UEFA Euro 2012
How do you beat a team when you can’t win the ball? Answer – Copy their style of play!
We’ve just witnessed one of the best International football tournaments in years, with the Spanish national side making history by winning their third international tournament in succession, following their triumph at the 2010 World Cup and the 2008 European Championships respectively. But Spain’s 4-0 victory over Italy in the final of Euro 2012 on Sunday evening was made all the more impressive by the fact that they didn’t play with a striker.
I’ve read various articles suggesting that the Spanish defence are the unsung heroes of Spain’s Euro 2012 victory and that Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos particularly deserves many plaudits. I’m not denying that a great team is built on a solid defence. England themselves proved this tournament that you can progress by being rock solid at the back. But Spain are a completely different entity. They didn’t concede a goal in the knock out stages of this competition (and only conceded one in the group stages against Italy) because the opposition couldn’t get enough of the ball to make an impact.
Attack is, and has always been the best form of defence, and possession football is the difference between Spain and the rest of Europe. Italy are good in possession – they proved that against England by having close to seventy percent of the overall possession for large proportions of the game, but the boys in blue just couldn’t get close to the Spanish team on Sunday night at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev. Despite having used all their substitutes and being reduced to 10 men through injury to Thiago Motta with half and hour left to play, it has to be said that Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Busquets, Silva and Alonso completely drained the Italy team of their energy. Who else has ever played a whole tournament with a midfield 6? And who else in this summer’s Euro 2012 could afford to leave the likes of Fernando Torres and Juan Mata on the bench?
Spain are so comprehensively superior to other teams in Europe at the moment that their dominance looks set to continue for some time. Crikey – even their substitutes make the most of their chances – Fernando Torres finished the tournament joint top goalscorer and would’ve claimed the golden boot himself but for his unselfish play to set up Juan Mata for Spain’s fourth and final goal in Kiev.
So what can England learn from Euro 2012? And how can we possibly try and compete with the likes of Spain, and other European national teams? The answer – keep ball. Jamie Redknapp wrote in the Daily Mail earlier this week that England playing 4-4-2 was like wearing flares when everyone else was wearing drainpipes – that it, it’s not fashionable any more. Nearly every team at this summer’s competition in Poland and Ukraine played with 5 in midfield, or a 4-2-3-1 formation, so to speak. Spain went one beyond this, playing Fabregas as a ‘false’ striker, in a 4-6-0 formation that saw the whole midfield rotate in an astonishingly successful way of playing the game. If Fabregas had to drop back into the midfield, other runners would act as the striker in his absence.
I’m not suggesting England should bench their best striker, Wayne Rooney, in future competitions. And I also think that Andy Carroll could do a fine job coming off the bench, as indeed Torres did for Spain. But if England’s youngsters fulfill their potential, and we can create a formidable midfield which contains the likes of Cleverley, Wilshere, Rodwell, Barkley and Co, while perhaps even using Welbeck as the furthermost attacking midfielder, then we might have a team that can progress further than the quarter finals of a major tournament for the first time since 1996.
Well, here’s to hoping anyway.