A look at the sport columns in the papers this week would reveal some curious similarities when debating the potential winners of Euro 2012. One is no one expects England to cause anything more than a stir, the other is Germany are widely tipped to triumph ahead of the champions.
La Roja come into the tournament with the aim of becoming the first team in history win three consecutive international tournaments. Yet it is their German counterparts who are hotly tipped to take their crown.
The reasons for this are numerous, but can be broken into two categories: injuries and weariness. The loss of Puyol and Villa are heavy blows and for any other team would represent a near fatal blow to their hopes, however this is arguably the most talented squad in history. The Barca duo may be irreplaceable but the chance presents itself for someone to step in and stake a claim. Torres is looking more and more like his old self and the lethal Pedro has returned to form in the last couple of months. Both have the capacity to provide the goals; the onus is on them to fire.
The loss of Puyol means the leadership burden will have to be shared between Xavi and Casillas. However in terms of personnel Del Bosque has an interesting dilemma. Ramos has looked imperious at times in central defense for Madrid, and on paper his partnership with Pique looks impregnable. However the manager has openly admitted the tension between the pair following two seasons of tempestuous El Classico affairs. It remains to be seen how tensions between Madrid and Barca players will play out, however there seems to be a general determination to bury the hatchets and concentrate on retaining the trophy.
Perhaps the other issue preventing pundits from proclaiming Spain as heavy favorites is tiredness. The majority of players have been playing non-stop football for four years, with intense club seasons rolling into international tournaments. Puyol has already suffered as injuries have ravaged his war torn body. The main conductor Xavi has looked less than his best this campaign and with Silva looking tired in the closing months of the Prem, the Spanish midfield could find itself lacking penetration.
Casillas says Spain are their own main rivals and Ramos concurs by agreeing they remain favorites for Euro 2012. However questions over their mentality still remain. Barca were faced with the prospect of becoming the first team in 20 years of retaining the European Cup, but ended up short. For all their protestations of being unlucky against Chelsea, they could not conceal the fact the pensioners had simply wanted it more. Germany and Holland are ravenous for glory; can the same be said of Spain’s garlanded players?
This writer in his prediction column has said Spain will be holding the trophy in a month’s time. Germany are the tip for the many, but they were well fancied two years ago before being outclassed by La Roja. The Spanish remain the most difficult to beat and on that basis are still favorites, just like the bookies have acknowledged. In South Africa they were criticized for winning all their knockout games 1-0. Yet those who attempted to denigrate their greatness, failed to recognize the negative tactics employed by the teams who faced them. Teams are more adept than ever at stifling opponents as a unit, gone are days when Brazil could walk a goal into the net in a world cup final. The focus should be on the fact Spain did not concede a single goal in the knockout stages of Euro 2008 and WC 2010.
Some say the story of Spanish dominance began in the aftermath of humiliating defeat to Northern Ireland in 2006, which resulted in the expulsion of Raul. However this space believes it was the moment Fabregas converted the winning penalty against Italy in the 2008 QF. It was the moment of release and allowed the belief that the underachievers would cash in on their untrammeled potential. When they kick off their campaign against a new look Italy this Sunday, will the players remember their reputation and seek to uphold it? Or is this the year the cycle of possession fuelled dominance ends? The prize on offer is not so much the trophy, but the prospect of immortality. Their greatness is guaranteed but should they win again, I would have no qualms in proclaiming them the greatest international side of all time.
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