Fifty Shades of Piqué

Another tournament come and gone; with it, another photo of San Iker hoisting silverware in the air. In case you weren’t counting, in the past 6 years there have been 3 major international tournaments (no CONCACAF, you do not count), of those 3 tournaments, Spain has gone tres for tres. For someone who has only truly followed the world’s game for the past 10 some-odd years, that’s big chunk of my experiences. With a 4-0 win against Italy this previous Sunday, La Furia Roja have accomplished something that’s never been done before and poses the question on everyone’s mind; is this Spain the greatest football squad of all time?

Summer 2008 begins with myself sulking due to the fact that England failed to qualify for Austria-Switzerland’s big dance. Little did I know history was about unfold itself in the form of a few Iberians with a unique style of play and something to prove. While the golden boot went to David Villa, the likes of Xavi and Iniesta paved the way for a team who won every game they played. 9 out of the 23 players named to the UEFA Team of the Tournament wore the red and gold. (Russia was next with 4). So what if my precious three lions didn’t qualify for the Euro, there’s always the 2010 World Cup…right?

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So what its just the Euro…right?

Torn between rooting for my home country or one that made me love the game, 2010’s World Cup was a rough one. Donovan vs. Rooney? Howard vs. whoever England picked out of the hat that morning? The internal struggle was quelled pretty quickly. Both teams failed to make it out of the knockout stage first round.Spain meanwhile, after a shaky start and a first game loss to Switzerland, came out on top of their group and surged into the final in Johannesburg.Portugal, Uruguay, Germany, Netherlands all fell to the tiki-taka-ers. While the Golden Boot went to Thomas Muller, the Silver Boot landed on David Villa’s foot. (Both players had 5 goals a piece but Muller edged out on assists). 6 out of 11 players for Spain were named to all-star team, with coach of the tourney going to Spain as well. Dos for dos.

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World Cup Champs

Anywhere can be a football town if you want it to be. I spent the opening weekend of this year’s Euro in Philadelphia with ArizonaSecrets, something I looked forward to and feared for my life. On the one hand, I can enjoy the opening games with someone who follows and understands the sport to the same level as myself, on the other, he roots for Spain. The same Spain trying to three-peat, something I could not and would not stand for under any circumstances. As the first three days came and went (which included getting thrown out of one bar and my comrade being denied alcohol at another), the Spaniards tied Italy in their opening match. Then they became “Spain.” They flew through the rest of their group and enjoyed a laughable opening knockout match against the French. It was only then that they faced, in my mind, one of two teams that could possibly de-throne them; Portugal. Penalties decided it, and whether it was “injusticia” or not, it was on to Italy. 4-0, the biggest win in the history of the Euro. Did I mention David Villa wasn’t even there? 10 out of 30 Spaniards graced the UEFA Team of the Tournament (Italy was second with 5). Player of the Tournament went to Iniesta and Fernando Torres threw on the Golden Boot.Spain not only showed why they were the best in Europe but told the world they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

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Three for Three

Some nations wait generations for a chance at a major title, for Spain the right generation is here now. Football is a team game, Spain takes it literally. Every player on the pitch is effortlessly comfortable with possession-there is no individualism. Built on short quick passes, they treat the ball like gold, keeping possession and pressing relentlessly to retrieve when it’s lost. This style of play depends on a midfield able to control it. The ‘barca carousel of Xavi and Iniesta forms the backbone of a team who’s built to last; they’re the best central midfield pairing in the world and might be the best ever.  Add Alonso, Silva and Fabregas to the quintet and you have the only team in the world with enough midfield depth to employ a 4-6-0 and get away it (7 of 12 goals came from Spain’s midfield). While the lack of a natural striker will only work for Spain, they can still play a center forward for only 189 minutes and have him win the Golden Boot. Add Iker Casillas, who’s only allowed one goal in the tournament, with a solid back line including Sergio Ramos and Pique, and it’s no wonder they were favorites.

Is this Spain the greatest football squad of all time? Who knows. What I do know is that for the past 6 years I’ve been watching history in the making; a dynasty built on teamwork in the truest sense of the word. I wish I could hate this team; say I’m sick of watching them and mean it, but I’d be kidding myself. You can’t not like them for what they are; and incredible generation of footballers whose accomplishments are only surpassed by the means they’ve accomplished them.

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Final Match – Spain v. Italy

The conclusion of this magical tournament is upon us and two Mediterranean footballing powers are ready to clash tonight in Kiev Olympic Stadium. Surprisingly enough, both of these teams met in their first group game of Group C, with Italy striking first but Spain equalizing shortly thereafter and the match ending in a tie. The result was one of the better games in the tournament at the time and neutral fans will be hoping for a similar showdown.

