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Euro 2008: Viva Espana

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I wasn’t going to discuss the Spain vs. Italy match up because, to be honest, I didn’t see a story in it like Russia and Turkey. Italy wins enough and Spain, well, how many underachieving stories can one spin?

Yesterday, it was a matchup of two great Latin soccer sides butting heads. One (Spain) was running on all cylinders, the other (Italy) sputtered along trying to find its legs.

However, given this was Spain’s first victory over Italy in 88 years (I’m sure Red Sox and Cubs nation can relate) it does merit some consideration from a Spanish perspective.

Much has been made about Spain’s mental capacity to claw out a victory against big sides. Certainly history was not on Spain’s side as they made a national habit of choking when it mattered most.

The only way Spain was going to exorcise the demons that lurked within is by confronting and defeating national sides that usually gave them trouble.

The Italians are like an Anaconda on the pitch when they need to be. Teams need to fight through this reality. It’s all about life’s learning curve. As Luis Aragones said after Spain’s 1-0 victory in a friendly a couple of months back, “you need to be perfect to beat Italy.”

Yesterday, Spain was typically looking to push forward but was frustrated by an Italian defence that anticipated well and marked tightly. For its part, the Italian offense struggled and clearly needed the creativity of Andrea Pirlo. To his credit, Coach Roberto Donadoni did not play for the tie as he brought in three offensive players in Antonio di Natale, Alessandro del Piero and Mauro Camoranesi in hope of jolting the attack. It didn’t work.

Given the war of attrition that had set in by the extra time frame, the question became:
Who would blink first?

Patterns of history suggested Spain would. However, past performances are just that: the past. After all, this was a new collection of Spaniards: young, athletic and talented.

As they game wore on, it was clear that Spain weren’t going to crack. Sergio Ramos and Carles Puyol were solid on the defensive side, Senna was a machine in the middle and world class keeper Iker Casillas made the key saves when called upon.

In the end, Spain did what they had to do to win. In sports, you can’t always win looking good and pretty. You have to scratch and claw for every inch and this is the greatest lesson Spain learned yesterday.

To put it in hockey terms, you have to lose some teeth and get cut up to win the Stanley Cup. It’s as simple as that.

Spain is now battle-tested and is now possibly quite ready to win Euro 2008 and perhaps even that elusive World Cup one day.

However, there’s still the matter of Russia to deal with first. Spain throttled Russia 4-1 in the opening game in Group D but that’s hardly a harbinger of things to come. Spain can expect the game to be open but the backline will nonetheless have to be aware of Russia’s offensive ability to play in tight spaces.

Notes: I was impressed by the sportsmanship exhibited in the game. As mentioned, this was Spain’s first win over Italy in a major tournament in 88 years. The Netherlands ended a 30-year drought against the Azzurri with a 3-0 win. Italy for its part defeated France in regulation time for the first time since 1978. Streaks are meant to end, eh?

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About Alessandro Nicolo

  • Alessandro

    I’m 5’10. Back then? Dunno. But it was his hand and he was wearing a ring – which he technically shouldn’t have been allowed to wear. I think that’s what made the ordeal and pain worse.

    It’s tough to get a neighborhood espresso in the States. Each time I visit my cousins or friends I’m forced into a Starbuck’s. Starbuck’s is fine for caps and latte’s but they can’t brew a straight espresso for shit.

    I was reading that the owner of Starbuck’s was inspired by his visit to Italy and the baristas there. Yeah well, people who work at SB’s are far from the professional baristas.

    How did I end up on that?

  • Aargh.

    I’m trying (not too hard) to picture the incident. Either you must be very tall, or the other guy must have been very short, or you can jump extraordinarily high. How else would he have (accidentally on purpose?) managed to land his elbow there?

    Impossible to find Kilkenny here. I dare say I could get hold of it in San Francisco or LA if I looked hard enough, but unfortunately I live in BFE… As I said, we do have a couple of ‘Irish’ pubs – one of which is actually fairly authentic as regards decor and atmosphere – but they do rely on the ignorance of the good ol’ country boys hereabouts in not knowing the difference between Scotch and Irish whiskey.

    Nowhere else would you be able to proudly offer an extensive spirits list of two Irish and twenty-five Scotch whiskies, and get away with calling yourself an Irish pub.

  • Alessandro


    I’ve seen a few of those in my days.

    Something happened similar to me years ago. On the field of play me and opposing player took off at the same time. The momentum of his arms swung back right into my nuts.

    I collapsed clutching them and did not move. My team mates gave the usual “ooo” and then laughed.

    Whoever said jumping on your heels works should be punched in the nuts.

    It’s hard to find Kilkenny in California? I presume that’s where you are? Here in Montreal there is no shortage of Irish pubs. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re second to Boston in North America.

