Spain’s three-week master class in prudent, patient application of effort (a.k.a., playing Spanish possum)

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Admittedly, claiming a major tournament on a thoughtful platform of efficiency and “prudent conservation” isn’t so sexy.

It’s certainly not as alluring or intoxicating as, say, creating history by mercilessly punishing a litany of hapless opposition, by winning through a series of lopsided results.

Spain may reign today, but everyone had hoped for more of that flashy 4-0 flourish along the way. We wanted to be treated to more of the Spanish hammer (as in Sunday’s Kiev kick-around) rather than seeing the champs chisel deliberately away with the precision tools.

But the manner in which Spain just made history really deserves proper recognition. Because the Spanish just stitched together a masterpiece – never mind some unappreciative grumbling along the way about Spain making its case in underwhelming style.

But Vicente del Bosque didn’t bring Spain to Eastern Europe to wow and impress in first-round matches or in some early elimination contest. They came to make grand history, and such high ambition cannot be entrusted to breathless unrestraint.

We may have wanted to be entertained; but Spain simply wanted to win, coveting that unprecedented third major tournament title (Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, Euro 2012). So win they did, through patient self-regulation, through the tricky tenets of “doing just enough.”

We talked for three weeks of Spain never achieving the best version of itself, about apparent contentment and the need for blessed discontent, about possibly lacking that final, telling pang of hunger.

But did we have it wrong all along? Was del Bosque (pictured) simply having his men play a little Spanish possum en route to Sunday’s final in Kiev?  We all wondered where the “real” Spain might be hiding. In reality, they just didn’t need to be “full Spain” very often.

source:  They wisely determined just how much of the full Spanish treatment three successful weeks in Poland and Ukraine would require. So they got a lead and then got smart time and again, dropping the energy output a smidge – while the rest of us selfishly shouted “Go, go, go! … Why won’t they go?”

All that passing, passing, passing – the possession for possession’s sake that sometimes looked like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and the rest were cruising down a highway but content to travel at a safer “school zone speed.”

It made us wonder if Spain was vulnerable. In truth, we weren’t giving Spain sufficient credit for thinking this one through.  Italian manager Cesare Prandelli took in ample praise for getting things right against Germany, and deservedly so. But what about that wily ol’ del Bosque, a cunning Spanish fox who got it right in a bigger way.

Let’s not forget, this really is a grueling tournament. The teams Sunday in Kiev were playing their sixth match in 22 days. That’s one contest about every three and a half days – and what a taxing, debilitating slog it is.

Early Sunday the ESPN announcers wondered why del Bosque’s men couldn’t look more like they did in extra time against Portugal, when they leaned in for further offensive push, pinning the Portuguese back with the extra run, the quicker pass, the earlier ball forward and the higher intensity, generally.

But again, perhaps we weren’t giving Spain enough credit for managing the energy level, for always keeping a restrictor plate on this classic car, for doing just enough and leaving plenty in reserve.

Don’t forget, this is a Spanish team that won a World Cup by scoring eight goals (Just eight, in seven matches!), another lesson in patient application of effort. So perhaps trophy acquisition at Euro 2012 by way of wise conservation shouldn’t have been surprising at all.

By the 60th minute Sunday, Italy looked exhausted. Yes, it was unfortunate the Azzurri had to finish with 10 men, but Prandelli’s unit would likely have been similarly pooped with 11.

The Italians, not quite good enough to hold something back and still steer through the elimination rounds, were spent.

Spain, one of the best teams of all time (there can be little argument now) could afford to pace the enterprise a bit. They did so expertly.

Klopp: Liverpool “not 500 miles away” from Man City’s standard

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Jurgen Klopp remains bullish on his Liverpool’s credentials as one of the Premier League’s top-four sides title challengers this season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

While everyone else might be writing off the Reds due to their propensity for defensive disasters on an every-game basis, Klopp refuses to concede that a gap of “500 miles” exists between his side and Manchester City, the early-days runaway leaders of the 2017-18 season — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t compare City with us, but I think everyone can see we are not 500 miles away. But they fly. It was a very decisive day when we lost 5-0. Dealing with a 5-0 defeat is not the easiest thing. We didn’t lose confidence but we were not that fluent afterwards and it was not like we could close our eyes and finish [thinking about it]. They did exactly the opposite. I saw the Stoke goals, you see the shot from Fernandinho and you think, ‘If it works, it works even like this.’ They are a fantastic team and we don’t have to compare, but it starts so early again with us having to apologize for the season so far because one team is flying.”

“Their way of football I would say is not something we are too far away from but to be as clinical as they have been so far? We weren’t.

“That’s the thing. We are still in the race, not with City in the moment because they have I don’t how many points, and I don’t say already that we should only fight for a top-four place. Performance-wise we are a team that should be there but now we have to get the results.”

