Can Spain & Portugal save Europe?

For English, European and World football topics.

Postby Scottish » Wed Jul 14, 2010 9:07 pm

Having had a couple of days to think about it, I'd take a 'curate's egg' view of the World Cup. Obviously here in Spain the final was viewed differently than elsewhere. Iniesta's goal was compared - repeatedly and deservedly - with his strike at Stamford Bridge which put Barcelona into the Champions League final in 2009. Mundo Deportivo claimed Spain won 'with the style and stamp of Barca.' Which was putting it a bit strongly. Most papers hailed a glorious victory and even the Catalan press was unstinting in its praise - though emphasising the strong Barcelona and Catalan connection. Except for the newspaper Avui (Today), a Catalan language only publication. The headline there on Monday morning was about internal divisions in the Catalan Socialist Party ahead of elections later this year.

The euphoria is dying down a bit here now though you can still see Spanish flags on the backs of vehicles, draped from buildings and people wearing replica Spanish strips. All of which is a bit like seeing the George Cross flying in Scottish housing schemes (Oddly enough the George Cross flutters frequently in Barcelona, Sant Jordi being the patron saint of Catalunya).

I think a few words should be said in praise of Sepp Blatter - not a phrase heard often anywhere outside his immediate circle of sycophants. Blatter has done what he said he would do when he took office, which was to make the World Cup a truly global event and he played an important role in taking the competition to South Africa (and Japan/South Korea before that). Though whether the Brazilians in 2014 will be as compliant as the South Africans were towards FIFA demands is another matter. Today's 'O Globo' newspaper has the headline '(President} Lula declares war on FIFA - "We are not a band of idiots."

Whatever the drawbacks of the competition these were not the fault of the organisers. Neither FIFA, nor the South African FA nor the South African government can be held responsible for the poor standards seen from some teams. French, Italian & English failings were all home-grown. Even the brutality shown by the Dutch was prefaced in the 2006 competition v Portugal when Holland had a much more adventurous coach in Van Basten.

Speaking of coaches I don't think enough credit has been afforded to Vicente Del Bosque. A lot has been said about Del Bosque taking over the successful Euro 2008 team and not having to do much to keep things ticking over. Also that Spain 2010 were not as good as in 2008.

I think things are a bit more complicated than that. In 2010 opponents knew they were facing a team of solid achievement. In 2008 they were playing against a team with a big reputation but a habit of choking.

As for just keeping things purring over, there were actually five changes to the starting line-up between 2008 and 2010. Out went Marchena, Torres, Silva & Fabregas all to the subs bench and Senna - perhaps the best player in 2008 - out altogether thanks to loss of form, injury and age.

In came Villa, injured for the 2008 final & Xabi Alonso, a playing sub in 2008. But alongside them were Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets & Pedro Rodriguez, all from Barcelona.

Del Bosque wasn't afraid to incur the wrath of the Madrid media by heavily loading his team with Barca players. In 2008 Pique had just completed a season in which he appeared just nine times for Man Utd. Pedro was a Barca 'B' player with just two first team substitute outings to his name. Busquets was also a 'B' player without a single first team league appearance to his name.

Of course Pep Guardiola was promoted from 'B' team to 1st team coach in 2008 and is largely responsible for these players development. But Del Bosque showed he wasn't afraid to change a winning combination if he felt it necessary and by bringing in these new young players, he freshened up his team but kept it on a winning path. The easy choice would have been to stick to the tried and tested. As late as February 2009 none of this trio had played at international level and Pedro only made his debut less than two weeks before the start of the World Cup!

Del Bosque also proved himself able to make hard decisions at difficult times. First, by sticking with Fernando Torres, at a time when his fitness was far from clear, then by dropping him for the semi-final, finally by substituting top scorer Villa with Torres in both semi-final and final.

The wrong call could have led to Del Bosque losing his job. And this, remember, is a man who was sacked after winning the Champions League - twice!

This is a vastly underrated coach.

Finally, while it is difficult to assess a World Cup in terms of historic importance just a few days after the competition has finished, I tend to take the same overall view of World Cups that Woddy Allen has of sex.

Even when they're bad, they're still good.
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