As with any final, there is a lot of history on the line in this matchup as Spain looks to be the first footballing nation to win three straight major tournaments, a run that began when they won Euro 2008 against Germany and continued in their World Cup victory over the Netherlands in 2010. Spain is enjoying a golden generation, something that Iker Casillas, Spain’s number 1 and captain, alluded to in a press conference today in an effort to highlight the hunger that the Spaniards still maintain because it may be the twilight of this era. In the last two major tournament victories Spain has not allowed a goal, giving a certain level of gravitas to their keeper’s remarks. Furthermore, Spain has not allowed a goal in this Euro since that first goal of the tournament against Italy.

Italy, on the other hand, have been far removed from their historic football prominence as this Spanish fiesta has occurred over the past 8 years or so. Italy came far in Euro 2008 only to be eliminated in penalty kicks by Spain and had a very poor showing in the World Cup, prompting the Italian Football Federation to remove Marcelo Lippi, Italian managing hero of World Cup 2006, and replace him with Cesare Prandelli who has integrated youth into the team and has enjoyed great success as coach. Some bastions of the old Italian guard remain in Andrea Pirlo and captain Gianluigi Buffon, but the youth movement from the likes of Antonio Cassano and Mario Ballotelli have beent he life blood which has allowed Italy to look comfortable playing a brand of football that is unlike their historical Catenaccio stalwart defensiveness. Their offensive firepower proved too much to handle for tournament favorite Germany in their semifinal match and may have been a surprise to those who were still reading the tired Italian playbook and expecting much of the same. Instead of Italian focus being on a defensively willed squad led by a legend like Nesta, Maldini, or Cannavaro; the midfielder Andrea Pirlo is the heart that circulates the life blood across the pitch in a fashion that is not unlike how Xavi or Andres Iniesta guide the Spanish ship.

Often during this campaign, the managers of both campaigns have made intriguing decisions but it would be wrong to say that Prandelli’s inventiveness hasn’t reaped more rewards than Spain’s del Bosque’s. Prandelli confused Spain in the first match and surprised other opponents on their path, while Vincente del Bosque has been confusing more often than not. Some will say that Italy deserved to win because they created greater chances, most notably a stage-fright effort by temperamental post-teenager cum golden boot candidate Mario Balotelli that we’ve included for your viewing pleasure.

Perhaps Ballotelli forgot which team he was on and thought that he was actually one of the Barcelona players who was playing for Spain.

ballotelli barcelona

Why Always Tiki Taka?!

His recent form however, shows that he has remembered which team he plays for, creating a powerful juxtaposition with Spain’s top man Andres Iniesta.

Andres Iniesta and Mario Ballotelli Euro 2012

How many differences can you spot in these pictures?

One thing that VdB’s squad has done well is defend, an unheralded quality of the team that needs to be noticed after stymieing as surging CR7 in the semifinal against Portugal. If Spain want to lift the crown once again, they must find a way to take away Andrea Pirlo’s surgeon-like passing ability and creativity. A team that did that well was Croatia, when they employed a 4-3-2-1 in the second half of their group stage match with Italy and Luka Modric continued to surge ahead and force Pirlo on his heels. Spain has not played that formation this tournament, however Vincente del Bosque’s recent decisions have never been dictated by precedent or familiarity; he’s often over-thought the task at hand. If Spain lose, however, maybe they will regret not partaking in the biscotto match-fixing effort with Croatia that Uefa alluded to before Italy’s final group stage match with Ireland when the Azzurri would’ve been eliminated if Spain and Croatia decided their game in a 2-2 draw.

This surely isn’t the Spanish way, but if the Italians were the ones with Spain on the ropes….We’re not saying, but we’re just saying there’s a history of these kinds of things with Italy.

So enjoy the match and get ready to see our predictions in shortly! Also, follow @GdanskIfUWant2 on Twitter for some live tweets/drunken commentary.

Seminfinal Match – Germany v. Italy

Yesterday showed us that a team can actually take the wind of the Spanish sails, as Portugal played a brand of high pressing football that saw Spain only able to complete a little over 400 passes, well below their average of 677 a game. The game that was decided by penalties somehow did not see Cristiano Ronaldo take one, a gaffe of epic proportion by either the coach Bento or cocky CR7 himself. Spain is through to the final again with an opportunity to be the first team to win three major tournaments in a row (yayyyyy the Confederations Cup doesn’t count guys) and the first nation to win consecutive European Championships. The legacy of this Spanish dominance could never be undersold if they are to succeed.

What, that you were beaten by the better team or that you didn't take a pen?

