Euro 2012 final: Does winning make Spain boring?
Euro 2012: Kiev
It is the question that has been hanging over Euro 2012 and it was fitting that the air should be cleared as Spain attempt to make history against Italy in Sunday’s final in Kiev.
Now, on the verge of an unprecedented third successive major tournament win, Del Bosque and his masterly midfielder Xavi responded to what seems a nonsensical query given their record: “Are Spain boring?”
It is safe to assume the Spanish nation is not bored by their team's consistency and it is highly unlikely those of us who follow England to various stages – but never this final one – of major tournaments would not grow jaded watching players of the calibre of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and so many others wearing the national colours.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli declined to fall into the trap. He made up one half of a remarkably relaxed pairing with goalkeeper Gigi Buffon at Saturday’s media briefing, even announcing at its conclusion that he would throw Italy’s final training open to the media in its entirety. Never a sign of a shortage of confidence.
He hit the nail firmly on the head when he said: “It is not a case of Spain being boring. It’s a fear of seeing the same side winning. Spain always seem to come out on top so they are not boring in any shape or form.”
It is a trait seen in other sports when the greats have a stranglehold on a title. When a Swiss prodigy called Roger Federer toppled the magnificent Pete Sampras in five sets on Wimbledon’s Centre Court in 2001, part of the pleasure for many was the rather twisted one of seeing champions have the rug pulled from beneath them.
Spain are now football’s tall poppy that plenty want to cut down. This explains why this developing Italy side have the support of many neutrals who simply fancy a change to what has become the established order.
Del Bosque accepted Spain’s side had evolved and there is no question they are not quite as pleasing on the eye as in past years. They also played out a mainly dull Euro 2012 semi-final before beating Portugal on penalties – but Spain are not a dull football team. How could they be with the talent at Del Bosque's disposal? Indeed it would be quite a feat of coaching to make them so.
The coach who was so successful at Real Madrid has been accused of putting a more negative slant on the Spanish approach with some simply expecting them to ape Barcelona’s style. One cutting comment during one earlier game was: “They’re just not the same side without Lionel Messi.”
Spain’s style is based on not allowing their opponents possession, which is usually the first port of call for any team with ideas of success.
Del Bosque has also been under scrutiny for use of the so-called “False Nine”, which means there is no recognised striker in the team. The system has come under forensic examination but one explanation might be that his genuine nine, Fernando Torres, has not made enough of a compelling case for inclusion.
Xavi is one of those world-class players and he is neither bored, nor regards Spain as boring. He said: “We are not boring. If it is boring that Spain always wins then that is the ideal for us. We are making history in this sport and we are really looking forward to this final.
“We are not bored. We want to continue with the style that has brought us so many victories.”
So Spain go in seach of a record and, in some cases at least, credit and recognition as one of the great international sides in the history of the game. And what makes the final so intriguing is that they face an Italy team that showed great freedom, as well as the traditional resilience, in surprising Germany in the semi-final in Warsaw.
As when Italy won the World Cup in 1982 and 2006, it is being achieved despite a whiff of domestic scandal in their game. This time it is match-fixing and it seems out of such adversity the Azzurri make a statement for their nation.
Goalkeeper Buffon, a towering figure in their history and hugely respected within the world game, agreed when he said: “There is something unique in the Italian mentality. Beyond everything that has been said, and the rumours, Italians have a lot of respect and love for the national squad which goes above and beyond.
“We have the opportunity to show just how great our country is. It is not always easy but we always try to find a way of getting a solid squad and there is a lot of solidarity here. We’re thinking along the same lines and that’s our strength.”
And strengths have emerged elsewhere, not least in two of the most charismatic personalities at Euro 2012 – midfield man Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli.
Pirlo could take his place with comfort on the passing “carousel” Xavi and Iniest attempt to transfer from Barcelona to Spain, while Balotelli now has the biggest stage of his career to continue his impressive response to the tactical trust Prandelli has afforded him.
So history - and plenty more - is on the line in Kiev on Sunday as Spain and Italy attempt to provide a fitting finish to a superb tournament.