  • Chris: Yes, there can be only one football. At least until the ball goes out of play, when to prevent time-wasting a standby ball may be introduced instead.

    Sandro: Ooh, Kilkenny. If had to name one, my all-time favourite beer in the entire world. And harder to find over here than WMDs in Iraq! We even have a couple of ‘Irish’ pubs here in town that don’t have it…

    I did find some a couple of years ago… in Buenos Aires, of all places. I discovered ahead of time that there was an Irish pub there called The Kilkenny, so I went there hoping – and they had it! That was a truly happy hour.

    Back on the subject of on-the-field injuries and magic sprays/sponges, I’m reminded of an anecdote – supposedly true – about an incident at an English Second or Third Division game back in the late 60s or early 70s. The story goes that a defender got in the way of a ferocious shot and took the ball directly in the nads. As the unfortunate fellow collapsed in a foetal ball of misery and the trainer sprinted on with his bucket, waves of empathetic pain reverberated around the stadium and a hush descended (football crowds in those days were 99.9% male). The trainer knelt beside the stricken player, dipped his sponge in the bucket and lifted the waistband of his patient’s shorts. At that moment a voice rang out in the crowd, clear as a bell in the silence:

    “Don’t wash ’em, mate – count ’em!”

  • Alessandro

    Nah. I’m not much of a Molson fan either. Kilkenny or Stout are more up my alley. Coors light while I BBQ is perfect.

    Odd that a colonial Canadian (albeit of European extraction) loves soccer, eh? Hard for you Brits to circumnavigate this I know. There, there.

    Mind you, soccer is not my only interest. I’m just a sports junkie in general.

  • Doc, there can be no compromise. There can be only one football! Off with their heads!

  • Jet @ #23:

    Down, boy!!!

  • Chris, I was using the S-word because I was talking to a Canadian, albeit a Canadian who’s a footie enthusiast. If you lived over here you’d know that sometimes you have to speak in the vernacular. They have their own curious version of American handball up there, as you probably know, which is pretty much the same game except that each side gets to sneak one extra player onto the pitch.

    Sometimes you just have to distinguish.

    Not that Alessandro’s likely to be paying attention right now, anyway. Since today is Canada Day, he’s probably several sheets to the wind with the help of a Mr Molson.

  • Yellow Card for you. Any more of that and you’ll be off!

  • …let’s see how long it takes you to get that tune out of your head now?

    Pink Floyd’s “the Trial” from The Wall….. 🙂

  • Good morning, Worm your honor.
    The crown will plainly show
    The prisoner who now stands before you
    Was caught red-handed saying “soccer”
    saying “soccer” in an almost human nature;
    This will not do.

  • S-word? You mean Soccer players say a lot of shit? soccer fooseball football they’re all hunks.

  • Doc, just ‘cos you’re living over there doesn’t give you special dispensation to use the S word, despite the recent shock success of Fresno State Bulldogs. 😉

  • Ah, it’s all for show, that stuff, anyway.

    Extensive scientific research has shown that professional soccer players are the only species who actually believe that a mild shove to the chest will invariably cause such excruciating agony to one’s face that one will lose control of one’s lower limbs and drop like a wet flour sack to the floor, convulsing uncontrollably.

    The only and instantaneous cure is aerosol spray of any variety – Ralgex, hairspray, Pam, underarm deodorant, Raid, WD40 – anything.

    Every footballer thanks his lucky stars that he was not playing prior to the late 1970s when this panacea was first developed. Before that time, players had to rely on the primitive water-soaked sponge, which instantly cured, at best, only 98% of mortal injuries received on the field of play.

  • Newfoundland … and Alberta. I could go for some Eastside Mario’s right about now, actually.

    Aw, shucks. Happy Holidays to America’s Hat.

  • Alessandro

    Especially Argentineans!

    Or maybe he secretly likes it? Tum-tee-dum.

    Yeah but you gotta love that magic potion they spray. That shit must be potent since it apparently penetrates shin guards.

  • I think Mr Sussman is mortally afraid of soccer. It’s all that girly long hair fastened with headbands as favored by players of Latino extraction.

  • Alessandro

    Just got wind that Juventus is after Senna.

    He’s a perfect fit for the Juve philosophy in the midfield.

  • Alessandro

    113? I thought it was just 102.

    C-Day. Thanks. I guess.

    Would it kill Suss to acknowledge this seeing he’s been to friggen Newfoundland?


  • I was forgetting about young Owen. He is Canadian, of course. However, as I understand it, due to a strange combination of circumstances involving some multinational parentage, a blender and a malfunctioning abacus, he was actually eligible to play for any one of about 113 countries. For reasons best known only to himself, he chose England.

    I do hope Canada can emerge from the shadow of Uncle Sam’s big stripey hat. And while we’re on the subject, and since I’ve just ripped June off my desk calendar – happy Canada Day for tomorrow!

