying as Euro 2008, the task of finding a winning performance that transcended those of Russia and Holland in the preliminary stages was to inevitably prove futile, and we can only rejoice in an outcome that lofts a team possessing faith in the eternal maxims of swift passing and fluid movement above all others.
In particular, Spain’s triumph offers a stark reality to those failed superstars from English pastures green. Even as an Englishman with no time for the national team, Spanish triumph presents a reality so brutally vivid that it is impossible to ignore. Despite possessing a core that frequently looked brittle and cumbersome when under pressure, Spain demonstrated that the ability to keep hold of the ball and manoeuvre it via quick, short passing interchanges holds ultimate value in football at the highest level. Often these lengthy moves result in failure (Spain only managed to score one goal in a game they dominated convincingly), yet, the difficulty of scoring when you do not have the ball is a truism that the majority of British sides often neglect.
Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas are players without peer in this subtle art, at least in the European field. In this light, Germany’s reliance on the isolated — if not incapacitated – Michael Ballack exposed a sedentary midfield unwilling to partake in risk or innovation, and as the game drew to a meek climax, Germany struggled to penetrate the final third of the field, allowing a lax Spanish defence levels of palatial comfort. As even the modest Marcos Senna entertained the idea of a foray forward, Germany struggled to compose any sort of meaningful thrust on the gaping deficiencies in the Spanish rear.
This is an age in which the monetary persuasions of the biggest teams in Europe present an accelerated, exaggerated version of football’s possibilities. When we watch a team like Manchester United, Barcelona or Arsenal, we are privy to a combination of the finest talents in world football allowed the time, space and opportunity to develop a standard of play that simply can not be replicated under the restrictions of nationality and geography.
Maybe the most we can hope for is fortitude in the withering artistry of those that pass, move and invent with a simplicity that renders football exciting and renewable with each touch. In this light, Spain are appropriate, yet, perfunctory winners of a fine tournament.