Viva La Roja! – but not yet the greatest…

6 07 2012


‘Spain the greatest? They were lucky to get out of the group…’

‘Of course, we should give to Spain all that is their due, the four years in which they have been so dominant, and supremely, those last 90 minutes (the Euro 2012 Final) in which they showed us the best of themselves. But not at the cost of the truth, not because of some collective lapse of memory concerning the meaning of a team (Brazil) which won arguably the greatest World Cup of all (1970) with quite unanswerable brilliance…’

‘Spain may have become the owners, at least for a while, of today’s football, but that should not mean the disinheritance of a nation (Brazil) that which won three World Cups in 12 years and created such a sense of futility in their opponents…’

(James Lawton: Chief Sports Writer – ‘The Independent’)       


Viva La Roja!

Despite back to back Euro victories for Spain, interspersed with the little matter of a World Cup, the Brazilian Samba Boys, circa 1970, are still simply the best

I don’t always concur with ‘Indie’ Sports Journalist of the Year, James Lawton, but on this occasion I totally agree with his considered response to overly exuberant post Euro 2012  claims that, following their thoroughly methodical ‘Italian job’ (a comfortable 4-0 win against the Azzurri) in the tournament final, the current Spanish squad might now be considered the greatest ever.

The memory plays funny games, and mine may be fading, but surely, anyone who recalls that distant Sunday afternoon, in June ’70, when the boys from Brazil shimmered in the sun, their sizzling samba flickering across our screens as Italy (the Azzurri again) were put to the torch – roasted – in the searing heat of Mexico City, could not fail to agree. Even black and white TV coverage, couldn’t  dim such a glowing performance – one that has never been surpassed since.                   

The devastatingly incisive build-up to Brazil’s fourth and final strike, in the dying minutes of the game, culminating in a flamboyant finish by Carlos Alberto, is generally accepted as being the greatest ever goal to grace a  World Cup Final stage. 

To be fair. There is no doubting the quality of this current, easy on the eye, Spanish side with their hypnotic ’tick-tack’ style, ball playing matadors all, mesmerizing even the most bullish of opponents into submission. The eternal ‘under-achievers’ tag of a few short years ago seems but a distant memory. 

This current  crop of cultured players, many the product of Barca’s  Nou Camp estate, have blossomed into a stylishly effective side (all be it  with a propensity to over elaborate on occasions) fast maturing into a fine vintage – likely to linger long on the palate.  

Their record, to date, is mightily impressive:

  • 32 goals scored, in winning successive Euros and an intervening World Cup, (arguably, fewer than their approach play deserves)
  • 20 competitive matches since their last defeat
  • 79 clean sheets for goal-keeper captain Casillas, and 100 wins out of 137 games he has played in – to date
  • 3,946 completed passes during Euro 2012 – 620 by midfield maestro, Xavi (supposedly, not at his absolute best!)  

Viva España! So far so good, but the ‘all-time great’ acolade will have to be put on ice. We really need to reserve judgement and reconsider, if and when La Roja retain the World Cup, in Brazil 2014. Should they do so it be would be an outstanding achievement, and significantly strengthen their case.   

As for England’s Euro 2012 campaign, they achieved as well as anyone had a right to expect. Many critics gave them little chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals, from a tricky looking group, but new coach Roy Hodgson did marvellously well, given such a short time in charge, to organise and motivate a genuinely average England side.

A crucial, opening, 1-1 draw against a re-emerging French side (desperate to banish ‘les bleus’ of their farcical demise at World Cup 2010), followed by a dramatic comeback in a 3-2 victory over the Swedes (very much a bogey side, previously undefeated against England in tournament football) and a pragmatic 1-0, win in the cauldron of Kiev, against co-hosts Ukraine, has to be considered a pleasing start for the new era.

It might have been even more impressive. Having conceded 70% possession against a technically superior, Pirlo inspired Italy side, England clung on for an efficient, if uninspiring, goalless draw, finally succumbing, in their time-honoured fashion, via an all too predictable penalty shoot-out.

In some quarters, Hodgson’s tactics have come under fire, for their perceived negativity, but he should be applauded for adopting a style that largely masked the limitations of the players at his disposal, and creating a pattern of play that enabled an effective team performance – collectively better than the sum of its individual parts.    

In the light of Italy’s subsequent semi-final romp against a strong German side, many people’s favourites to upset the Spanish apple cart, and win the tournament, and reassert their former Teutonic dominance of the Eurozone, England’s quarter final performance appears even more creditable.      

However let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. There is still much work to be done if Hodgson’s, new look, England squad is to develop sufficiently well to qualify for, and mount a serious challenge in, Brazilia 2014.

England’s fourth place standing in the FIFA world rankings, announced this week, is clearly ridiculous and, undoubtedly, calls into question its fitness for purpose. Any scoring system that enables England’s current pride of 3 Lions to prowl around, lauding it, above near European neighbours Portugal and Italy, as well as South American giants, Brazil (the 5 time World Cup winners have slipped to 11th) and Argentina, must be severely flawed.

‘Paddy Power’ have quoted England at 18-1 to lift the World Cup, at Rio’s Maracanã Stadium, in two years’ time – a considerably more realistic assessment. The bookies would appear to be a far better bet than FIFA when it comes to assessing the current World order –  and rarely get it wrong!

Finally, well done to, England captain, Stevie G for making it into the official UEFA – ‘team of the tournament’ – Euro 2012 squad. He is the only English player selected. There is no place for Wayne Rooney, who, once again, fell short at a major tournament. Former England coach, Fabio Capello, was roundly criticised for a comment, in the press, suggesting Rooney only ever performs at his best for Man U, which is patently true. Only when Rooney finally delivers on the big international stage, will he have justified his,  supposed, ‘world-class’ status   

While Gerrard was England’s most influential player, he still fails to adequately replicate his Liverpool club form at international level and should be somewhat flattered at finding himself picked alongside much more naturally talented players: Xavi and Iniesta (Spain), Pirlo and De Rossi (Italy) and Ozil and Khediri (Germany).           







2 responses

6 07 2012
Another Phil

A good read as usual…aff to Corfu Sunday leaving this grotty weather behind

6 07 2012
Phil Aldridge

Lucky you! Have a great time. I will try and get down for that FGR v Mansfield match this year. Still waiting for our, loads of money, Kuwaiti take over at the City Ground. Announcement due Monday, all being well!

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