“Spanish bombs, yo te quiero infinito
yo te quiero oh mi corazón
Spanish bombs, yo te quiero infinito
yo te quiero oh mi corazón” – “Spanish Bombs”, The Clash
So … the first time Spain played Russia at Euro 2008, I used a line from “My Fair Lady” — a movie I’ve never seen, mind you — to emphasize the rain at the game falling gently on the plain. Looking back, it wasn’t the wisest choice considering the mindset of the Deadspin commenting community. Raw steak filets have fared better against zoo carnivores.
Lo and behold, it’s two weeks later, and again Spain laid the smackdown against the Ruskies, winning again by three goals, this time in a thorough, soup-to-nuts 3-0 victory in Vienna. Hopefully citing a bulletproof band like The Clash gains me a little redemption, even if the song brings back memories of the bloody Spanish Civil War.
Hey, if you don’t like the Clash, would “Mean Mr. Mustard” have been more your speed? Safe to guess that Spain coach Luis Aragones, who hates yellow, is a bit of a “dirty old man.” Until Sunday, though, it doesn’t much matter much as it’s time to hail mighty (and muy macho) Espãna.
At least Aragones, who once again defied common sense and subbed off Fernando Torres for the immortal Dani ‘The Umlaut’ Güiza in the second half, gained his redemption. This time around Güiza didn’t attempt to catch balls with his hands, or miss a penalty kick, instead he netted a class goal to put Spain up 2-0 and all but end the life of the Russians. You know it’s not going to be Russia’s day when Güiza nets a classy chip over Igor Akinfeev. That’s assuming the Russians had any life in their thoroughly un-Soviet performance.
Thursday the Russians — especially the world’s next big thing Andrei Arshavin — played with about as much vigor as 11 guys returning from one of Josef Stalin’s old Siberian re-education camps. For all the pregame talk that Russia was about to ascend to the top of the world football ladder, it’s hard to think of a more listless, non-descript showing that what the Russians put forth. Another analogy, perhaps the Russian bears were a little groggy and over-engorged on Dutch oranges and ready for an early hibernation.
Either way it didn’t much matter; Spain strung together its most dominating performance since the days of Phillip II in the 16th century. Stats don’t usually tell the story in soccer, Thursday they did. Spain out fired Russia with shots on goal 11-1. One match report (not official) had the Spanish with a 65-35 advantage in possession. As is the usual refrain, about all Russia did correctly Thursday was show up and put on the uniforms.
Spain didn’t do much differently than their previous four games. It was methodical in passing and held the ball until it could that final pass into the area for a shot. Pretty basic, the Spanish could have played with bellies full of tapas. You could quibble that Andres Iniesta’s service to Xavi was a shot, didn’t much matter as the Barcelona teammates hooked up for the first goal.
There’s really not a whole lot to say about this match. Of the 30 matches played, it’s difficult to think of one where one team simply strolled to a victory, and for it to finally play out in a semifinal is remarkable.
Thursday’s heroes: Fabregas. Like Alec Guinness, genuine class Thursday.
Sergio Ramos. The right back finally showed up Thursday, completing 75 passes and causing trouble for Russia all night.
On second thought: The Arshavin saga encapsulates one of my major peeves about the European game. In certain situations all it takes is one or two standout performances for a player to ascend to “it” status. After his blinding showings vs. Sweden and the Netherlands, Arshavin certainly earned his praise. Still, some of the reports labeled him the next big player, and that’s a little crazy. After getting man-marked out of the game by Marcos Senna Thursday, the 27-year-old’s price tag went down a few Euros. He’ll probably still end up at Barcelona, which is a perfect place for a guy who took some advanced sewing classes (no joke) growing up in St. Petersburg.
Pun-ier Friday morning headline: “Joy of Cesc” or “Russia’s Guus is cooked”?
Tell me once again, who’s fat?: Mentioned a few times during the Euro tournament was that Russia striker Roman Pavlyuchenko was deemed too fat to play. The Spartak Moscow lists his at 84 kilograms, which is roughly 180 pounds or, if you prefer, 13 stone. He stands 6-foot-2. Only in the world of soccer is a player killed for being overweight at that kind of weight. Frank Lampard, Ronaldinho, etc. it reeks of petty jealous and tabloid journalism at its worst. If Pavlyuchenko had a little more accuracy, maybe Thursday’s result changes.
Still special in my book: Held out this long, but boy, how I’ve missed Jose Mourinho. Although you said you were no longer special at your Inter Milan introduction, you’re Adidas ‘Dream Big’ spots beg to differ. “It is … better to be a top man.” That line gets me every time. I’d pay good money for Mourinho to read me the phonebook.
No one else was available?: Guess it beats scoping out Barry Bonds’ groin, but could ESPN have found someone other than Pedro Gomez to send over to Switzerland/Austria? Gomez is a baseball guy first and foremost, and his reports have had about as much bite as a glass of lactose-free skim milk. Overall ESPN’s done a commendable job, but its lack of a serious soccer-head on the ground takes it down a notch. Hell, the ‘Worldwide’ could have shipped over Kenny Mayne (forgive me for typing this) and set him lose in the fan zones. At least those reports would have been entertaining.
Andy Gray line of the day: To Belgium ref Frank de Bleeckere, “If that’s an elbow he wants (sic) to go out on a Saturday night in Glasgow.” (Please ESPN, we need Gray working the final Sunday.)
You still gotta love those wacky Dutch: Various reports from Swiss brewers say that Dutch fans consumed close to 1.3 million gallons of beer during the Euro. The Dutch, kings among men.
