The Stage was the Olympic Stadium in Kiev; the Duel was between Spain’s La Furia Roja and Italy’s La Azzuris; the Occasion was the Final Match of Euro 2012; the Prize was the Henri Delauney Trophy, and the opportunity to write their names into European football folklore. More than 64,000 people crammed into the stadium to watch the spectacle; thousands more trooped into the streets to watch on Giant Screens; and millions more sat in front of television sets worldwide to savour the delicious dish of football that was about to be served by the top two National Teams in European Football.
For the better part of four years, the Spanish Conquistadors have lived up to the appellation by winning both the “2008 Euro Cup” and the “2010 FIFA World Cup.” La Furia Roja did not just win those tournaments, they imposed a playing style which more less make the opponents to chase the game from the beginning to the end. The core of the team is from Barcelona and Real Madrid, two of the most successful and formidable clubs in European Football. So, they are not an unknown quantity. Spain came into the Tournament as one of the Favourites, alongside Germany, Holland, France and Portugal. In the 5 matches they played in the tournament prior to the Final, they had won 4 and drew 1, scoring 8 goals and conceding 1. Many pundits have labeled them boring and predictable, thus reducing their invincibility in the eyes of many fans who rely on the Media for information and analysis.
The Azzuris are not an unknown quantity in World football either, but in recent times, have not been seen as a major force in world football, thanks to the Media also. The last major trophy the Italians have won was the 2006 FIFA world Cup. They came into the Competition as an outsider, won 3 out of the 5 matches played before the Final, including a Penalty shoot-out defeat of England in the Quarter-Final, and a defeat of Prime Favourite Germany in the Semis. The performances against England and Germany made them the new-found Love of the Media who needed a new topic because they were tired of telling us how boring Spain was. They swooned on Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli, and nearly convinced all of us that Spain are not much better than the Super Eagles of Nigeria.
The D-Day came and Spain provided a footballing display which borders on Rape. The match was a display of footballing masterclass by the Red Armada from the Iberian Peninsula. The Spanish Conquistadors conjured a Furious Mist of Red around the Italian Azzuris who found themselves chasing shadows for the most part of the 93 minutes that the duel lasted. Italy’s cause was not helped by injuries though, but nothing could diminish the Iberians deserved victory. All the statistics spoke for themselves and at the end of the game, Italy’s goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon summed it all up:
“Tonight, there was no contest, they were too superior – so the bitterness at losing this final is only relative. It was a great adventure.”
You cannot but say thumbs up to Buffon for being classy in defeat, anyway, that comes with experience.
Reflectively, any time I look at Spain’s success, I always see the same strain that is applicable in all walks of life – strategy, talent, ambition, dedication, belief, improvement, camaraderie and humility. Quoting Andrew Carnegie:
“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishment toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” Spain has always been known to favour the football strategy which is based on actually playing football, not running like headless chickens, or lumping it around like a watered-down rugby. It was based on skills and efficiency. It was based on possession football, and let us be honest, how can you use the football on the pitch if you don’t have it? These ambitions have been transferred to the clubs who incorporate them into their footballing philosophies. They scout for exceptional talents who they then develop into technically gifted footballers who make the football their slave – they send it on any errand they want to. Yet, they still always seek to improve. Compare England to this.
Someone might ask: how come they have not been successful all these while, why now? The answer is: they have brought camaraderie and humility into the fray; they have dropped their egos at home and brought a team mindset to the national team. The rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona extends beyond the football pitch, it is deeply rooted in socio-political realities and these divisions are usually transported into the national team thus allowing discord and enmity to militate against their common goal. Spain has never been short of talented footballers, only short of necessary camaraderie and relevant humility. And with these players at the top of their games, and winning laurels, trophies, and accolades, not forgetting hefty paychecks on weekly basis, as easy as breathing, they are still able to keep their heads and pursue their common goal the way a Medical Doctor normally goes about their work. They do not shout at each other, they cover for each other, and each gives his all for the team. Juxtapose Spain with Holland and/or France and you will begin to understand the importance of camaraderie.
Belief is another very important factor in striving towards success. Yoruba people have a saying that can be loosely translated as “you do not go to the market and start paying undue attention to the noise in the market, you instead focus on what you have gone to the market to do.” Teams realising their own shortcomings against the Spaniards always decide to employ Mourinho’s popularised “parking the bus” approach thus forcing Spain to continuously keep hold of the ball passing it among themselves, taking tiki-taka to another level of monotonous domination. The Media hound-dogs jumped at them calling them boring and labelling them kill-joys. The Ukrainian crowds in Donetsk were barracking them in their semi-final clash with Portugal at the Donbass Arena. Even Arsene Wenger joined the bandwagon:
“They have betrayed their philosophy and turned it into something more negative. Originally they wanted possession in order to attack and win the game; now it seems to be first and foremost a way not to lose”
But like true professionals with clarity of purpose, they stuck to their guns and got on with their games. It is worthy of note that Spain is a dynamic team that can adapt their play to meet the formation the opposition plays. The ruthless trouncing of Italy in the Final Match proved all doubters wrong. Funny and enjoyable how Spain made them eat their humble pie.
Interestingly, this group of players have written their names into European Football Folklore by doing the basics and giving their all. And we have not seen the end of these Spanish domination in football, just look at their bench before you raise an eyebrow; and a whole lot of other players are still left at home nearing their peak. As they savour their moment in the sun, amidst the shouts of “oles” coming from the crowd, I am sure they are already thinking of 2014 in Brazil and asking “why not?”
God Bless Us All!!
See You Next Time!!!