Guest Post by Dave Stevens (@shakefon), an englishman living in Las Vegas, but still rooting for Reading FC.
It’s no secret in the soccer world right now that we are living in an era of Spanish dominance. Despite being largely noted for being underachieving also-rans throughout the 90s and the early years of the new millennium, Spain began a renaissance in the qualifying stage of Euro 2008 and took that tournament by storm, winning in the final against a strong, much fancied German side. Their time at last, many thought – years of disappointment at major tournaments despite possessing superb players like Diego Tristan, Luis Enrique Garcia, Francisco Morientes and Fernando Hierro, now coming to a close with a victory a long time coming. But nobody expected them to come back as strong in the World Cup 2010 in South Africa. But strong they were, taking another major trophy home and being simultaneously champions of Europe and the World.
As we went in to this year’s European Championship, Euro 2012 co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland, Spain were, for a change, instilled as favorites. But after their opening group game where Italy held them to a 1-1 draw and Spain lined up in a world-first 4-6-0 formation with no strikers, critics were lining up to suggest everyone had worked out the Spanish way of playing, thanks perhaps to Chelsea’s stubborn dismissal of Barcelona in the Champions League earlier in the year, and that their time was up. Plus, they were quick to add, no team had ever won three major tournaments in a row. But, of course, while the outsider branded the endless passing and the tireless patience of their players in building an attack even if it needed what seemed like a hundred passes, those of us who love this beautiful game saw that we were witnessing a team at the top of their game, a true masterclass. That of course culminated in a final where Italy, another strong performer throughout, were swept aside with seemingly little trouble, though the final score of 4-0 was somewhat inflated due to Italy’s depleted ranks by the final whistle. Nevertheless, we gazed in awe upon this team – what may be the greatest team of all time – and looked at the ages of the players. Little chance of this being a fleeting stay at the top of world football. They’ll be able to comfortably put out this same side at the World Cup in Brazil in less than 2 years time, and beyond that there will be few changes. Magnificent.
But, qualifying aside, the big international action takes place every 2 years, with the players concentrating on conquering all with their club sides in the meantime. No surprise again that in the 11 players who started the final for Spain, only 1 came from a side other than the Spanish powerhouses of Real Madrid and Barcelona (David Silva, of England’s Premier League Champions Manchester City). But who, of these two great sides, benefits more from the national team’s dominance?
If we were to just look at raw numbers, Barcelona win out with 6 of the 11 calling the Nou Camp home. Madrid possess 4 of that starting 11, not too shabby itself. But let’s look at the importance of the positions – Casillas, the team captain and an absolute rock between the sticks as Spain’s – and indeed, one of the world’s – best goalkeeper for the best part of a decade, calls Madrid home. Arbeloa, a strong defensive asset, lines up with his National captain at club level too. And then look at the midfield playmaker Alonso, a Madrid legend already after his move from Liverpool (where they still miss him) who was instrumental in this tournament.
Fabregas, a critical piece of the Spanish puzzle and unmatched in this tournament, got his move to Barcelona after years at Arsenal, and would walk in to any side. Alba, the young goalscorer in the final, has just moved to Barcelona and surely has years of influence ahead of him. And in defence, Pique has a dominance few can match.
The title race in Spain’s domestic league will be, as ever, hard to call. Arguments can be made on either side as to who benefits most from the national team’s brilliance. Me? I’ll just be looking forward to seeing some of these fine performers in action August 5th in the town I now call home, Las Vegas. The Sam Boyd stadium crowd is in for a treat!
Check out our Ultimate Experience to watch Real Madrid play Santos Laguna from VIP seats on the field:fandeavor.com/realmadrid