No such thing as best team ever
The Uefa Euro 2012™ Championships have ended and the holders Spain broke all types of records, including becoming the first team to retain the cup.
One has to say they deserved it, considering they conceded only one goal on their way. In Andres Iniesta they have the best player in the competition, although I will say that Mesut Ozil will not have been out of place in the Spanish team.
Spain have won this competition playing or starting matches without a recognised striker in all but two matches and this is causing many to say that they are the greatest football team ever. This is high praise indeed and an opinion I strongly disagree with.
First I must revisit the final. It was a rout and there is no other way to describe the final outcome but I strongly believe that Cesare Prandelli, the Italian manager, will be haunted for years by the decisions he took before and during the match.
The win over Germany in the semis suckered the Italian boss into abandoning the 5-3-2 formation he had employed to great effect against the same opposition in their very first game – De Rossi was immaculate as sweeper in between Bonnuci and Chiellini. I have no idea what convinced him to think his team could go 4-4-2 against the six midfielders Spain were going to employ.
Another misjudgement was the gamble on the fitness of Chiellini and subsequently dropping the excellent Barzeretti. The first goal was always going to be key and Chiellini looked like he was treading water as Fabregas got away from him to cross for the opening goal – in the opening game when de Rossi was sweeper/libero he would have come across as soon as Iniesta’s sensational pass arrowed towards Fabregas.
Despite going a goal down, Italy looked quite dangerous, with Cassano and Montolivio probing and prompting; Cassillas in goal had to make his customary excellent blocks from efforts at his goal. The lack of that spare man was exposed again as Xavi threaded a delicious ball through for the exuberant Jordi Alba to score the goal his tournament has deserved. Game over.
Prandelli’s decision to withdraw Cassano was puzzling and even more so as the Fiorentina man missed two great opportunities that might have turned the match into a contest if he had tucked one in. I was surprised to see Thiago Motta coming on and then stunned that it was the willing and energetic Montolivio coming off. It was a strange substitution and was exacerbated when the Brazilian-born midfielder pulled his hamstring and left Italy with ten men.
Perhaps the Spanish footballers did not want to humiliate the Italians so they kept the score line at 2-0 until Torres arrived to try and claim his Golden Boot.
I have been fortunate enough to have watched many footballers and football teams in my life. I also love this sport so much that I have devoted time and resources to get and watch matches and players before my time. In the process I have concluded that there can never be any such thing as the greatest team of all time.
There are way too many variables involved. In other sports – especially individual sports – arguments always rage over who the greatest is and it is unending. When you look at the tennis rackets that the likes of Edberg, Lendl, Borg, Becker, McEnroe and Connors played with; the diet they had; the fact that in some Grand Slams they STOOD at the breaks before change of sides and then compare that to what Sampras, Kuerten, Federer, Djokovic, and Nadal have these days, you cannot sincerely say which of these players would have won what in their eras.
The first international football side that captured my imagination was the Brazil team at the 1982 World Cup, ironically hosted by Spain. I ask any young people reading this to try and watch their matches. They were unlucky not to have won that World Cup as they played sensational football.
As I read and heard more about the ’74 Netherlands side I made efforts to watch them and they were fantastic too. I am not sure any country has beaten the three South American football powers of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil back-to-back on their way to the final.
Personally, the major factor why I do not think any team can claim to be greatest team of all time is the change in officiating. Football is currently being turned into a non-contact sport and it is diminishing it in my eyes. I never thought I would live to see where strapping six-foot tall defenders feign injury or dive to get free-kicks. DEFENDERS!
Just recently, I watched the ’70 World Cup semifinal match of Brazil and Uruguay and, honestly, if that was today the Uruguayans would not have had up to eight men left on the pitch, such was the aggression and violence they brought to their play.
However, it did not stop the likes of Rivelino, Tostao, Jairzinho, Clodoaldo and Pele from strutting their stuff. Abraham Klein of Israel was the ref during the Brazil/Italy match in ’82 when the Europeans won, he was not poor but the climate of officiating then allowed Claudio Gentile to mark Zico out of the game, while Gabriele Oriali snuffed out the danger of Eder on the Brazil left.
Spain play possession football like has never been seen before and their new style or formation of no strikers seems so innovative. However, they have been helped by the officiating cloud these days. Fifteen years ago they would never have been allowed to put so many passes together and get into a passing rhythm – not their fault just pointing out that they are thriving in it.
Football dynasties are cyclical and it is the time of the Spanish national team. Spain have not conceded a goal in knockout football since World Cup 2006 when Zidane scored. Only in the games against Russia in ’08 and the final this year have they been rampant in these knockout matches and they are still on record as the lowest scoring world champions.
The bottom line is they have won three back-to-back titles and have become immortal. They have also given us great players: please take a bow Iker Cassillas the keeper and serial winner; Pique the elegant and classy central defender and Puyol the warrior. In Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas we have been introduced to midfielders of supreme passing, control, technique and vision, who can actually win trophies.