  • Alessandro

    It’s better than nothing and a start for Adu. Don’t forget that those big three do get Champions League and UEFA spots. Playing at Benfica (one of Europe’s great sides) beats the hell out of playing at, say, Fulham I would think. So he can only grow there.

    True story: In 1986, the captain of that Canadian team you mention was Bruce Wilson. He presented me with an MVP award during a tournament in Quebec City.

    Ah, so young and full of promise.

    0 goals and five against losing to France, USSR and Hungary for Team Canada. BUT, they played fabulously well against France and Ian Bridges hit the cross bar early in the game. For me ’82 and ’86 remain my preferred WC’s.

    Back then, Canadian soccer was ahead of the U.S. My team rarely lost to American teams. Then, it reversed itself when the U.S. got the 1994 WC. Couple that with the joke the CSA is and you have the decline of Canadian soccer – the descent wasn’t all that long I know but the country felt it was ready to grow its soccer program. Alas, as I mentioned, the CSA is run by a bunch of incompetent and clueless lads – sort of like the English FA I hear ;<) Actually, Owen Hargreaves is Canada's greatest (most accomplished) player but in their infinite wisdom they felt he wasn't good enough and off he went to Bayern and later Man U. For me, he was England's best player in 2006. Dwayne de Rosario is probably Canada's best international ever. Clever, fast and skillful. A rare combo for Canadians. He's an awesome playoff player for the Houston Dynamo. About Toronto and Montreal, I'm not as optimistic. We have teams but no true development system. I fear we don't tap into and develop the great talent we have in North America in general I think. It's one thing to get a franchise. Quite another to build a soccer program. I hope it's not the NASL all over again. Man, I LOVED that league. You're right: right now, the USA is way, WAY ahead of Canada. That being said, this latest Canadian side is actually capable of qualifying for WC 2010. We haven't been able to say that for over 20 years. We'll see.

  • Well, now that Freddy Adu has been signed by Benfica at least one of the squad will have the opportunity. Mind you, the Portuguese League is a perennial three-horse race between Benfica, Porto and Sporting – there’s no strength in depth and Adu won’t be tested sternly week-in, week-out. His team hasn’t even qualified for next season’s Champions’ League.

    Aside from him – and two accomplished English Premier League goalies in Tim Howard and Brad Friedel – you’re right. There’s DaMarcus Beazley at Fulham and Eddie Lewis at Derby County – both teams ‘fresh’ from miserable Premier League campaigns (Fulham avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth and Derby finished with the worst record in League history), a couple of others dotted around the EPL, one or two in the German Bundesliga and a few in Belgium and the Scandinavian leagues. The Yanks are not exactly setting the world on fire.

    But US soccer is still light years ahead of Canada. I recall (dimly!) Canada’s 1986 World Cup Finals appearance in Mexico, in which they made about as much impact as a gnat crashing into Half Dome. The last Canadian player of any note that I can remember was Paul Peschisolido (sp.?), who did a decent job for Millwall and Birmingham City a few years back. Hopefully, all that may change with the advent of Toronto FC and – hopefully – a new Montreal franchise. I watch and wait with interest.

  • Alessandro

    Bingo, Doc about American soccer. I agree.

    For its part, Canadian soccer is evolving a little more these days but I think many North Americans need to spread their wings beyond going to play in the the lower levels of the EPL. Go kick around in Italy, Spain, Portugal etc. Learn a different approach.

    When the US/Canada play the likes of the British isles or other like-minded styles the blemishes are not as noticeable. It’s when they play, for example, South American sides you see it. Look at the U.S. at the Gold Cup recently. Brutal.

    Mexico is a fantastic nation to look at. The league is filled with talented players and tactical formations and imagination. The MLS has a chance to improve as a result of playing Mexican sides in the continents version of the Champions League (Champions Cup).

    I guess time will tell if we can avoid an NASL situation here. So far, it seems this experiment has more money and support. Looks like my home city of Montreal will be joining the MLS soon. Montreal has a HUGE soccer community.

  • The USA never seems to have been able to quite recapture the way they played as hosts in the ’94 World Cup. At the moment they play like England – that is to say, solidly, but with tactical naïeveté and a lack of imagination.

    I’m amazed it’s taken them as long as it has to call upon Adu as an established first-teamer. You need flair players like him to test your opponents – otherwise they will effortlessly read your every move.

    I also think they’d be wise to bite the bullet and hire another foreign coach for a bit – I remember fondly the way Milutinovic got them to play.

  • Spain played a very beautiful, attractive match. The control of the ball they had, smart, creative play was very nice to see. Sometime the Germans were completely caught offguard. The score could have been 4-0 if not for the German goalkeeper (and good defensive play in general-with a few lapses).

