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.
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.