Spain have continued to reap the benefits of their tiki-taka passing style
Each international tournament enshrines a style of play as well as a country. Euro 2012 has played host to a particularly interesting battle of ideologies as well as skill. The conflict is no longer between style and substance but the balance between the two.
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Spain married aesthetic brilliance with victory in the 2010 World Cup and 2008 European Championship which echoed the French flair at the dawn of the century which also secured back-to-back titles.
Attritional football had seen Italy and Greece crowned in 2006 and 2004 respectively, but their philosophy has been lampooned as reductive and cynical. Imitation has not been encouraged.
This notion made the Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich a fascinating prelude to this summer’s tournament. The London club’s shock victory in the final was underpinned by pragmatism and sacrifice – attack was abdicated for defence at all costs.
The tie has, by and large, not foreshadowed events in Ukraine and Poland, and the Stamford Bridge club has become a by-word for anti-football.
Euro 2012 has not been a championship of unmitigated fluidity, however, and there has not been consistency in approach from the top sides. The tournament is a purveyor of more questions than answers.
Are Germany (4-2-3-1) the new Spain (4-6-0)?
Spain have become a parody of themselves and Germany have assumed the mantle as the European side which is most pleasing on the eye.
The Spanish team has morphed into a different animal after being hailed as the greatest side of all time. The tiki-taka approach has become laboured in the face of predictability and the upshot is that Vincent del Bosque’s side have been labelled boring.
The purist may be appeased but most are impatient. Incessant passing is blunt with no end product. The false number nine experiment was impudent but proved an exercise in self-destruction not aggrandisement.
Germany have become favoured by the neutrals for their slickness and movement.
The obdurate character of the Nationalmannschaft has been remastered under the vision of manager Joachim Low who sees football as a game “defined by a succession of sprints”.
Mobility is a crowd-pleasing key to victory but also an efficient one. The central cog of Khedira, Ozil and Schweinsteiger enable the wide players to flourish, and there has been club-level telepathy in the relationships between players.
The cohesion in Germany’s style was manifest against Greece; Low made three offensive changes but the actualisation of the system was the same. The seamless interchangeability of personnel was stunning.
Are England (4-4-2) the new Italy (4-3-1-2)?
There was a total role reversal when England and Italy faced each other in the quarter finals on Sunday. Hodgson’s England was reminiscent of a classic Italian side of controlled caution whilst the adventurous Azzurri resembled an English premier-league side in their unrelenting attack.
England were more Italy-lite than doppelganger; Italy have always been known for their ability to retain the ball, something England found impossible to emulate.
The Italians’ play-maker Andrea Pirlo preferred to compare England to Chelsea. The metronomic midfielder was able to dictate the game in his quarter-back style role and alter the speed of the game at will.
There is great irony in an Italian providing a critique on conservative football. It would be no surprise if the Azzurri revert back to a more defensive approach against favourites Germany on Thursday.
Are Portugal (4-3-3) the new Holland (4-2-3-1)?
Portugal have echoed The Netherlands’ success in South Africa two years ago. The Portuguese side has been lethal on the counter-attack and resolute in defence since shipping two against Denmark in their second group game.
The semi-finalists are exceptionally well drilled and have fielded the same side in all of their four matches.
Holland were sluggish up-front and ineffectual at the back. Their attempt to add more width and speed to their side through fielding young full-backs failed and they recorded nil points in their bottom placed finish in Group D, their worst tournament performance of all time.
The use of Robin van Persie as a lone striker was heavily criticised.
The Oranje have been usurped as counter-punching kings and may recalibrate completely ahead of the next World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
The stylistic shift in Euro 2012 is one of speed not of beauty.
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