“I’m gonna fight ‘em off
A seven nation army couldn't hold me back
They’re gonna rip it off
Taking their time right behind my back” – The White Stripes, “Seven Nation Army.”
Does anyone know if Jack White was properly informed his song became the de facto anthem for the Euro 2008 finals? Would the part-time raconteur even care that his 2003 song has taken on a new life sung inside stadia from Barcelona to Berlin?
Would anyone mind if we took some creative license from White and changed it, for the time being, to a six-nation army after Spain rolled through the tournament? Spain were a perfect six up, six down, culminating with Sunday’s 1-0 win over Germany in Vienna? (Ok, five since Spain beat Russia twice if you want to split hairs.)
Maybe the biggest question is if Spain captured its first major international trophy since 1964 without even breaking so much as a sweat? Perfect in the Group Stage and unscored upon in the knockouts, perhaps the only moment Spanish hearts needed to flutter was when Iker Casillas turned away Italy’s Mauro Camoranesi with his left leg in the quarterfinals?
Certainly Spanish hearts were in their throats during the penalty kick win over Italy and again Sunday until the final whistle blew, but really, that was it and even those scenarios weren’t worth getting your paella in a bunch for. (Granted, if I’m Spanish, it’s another story.)
Spain blew out Russia 4-1 in the opener on June 10 in Innsbruck. It took a while, but it finally broke down Sweden at the end to win 2-1 and could field a second-choice XI against Greece, still winning. It’s hard to think of a major tournament where the eventual champion faced such little offensive opposition in the knockout phases. Apparently Spain coach Luis Aragones found a simple truth in soccer — if your opponent doesn’t have the, ball it can’t score – an expounded on it as often as he could.
Need statistical proof? According to UEFA official stats, Spain’s three knockout opponents mustered a combined five shots on goal during 300 minutes of action. If that’s not total mastery of your opponent, what is? Spain were simply at another level.
Will Spain’s 1-0 victory on Sunday over Germany be recounted for years to come outside Andulucia or Catalonia? Probably not, there were just too many more exciting matches at Euro 2008.
Still, as a whole, the classy Spanish outfit’s six matches will be remembered for it’s positive play, it’s crisp passing and, shall we say, an especially strong fraternal love amongst teammates with a penchant for headbands on the side.
The dude might look like a lady to some, but on the biggest stage of his career Fernando Torres asserted his will on the game, running the German defense absolutely ragged. Was his game-winner the most memorable goal in the tournament? No, it was all about finding that extra gear and beating Philipp Lahm and Jens Lehmann to the ball – a goal is a goal.
Far too often big matches in soccer are decided by mistakes, so it’s nice for a change that Sunday Torres’ first-half flashes of brilliance made the difference. Sometimes I wonder why it’s even worth debating if a goal is ‘worthy’, Torres’ tally certainly will stand the test of time even if Lehmann was involved.
Now Torres’ post-game celebration, wrapping the Spanish flag around his waist like a sarong? I thought that Beckham fellow was playing against D.C. United Sunday.
Another question raised from Spain’s Euro triumph is will it be enough to change the legacy of Aragones to the English speaking media, or will he forever be linked to his notoriously vile comments about Thierry Henry? It is worth noting in this month’s ‘FourFourTwo’ magazine Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o picks his ‘Dream XI’ and lists Aragones as coach, referring to him as a grandfather figure. (Oh, Eto’o also refers to Wayne Rooney as Roy Rooney, so maybe his Aragones-love ought to be discarded.)
Henry comments or not, Aragones deserves whatever praised is heaped upon in the couple days. Not only did he manage to win the Euro without Spanish icon Raul (who?) in the lineup, but Aragones molded a team with 12 players 25 or younger into champions playing within a system that got the best XI players onto the field in positions they could excel. Sounds simple, but far too often (Steve McClaren cough cough) coaches screw it up. Again, at 69-going-on-70, Aragones relied on sound adages that have survived the test of time.
