Sustainable Spain: Far From ‘Boring’

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Sunday 1st July brought a familiar scenario for amazed football fans to witness: for the third consecutive major international trophy available, Iker Casillas, the ever-present captain of Spain and the first man with over 100 international victories to his name lifted it, therefore celebrating becoming part of the first nation ever to retain the European Championships.

Spain broke numerous records during the final, including Fernando Torres becoming the first player to score in two championship finals, recording the biggest win in a European final and becoming the first side to win 3 tournaments in a row. Despite the previous criticisms, there is something nobody on this planet can now deny; after the performance against Italy, Spain are incredible.

It seems almost laughable that Alvaro Arbeloa, the right-back often described as being tactically inferior to his colleagues, had to calmly attempt to shake off suggestions that his team were ‘boring’ the watching world. Following the final, Cesc Fàbregas, a stand out performer as the ‘false number 9′, similarly defended his colleagues after taking part in one of the greatest international displays compared to that of Brazil 1970 and Hungary of the 1950s. From various points of view, does being boring even matter if you win two European Championships and a World Cup in 6 years?

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The debate has predictably cooled due to Spain’s triumph this year, however there is no doubt it will return. To many, La Roja are artistic, admirable and inspirational in how they play and win. To others, they are repetitive, provide no entertainment and are seen to ‘suffocate’ and kill the game with the tactics Vincente Del Bosque employs. The 4-6-0 setup effectively compacted, enlarged and utilised Spain’s strongest area: the midfield. The football itself goes nowhere without Xavi, the conductor, overseeing the movement, direction and intention of the play. As we know, the faith kept in high pressure, possession and movement off the ball resembles that of Barcelona and other high profile club sides in Liga Primera. It is a belief that is being instilled in Spanish children and youth players as you read this, whether it is in La Masia or elsewhere across the country (ultimately, the youth system is what makes England inferior to Spain; that is another, longer story, however).

Cesc Fàbregas, a player who has excelled in his first season back home at the Nou Camp, played a major part in the new system as he, flanked by UEFA’s player of the tournament, Andres Iniesta, and the stunning David Silva of Manchester City, occupied the ‘false number 9′ position. Abandoning a striker’s stereotypical duties, he dropped deeper, aiding the midfield and adding to its depth and prowess by doing so: Fàbregas spent a mass amount of time with Barcelona last season leisurely alternating between an attacking midfielder and a second centre-forward (unlike at Arsenal, where he did not have Xavi to compete with for a deeper position). When Spain met Italy, foreshadowing the final in their opening game, the 4-6-0 was met with surprise, and Fàbregas’ goal earned his team mates a valuable point as they were clearly not on top of their game. Scoring once more against the Republic of Ireland, he certainly proved invaluable to his colleagues. The tense, match-winning penalty against Portugal in the semi-final gave him a brief heroic status, which was fully deserved. His outstanding performances partly resulted in Spain appearing more comfortable and familiar at various stages; remember, La Roja were hardly themselves for periods of the tournament.

When Del Bosque’s squad struggled, they did so before the eyes of a momentous audience, and questions were asked: is this the decline of the Spanish? Are they too exhausted from the domestic season? Are their famous tactics too one-dimensional? Is there a plan B? Fàbregas, as the main forward, provided one variation of the system whereas Torres, whilst savouring his precious minutes on the field, gave the team a point to focus upon, making the team more direct and further confusing the opposition’s defence.

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