[ TACTICS SESSION: Inside the brilliant mind of Kevin De Bruyne ]

All due respect to Klopp and Liverpool, the league table says City currently have 25 points (having played one game more), while Liverpool have 13. That’s not a difference of 500 points, but taking into account not only results but performances, it might as well be.

Ligue 1: Falcao, Balde score to keep Monaco close to PSG

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PARIS (AP) French champion Monaco got back to winning ways with a 2-0 home win against Caen on Saturday.

Monaco lost three and drew one of its previous four games in all competitions. But coach Leonardo Jardim’s side was largely in control against a Caen side that started brightly and faded after Keita Balde’s opening goal and first for Monaco.

“It was important to win, to get a bit of confidence back,” Jardim said. “We’ve been working hard and the players were very serious today.”

Captain Radamel Falcao scored his league-leading 13th from the penalty spot in the 59th, confidently sending goalkeeper Remy Vercoutre the wrong way.

The win moved second-place Monaco within three points of Paris Saint-Germain, having played one game more. Unbeaten PSG is away at bitter rival Marseille on Sunday.

Falcao’s partnership with teen star Kylian Mbappe was crucial to Monaco’s charge to the league title and the Champions League semifinals last season. Mbappe left to join PSG in a high-profile move — as did several other key players — but Falcao’s new partnership with the unselfish Balde looks a promising one.

“We’ve lost a few players and we need a bit of time, it’s been a bit difficult for us,” Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic said. “I hope we can stay at the top of the table and that the young players can shine. We have a lot of quality here.”

Balde has been sharp in his handful of appearances since joining from Lazio in the offseason, but mainly as a link player and a provider.

This time, the Senegal forward finished off the move as he ran onto Thomas Lemar’s perfectly weighted pass into his path, cut across a defender on the edge of the penalty area and slotted the ball into the bottom left corner.

Lemar almost created another goal when his corner was headed against the crossbar by Brazilian defender Jemerson late in the first half.

Falcao put the game beyond doubt from the spot after Slovenian midfielder Jan Repas fouled attacking midfielder Rony Lopes.


After a tricky start to his tenure at Nantes, Italian coach Claudio Ranieri has turned things around.

Nantes beat Guingamp 2-1 at home to move up to third place, extending Ranieri’s unbeaten run to eight matches after losing the first two.

Nantes, which scored through defender Chidozie Awaziem and midfielder Abdoulaye Toure, is just two points behind Monaco.

The 2 Robbies: Terriers Triumph And Chelsea Leave It Late

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe start today’s show off by discussing Huddersfield Town’s surprising win against Manchester United (00:20), Jose Mourinho’s measured post-match interview (03:50), praise Manchester City again (10:30), discuss Sean Dyche’s next move (16:10), analyze that exciting match between Chelsea and Watford (18:30) and finally, weigh in on Slaven Bilic’s future at West Ham United (27:30).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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La Liga: Barca win to maintain lead, but Valencia won’t go away

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona regained a four-point cushion atop the Spanish league with a ho-hum 2-0 win over visiting Malaga and surging Valencia dismissed Sevilla 4-0 at home on Saturday.

Barcelona faced last-placed Malaga in the closing match of the day, with added pressure from second-placed Valencia, which has won five in a row.

Barcelona is unbeaten after starting with seven straight wins and drawing with Atletico Madrid last week.

Seldom-used Gerard Deulofeu opened the scoring for Barcelona after just two minutes, and Andres Iniesta celebrated his first of the season in the second half thanks to a brilliant assist by Lionel Messi.

Defending champion Real Madrid hosts Eibar on Sunday.

Barcelona benefited from a flagrant referee misjudgment to get its go-ahead goal against Malaga. Left back Lucas Digne was allowed to center the ball after it clearly crossed the byline, and Deulofeu acrobatically back-footed it inside the net.

Despite the blow, the visitors got back up and managed to neutralize Barcelona for most of the first half, but lost striker Diego Rolan just before the second period. The Uruguayan import was forced off by injury.

Without Rolan, Malaga lacked bite in its pressure of the home backline, and Barcelona was able to polish ball circulation and find Messi with more frequency.

Messi received a clean pass from defender Javier Mascherano, drew the defense, and dropped a perfect pass for Iniesta, whose shot was deflected by defender Roberto Rosales on its way to the upper left corner.

Malaga surrendered and Barcelona dominated the rest of the way.


Gonzalo Guedes opened the scoring for Valencia near halftime with a majestic strike from outside the box after deftly outmaneuvering two defenders on the chase.

Simone Zaza added his eighth league goal after the break with a spin and low cross shot. Santi Mina came off the bench and scored the third with just five minutes to go, finishing off a speedy counterattack for the hosts.

But the show was all Guedes, and the Portuguese midfielder rounded off his great game with the closer, subtly poking the ball over goalkeeper Sergio Rico in added time.

Sevilla has lost three in a row in all competitions. Managed by Eduardo Berizzo, the team started off red-hot in La Liga but has floundered lately, ranking fifth.