    Anyway, overall it was a good tournament with many surprises. The Russians sure gave the Netherlands a shock.

    When the USA learns to play attractive ball, the game will become more popular here. Sounders FC of the MLS 2009 may show so.


  • roce


  • roce


  • Alessandro


    The legendary Montreal Canadiens hockey club in the 70s and 80s made it a habit of getting outshot and sometimes outplayed. Yet, when it counted most and at the right moment they struck and were a dynasty.

    That’s precisely why they are good. The Germans are supremely technically sound. They play a linear style that can be outplayed but not necessarily defeated. They weathered the storm and eked out the win. If Turkey was meant to win, they would have played some defense. No?

    No one said they had to like it but I doubt Germans mind.

    Italy and Germany (let’s add the New England Patriots and old New Jersey Devils here) may not be faves of the so-called “neutrals” but who cares? They win and that’s all that matters. Separate the romantic from the realistic.

    If everyone played the same way it would be boring.

    Look, Germany has reached the finals of the WC/EC 12 times now. Italy 8. France 4. Clearly they are doing something right.

    Neutrals. Now there’s another word starting to enter the soccer lexicon. As if the Germans or anybody else have to win them over.

  • Well, Germany failed to shut Turkey down and still won (exactly how crap does a German team have to be not to persistently reach the finals of major tournaments??!), Spain’s second gear turned out to be Cesc Fabregas (I keep wanting to call him Fibreglass), and Andrei Arshavin vanished in a labyrinth of Spanish tactics (odd how none of Russia’s previous opponents had managed to figure out that defending is a great way of stopping the other team from scoring).

    Perhaps now RJ, with his new-found soccer expertise, can tell us who’s gonna win the whole thing? As unpredictable as Euro 2008 has turned out to be, I’m sure as hell not going to call it!

  • Alessandro

    Not bad at all.

  • So. We’ve got Germany vs. Turkey coming up. I expect a close win by Germany, 1-0 or 2-1. [Germany won 3-2] And in the other matchup, I expect Spain to outplay Russia and win 3-1 or 4-2. [Spain won 3-0]

    Germany vs. Spain in the Final? [Yep.]

    Not too bad, if I must say so myself… 😉

  • RJ, out of interest, how do your Euro ’08 picks compare with your predictions in sports you know a bit more about, like football or baseball for instance?

    My take on all this:

    If Turkey do somehow manage to make the final it will be astounding. They’ve been riding their luck to a ridiculous extent in this tournament with four comeback wins – I saw a statistic yesterday that said they’d only actually led in their games so far for a grand total of nine minutes – and thanks to injuries and suspensions will barely be able to field a team against the Germans.

    If Germany can’t shut them down, no-one can and the Turks will go on to win the whole thing and have bragging rights over the Greeks for the next four years. Karma’ll come back ‘n’ bite ya…

    Russia are looking great right now and it’s amazing how the addition of a single gifted player can make them seem like a completely different team. As talented as the Spanish are, they don’t have a second gear, as they demonstrated in the quarters by their failure to brush the rather pedestrian Italians aside. If the Russians keep playing the way they have been and can overcome the psychological barrier of having already been thrashed by Spain in the group stage, they should prevail.

    [The Dr reserves the right to be dreadfully wrong and entreats you not to hand over any cash to garishly dressed employees of Las Vegas casinos on the basis of his predictions.]

  • This tournament has been full of surprises. Most people would have expected to see Holland and Portugal in the semis.

    Personally, I’m delighted that the French and Italians are out. The former are over-rated and so full of themselves whilst Italy, as they confirmed against spain are officially the most negative and boring team in the world.

    So now we have two totally unexpected semi finals to enjoy. Germany v Turkey is practically a family affair, given the number of Turks that live in Germany and it will be a sensation if the Turks win.

    Spain v Russia is going to be a great re-match. I’m obviously biased towards Spain but Russia have played some fantastic football since their loss to Spain.

    We might even see that most unlikely of things, a Russia v Turkey final. I doubt anybody will have predicted that.

  • I checked back to your original post on the Euro 2008, and it looks like my picks stunk. On who would come out of the four groups, I only got 4 (or 5, if you count my kinda-picking the Dutch over France) correct.

    Since then, although I did not publicly make any picks, I can honestly say I got 3 out of 4 matches wrong. I would have picked Croatia over Turkey, the Dutch to crush Russia, and Italy to squeak by Spain. The only prediction I would have been correct on was Germany over Portugal.

    So. We’ve got Germany vs. Turkey coming up. I expect a close win by Germany, 1-0 or 2-1. And in the other matchup, I expect Spain to outplay Russia and win 3-1 or 4-2.

    Germany vs. Spain in the Final? They are both the favorites to advance, correct?