Some of my detractors – not uncommon for we who live and perish by the pen – have questioned my indictment of Spain’s footballing matadors (see Blog: 28.6.12), when I called them boring in their penalty shoot-out, semi-final win over Portugal.
‘Eat your words,’ demanded a Spanish amigo, offering me two slices of bread to sandwich them in.
‘Rubbish after what happened last night,’ emailed another this a.m.
Well, well, isn’t hindsight a marvellous thing, as I’m sure Spain’s inspirational coach, Vicente Del Bosque (now Marquis Del Bosque), would agree. Because clearly, against the Portuguese, he wasn’t exactly over la luna with his with his team’s stuttering performance, when they only really arrived at the party in extra time.
Last night, against Italy, Spain was a different side…still ‘tiki-taka’, ‘tippy-tapas’ in their passing, only this time sublimely potent, their tempo in overdrive, their resolve tuned to diamond hardness. Iniesta was pure magic, fully deserving of the tag ‘Player of the Tournament’; Xavi and Fabregas threaded balls through the eye of a needle – or at least the Italians’ massed, misfiring barricade – at will; and, as if to rub it in, ‘strikerless’ Spain finished playing two men up front, with both Torres and Mata scoring.
It couldn’t get any better and, truly, Spain and their avuncular boss have re-written soccer’s coaching manual, just as the Brazilians did back in 1970.As one TV pundit noted, ‘The match should have been played with two balls – that way Italy would have had the chance to get their feet on one.’
The final, lopsided as it was and luckless Italy down to 10 men on the hour – not that even 20 would have made an iota of difference – graced one of the finest Euro competitions ever…on and off the pitch.
Which brings me nicely to another point:-
So where were the monkey chants and anti-Semitic rants from the terraces that we were all warned to expect, especially in Ukraine, painted by BBC Panorama as a nation of hooligans and racists, eager to disembowel visiting fans at the click of a flick-knife?
And, talking about eating words, will Sol Campbell have a nibble on his, after warning England supporters, ‘Stay at home; watch it on TV. Don’t risk it because you could end up coming back in a coffin.’
As it turned out, Ukraine was ultra fan-friendly. What trouble occurred was mainly in Poland and perpetrated almost exclusively by travelling supporters.
The only downside I see to the unexpected success of Euro 2012 is that it will embellish the reputation of Michel Platini, a hero as a French midfield general and a zero as an egotistical soccer administrator.
His desire to turn the event into an 24-team, international-style, Champions League clouds a personal, political agenda, milking extra broadcasting rights, limiting host cities’ expenditure on stadiums and infrastructure, and – most of all – positioning himself further as pretender to Sepp Blatter’s FIFA throne.
Personally, if it has to be a Frenchman to succeed the devious Swiss, I’d rather see the petit, perfidious and recently-unemployed Nicholas Sarkozy get the job. Anyone but Platini.