x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Euro 2012: Spain's greatness agreed with fantastic four goals in final

The Rule of Four is a good starting point when it comes to defining greatness. Paul Radley writes that only the very best score four to win the final of a serious tournament.

Cesc Fabregas, right, and Xabi Alonso jump on their teammates after Fernando Torres' scored Spain's third goal. They would tack on one more in the 4-0 victory over Italy to win the Euro 2012 tournament.
Cesc Fabregas, right, and Xabi Alonso jump on their teammates after Fernando Torres' scored Spain's third goal. They would tack on one more in the 4-0 victory over Italy to win the Euro 2012 tournament.

 

In the small hours of Monday morning, as the party drifted trough the cobbled streets from Kiev's Olympic Stadium to Independence Square, one disorientated Spain fan sat on a kerb and tried to make sense of it all.

"Quattro," he said incredulously, to no one in particular.

It did not seem to make sense.

He looked at the four fingers he was holding up, and counted them again.

Quattro?

His analysis of the situation was perfect: whatever language you speak, teams are not supposed to win major cup finals by four goals.

The Rule of Four is a good starting point when it comes to defining greatness. Only the very best score four to win the final of a serious tournament.

Brazil did it - to one conceded - also against Italy in the 1970 World Cup final. They remain the side against which all other international teams are measured.

AC Milan of 1994 put four past a Barcelona team including Pep Guardiola, Ronald Koeman, Hristo Stoitchkov and Romario to win the European Cup.

Their place among the very best club teams is never in question.

So where does Sunday night's tour de force over Italy in the final of Euro 2012 leave Spain's history-makers?

A strong case can be made to suggest this is the finest team - in its purest form and in terms of the group effort superseding its constituent parts - the international game has seen.

All the other great sides of the past have built around a transcendent player.

For all the greatness of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, et al, there is no one in this Spain team who dominates the sport in the way of a Pele, a Diego Maradona or a Lionel Messi.

The Brazil side who won the Mexico World Cup of 1970 is remembered as that of Pele at his zenith.

But Jairzinho scored in every game in that competition, and Rivelino, Clodoaldo, Tostao and Gerson could all play a bit, too.

Holland of the '70s was Johan Cruyff's team, with Arie Haan and Johan Neeskens taking up the slack.

They never even got a trophy to show for their pioneering Total Football.

Fin de siecle France were the team of Zinedine Zidane, but they also had the likes of Lilian Thuram, Marcel Desailly and Robert Pires, besides.

As well as the aesthetic value they provide with their tiki-taka passing, the Spain side of today also score highly on their likeability rating.

They are an object lesson in humility.

After the final in Kiev, they gave the vanquished Italians a guard of honour. The players wore T-shirts in remembrance of fallen colleagues.

Carles Puyol and David Villa were flown in to join the valediction.

They may be injured, but it was not forgotten they are part of this family.

When the post-match celebrations were at their most fevered, Javi Martinez, the midfielder who spent the tournament on the bench, took a break to take a photograph for a group of volunteers.

It did not matter that he was not even in the picture.

Then take Gerard Pique.

The Barcelona defender is rich, good-looking, highly successful and goes out with Shakira. By rights, we should hate him, but even he is very difficult not to like.

When Vicente del Bosque was asked, after the final, if his side had forever changed the way the game will be played, he played the sort of modest sideways pass his side are noted for.

Well, Italy had been down to 10 men because of bad luck, he humbly pointed out, although, yes, it had been a nice game.

Just accept it, Vicente, your team have changed the game for good.

 

pradley@thenational.ae

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