Too much class

To secure its place as one of the best-ever nation’s tournaments, Euro 2008 needed only a pretty good final match. That’s about what it got. On the plus side, play was open from the early moments of the match, with Germany coming out on the attack and Spain fighting back after about 15 minutes. Thereafter, Spain played brilliantly (the second plus), but Germany managed to stay close (the third plus).

On the minus side, Germany rarely looked threatening after the first 15 minutes except for a 10 minute or so display of power midway through the second half. And we were deprived of any real excitement in the final 10 or 15 minutes, as Germany, having been led on a merry chase by the great Spanish midfield, was simply out of gas. Known for great comebacks, or at least fighting until the end, Germany was too outclassed to do either.

In hindsight, there were probably only two ways Germany was going to win this match: if Spain committed a major defensive blunder or if, playing without leading scorer David Villa, Spain was unable to translate its overall superiority into goals (this was a problem when Spain, sans Villa, played the U.S. in a tune-up match). Fernando Torres, finally looking like the man who terrorized Premiership defenses this year, took care of the second concern. As to the first, mistakes by Ramos, Puyol, and a shout for a handball against Capdevila almost gifted the Germans one or more goals. The Germans themselves created little, though, and Spain richly deserved the victory.

Luis Aragones, Spain’s much-maligned (especially be me) manager, deserves great credit for what this team accomplished. He learned from his defeat against France in the World Cup that against quality opposition you don’t translate a superior attack into victory by attacking all-out. As importantly, I think, this was truly his team, with nearly every player owing his place to Aragones, not to past managers and/or reputation. And by not neglecting some of the new blood in the Spanish game, Aragones has helped his successor (the experienced Vincente Del Bosque), on whom, however, expectations will be massive for the 2010 World Cup.

For decades, Spanish coaches have had to worry about constructing a team out of the Madrid contingent, the Catalonian contingent, and the Bosque contingent. Regional hatred and the Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry have at times poisoned the Spanish squad. Although there were rumors of tension between Aragones and a few of his stars, the old rivalries don’t seem to have come into play. In fact, it is striking how small the combined Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Basque presence is on Aragones’ squad. Of the 15 players he used regularly, two played with Real Madrid this year, two played for Barcelona, and I don’t think any played for a Basque club. The rest played elsewhere in Spain, especially Villareal (3) and Valencia (3), and in England (3). And the final piece of the puzzle, the steely midfielder Marcos Senna (Spain’s most valuable outfield players throughout the tournament), comes from Brazil.

The world is changing, and national stereotypes are probably becoming less helpful in figuring what to expect in the world of soccer.

UPDATE: Reader Mike Murphy noticed that Sergio Ramos was wearing the Andalusian flag during the victory celebration. Ramos hails from Seville but now plays for Real Madrid.

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