Spain Reigns : 2012 UEFA European Football Championship
Ningchihan Kabe Hungyo *
The most beautiful and enthralling component of the Spanish squad is the exquisite array of its talented midfielders and creative playmakers with the likes of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso, David Silva, and Cesc Fabregas
Finally, the three-week longrazzmatazz of the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, popularly referred to as Euro 2012, came to an exuberant end in Olympic Stadium in Kieve, Ukraine last Sunday as expected: Spain reigns, yet again!
By winning the 14th edition of the tournament, the Spanish dream of creating historysees the light of the day: lifting both 2010 FIFA World Cup and 2012 UEFA European Football Championship consecutively, a feat no other country has achieved, thus maintaining the No. 1 spot of FIFA ranking intact. Spain truly deserve it. Coach Vincentedel Bosque and his tiki-taka players also defended their European title in style with brainafter displayinga sublime, and cool perfection of the art of the "beautiful game."
Held every four years since 1960, it was originally called the UEFA European Nations Cup, which was subsequently changed to the current name in 1968. After going through hectic qualifiers all 16 teams, except for the co-hosts Ukraine and Poland who qualified automatically, in fray fought it out to eventually lift thecoveted 8 kg and 60 cm Henri Delaunay trophy, named after the first General Secretary of UEFA,along with € 7.5 million (Rs 51.83 crore)
What is the success mantra behind the Spanish campaign?
What is their game-plan that pushed their opponents to a so vulnerable defenselessness?
What message does a football lover take home?
Vincentedel Bosque, the Spanish head coach used his brains well with assiduous dexterity: mesmerize and confuse the opponents till they become frustrated and worn-out physically and mentally, by allowing the ball to go everywhere, and reap the dividends. The ruse worked; it liquidated the Italian defense thatprevailed the Germans' onslaught in the semi-final on 29 June. Bosque did not want his strikers to be stopped.
And that could be achieved if only the strikers are, ironically, not recognized or well-known for their exploitsin front of goal mouth. Precisely, the opponent defenders have no idea who will score. A winger, a central forward, a midfielder, or anyone who comes handy with the ball tries to find a way to the net. Ultimately, David Silva scored (at 14th minute). Jordi Alba scored (41)! Fernando Torres scored (84). Even Juan Matta scored (88)!
In earlier matches, Fabregas scored too, so did Xabi Alonso. Virtually everyone scored . . . unlike the conventional scoring spree engineered individually by celebrated veterans like Gerd Muller, Ronaldo, MiroslavKlose, et al. Now we know why Fernando Torres was left on the bench much of the time. Had David Villa not been ruled out due to injury, presumably he might not be allowed to play full time.
This tactic is something novel that added to the flavour of Spainish "modern" football, which football-lovers will continue to talk about for "30 or 40 years' time", as quipped by BBCsports analyst, Alan Hansen. Veteran Alan Shearer opines, "People have asked questions of Spain because of their system of not playing a recognised striker, wondering if they would score enough goals. But they have scored more goals and conceded less than any other team. It was a dream to watch and a nightmare to play against because there are no answers."
If Bruce Lee felt kung fu, for him, was like water sprayed on an opponent's wall that found a crack to flow through, for Spain, football is like air; the ball goes everywhere finding its right place and space. The stylish one-touch knocking around of the ball, at times, attracts the skepticism of the common football lovers, and simply write it off as "boring", who expect strikers to, with feats of cinematic dribbling or spectacular bicycle-kicks, penetrate the defense line and flip the ball past the awestruck goalie like a lightning. That's how Mario Balotelli did against the Germans; as well as howCristiano Ronaldo did against the Netherlands.
Of course, kudos to Balotelli for his two superb goals that crushed the German giants, which were quintessential manoeuvre of a born striker, as beautiful as Ronaldo's feats and dribbling. But what happened to them when they faced the Spaniards in the semi-final and final matches respectively?
The cost of relying too much on prominent star-strikersis heavy, at times. For instance, England went distraught and clueless when Wayne Rooney, England's expected trouble-shooter, was red-carded in a thrilling quarter-final against Portugal in the World Cup 2006 in Germany, thereby rendering a disappointing defeat. Possibly Sven-Göran Eriksson's England depended too much on Rooney alone. Even Lionel Messi was exasperatingly helpless when Germans foiled his intents in the last World Cup in South Africa.
However, experienced sexagenarian Vincente del Bosque well knew such tactic of one-man-army complacency had its own Achilles heel. This bald and shrewd successor of Luis Aregonés after successful 2008 UEFA Euro campaign did his homework well: stopping the world's most expensive player Ronaldo meant stopping Portugal; so was the defense mechanism against Italy's Balotelli.
Real Madrid's defender Arbelao, whose height of 6 ft matches both that of Ronaldo's 6.1 ft and Balotelli's 6.2 ft, was chosen to thwart their attacks, and he achieved it. Spain left no stone unturned. Good football demands a strong shield of defense, so they have it, let alone creative mid-fielding and clinical finishing. Led by Iker Casillas, as one of the best goalkeepers, the Spanish defenders Gerard Pigue, Sergio Ramos, and Arbelao conceded only two goals (to Italy and Croatiain a group matches) in six matches in their Euro 2012 campaign.
The most beautiful and enthralling component of the Spanish squad is the exquisite array of its talented midfielders and creative playmakers with the likes of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso, David Silva, and Cesc Fabregas. These La Masia graduates, except Alonso, produced a touch of sublime craft of beauty and superiority that made the game of football look like a flamenco orchestrated to the rhythm of Peco De Lucia, which might mesmerize even the Brazilian samba dancers. Their outstanding, dexterous, and delicate patterning of the ball with short passesand dominant possession let the opposition run amok with no clue which way the ball might bouncein! That's the hallmark of Spanish modern football, which it gave to the world! An absolute beauty of the game!
