Thursday, 8 July 2010

Wonderful Spain reach World Cup Final

Spain were pre-tournament joint favourites for a reason. The reigning European Champions are a class act and a team so full of talent that they look almost unstoppable. In a piece that I wrote last month, I felt that even though Spain were rightfully the favourites, surely their route to the final would have more than a few bumps along the way. At the start of the tournament Spain’s probable knockout draw was looking like the toughest in the competition, however Italy, Argentina and Brazil were all eliminated before they could test themselves against the Spanish. As it turned out, a young and remarkably impressive German team and a Holland team which cannot stop winning matches have emerged at the business end of the World Cup to face up against the mighty Spain.

The Spanish team has received some rather unjustified criticism in their run to the final for not putting on a goalscoring show as they did two years ago at Euro 2008. Before the Semi-Final people were talking about how Spain have not yet reached top gear and that they need to click in order to win the World Cup. In fact Spain have been playing great in the new role that they now find themselves; favourites. Other teams don’t like letting favourites like Spain play, everyone knows how dangerous Spain can be, and it is only natural for the opposition to sit back and try not to give up cheap space. Top club teams face this kind of problem all the time, where they are expected to break lesser teams down. It is a lot easier and safer to defend deep and compact against Spain than it is to come out and try to play, simply because Spain are so good.

Tonight Germany (who had been wonderful in their two previous games) found out why Spain were favourites since before the World Cup even began. Spain are fantastic in possession, and they also press very well when they don’t have the ball. This meant that Germany went for long periods without even touching the ball, which puts more pressure on the players to do something when they do have it. Spain know that Germany will be desperate to use the ball wisely when they have it, so good pressing forces Germany into mistakes that they wouldn’t normally make. Spain do not panic in possession, neither are they desperate in any way with the ball. The pattern of the game therefore meant that Germany would have the ball for shorter and shorter periods of time, as they became more unsure and desperate on the ball, not knowing if they would ever get it back. This tactic is magical to watch, Spain put on a technically marvelous show of skill and passing, while Germany are slowly suffocated out of the match. It is worth noting that this can only work because of the sensational players that Spain have and the ease with which they keep the ball. Germany were put to death by a thousand passes once again by Spain, but should be very proud of their performances in South Africa. Their victories over England and Argentina, while fantastic, were no preparation for meeting this Spanish side. Where the England and Argentina have massive flaws and defensive frailties, Spain look as though they have no weaknesses at all.

Spain started the game with seven Barcelona players, and the team as a whole have a level of understanding that few teams manage to achieve. Xavi, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso keep the ball so easily that opponents are killed by majestic and beautiful possession. If Spain do go on and defeat the Netherlands in the final, they will surely take their place in history as true greats.

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