Injusticia.

Their opponents, however, will be determined today. Germany look to find their way back to the final after losing four years ago to Spain but will need to go through Italy first. Italy is playing with a rejuvenated Andrea Pirlo, who has certainly made a case for himself as a Balon D’Or finalist with his impressive showings for club and country this year. The panenka he scored in penalty kicks against England was so beautiful that Sergio Ramos decided not to send airmail to the moon when he attempted his pen yesterday, but rather imitate the beauty and the grace of the immortal Pirlo’s penalty. Germany went through Greece with a new lineup in the quarterfinals and there was no need for Die Mannschaft to take penalties with their show of dominance (although we are curious as to whether Manuel Neuer would’ve taken one as he did in the Champions League). Below are two beautifully done lo-fi recaps of each team’s quarterfinal match courtesy of Tim at When Saturday Comes.

I hope you enjoyed those as much as I have. Anyway, for our picks we’ll continue to predict scores despite nobody correctly guessing the winner would come out on penalties after a 0-0 draw yesterday.

 June 28, 2012

Cáit

Brendan

Amanda

David

 Germany v. Italy

Germany

(2-0)

Germany

(2-1)

Germany

(1-0)

Italy

(1-1)

My Favorite Moment of the Group Stage

I thought it would be helpful to look back on the group matches before looking forward to the knockout round which start today. Looking back on all the group games, this blogger has selected one of the most memorable moments in the tournament on which to reflect.

He can’t believe it either…

Not many people expected Greece would beat Russia in the final game of Group A and qualify for the quarterfinals, well my girlfriend saw it coming but not many others. The Hellenic blue-white were as starved for goals as their economy is for cash. The defensive-minded Greeks needed to beat a surging Russian team and also continue to play its’ brand of stalwart defending.

Just before the first half concluded, the Greeks grabbed hold of those three points on a Giorgos Karagounis goal. It was amazing to see the counterattack pan out for a Greece team that seemed to be awfully close to giving up a Russian goal all half. The goal injected life into the team heading into half to continue its’ unwavering defending.

That beautiful strike that beat the Russian keeper low and to his left was not, however, the most memorable moment in the tournament for me. The most memorable moment would come later in the game when the goal-scoring Giorgos would be egregiously booked for diving in the box. Most firm-handed referees will signal for a flopping player to get up should they go down in the box and possibly give them a stare down, however the Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson would have none of those deterrents and instead reached for his yellow card and booked the national hero Karagounis in the 60th minute. The salt in the proverbial wound stung when replays showed the Russian defender actually was at fault for taking the Greek goal scorer down by sticking out his leg once he was beaten.

Luckily, Greece would hold on to win and finish second in Group A, but the most memorable part of the upset and the entire group stage, for me at least, was the reaction of Giorgos after being booked unfairly and then the moments following when he realized that he was carrying a card into the match already and would miss the quarterfinal matchup against the winner of Group B should Greece hold on to win. Every fan watching at home, no matter their allegiance, spiraled down the emotional pitfall that Karagounis exhibited for the next five minutes of the match as he ran up and down the pitch. I was absolutely gutted for the guy and although I still feel badly for him having to sit out the quarterfinals, re-watching the display of emotions reminds us of how greatly invested the players on the pitch are for their national side.

Please enjoy the following .gifs to relive the agony that Karagounis felt after his harsh booking. It’s like a sad song that is terribly affecting but you’re better for knowing and singing along.

Amazing, isn’t it? Please share your favorite moments with us on Twitter or in the comments. Get ready for today, because it is the start of the Quarters!

Group Play Best and Worst – Round 2

Group Play Best and Worst – Round 2

BEST: GOMEZ

WORST: RONALDO

BEST

Mario Gomez –  has three goals in two matches over the first two games this tournament. Two of those goals came against the second best team in the world.  In Germany’s qualifying campaign Gomez largely held the position of second choice striker giving him something to prove once the Euro began. And something to prove he has; both goals against the Dutch had great first touches and equally clinical finishes. With Klose on the bench, Gomez is going to be the focal point of this team’s attack and will be relied heavily on if they want to make a deep run this summer. If Gomez keeps this form up he might well find himself bringing home the cup to Deutschland and wearing a pair of golden boots to match.

Honorable Mention

Fernando Torres – El Niño was granted a starting spot for the Spaniards against Ireland this week and the red-turned-blue striker didn’t disappoint. After a forgettable performance against the Azzurri he silenced critics with two goals in his next match leaving Spain with the decision of false vs. true nine for the next game.