Sunday’s match – das Euro 2008 Final:
Germany v. Spain, Erst Happel Stadion, Vienna, Austria (2:30, ABC): Hard to argue with this final. Two world superpowers stocked with household names (well, in Europe at least). The bigger picture is the final pits the classic European achiever (Germany) against the classic underachiever (Spain), which has won 21 straight.
Finals history: Germany, winners: 1972, 1980, 1996; runners up: 1976. Spain, winners 1964; runners up: 1984.
Series: Germany leads 8-5-6, last meeting was in December 2003 where Spain won 3-1 in Mallorca. The nations last met at the Euro in the 1988 Group Stages, with Germany winning.
Coaches: Only a scant 31-years separate Germany’s Jogi Löw and Spain’s Luis Aragones. The gulf in their performances at the Euro isn’t nearly that large, as both have been solid tactically. The only blemish was Löw’s ban for ‘incessant bickering’ during the Austria match. The biggest difference in the coaches is Aragones has stuck with a standard 4-4-2 formation, but will likely need to revert to a 4-5-1 if David Villa is out for Sunday. Löw changed things up from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 and found success. In short, in a game with such class on the field the coaches shouldn’t have too huge an influence unless Aragones old age senility rears is ugly head in his last match as Spain coach.
Questions: Can Spain, a traditionally emotionally fragile team, overcome the ruthlessly efficient Germans? … Should past history even matter? … Can Fernando Torres work effectively as a lone striker? … Will Aragones finally give Cesc the start? … Will Spain be able to work its one-touch passing game against the stronger, taller Germans? Can Spain cope for a full 90 without Villa? … Will perceived the slow feet of Per Mertesacker finally catch up with Germany? … Will the Jens Lehmann’s horror-show continue? … Does Spain have the resolve to stay in the match if they fall behind? … Can Bifi Schweinsteiger keep it up? … Can Lukas Poldolski catch or surpass the injured Villa for the Golden Boot? … Will Löw play with two strikers, or try to match up with Spain with five midfielders? … Will the tall, stout German defense frustrate Spain like Sweden did? … Can Spain expose Philipp Lahm did Croatia and Turkey did? … Who’s the bigger babe in the VIP box, Spain’s Princess Letizia or German Chancellor Angela Merkel? (Those power suits get me every time.)
Key matchups: Torsten Frings/Michael Ballack vs. Marcos Senna/Xavi. Whichever of these defense-offense midfield tandems asserts themselves ought to determine the flow of the game, though we know Germany doesn’t need flow to score.
Lukas Podolski vs. Sergio Ramos. As noted above, Ramos was wonderful getting forward against Russia. The speed of Podolski on the break might make the long-haired Real Madrid defender from coming forward. (Either way both guys make the ladies swoon.) Overall, both teams will likely try to pick their spots when the opposing defenders get caught up the field, because Main Street will be clogged.
Player to watch, Germany: Herr Ballack. Der captain probably needs a win in this game more than anyone. Though he’s found moderate success at the club level, winning the Bundesliga four times, he’s had trouble in the big games. He lost in the 2002 Champions League final with Bayer Leverkausen on Zidiane Zidane’s unreal left-foot volley for Real Madrid. He lost the 2008 Champions League final to Manchester United on kicks last month. Oh right, Ballack was part of the German team that lost to Ronaldo and Brasil at the 2002 World Cup and then placed third in 2006. Ballack was invisible vs. Turkey in the semifinals. In my book he’s better than a 50/50 proposition to find the net, either on a freekick or a header.
Player to watch, Spain: Andres Iniesta. He’s a pesky little player that might cause the bigger German defenders to lose their balance. He’ll have to fill the void for Villa, who would have been a weapon in this game. Maybe Iniesta gets lost in the shuffle of marking Torres, Xavi, et al. and rises to the occasion like the 2006 Champions League final.
For the American neutrals: Guess it’s not easy to make a compelling argument to support Germany. Six years ago when the U.S. played Germany in the World Cup quarterfinals in Korea, it appeared we leveled the match when Torsten Frings blocked a ball on the goal line with his hand. Bastards. The disdain for Germany was lessened a tad when I first witnessed Ollie Pocher’s lighthearted sing along “Schwarz und Weiss” two years ago. Pocher’s new Euro 2008 video, not so much. As for Spain? Meh. Barcelona is trendy and Penelop Cruz is saucy. Does that do anything for ya?
Outlook: Pressure is a weird thing in soccer. As we’ve seen time and time again at this tournament, the team with expectations struggles. Wearing the favorite crown is a tough deal, since you’re expected to make something happen, while the opponents have nothing to lose. Sunday, there isn’t really a true favorite. It’s splitting hairs. Odds makers have Germany as slight favorites, around 6-to-5, while Spain is at 11-to-5. The fear, from a neutral standpoint, is for about 60 minutes both sides are too afraid to try anything and the game grinds to a standstill. Though that could happen, it doesn’t seem to be in either team’s M.O. Instead this game is more likely to be back-and-forth game of swings and momentum. If Torres was in a little better form, it’d be a lot easier to like Spain’s chances. Germany, by hook or by crook, will find a way to find at least one goal, likely using its size on a set play. The biggest difference here is that Spain is probably happy just to be playing in the final, whereas Germany’s been waiting for this chance since it lost to Italy in the 2006 World Cup semifinals in Dortmund. It’s a coin flip, but the Germans, who don’t sweat pressure, were my pre-tournament pick so I’ll stick with Die Manschafft. … Germany 2, Spain 1