Another interesting aspect of Spanish squad is their short stature. Most of the Spaniards are much shorter than the Italian, German and English counterparts, let alone Peter Crouch who towers 6 foot 7 inches, that is 1 foot taller than the 2008 UEFA Euro Player of the Tournament, Xavi who is just 5.7 foot. To be concluded
The old notion,"height is might" in football is debatably outdated, and has been undone by the Spaniards by exhibiting that "art-for-art's-sake" still holds true even in football. Take, for instance, all the three finalists of 2010 FIFA Ballon d'Or award: Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta and Xabi Hernández; they are all 5 foot 7 inch tall. Takeshi Okada, the Japanese national coach of World Cup 2010 team was right when he admonished his players for the excuse of losing a match due to height and strength. Little star Lionel Messi with sheer skill and talent proves to the world that height or strength is not everything in football by bagging FIFA World Best Player award twice consecutively. Theses achievements send an imperative wake-up call to the Mongloids; be it Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, in general, or for that matter, the North Easterners and Manipuris, in particular.
Eight of the Spanish squad are Barca players: Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Pique, Pedro, Fabregas, Viktor Valdes, and Alba. Significantly, most of them are products of Barcelona's elite football academy, La Masia(The Farmhouse) along with IkerCassilas, and David Silva. Critics rightly put in, "Spain is Barcelona sans Messi."
Joachim Löw, German coach tersely asserts it thus: "You can see it in every pass, how Spain plays is how Barcelona plays. They can hardly be beaten. They are extremely confident and very calm in the way they circulate the ball." In fact the winning squad was an expensive blend of splendid talents of two of the world's and La Liga's most successful professional clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid (Real with four players, namely Raul Albiol, Sergio Ramos, ArvaloArbelao, Xabi Alonso, including skipper Iker Casillas).
The La Masiayouth academy has investedabout twenty years of painstaking efforts to produce what we come to know today as tiki-taka(commonly spelled tiqui-tacain Spanish) - mesmerizing one - touch passing that pulls opponents apart and create ample space to penetrate and, bingo, score!
The late Spanish broadcaster Andrés Montes is generally credited with coining and popularizing the phrase tiki-taka during his television commentary on La Sexta for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, although the term was already in colloquial use in Spanish football and may originate with Javier Clemente. In his live commentary of the Spain versus Tunisia match, Montes used the phrase to describe Spain's precise, elegant passing style: "Estamostocandotiki-taka tiki-taka." The phrase's origin may be onomatopoeic, alluding to the quick, short distance "tick" passing of the ball between players, or derived from a juggling toy named tiki-taka in Spanish (clackers in English).
The roots of what later would become known as tiki-taka lay in the style of play propagated and implemented by Johan Cruyff during his tenure as manager of Barcelona from 1988 to 1996. It continued to develop under Barcelona's Dutch coaches Louis van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard and was subsequently adopted by other La Liga teams such as Villarreal CF under coaches Manuel Pellegrini and Juan Carlos Garrido. Barcelona's tiki-taka tradition led to greater success for the team during Josep Guardiola's managerial tenure from 2008 to 2012, and the system has been credited with producing a generation of technically talented, often physically-small, players such as Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Cesc Fŕbregas, and Lionel Messi; players with excellent touch, vision and passing, who excel at maintaining possession.
Evidently, on Sunday Italians looked completely stretched out in the second half, as Thiago Matto writhed in pains after having pulled hamstring that reduced the Azzurris to ten-men. As planned, late substitutes Torres and Mattamanipulated the Italian's plight and sealedthe match with a score 4-0. Torres' unselfishcross to his Chelsea mate Juan Matta at 88th minute was not only clinically taken but also hailedwith congratulatory hugs fromMatta and his team-mates as well. That's a display of professional ethics and assertion of importance of team work to individual achievement and skill!
Juxtaposing sublimity and triumph of Spanish football and Manipur's blunder and unexpected disappointmentsin India's major tournaments over the last few years, an ardent lover and reveler of the game cannot help but ask himself or herself: why Santosh Trophy is so elusive for Manipur?
Our state Manipur does not lack quality football players; it is even considered the golden bowl of India's sports - football, for instance. The Hindu, in one of this year's editions covering Santosh Trophy campaign, hailed the Manipur squadas "the Northeast giants."
Obviously, we have achieved the national fame of producing outstanding players with the likes of Shukumar, Somatai, Bijen, Renendra, Gouramangi, Reisangmi, Naoba, Sushilkumar. . . .and many others who are serious trendsetters in the I-League.
Then, what hinders Manipuris to be the National champions, if not excel in international arenas?
On the other hand, one raises eyebrows if the All India Football Federation is still complacent with its current 164th FIFA ranking. Maybe, the Spaniards have something to tell us.
With the present squad mostly in their twenties - Xavi, 32, is the oldest - Spain has every possibility of extending their reign as the world champions for quite some years to come provided they prove their mettle in Brazil in 2014. There, it will be sheer ecstasy for soccer fans around the world, if Lady Luck favours with an ensemble oflively Brazilian samba beats to the tune and rhythm of Spanish flamencos - a rare masterpiece of el clasico.
Over to France in 2016.
* Ningchihan Kabe Hungyo wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao English Edition
This article was posted on July 23 2012
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