Bastian Schweinsteiger – Now while Gomez receives top honors for Matchday 2; none of it would possible without the midfield maestro. Both of Gomez’s goals were only made possible by the equally, if not more, brilliant passes from Schweinsteiger. The combination of Gomez’s ability to run into space and Bastian’s unbelievable eye for those spaces make this pairing lethal in games to come.

WORST

Cristiano Ronaldo – Now if you’re confused why I’m putting the worlds arguably second best player in this spot for round 2, I can see why you would be confused for one of two reasons.  A) Even if he hasn’t done anything it doesn’t make him the worst player or B) He’s been so non-existent that you didn’t realize he was even in the tournament at all. Portugal has a total of 3 points in the last two matches and need both a win vs. the Netherlands tomorrow and a German win/draw. If that is to happen this team needs their superstar to drastically change his mentality as well as his team’s. Ronaldo has been virtually a non-issue for defenses in the Euro; the Portuguese winger has a total of 10 shots and only 4 of them on target this summer. In the game against Denmark, the Danish fans were heard chanting “Messi, Messi, Messi” throughout the game, an obvious slight/reminder to Ronaldo that for all his accomplishments in club football he is still second fiddle to “la pulga”. Ronaldo in retaliation showed his maturity in an interview stating “You know where (Messi) was at this time (last year)? Do you know?” Ronaldo said. “He was being eliminated in the Copa America, in his own country? “I think that’s worse, no?

Honorable Mention

Robin Van Persie – The Dutch Striker falls in the same boat as Cristiano. Both players came into this tournament with the prospect of carrying their nation to the championship, except in all honesty, the Netherlands has a lot more talent which takes some of the pressure off RVP. In an epic showdown tomorrow it will be two of the best players in the world squaring off to try and lift their team into the knockout phase. In order for Netherlands to advance, they need a German win and to beat Portugal by 2 or more goals; lets hope Van Persie brings his game.

Group Play Best and Worst – Round 1

BEST PLAYER: INIESTA

WORST PLAYER: SZCZESNY

 

Somehow, someway, I still feel like he completed that pass.


INIESTA

No, the la masia grad did not score a goal in the opener of Group C against Italy. But if there is one thing I’ve learned from watching Barcelona over the past 6 some-odd years it’s that strikers can win you games but midfielders win you championships. The pairing of Xavi and Iniesta might be the greatest international and club central midfield duo of all time and certainly the best currently. #6 was just on another level. The problem that I have when trying to describe why he earns the spot this week is that there is no goal or particular play that earned it for him. He plays on a molecular level, each pass part of a bigger picture; it would be like trying to break down a picture into individual pixels. Picking an individual play would understate his brilliance; watch the match from 0 to 90 minutes and you’ll see what I mean.

Might want to keep that Champagne on ice….

SZCZENSY

While I don’t like blaming games solely on goalkeepers and Poland’s tie was not his fault entirely, Wojciech gets to shoulder most of the blame for a game where the host should have come out on top. Two crucial mistakes were made that kept Poland from taking three points and capitalizing on the Greeks. The second half-horror show began with the polish keeper coming out of way out of his box in attempt to get the ball and instead giving Salpingidis a wide open net to shoot on. Now if that was bad, it pales in comparison to the tackle on Salpingidis later on that resulted in a straight red bringing the poles to 10 men. Szczesny faced a 1 match ban against Russia today in whichPoland held them to a 1-1 draw.

Poland. Greece. Thoughts.

First off let me say I had Poland winning this. I felt pretty strong about my prediction and after seeing this game there are equally confirming and disproving parts.

The first 30 minutes Poland controlled the game. While their midfield defense looked lazy the back four were in control. Lewandowski’s goal was only as good as the cross by Błaszczykowski. The two yellows on Papastathopoulos were both pretty damn soft, a very undeserving red. Going into halftime I figured the host had three point.

I’m pretty sure I turned on a different channel in the second half. Salpingidis changed the game. He added pace and heart that they weren’t showing in the first half. Now while he gets credit for leveling the score, the goal was put on a silver platter by a terrible decision by Szczęsny. That was stupid play #1. Stupid play #2 came 17 minutes later, the ball is already past you…Salpingidis isn’t getting to it to put it on goal, why are you taking him down? Tyton comes on and saves a telegraphed penalty. For the last 23 some-odd minutes Greece had more energy, Poland looked tired and every touch was heavy and not controlled. For a 10 v 10 game I was surprised to see Greece looking at times like they were playing for a tie while Poland was trying to press up the pitch. Greeces keeper needs to calm down on corners, someone needs to tie him to the crossbar, he comes out on everything and its gonna bite him in the ass.

All in all, I think Poland lost two points.