When a team plays six games and wins six games, outscoring them 12-3 and playing an attractive brand of soccer, there’s not a whole lot to breakdown. Again, so many times moments of lunacy, or mistakes, or referees whistles determine big matches in world soccer. If one side is simply better – Germany couldn’t even get the ball in the dying minutes thanks to the pressure of Xavi, Senna, Carzola, Güiza, etc. in their own half – it’s almost as much call for celebration.
Tournament heroes: I’ll pay the fine and skip the Inter-nets mandated ‘Best XI’ function. Sue me. Instead, here are some players from teams in the knockout phases that ‘rated’.
• Portugal: Umm…Deco flashed during the group stage, but nobody really stood out in an ultimately forgettable tournament for Ronaldo & Co.
• Germany: Bifi Schweinsteiger ripped Portugal a new one all by himself. Philipp Lahm took and gave vs. Turkey. Lukas Podolski seemed to run out of gas and the German forward line never showed up. Classic second guess, but wonder if Joachim Low wished he brought another striker on his roster instead of Oliver Neuville?
• Croatia: Again, best work in the Group stages – and it’s amazing how long ago they seem. How quick the tourney flies by, all you need it three-in-a-row. Back to the Fiery Madness. Ivica Olic works his ass off, but is limited. Luka Modric is coming into the Premier League with Tottenham with more hype that Heath Ledger’s posthumous performance in ‘The Dark Knight.’ The little man is going to need to score like five or six goals in his first game to meet expectations. England sure likes to eat up a player and chew him out quick. Even money he’ll be joined by coach Slaven Bilic somewhere in England pretty quickly.
• Turkey: A media creation or not, Fatim Terim’s hulking, leathery figure on the sideline had talismanic qualities for the Turks, who all gave about 100 percent of their natural-born ability and heart on every play for nearly 250 straight minutes of games. Moving forward for Turkey is whether this can ever transfer to the World Cup, because now in ways they’re marked men. I’m looking forward to seeing Nihat (and fingers crossed Jozy Altidore) in the 2008-09 Champions League with Villareal. Also, I like Arda Turan’s potential, but how to you bottle up his talent and use it to it’s best potential in a game-in, game-out club season?
• Netherlands: Again, how long ago do the Groups seem? Though I’m not an Arsenal guy, hopefully Robin van Persie can stay healthy for the upcoming season. Another thing, let’s pray this sparks a newfound drive in the Dutch. It’s doubtful this team stays intact, with new coaches and older players. With the right injection of fresh legs, maybe they can make noise in South Africa. Oh right, Wesley Sneijder moved into an elite class with this tournament.
• Russia: After Sunday, Andrei Arshavin’s disappearance vs. Spain doesn’t seem so bad. Look at him at a club near you, though if I were Zenit St. Petersburg I would never ever sell. You’re in the Champions League. Make a go of it! That’s definitely worth following, whether these newfound Russian stars stick in the growing domestic Premier League, or head for the lures of Spain, England, Italy and Germany. Lastly, Guus Hiddink will never have trouble finding another job until the day he croaks. Fact.
• Italy: Daniel De Rossi could quickly morph into the new Totti at Roma if he wants to do that. Wonder where his ambitions stand? Giorgio Chiellini was strong in the back vs. Spain, but a new wave of Italian players need to come forward. If the Azzurri try to stick it out with this core again for 2010 it could lead to trouble. Look at France’s reliance on the past and how far it got them.
• Spain: The tournament champs, ask yourself, did anyone play poorly for Spain in the tournament? Even if a guy wasn’t performing to Aragones’ wishes (Xavi, Iniesta, at times) Spain had a capable player to step right into his shoes. Not sure how great guys like David Silva are, but he had energy to burn up and down the wings. Sergio Ramos, the guy is close to achieving ‘Beast Monster’ status. If he’s able to stay healthy and maintain his stamina, who’s stopping him? (Classy move by Ramos wearing the image of former Sevilla teammate Antonio Puerta in the postgame, who died early in the 2007-08 season.) Carlos Puyol did all the little things at the back. Did you see him out jump Per Mertesacker by a good foot at the end of the match? Spain was good. Not to look too far ahead, Spain v. Argentina, 2010?
Puff, puff pass: Europe + pregame ceremonies = terriblosity. It’s pretty damned hard to make Enrique Iglesias the best part of a pregame shindig, but leave it to the Austrians. Dancing ballons cones and drag queens in Mozart wigs safe to say, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has been sullied forever. Next time can we get some crowd shots of hot chicks and guys ripping cigs and skip the wannbe Cirque de Soleil act.
Achtung lieber, raccoons: Deutschland we hardly knew ye. What the hell happened guys? To keep from piling on, but did a single German play well Sunday? Better yet, did a single German not play poorly? Lehmann made a couple saves, but was otherwise a comedy of errors and could have gotten ejected for coming outside the box and letting a ball deflect off his arm. Miroslav Klose? Allo? Anyone home? Then there’s Herr Ballack who was stunningly poor. Maybe Marcos Senna is that good, but Ballack’s biggest influence on the game, near-miss in the 60th minute aside, was bitching with the officiating crew. Plus he got opened up like he took a right cross from Don Flamingo to the forehead. Ballack doesn’t have much time to get this tournament-losing losing monkey off his back.
There’s one German phrase I know very well and it applies Sunday, “Ich habe Durchfall.”
Klose call: I stepped away from the set for a second and returned with a German player writhing in pain after a kick to a very sensitive area.
Just asking: Question for the Inter-nets. What was the old-timey goalkeeper shirt that backup Andres Palop donned during the postgame celebration? … Is the excellent Marcos Senna the first Brasilian player to win the Euro?
Closing thoughts: When the Euro started three weeks ago I, like many, was happy enough to have three weeks of free soccer on free television, even if that network was ESPN. Wouldn’t you know it, from an entertainment standpoint and a neutral standpoint the Euro scored from almost all angles, technical difficulties in the semifinals aside. Is this tournament enough to convert the millions of unwashed masses toward the beautiful game? Who can say.
If people tuned in with an open mind they were sure to have walked away with a different impression of what they perceived European soccer to be, whether it was the Dutch delighting or the Turkish refusal to lose, even if it meant head staples. Only two games finished scoreless and the best overall team ending up lifting the trophy.
Even ESPN did a good job presenting the games and promoting it across all their various platforms. Rece Davis hope you enjoyed it, because the little extra effort made all the difference. Julie Foudy, you know what? You stuck it out and accounted for yourself commendably. And Andy Gray? If you’re sticking around, and trust me American television is usually a lot better than ‘Wipeout’ so stick it out past the summer, please don’t become like the rest of our T.V. pundits. For three weeks in June Andy, you were magic, son.
And hey after all this, we didn’t even miss the English one bit now, did we?
In seriousness when that Leitch guy extended this opportunity I didn’t how it would turn out. The Deadspin commenters made this a most extreme challenge every day. There were literally hundreds of places to click for Euro recaps, so I tried my best to come up with as original stuff as I could from the comforts of my sofa. It was your due diligence to excellence, even in “soc-cer?” that had my eyes bleeding in the wee hours of the morning double-checking where the umlaut placed in Semih Şentürk’s name. (And yeah, that didn’t work out too well.)
I know you guys had a good thing going with Hirshey, hopefully I wasn’t as bad as the T-1000 trying to replace Mulder on ‘The X-Files’. In short, it was privilege to be served up and eviscerated every morning for a couple weeks and at the same time a challenge to try to make you laugh with me, not at me.
For now it’s time to wrap this up and go get a forearm tat, adios.
Let me sign off this post the way I started it, quoting Jack White to sum up the tournament for everyone but Spain.
“And the stains coming from my blood
Tell me go back home.”